Part 2 of the Father Figure series
In this installment I take a look at the two men who claim to be Mulder’s biological father: Bill Mulder and the CSM. What, if anything, did they give him besides DNA? How did their presence in Mulder’s life impact the man he became?
Colony opens with a voice-over from Mulder in which he talks about the risks he takes in pursuing the truth about his sister. Once he and Scully start investigating the deaths of identical doctors, they have an argument about the costs of pursing the case, the risks they are taking. Scully asks Mulder whatever happened to Trust No One (the advice Deep Throat gave them as he died)? Mulder quips, “I changed it to Trust Everyone, I didn’t tell you?” This is a cute line, but it’s really very true. Like a neglected child so starved for affection that he lacks appropriate boundaries, Mulder will follow just about anyone. But why? Why is Mulder willing to take these risks, to pay this price?
Enter Bill Mulder. Cold, distant, judgmental Bill Mulder, who deflects Mulder’s attempt to hug him, who withholds any sense of approval by making sure Mulder knows it was his mother who wanted him there. We start to understand Mulder’s motivation for risking everything to find the truth. He’s trying to prove to his father, and to himself, that he’s worthy of love. He wants to make up for something that wasn’t his fault. And Bill Mulder lets him struggle and condemn himself.
After Mulder trades the Samantha clone for Scully in End Game, Mulder has to tell his father what happened. It’s clear what he fears most is rejection, and that’s exactly what he receives. Mulder can’t even face Bill when he says he lost Samantha. Bill responds not with compassion but with a show of authority, demanding that Mulder consider what this will do to his mother. He leaves in disgust, as Mulder falls apart. Even if we don’t yet know the level of Bill’s involvement with Samantha’s abduction, his action here is unpardonable. We see that he long ago rejected Mulder, shifting the blame for the family’s destruction to him. Contrast this with the very next scene, in which Scully tells Mulder he can’t blame himself, and we see just how lacking the relationship between Mulder and his father is. This sort of comfort should have come naturally from father to son. We see that Mulder can go to Skinner, Scully, and X for help, but not to his father. Instead, he again risks his life to try to earn back his father’s love.
As the series continues and we get more glimpses into Mulder’s family of origin, we get the impression that Bill was a good provider in a financial sense. The family had a nice home, they had a summer house. There were some changes after Bill and Teena divorced, but Mulder was probably never left wanting, materially.
We also learn that Bill gave Mulder a sense of security. In Aubrey Mulder tells Scully that he used to have nightmares that he was the only person left in the world, but when he was lying in his bed terrified he would hear his father in his study cracking sunflower seeds. That provided the sense of reassurance Mulder needed, that he wasn’t alone. We also know Mulder has fond memories of sharing activities with Bill. He talks about being in Indian Guides with him in Detour. So, at least until Samantha’s abduction, there was nurture and warmth.
But there were also secrets. There was abuse. In Mulder’s flashback in Demons he sees his parents fighting. They’re both yelling, and Bill gets physical with Teena. Even at that young age Mulder takes it upon himself to protect Samantha.
In Travelers we learn that Mulder and Bill are estranged. There had to be a point where young Mulder rebelled against the strict authoritarian his father had become, the man who made him feel he was to blame for the family’s losses. Because their relationship was dysfunctional, the reconciliation that often comes as a child matures to adulthood was missing, and it was easier to avoid each other.
At the end of his life, Bill Mulder has regrets. Not just about his part in the Conspiracy, but about how he let it impact his relationship with his son. His desire to protect Mulder resurfaces after a confrontation with CSM in Anasazi, and he seeks assurance that CSM won’t harm Mulder. Despite CSM’s threats, Bill calls Mulder, seeking reconciliation, forgiveness, absolution. It’s telling that Mulder drops everything and comes when his father calls, and doing so saves his life, as he’s not in his apartment when a shot is fired through the window. Mulder’s quest to prove himself worthy had him on a path toward destruction, and some fatherly guidance, love, concern provided the necessary course correction.
