What I Want To Believe

I want to believe that I can talk meaningfully about The X-Files in any situation, that I can find something to say about the show that’s relevant to any conversation. I recently put that belief to the test.

I’ve been part of a Bible study group for over 10 years. In that time my group has seen me become increasingly obsessed with The X-Files. These friends have learned that I can come up with an X-Files reference for almost every conversation (they have no idea how many times I’ve held back), and I’ve learned that the themes in the show are often particularly relevant to the discussions we have in our group. I’ve joked for a while that I could come up with an X-Files themed Bible study for us to do, and my group kept encouraging me to do it. So finally I decided to give it a try.

None of the other members of my group are X-Philes. A few are casual fans with some familiarity with the show, others have never seen a single episode. Instead of using clips from various episodes, which might require more knowledge of the show than my friends had, I chose to focus my study on I Want To Believe. I love the movie for what it shows us about Mulder and Scully at that time in their lives, but more importantly for this purpose, it’s a stand alone story which doesn’t require a vast amount of prior knowledge.

This is always the appropriate gif

I wrote a brief X-Files primer to get everyone up to speed. Then I wrote a series of discussion questions focusing on themes I saw in the movie: purpose, justice, forgiveness, and perseverance. My discussion questions are written from a Christian perspective, because that’s who I am and that was my audience, but I think those themes can be relevant to anyone regardless of belief and background. I got inspiration from John Kenneth Muir’s review of IWTB, We Want To Believe: Faith and Gospel in The X-Files by Amy Donaldson, and Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber.

I wanted some feedback before leading my group in this study, so I shared my study guide with a few people. I showed it to a pastor friend who knows nothing about The X-Files, an X-Phile friend who is not religious, an X-Phile friend who’s an expert on the Bible, and an X-Phile friend who’s an expert on the movie. I felt like that covered the bases! I incorporated their suggestions and felt very encouraged about my project.

Screencap from The X-Files Archive

Finally the big night arrived (there was a snow delay, and while a trek through the snow would have set the tone for the movie, it wasn’t worth the risky drive). I introduced the study by going through the primer and then asked if there were any questions before we started the movie. There was a bit of confusion: “wait I thought it was a TV show” and “was this actually shown in theaters?” Oops! Apparently my primer wasn’t quite thorough enough. I’ve revised it a bit in response.

The X-Files aired on television for nine regular seasons in its original run, from September 1993 through May 2002. There were two motion pictures, The X-Files: Fight the Future, which was released in June 1998 between seasons 5 and 6 of the show, and The X-Files: I Want To Believe, which was released in July 2008. The television series continued with two revival seasons, airing in 2016 (6 episodes) and 2018 (10 episodes).

The main characters of The X-Files are FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Mulder and Scully worked together on the X-Files, a unit investigating unsolved cases and paranormal phenomena. Mulder is an Oxford-educated psychologist recognized as a brilliant profiler who had a promising future at the FBI when he discovered the X-Files and managed to get assigned to them. He was the only agent working the X-Files until his superiors assigned Scully to work with him, expecting her to debunk his work so that the unit could be shut down. Scully is a medical doctor with a background in hard science, who was recruited out of medical school by the FBI. She’s also a Catholic who struggles with her faith.

Instead of finding reasons to shut down the X-Files, Scully helped Mulder keep them open, lending scientific credibility to the investigations. During most of their investigations Mulder was the believer in paranormal phenomena, while Scully was the skeptic who looked for scientific proof. They were sometimes seen as a bit of a joke because of the kind of cases they investigated, but their combination of knowledge, intuition, persistence, and integrity led them to solve cases no one else could.

One of the reasons Mulder wanted to work on the X-Files was to find his sister. She had been abducted from their home when she was 8 and he was 12, and Mulder came to believe she was abducted by aliens. Mulder finally learned what happened to her and gained some closure, but he has always been motivated by a desire to search for and save the lost.

