In my corner of the fandom, Teena Mulder is almost universally reviled. She’s seen as at best distant and uncaring, and at worst callous, manipulative, and downright evil. And I tended to agree with that characterization. But then one day as I was watching The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati, I noticed something I hadn’t before. When Teena is in Mulder’s hospital room and we hear what’s going through her mind, her thought is “I love you my darling boy.” That shook me. She wasn’t manipulating anyone or anything. We just caught a glimpse of her true feelings for her son. I decided I needed to look closer at the relationship between Mulder and his mother, to see if I had gotten it wrong.
I rewatched every episode with Teena Mulder and paid close attention to her interactions with Mulder. I also looked at how Mulder remembered her in flashbacks. What I saw surprised me. I found Teena to be a much more sympathetic character than I originally thought. Don’t get me wrong, she’s not Mother of the Year material. But I found her relationship with Mulder to be rather close, if dysfunctional, until events within the series led to an estrangement. So maybe Teena Mulder isn’t the monster many of us think her to be.
Mulder genuinely cares for Teena
We first meet Teena Mulder in Colony. When Mulder arrives at his father’s house, Bill tells him, “She wanted you to come.” This tells me that Teena either didn’t want to exclude Mulder from this family situation or that she needed him there for support. The next scene shows us it’s the latter. Mulder tucks his mother into bed, and she looks to him for reassurance. Their roles in the parent/child relationship seem reversed. He’s the caregiver; she seeks comfort from him. This could be the natural progression of an aging parent and adult child, but I don’t think so. I think Mulder took on that role a long time ago, when Samantha disappeared. Mulder doesn’t seem to resent this part. He seems to genuinely care for his mother. In any event, Colony shows us a close and fairly comfortable relationship.
Teena Mulder’s next appearance is in The Blessing Way. And this is significant to me: the first person Mulder goes to see after he’s healed is Teena. Teena is thrilled and relieved, she hugs Mulder with tears in her eyes. It could be argued that she knew from Scully that Mulder was alive and she is just putting on a show here, but I don’t buy that. I think her reaction is genuine.
Teena can’t bring herself to face the past
Of course we learn that Mulder is there not just to reassure his mother, even if that was his first instinct. He also needs her to remember the past. Teena tells Mulder she doesn’t know, then says she doesn’t remember, then finally asks him not to do this to her. So it’s clear she has information she’s not willing to give Mulder. I can understand why some people fault Teena for this. Mulder just wants the truth and she won’t help him. But when we learn in later episodes what she’s been through, how she’s been used and traumatized, her plea of “don’t do this to me” takes on a new meaning. It’s not just an attempt to avoid the past. It’s a cry of desperation.
Teena relies on Mulder for emotional support
Mulder again goes to Teena for information in Paper Clip. Teena eventually reveals that Bill chose for Samantha to be abducted because she couldn’t make a choice, and she hated him for it. I don’t think Teena is saying she hated Bill for choosing Samantha instead of Mulder, because she just said she couldn’t choose between her children. She’s saying she hated Bill for taking part in this scheme at all. Once again, we see Mulder caring for his mother, as he comforts her while she cries. Teena relies on Mulder for emotional support, though she doesn’t seem capable of offering him the same, and Mulder quite willingly gives it.
Mulder has been the parental figure for a long time
We start to learn more about Teena’s past in Talitha Cumi. She meets with CSM, and he talks about her children and compares himself to Bill Mulder. His words seem like a veiled threat to me. Teena, true to form, says she’s repressed it all. I think Teena actively tries to forget the past, but she really can’t. Instead she lives like a person in shock. This is why Mulder had to take on the role of caregiver at a young age and why she let that happen. After her confrontation with CSM, Teena has a stroke. When Mulder hears the news he rushes to see her and immediately starts caring for her in the hospital. This behavior isn’t odd under the circumstances, but we already know it’s their normal dynamic.
Teena is a victim, not a conspirator
When X shows Mulder pictures of Teena with CSM, Mulder refuses to believe there’s an illicit connection, responding, “I know my mother.” Mulder is a man who sees conspiracies everywhere, but he doesn’t believe his mother could be involved in one. He sees her as a victim, not as a co-conspirator. I think this has to do with the things he witnessed as a child. It’s one of the reasons he has become the parent figure/caregiver.
