Part 3 of the Father Figure series
When I decided to write a series on Mulder’s father figures I knew immediately that I would include Walter Skinner. He is the World’s Best FBI Dad after all (credit goes to Karen@rainknight on Twitter for the moniker). I wrote the first two installments, on Deep Throat and Bill Mulder/CSM, knowing I would conclude the series with a piece about Skinner. But when it came time to write that piece, I was stumped. The idea which seemed such a natural follow up just wasn’t coming together. So I had to re-examine my previous assumption. Did Skinner and Mulder really have a father/son type of relationship?
The fact is, Walter Skinner is an enigma. Not just to us, but to Mulder and Scully as well. We know almost nothing about him. In one episode (Avatar) we find out he has a wife, his marriage is on the brink of ending, they appear to have some sort of reconciliation, he puts his wedding ring back on, and then … nothing. We never see or hear about Sharon Skinner again. And while we learn a little of Skinner’s backstory in One Breath, and it’s expanded upon in Kitten, that’s really all we know. As Scully comments in that latter episode, “even after all these years, we know precious little about Walter Sergei Skinner beyond the professional.”
I like to think that Skinner would have been Uncle Walter to William, and in fact we see a deeper connection between Scully and Skinner in Mulder’s absence, but I can’t imagine William growing up thinking of Skinner as Grandpa. Skinner is more that nice man who cares for you and your parents, who shows up on holidays or the to occasional dinner. He’s not the ever present family member, giving 5 dollar bills and unsolicited advice and telling tales from the past, that your father’s father would be.
Skinner’s interactions with Mulder are almost exclusively work related. The closest we get to a personal father/son type interaction is Triangle. Skinner is no longer Mulder’s supervisor at that point, and he’s risking his career to help Mulder (who is definitely not carrying out a work assignment) or even be seen with him. But he does help Mulder, and then he shows up in Mulder’s hospital room with flowers and an offer to kick Mulder’s butt but good. There’s clearly some affection and authority which goes beyond the work realm. Similarly in I Want to Believe, Scully calls on Skinner in his capacity as a bigwig at the FBI, but it’s the personal affection for Mulder that we see as Skinner cradles Mulder to keep him warm.
Mulder demonstrates similar affection in Requiem, when he’s sure the X-Files are being shut down and he invites “Walter” to “sit a spell,” and again in The Truth when he wants to greet that “big bald beautiful man” with a kiss. These are rare moments of friendly intimacy in an otherwise professional relationship.
That’s not to denigrate Skinner’s importance to Mulder. The little we know about Skinner’s background includes the fact that he joined the military as soon as he was old enough. During his time in the service his innate honor and integrity would have been honed to the point that he understood the value of protecting those you serve with. He carried those values with him to the FBI, where his fierce loyalty led him to put himself on the line for Mulder more than once. In Memento Mori he makes a deal with the devil himself (well, CSM) to save Scully’s life so that Mulder won’t have to.
While Skinner and Mulder don’t have much of a personal relationship, Skinner still fills the role of father figure in some respects. Quite often Skinner’s interactions with Mulder in the course of their work take on a fatherly tone. He’s certainly an authority figure. He provides wisdom, guidance, and protection. The scene in Anasazi when Mulder takes a swing at Skinner strikes me as a great example of their on-the-job father/son dynamic. Skinner lets Mulder act out for a while but then reels him in when necessary. When Mulder lashes out, Skinner puts a stop to it but doesn’t hurt him in the process.
On the job, Skinner tends to treat Mulder as a father would a son, and Mulder responds to him the way a son would a father. Skinner is on Mulder’s side, and Mulder (almost always) recognizes that, even when he defies protocol or direct orders to get what he wants. In Redux II, although Scully’s almost sure Skinner is working against them and has been from the start, Mulder doesn’t believe that. He trusts Skinner to take care of him, even though he knows Skinner has evidence which could convict him. And, as we see, Mulder’s trust is well-placed. Blevins is the Syndicate’s inside man; Skinner is just trying to help Mulder find the truth.
This father/son dynamic doesn’t seem to exist outside of work, however. Whereas we saw Mulder seeking a personal connection with Deep Throat, wishing they could take in a ball game together, I think Mulder is always aware that Skinner is his boss, and that keeps their relationship from getting overly personal, despite the affection they feel for each other.
I can’t say Skinner is a true father figure to Mulder. But in the realm of their interactions, he’s certainly the World’s Best FBI Dad. So in his honor, I’ve made him a Father’s Day card, in traditional grade school acrostic format:
World’s Best FBI Dad
Assistant Director for life
Skinman…but don’t call him that