Happy October! Welcome to the spooky season and part one of a four-part series looking at girlhood in some of my favorite spooky entertainment. This week, I am taking a look at girlhood on The X-Files (do do do do do doooo).
Girlhood on The X-Files
I have such good memories of The X-Files from my own girlhood; for me, it was really the gateway drug to creepy entertainment. (I mean, other than Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark). My dad enjoyed the show, but it came on around the time that he usually went to bed, since he had to get up so early to go to work as a morning show host. That meant that he usually fell asleep watching it. In the house we lived in until I was in the sixth grade, my parents’ bedroom was next door to mine and, after they got a little TV set for their room, I would sneak to sit in the doorway of their room, watching The X-Files while Dad was asleep and Mom was watching her own show downstairs. Did it scare the crap out of me? Yes. Did I love it? Yes! The monster of the week episodes have always been my favorite, and, later, Dad and I would spend Saturday afternoons watching reruns of The Twilight Zone or old B horror movies such as Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. When it came to The X-Files, though, I was waaaaay more into the show than Dad was. Perhaps it was because of how dreamy Agent Mulder could be, or perhaps it was because, as I entered my teen years, I was at an age prone to getting obsessed with things. Either way, The X-Files and Early Edition ruled my early adolescent TV screen.
When it comes to girls on The X-Files, the first character who comes to mind is Samantha Mulder. The abduction of his sister motivates Mulder to go into the FBI and to explore alien phenomena. More on that later. The presentation of Samantha Mulder as an innocent who needs to be saved or avenged is not the only representation of girlhood on the show, however. On a show that had a relatively complicated take on human nature and an often Twilight Zone-like bite to its commentary on human behavior, girlhood is no less twisted than anything else. Often, girls are connected to the show’s obsession with fertility, its poking fun at Satanic Panic, and the darkness with which it generally presents childhood. Often on the show, children are victims or observers of the bad behavior of adults. Just as often, however, they are perpetrators of their own schemes. The following are my top 5 episodes of The X-Files about girls (in chronological order). Spoiler alert, obviously. This show is almost 30 years old, c’mon.
Top 5 Episodes
Eve (1.11) This episode features evil twins! Sort of. Like I mentioned, The X-Files is obsessed with fertility (Scully’s, “Small Potatoes”, “Home”, “All Souls”, “Terms of Endearment”—It’s everywhere). In this case, Scully and Mulder are investigating a strange murder, which turns into two murders, which turns into them almost getting murdered by two girls who were created as part of a secret government project that genetically modified children (called Adams or Eves), who ended up with super strength, intelligence, and homicidal behavior and/or psychosis. What I love about the young Eves, Teena and Cindy, is that they play the role of the innocent little girl, but their muted affect is a little creepy, and they are really whipsmart little murderers. They use what people see when they look at young girls against them. When the jig is up, one of them tells Mulder “We’re just little girls,” and it is darkly funny.
Syzygy (3.13) Syzygy is one of my favorite episodes of the series overall, a silly monster of the week episode that pokes fun at Satanic Panic and is made all the more fun by how annoyed Scully and Mulder are with each other the whole time. In the episode, the planets align, causing anyone born on that date (Jan. 12) to have unusually strong cosmic power. This power converges on best friends Terri and Margi, gets mixed up with teen drama, and starts to rack up a body count. I love this episode for how it mixes mean girl antics with the bond between best friends and high school ridiculousness and then throws some astrological superpower on top of it all. It is very funny (and it features a young Ryan Reynolds). Ultimately, Mulder concludes (in voiceover), that it’s not the girls’ fault—it’s the universe!