There’s a huge storyline involving government/global conspiracy and aliens, which you don’t need to know about for this discussion. But both Mulder and Scully were often in grave danger as they worked to uncover the truth behind this conspiracy.

Mulder and Scully eventually developed a romantic relationship (it took 7 years to get there) and they had a son together (William). Scully had to give their son up for adoption to protect him at a time when Mulder was in hiding.

When Mulder came out of hiding he was placed on trial (not a real trial but a military/FBI trial, it was stupid) on a falsified murder charge and sentenced to death. His friends at the FBI helped him escape, and he and Scully went on the run.

I Want To Believe opens six years after Mulder and Scully disappeared. Scully is again working as a doctor, but Mulder, still technically a wanted man, is living as a recluse.

My X-Files Primer

After we cleared that up, one friend asked what it was I loved about the show. I really appreciated that question. It was a lovely reminder that we were doing this because this group of friends wanted to share something I was passionate about.

As we were watching the movie, though, it occurred to me that I Want To Believe doesn’t contain much of what I love about the show. The humor is there, and the chemistry between Mulder and Scully, both of which came across even to new viewers. But one aspect of the show I really love is that Mulder and Scully are working together as FBI agents to investigate cases within the system and to uncover the truth that goes beyond the system. The movie doesn’t show us that at all. So I found myself sort of defending my love of the show a bit and wishing I could get my group to watch Pusher or E.B.E. But the point was to lead an interesting discussion, not recruit new members to the fandom, and IWTB is much better suited to that.

Although the movie wasn’t to everyone’s liking, it was, as I suspected it would be, a great catalyst for discussion. I introduced topics using four quotes from the movie.

  • “There’s a question of credibility.” Scully can’t accept that Father Joe’s visions come from God, because of the crimes Father Joe has committed. She can’t trust him and can’t believe God would use him.
  • “Cursing God for all his cruelties.” Scully is troubled by the suffering of her young patient, for whom there doesn’t seem to be a cure. She’s equally troubled by Father Joe’s crimes and his attempts to atone for them. Mulder is concerned for the missing FBI agent and the other kidnapping victims. They can’t make sense of the pain and injustice.
  • “All is forgiven.” There’s nothing comfortable or easy about how this film portrays the central moral dilemma. The crimes Father Joe committed against the innocent are utterly monstrous, as Scully rightly points out. Father Joe knows that society will never forgive him, but wonders if God can do so.
  • “Don’t give up.” Father Joe’s exhortation to Scully can be applied to many aspects of the story: Mulder and Scully in their relationship, Scully in treating Christian, Mulder in searching for the missing agent, the villain in finding a way to save his husband, Father Joe in seeking forgiveness/redemption.

We discussed a series of questions on each topic. The movie manages to show different perspectives on themes relevant to the human condition, and it got us thinking and talking about relating to others with different experiences and beliefs. I think anything that gets us to look outside our own limited worldview, that can lead to greater understanding, compassion, and acceptance, is worth the effort. It thrills me that the show I love so much can be so relevant to these kinds of conversations.

I found this entire project very fulfilling. I’ve always enjoyed leading group discussions, but this was my first time writing the study guide. Being able to use that guide to lead a thoughtful discussion about challenging issues, set in the context of The X-Files was not only meaningful but also just plain fun. I felt honored that my group indulged me, encouraged me, and responded with enthusiasm.

it’s all about the random touch

I’ve been doing a complete rewatch of The X-Files, using a spreadsheet to track how often 57 specific details appear in each episode. I wrote about how and why I started the project here: myxfilesobsession.home.blog/2019/12/05/the-spreadsheet/ I’ve finished the first three seasons, and I thought it was a good time to look at the data I’ve gathered and make some observations.

episode scores

I assign a score to every episode by counting one point for each of the details I find. I don’t track when a detail occurs more than once, because that just gets too difficult. The highest score in Season 1 is the Pilot, with 23 points. In fact, that remains the highest scoring episode in the first three seasons. I’m currently in the middle of Season 4 and I haven’t found an episode that scores higher. I’m still blown away by this fact: so many of the details we find iconic were present in the very first episode! Space and Roland both scored 3 points, the lowest for the season. The remaining episodes averaged about 10 points.