Mulder blames himself for Teena’s pain
The other reason Mulder has taken on the caregiver role is he believes he’s responsible for everything his mother has gone through. In Herrenvolk, Mulder tells the Bounty Hunter he’s willing to die to save his mother’s life. He’s trying to atone for his guilt over not being able to protect his sister. He even tries to bring the drone Samantha to his mother to replace the child she lost. When he fails, he’s despondent.
Their relationship can’t weather Teena’s denial or Mulder’s misplaced guilt
Mulder goes to his mother’s house in Paper Hearts looking for answers. Teena is surprised but happy to see him. She calls him “Honey,” and he’s affectionate as well, hugging Teena, rubbing her back, assuring her it’s okay that she doesn’t remember. This is just more evidence of the close relationship they share. But it also becomes clear in this episode that Mulder has always felt responsible for Samantha’s abduction. His parents must have realized this. I think Teena was suffering the effects of her own trauma and was unable to give her son the emotional care he needed. Mulder, trying to make amends, became the caregiver.
Bill Mulder is much more culpable, as we see in Demons. To be fair, it’s never quite established that the flashbacks Mulder experiences are true memories. But if they are, they explain a lot about Teena. I think that, while the details may not all be accurate, the sense impressions are, and Mulder is remembering more than he’s confabulating. We learn from these flashbacks, which Mulder describes as “very vivid, very real,” that Bill Mulder abused Teena, at least verbally. At some point Teena fought back, but she wasn’t able to prevent Samantha’s abduction.
Mulder goes to see Teena to confront her about the things he’s remembering. When Teena sees him pull up in front of her house, there’s a big smile on her face. I never noticed this before, because I always remember what comes next, but Teena is clearly delighted to see her son. But then Mulder accuses her of keeping things from him, and she turns cold. This has always been Teena’s trigger, being confronted with the past she wants to forget. When he accuses her of betraying her husband with CSM, Teena slaps Mulder. When her denials won’t satisfy him, Teena lashes out.
Teena isn’t capable of giving Mulder what he needs
I think a lot of people see this scene between Teena and Mulder as representative of their relationship all along. But I think it more clearly shows a turning point. This is where it goes from close to distant, from affectionate to cold. What’s fascinating is Teena’s last attempt to care for her son, telling him he’s bleeding. But he’s been the caretaker for so long that she doesn’t know how to do it, and she runs away. So does he, and it’s a long time before we see Teena again.
We don’t see Teena at all in seasons 5 and 6. Her next scene is the one in Amor Fati that started me re-evaluating Teena. It’s an absolutely heartbreaking scene. Mulder can’t speak or move, but he’s screaming for his mother in his mind, and she can’t hear him. She says she loves him, but she also gives him over to CSM knowing he’s completely helpless. I don’t understand Teena’s motivation here. But I want her “I love you my darling boy” to count for something, so I have to believe she really thinks this is the only way to help Mulder.
By the time we see Teena again in Sein Und Zeit, Mulder is surprised to hear from her. He asks if she’s okay, but he has no interest in continuing their conversation, and he doesn’t call her back.
Teena finally leads Mulder to the truth
For a long time I couldn’t understand or forgive Teena’s next action. Without answering any of the questions Mulder has been asking for years, she kills herself. But when I started to consider her life, and the trauma she’s suffered through abuse and loss, I knew she just wasn’t capable of having that conversation with Mulder. She redeems herself in Closure, though. Once Teena is in a place where her past can’t hurt her any more, she reaches out to Mulder with information he needs to find the truth. They both have closure, and I find it really very beautiful.
Teena Mulder was robbed of her opportunity and ability to be the kind of mother she wanted to be. She was married to an abusive man and involved with a manipulative monster. She was forced to choose between her children and when she refused, her agency was taken away from her. This broke her. She tried to carry on, but the only way forward was to turn to her son and place her burden on him. Their relationship became dysfunctional as Mulder took on the role of parent to his mother, but the bond was unmistakable. They were both too haunted by the past, though, and when Mulder’s search for answers disrupted the status quo, the bond was damaged. In the end, Teena’s love for Mulder found expression and offered him the gift of closure.
Teena never gave Mulder the emotional support he needed and she let him blame himself for things that weren’t his fault. But she did what she could to protect him. I can’t argue that Teena Mulder was a “good” mother, but she wasn’t a monster either.