Paper Hearts (4.10) “Paper Hearts” picks up the mythology around Mulder’s sister and almost gives it a non-alien explanation. Mulder begins to have dreams leading him to uncover more information on the case of a serial killer he helped put behind bars years before. As the drama unfolds, he begins to suspect that the killer, not aliens, may have taken his sister. If you set aside for a moment that Mulder thinks that he and the killer, John Lee Roche, have formed a connection in their dreams (whut?), this episode is more like a police procedural than most and, given that Roche is a convicted child abductor and murderer, it also features the most traditional vision of girlhood. In “Paper Hearts,” girls are innocents—victims who needed protection. Mulder’s grief and guilt that he could not protect his sister comes out in full force and opens him up to manipulation by Roche. The mystery here is solid and interesting and I appreciate the nod made to historical girlhood by having Roche’s trophies (hearts cut out of the girls’ pajamas) stored in an old copy of Alice in Wonderland (written by another probable pedophilic creep).
Emily (5.7) Emily is one of many episodes preoccupied with Scully’s fertility. I actually really do not like this whole storyline, but it felt necessary to include it because, like Samantha Mulder, Emily is a girl tied up in the show’s mythology. This episode continues from the previous one, “Christmas Carol”, in which Scully tells her family that she is infertile because of her abduction and cancer. Then, she discovers a little girl, Emily, who looks just like Scully’s own sister, Melissa. It turns out that Emily is not Melissa’s daughter, she is Scully’s, conceived through experiments done on Scully when she was abducted. Then a lot more stuff goes down. Scully sees Emily as an innocent and, given her recent news about her own fertility, it is easy to see how Emily represents a glimmer of hope for her. But, the girl has alien DNA, so she also represents the conspiracy that Scully was made part of. It is complicated and weird, and I don’t like it. Poor Scully.
Chinga (5.10) This episode was co-written with Stephen King and features an evil doll and a really bratty kid. “Chinga” takes the trope of an evil doll and makes it kind of funny and also pretty darn creepy. While Scully is just trying to have a vacation, she ends up investigating disturbing acts of violence in a small town that all seem connected to widowed mom Melissa and her awful kid, Polly. Polly is unusually quiet and has a super impatient, mean temper. She also has a murderous doll who acts out on that temper. Polly is maybe a knowing accomplice, but not exactly an evil kid. It’s fun. Just not for Melissa. Or Scully. My favorite element of this episode (besides the super gross bleeding eyes) is how it takes the mind-numbing annoyance that can come from listening to the same kids’ song over and over and over again (ahem, “Baby Shark”) and makes the song sinister instead. When “The Hokie Pokie” plays on Polly’s (ugh) record player, that means the doll is pissed. If you love this episode, you should check out Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix.
The girls are just as messed up as the rest of us:
So, those are my Top 5. I appreciate how The X-Files uses common parts of girlhood—”sisters,” BFFS, boyfriends, and dolls—and twists them in the series’ own special way. I especially love that the show does not consistently present girls as innocents or as hormonal monsters. Like all people in the X-Files universe, they are prone to irrational behavior, supernatural hijinks, and manipulation by secret government organizations. The show’s approach is sometimes a little cliched, but at least it is not reductive.
Let me know in the comments: what are your favorite episodes of The X-Files? Do you prefer the mythology or the monster of the week eps?
I just started rewatching for the third time. I’m just finishing up season 4 now. I endorse all of these choices! This time around it really struck me how the good episodes are truly cinematic – Eve especially felt like an entire film condensed into 45 minutes. So much happens! The last time I watched I think I must have still been in undergrad, and my analytical skills weren’t as strong as they are now, so it’s a whole different experience this time around.
I think I prefer the mythology episodes overall, but you just can’t beat a really good MOTW episode. Some of my favourites are Ice, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, The Amazing Maleeni, Humbug, Triangle, Drive, and both episodes in the Duane Barry arc. (Probably cliché picks, but popular for a reason.) I always love Darin Morgan and Vince Gilligan’s episodes the most!
By the way – this is my first time commenting, but I think I’ve been reading your blog since high school (or early undergrad?), and now I’m a media/cultural studies PhD student. So thanks for the many years of info and entertainment you’ve provided me!
Thanks for reading and good luck with your Ph.D. That’s such a cool field!
Drive is one of my favorite episodes also!