When Mulder arrives Bill hugs him, the reverse of the situation we saw in Colony. Bill tries to make amends for the past. He starts by offering excuses (it was so complicated then, the choices that had to be made), but then he praises Mulder, assures him he’s smarter than Bill was, he’s his own person. Before he’s able to give Mulder any concrete information, though, he’s shot. With his final breath, he asks Mulder to forgive him. I think Mulder does so immediately. He still needs to find the truth, but he has no desire to hold the past against his father.
We see Bill Mulder once more in The Blessing Way. Bill tells Mulder in his vision/visitation that he is ashamed of the choices he made when Mulder was a boy. He thought he could bury the truth, but now he needs Mulder to uncover it. Bill is shifting the burden to Mulder to set right his wrongs, just as Deep Throat did in EBE. This is the family legacy, Mulder’s destiny regardless of who is playing the role of father, and he gets assurance that he will find the truth if he goes forward.
It seems clear that Bill Mulder saw himself as Mulder’s father. He doesn’t appear to be aware of the possibility that CSM is Mulder’s biological father (he calls Mulder the life to which I gave life in Blessing Way). But regardless of biology, he raised Mulder and provided for him, he loved and nurtured and comforted him, at least for a time. He abdicated his responsibilities when his decisions tore the family apart, doing damage to their relationship and Mulder’s psyche. There was damage, but not destruction. In the end, Bill Mulder sought and received forgiveness. Moving forward, Mulder focused on the good memories whenever possible, while trying to uncover and understand the truth.
I can’t really write about Mulder’s father figures without discussing CSM. I’m going to keep it brief though, because of all the various roles CSM plays (arch-nemesis, super villain, evil incarnate) the role of “father” is the least convincing. He demonstrates some characteristics of a father, but only on the surface. He’s presented more as a contrast to the other father figures in Mulder’s life.
From the start we see CSM as a vaguely menacing figure. We don’t know much about him, but we can see he’s in a position of authority. Mulder’s not working directly for him, but CSM seems to be calling the shots. In Erlenmeyer Flask, CSM ends up with the alien fetus Scully retrieved to exchange for Mulder, and we understand that he orchestrated Mulder’s kidnapping in the first place. While both Deep Throat and CSM are using Mulder for their own agendas, CSM is ruthless, rather than benevolent.
Skinner provides another contrast. He’s Mulder’s direct supervisor, and he doesn’t hesitate to reign Mulder in and redirect him when necessary. But when he does so it’s understood that he’s acting for Mulder’s own good, or at the very least for the good of the FBI. Time and again Skinner puts his neck on the line to protect Mulder and his search for the truth. CSM seeks to control Mulder as well, to guide him and his work. In Little Green Men we find out he’s been bugging Mulder’s phone, and in Sleepless we learn he’s using Krycek to control Mulder. CSM ostensibly protects Mulder, making the argument that to kill Mulder would risk turning his religion into a crusade. But it’s not fatherly devotion that motivates him. Unlike Skinner, CSM is only trying to further his own ends. He’s using Mulder, plain and simple.
Like Bill Mulder, CSM claims to be Mulder’s biological father, but we know that whatever sense of familial affection he claims to have for Mulder, it isn’t reciprocated. Regardless of any biological connection, Mulder will never see CSM as a father. As starved as Mulder is for paternal affection, he is able to see through CSM’s manipulations. CSM has shown repeatedly (in Duane Barry, Anasazi, Wetwired, One Son, Amor Fati, En Ami, and The Truth for example) that he will deceive and betray Mulder, culminating in their final scene together in My Struggle IV. In the ultimate act of betrayal, CSM shoots the man he claims is his son. Where in the end Bill Mulder was willing to lay down his life to lead Mulder to the truth, CSM shows his true colors by attempting to end Mulder’s life to keep the truth hidden. While Mulder forgives the father who raised him, he kills the father who betrayed him.