I’m a shipper. Die hard, true blue, to the core shipper. I have been since I saw my very first episode of The X-Files in 1994 (The Host). I have always found the Mulder/Scully Relationship to be the most compelling part of the show, the thing that makes everything else about the show more interesting.
I knew from the very start that The X-Files appealed to different people for different reasons. My husband started watching early in Season 1, and he kept trying to get me to watch with him, saying it’s this great show about aliens, and the paranormal, and government cover ups…it just didn’t sound like something I needed to watch. I was pregnant, tired, not going to stay awake on a Friday night for that. When I finally gave in and watched with him, I realized the show he had been describing was not the show I was seeing. To be fair, I do love all those elements that appealed to him, but it’s The Ship that drew me in and kept me coming back.
What does the term Shipper mean?
I first heard the term shipper when I started engaging with the fandom prior to the revival in 2016. I wasn’t part of the online fandom during the original run of the show. It just didn’t fit into my life at the time. I was lucky if I got to watch the show as it aired every week. Once I dove into social media fandom, though, I realized that a line had been drawn at some point between shippers and non-shippers. (Even as I write that I understand there are going to be people who want to tell me the correct term is noromo, not non-shipper. I promise, I’ll get there.)
The first definition of shipper I heard was something along the lines of “someone who wants Mulder and Scully to have sex, on screen, and believes they’ve been having sex since day 1.” It was said facetiously, I get that. But I’ve had that definition in the back of my mind ever since. I think it’s what makes a lot of people feel defensive about calling themselves shippers, and what makes other people look down on those of us who identify with that segment of the fandom. But it’s really not what I mean when I say I’m a shipper.
I call myself a shipper because it was the relationship between Mulder and Scully that drew me into the show and made me want to keep watching. As I said, my first episode was The Host. Mulder and Scully were not even working together at the time, but they were so clearly important to each other. They trusted each other, they valued each other, and they liked each other. That’s compelling stuff. I wanted more of that. I wanted to see these two agents solve cases and search for the truth and fight for what’s right, and I wanted to see them do it together. It was a beautiful depiction of a partnership.
That partnership developed into a deep and abiding friendship. In so many of the early episodes we get to see Mulder and Scully having fun together, teasing each other, caring for each other, helping each other. War of the Coprophages to me is a perfect example of the scope of the Mulder/Scully friendship. Mulder calls Scully when he’s in the mood for a philosophical discussion, he calls her when he needs her expert advice, he calls her when he can’t sleep, and he confides in her about an early moment of self-discovery. He also hangs up on her when he thinks there’s a prospect of romance with someone else. Scully spends her night off talking to Mulder, researching the answers he needs. She drops everything when she thinks he’s in danger and drives up to lend a hand. These are things you do with your best friend.
I remember reading an article about The X-Files some time around early Season 4 with a kind of “will they or won’t they” focus, and I was genuinely surprised. At that point it had never occurred to me that there were romantic possibilities. It’s odd to think about that now, looking back, knowing how the relationship developed, but at the time I saw them as platonic partners and friends. Now, like many shippers I can go back to any episode from any season and point out “shipper moments,” and it’s fun to speculate as to how early Mulder and Scully realized they were in love. But when I’m honest with myself, I don’t think they were aware of any romantic feelings between them until Fight the Future. I think the almost kiss in the hallway came as a surprise to both of them.
Incidentally, I was thrilled with the Fight the Future hallway scene. I was so glad they almost kissed, and so relieved that it was interrupted by that bee. I wanted to see them work through more before they became involved romantically. I’m a huge fan of angst and the slow burn, and we get plenty of that in The X-Files. Fight the Future got them re-evaluating their feelings for each other. After that I can’t help but focus on the romantic nature of the relationship.
How can you not ship them?
It’s easy for me to understand different perspectives among people who consider themselves shippers. There was amazing chemistry between David and Gillian from the start, with looks and touches that could readily be characterized as sexual. And there’s enough ambiguity in the stories that plenty of interpretations are feasible. What was harder for me to understand was how anyone could watch the show and not be a shipper. Did some people think there was never any romance between Mulder and Scully? How could they think that, given what we see in all things, Existence and The Truth (I won’t even get into the flirting in Season 7). It finally occurred to me that I needed to ask people what they mean when they say they’re not shippers. So I did.
Several people told me they’re just not interested in the relationship. It’s there, but that’s not why they watch the show. My husband is one of these. He loves the stories and the cases and the conspiracies; the rest is unimportant. Among that group there were some who felt that the episodes suffered in quality once the show started exploring the romantic relationship.
Others told me that they wish the relationship had never become romantic. They see Mulder and Scully as partners, friends, and soul mates, with a unique platonic relationship which makes them, and the show, more interesting. The show was different from other shows because of the way the relationship was portrayed, and it moved toward mediocrity when romance was introduced. Interestingly, some in this group expressed that Mulder and Scully should not be involved with anyone else romantically. They seem focused on the artistic impression of the show, and they like the idea that the Mulder/Scully relationship could be an ideal.
What I didn’t find was any group of people who believed the Mulder/Scully relationship never became romantic, which is what I always thought noromo or non-shipper meant. There were plenty of people who felt the show would have been better without a romantic element, but no one who denied it existed.
Aren’t we all in the same boat?
I’m so glad I engaged in these conversations! I realized that not only does ship mean different things to different shippers, but it means different things to non-shippers. Most of all I was struck, as I often am, with how this show can appeal to so many different people for so many different reasons. I’ve never come across another show like it in that respect. It presents complex ideas with complex characters who don’t fall easily into the stereotypical romantic pairing, and it leaves room for viewers to interpret what we see and gather meaning from it. So I’ve come to terms with the fact that we don’t all ship Mulder and Scully in the same way. And really, that’s one of the great strengths of the show.