About 5 months ago I had the idea to create a spreadsheet to track some of the iconic details from The X-Files and then rewatch the series start to finish, scoring each episode and film. I’ve written about this project here https://myxfilesobsession.home.blog/2019/12/05/the-spreadsheet/ and here https://myxfilesobsession.home.blog/2020/01/23/its-all-about-the-random-touch/. Now that I’m finally finished, I want to share some of my observations.
First, I think it’s notable that the highest scoring episode is the Pilot, in which 23 of the details I consider iconic appeared. Only Fight the Future scored higher, with 24 points, but it’s a full length feature film. I find this amazing! So many of the details we came to identify as necessary to the show were there right from the start. A friend asked me if it’s possible that we look to the Pilot for what to expect, and that’s why the details we find iconic are the ones we see in that episode. It’s an interesting question. I think that’s true of things like “Spooky” and “Medical doctor”, or Scully performing an autopsy, or the basement office. But many of the details I’ve included in the spreadsheet are incidental to the story being told, like the random touches or Mulder’s rolled sleeves. Those details became just as important to the look and feel of the show, so I think their presence in the Pilot is a remarkable bit of consistency, especially for a show often criticized as lacking that feature.
My next observation is that generally mythology episodes score higher than monster of the week episodes. That’s not true across the board. Vince Gilligan’s stand alone episodes tend to score pretty high as do Darin Morgan’s episodes. It’s possible that the mythology episodes were the closest to a “formula” the series ever came and thus needed a certain look, while the monster of the week episodes could be more experimental. And both Vince Gilligan and Darin Morgan were masters at detail continuity, so it makes sense we would see a lot of these details in their episodes. This idea might be something I’ll explore further.
My top five favorite episodes scored pretty high. Paper Hearts and Memento Mori each scored 17 points, Requiem 15, Pusher 11, and Jose Chung’s From Outer Space 10. Not surprisingly, my least favorite episodes scored fairly low. Excelsis Dei, First Person Shooter, and Fight Club each scored 5 points. I can’t draw too many conclusions from these scores. I created the spreadsheet, so it makes sense that the episodes I love are going to be filled with the details I chose to focus on. There are a few lower scoring (<5) episodes that I like a lot, but no higher scoring (>17) episodes that I don’t love.
When I started this project I was curious whether the details I was focusing on could help pinpoint moments of change in the Mulder/Scully relationship (because for me it’s all about the MSR). I think I had some success with that. In Beyond the Sea Mulder calls Scully “Dana” for the first time. That and his reassuring random touches make me think this is when they go from being just partners to friends. As I’ve noted before, these two characters touch each other a lot. There are loads of little random touches, and those continue throughout the series. But in season 4 we start seeing more personal touches. The forehead kiss in Memento Mori makes it clear these two characters are more than friends; they’re necessary parts of each other’s whole. The forehead touch in Fight the Future is so intimate that we know their feelings have progressed even further. Scully pretty consistently “checks Mulder for head trauma” by ruffling his hair, but when Mulder touches Scully’s hair in Redux II and The Red And The Black, it’s because he’s facing the possibility of losing her. That intimate gesture shows his need to hold on. And when he repeats it in all things…well we know something’s about to happen.
I learned some things that surprised me while tracking these details. Scully doesn’t “not see” all that often (only 8 episodes). That’s about as often as Mulder loses his gun (9 episodes). Although I hear a lot of complaints that the show puts Scully in peril too often, the numbers show otherwise. Throughout the series Mulder is attacked or shot 66 times, while Scully is attacked or shot 47 times. And Mulder saves Scully a total of 18 times, but Scully saves Mulder a total of 17 times. I’d say that’s a pretty fair balance. Another fun realization: I knew Mulder and Scully rarely call each other by their first names, but I was surprised to learn that Scully only calls Mulder “Fox” twice in the entire series, and both instances were written/co-written by Glen Morgan.
I think the biggest surprise for me by far was how seldom Mulder places his hand on Scully’s lower back. I was under the impression that this was the most commonly used gesture in the series, and I expected to see it in almost every episode. It’s there right at the very beginning, and we see it in 13 episodes of the first season. But after that it’s pretty rare. I was so happy to see it make a reappearance in season 11.
Just a note about the scoring. When I created the spreadsheet I tried to choose details that could be identified objectively. I didn’t want to include anything that would require me to interpret a scene or a character’s motivations, partly because I wanted to be able to mark the spreadsheet quickly as I watched, and partly because I recognized that others might have different interpretations. But how do you know precisely when Mulder calling “Scully” becomes “Scuullllaaaayyy”? As I did my rewatch, it became clear I would have to make some judgment calls. For instance, I defined a “Mulder ditch” as any time Mulder went off without telling Scully where he was going or why, but someone else might also include any time Mulder did something even though Scully asked him not to. I counted times Mulder or Scully were shown in hotel rooms they were staying in but not times they were investigating a case in a hotel. I counted not only times Scully said “Mulder, it’s me” but also times Mulder answered the phone “Mulder” and Scully immediately said “It’s me” (and vice versa). So it’s quite possible that someone else using this same spreadsheet could come up with different scores.
Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who has followed along with this project. I loved your comments, encouragement, and suggestions for future spreadsheets. I loved when friends pointed out details they spotted or asked for answers based on the data I’d collected. You’ve helped make this whole effort extremely enjoyable!
So here it is, the completed spreadsheet. Take a look, and please let me know if you find any surprises or draw any interesting conclusions!