World’s Best FBI Dad

Part 3 of the Father Figure series

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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.”

The last time we see Sharon Skinner, in Avatar

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.

Skinner makes a deal with CSM to save Scully, and Mulder, in Memento Mori

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.

Skinner putting Mulder in his place in Anasazi

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.

Mulder’s faith in Skinner proves to be justified in Redux II

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

Loyal

Trustworthy

Encourager

Role Model

Skinner, still dealing with Mulder’s antics, in Babylon

Skinman…but don’t call him that

Kickass defender

Indulgent

Nurturing

Noble

Enabler

Reliable

Father Figure

I’ve already written about Mulder’s mother, so I thought I’d tackle the topic of his father. Turns out that’s a much more complicated issue. One of the major themes in The X-Files is Mulder’s relationship to his various father figures. This will be the first in a three-part series looking at how Mulder was shaped by the presence, or absence, of a paternal role-model.

When getting started on this topic I tried to identify the attributes of a father so I could discuss who most filled this role for Mulder. The qualities that came to mind were biology, nurture, authority, wisdom, guidance, love, affection, protection, and provision. I’m not sure Mulder received all of these from any one figure in his life. The question for me was whether he received enough of them, at the right time, and who he turned to when he needed these qualities.

Deep Throat

The first father figure we’re introduced to is Deep Throat, in the episode named for this character. When Deep Throat first approaches Mulder he warns Mulder sternly to leave the case alone. He tries to give Mulder advice, but he doesn’t give Mulder any answers. Naturally, Mulder ignores him and investigates the case anyway. The dynamic we’re seeing here is that of a father and adolescent son. The father isn’t used to having to explain himself; he expects to be obeyed without question “because I said so.” The son is no longer satisfied with blindly following orders, however, and he starts to question the wisdom of his father, deciding to strike out on his own whether he’s fully prepared or not. In the end, Mulder has learned some things through his experience, but he needs the reassurance of this father figure that he’s on the right path. Deep Throat guides Mulder to the truth, asking him “Why are those who believe in extraterrestrial life not dissuaded by all the evidence to the contrary?” When Mulder answers correctly that “All the evidence to the contrary is not entirely dissuasive,” Deep Throat smiles like a proud father. He then rewards Mulder with the information that “They’ve been here for a long, long time.”

Deep Throat makes several appearances in Season 1, reinforcing his role as Mulder’s surrogate father. In Ghost in the Machine we see Mulder reach out to Deep Throat when he doesn’t have the clearance he needs to investigate the case. Deep Throat scolds Mulder for contacting him instead of waiting to be contacted, but the point is that when Mulder asked for help, he responded. His tone with Mulder is very parental, not giving answers but guiding Mulder with a series of questions that help him find the answers himself. At the end of the episode they are sitting together on a park bench, with Mulder seeking approval and Deep Throat providing reassurance.

Deep Throat offers Mulder protection in Fallen Angel, preventing the X-Files from being shut down. And he shows affection for Mulder in Eve, talking about taking in a ball game together, passing on information from his past as though sharing family history. In Young at Heart Deep Throat teaches Mulder about the facts of life, filling him in on the government’s involvement in genetic experiments.

In EBE we see that Mulder puts Deep Throat on a pedestal, commenting that Deep Throat could get them great seats if they were ever able to see a ball game together, telling Scully he trusts Deep Throat implicitly. But then Deep Throat misleads Mulder. Like a son learning for the first time his parent is fallible, Mulder is crushed and he confronts Deep Throat in anger. Deep Throat’s reaction mirrors Mulder’s. He appears angry and then hurt that Mulder is questioning him. When he tries to explain his hope that Mulder could set right the wrongs that have been committed, Mulder lashes out, asking “Who are you to decide that for me?” Mulder, the child, is becoming an adult, realizing he has to think for himself. Mulder now knows that Deep Throat is willing to lie to him and use him to accomplish his goals. Although Deep Throat claims to be admitting to dark secrets in hopes that Mulder can help him atone for his past, Mulder remains disillusioned.

In Erlenmeyer Flask we see Mulder as the adult son. He still trusts and respects Deep Throat, but he now sees him as a person, with flaws and limitations, rather than an omniscient god-like figure. Mulder challenges Deep Throat with a newfound confidence, acknowledging that he’s been the dutiful son, but showing they’re on equal footing now. In the end, Deep Throat works with Scully to save Mulder, but he takes the back seat in the endeavor, in recognition of the more significant role this adult relationship with a partner has in Mulder’s life. He passes on one more bit of fatherly advice, to Scully, telling her to “Trust no one.”

Mulder sees Deep Throat two more times, in visions. In The Blessing Way, Deep Throat is the first person Mulder encounters. He calls Mulder “friend” and urges him to live, to keep fighting monsters. This is someone Mulder clearly respects and trusts, someone whose guidance he needs and misses. Again, in Amor Fati, Deep Throat is the first person Mulder encounters in his dream, and Mulder is clearly happy to be reunited with him. They show affection as they talk of lessons learned from the past and hopes for the future. Regardless of the purpose of Mulder’s dream, it seems clear that in his mind Deep Throat is a beloved, trusted, and missed father figure.

It’s interesting that when we first meet Deep Throat, we know nothing about Mulder’s biological father. But the relationship Mulder develops with his mentor/informant suggests he was in need of a father figure. The only thing we know about Mulder’s childhood is that his sister was abducted when he was 12 years old. This family trauma must have disrupted Mulder’s bond with his father, and his relationship with Deep Throat seems to pick up at this point in his development, as he’s entering adolescence. Mulder’s connection with Deep Throat as a surrogate father helps him move forward into adulthood.

Deep Throat’s story arc is a beautiful illustration of Mulder’s progression from adolescence to adulthood. It starts with Mulder’s child-like dependency on Deep Throat for guidance, protection, and direction. As Mulder grows in confidence and understanding, his interactions with Deep Throat are strained, but there’s still an acknowledgement of the wisdom to be gained from history. Mulder the adult no longer needs constant supervision, but he can reflect back on what he’s learned from Deep Throat, bringing that wisdom with him as he moves from self-sufficiency to a committed partnership with Scully.