In Season 2 End Game, the first episode penned by Frank Spotnitz, takes the high score at 22 points. The lowest score is F. Emasculata, with 3 points. In between there’s a greater range of scores than in Season 1, from 4 to 17 points, but again the average score is 10 points.

Apocrypha scores the highest in Season 3, with 17 points. Three episodes come in a close second with 15 points each: Nisei, War of the Coprophages, and Grotesque. Hell Money scores the lowest, with 5 points. The average score of the remaining episodes is 8.5 points.

Okay, I’m boring myself with these numbers, so let’s talk about the good stuff.

iconic phrases

Scully doesn’t say “Mulder it’s me” even once in the first season, and Mulder says “Scully it’s me” only twice. This trope starts to take off in season 2, though, and we see Scully using it more often than Mulder. Mulder tends to start talking as soon as Scully answers the phone, whereas Scully will occasionally even say “Mulder it’s me” in person. If you throw in the number of times Mulder calls “Scullaayyy!” they’re about even.

agents in peril

I think the show often gets knocked for over-using the “Scully in peril” scenario, so I found the numbers very interesting. In Season 1 Mulder and Scully are each attacked 8 times, Scully saves Mulder 3 times, and Mulder saves Scully 3 times. Mulder is attacked more often than Scully in Season 2, 12 times to her 10, although her abduction is more significant than anything that happens to him in the season. Scully rescues Mulder twice, and he rescues her 4 times. And then in Season 3, Mulder is attacked 9 times and Scully only 3, and they save each other 1 time a piece. I’m just not seeing a trend that places one agent in danger over the other, although that could change moving forward.

clothing, places, and things

Mulder rolls up his sleeves so often that I get distressed in episodes where he wears a jacket or overcoat the whole time. I know he’s got to be uncomfortable! For Scully, there are quite a few episodes in Season 1 that show her in casual wear (10), usually while she’s writing reports in her apartment. As the show moves away from Scully voiceovers, though, we see less of Scully away from the office and therefore less of casual!Scully (5 times each in Seasons 2 and 3).

Aside from the basement office, we see Mulder and Scully most often in rental cars. I had to make a call in tracking this detail. In many episodes you can see the “Lariat” sticker on the car, and so that clearly counts. (Yes, I have been known to freeze the episode, take a screen cap, and enlarge, just to check for that “Lariat” sticker!) In other episodes we see them driving, but there’s no clear indication that the car is a rental. I count that detail if the case is far enough away from Washington D.C. that they wouldn’t have driven but not if they’re within driving distance of their office.

Flashlights appear too often to be interesting, and I’m almost sorry I included that detail in the spreadsheet. Although the count just solidifies why the flashlights make such an iconic image.

last, but not least, the touches

This category held some surprises for me as well. When I think of Mulder and Scully, I think of him placing his hand on her lower back as they walk out of a room or down a hall. I expect to see that in every scene, or at least every episode. So I was really kind of surprised how seldom that actually happens. It’s fairly common in Season 1, occurring in 13 episodes. But it happens only 6 times in Season 2 and only twice in Season 3!

But that’s okay, because we’ve got the random touch. This is by far my favorite detail to track because there are so many variations on this theme, from a shoulder grab, to an arm squeeze, to a cheek tap, and more. Mulder touches Scully, Scully touches Mulder, in almost every episode. These two are just really touchy, and I’m here for it. Moving into Season 4 and beyond, as their relationship grows, we’ll start to see some of the more personal touches, and those are wonderful too. But these little random touches, which often serve no purpose other than a quick connection, are really the heart of the show for me.

Here’s a link to my spreadsheet if you want to follow along:


And I tweet #randomtouch pictures almost daily, so check them out. On Twitter I’m CathyG@CatherineGlins2