A Brief History of Mulder and Scully’s Once-Controversial Romance

Just make out already. Photo: FOX/Getty Images

For those of us who wanted to believe in a happy ending for the very special agents of The X-Files, the advance chatter around the show’s upcoming return has already included one giant buzzkill of a revelation: Sometime between the end-credits scene from the last X-Files movie and the opening moment of the new series, Mulder and Scully broke up.

Chris Carter confirmed the Sculder split in August 2015, prompting a great deal of wailing from the X-Files fanbase, who never expected to still be riding the emotional roller coaster of this fictional relationship after 25 years, nine seasons, and two movies.

But while we’re all more or less universally rooting for Mulder and Scully to end up together now, the possibility of a romance between the two hasn’t always been so popular. Actually, it was downright controversial — and it made for endless, highly emotional conflicts within the X-Files Usenet newsgroups that thrived on the internet in the 1990s. For as long as the show was on the air, even after the Mulder-Scully relationship had taken multiple turns for the non-platonic, debates raged on the message boards between two teams: the hopeful shippers who believed in love, and the horrified noromos who were sure it would ruin everything.

So before we settle in to watch Mulder and Scully reunite — in every way, if we’re lucky — we’re revisiting the moments from their original relationship arc that drove fans wild, along with some choice reactions from the bowels of Web 1.0.

1. Season One: Scully strips down in the pilot.

After investigating their very first case — an alien abduction — Scully finds a pair of suspicious marks on her body that mirror those found on the victims, and she presents her underwear-clad behind for Mulder’s inspection. When they turn out to be just mosquito bites, she hugs him with relief. If people weren’t wondering yet whether these two might eventually end up seminude together, they were certainly thinking about it after this.

While nobody jumped to any immediate conclusions at the time about their meant-to-be status, one shipper looked back on their instant trust as having obvious romantic promise: “Watching her reaction to his response that they were merely mosquito bites … oh heavens!”

2. Season Three: Bickering in “Syzygy.”

By now, fans had definitely noticed the agents’ chemistry and were clamoring for some Mulder-Scully lovin’. In response, Chris Carter (who’d stated for the record early on that there would never, ever, ever be a romance between them) made an episode just to highlight their many incompatibilities. It was meant to discourage the show’s shippers.

It, uh, didn’t work.

“If S&M *didn’t* want each other, they might have fallen into each other’s arms in this ep because they were both doing things that they normally wouldn’t want to do (i.e., drinking, smoking, fighting with each other),” wrote a newgroup poster. “*However*, what they did do was fight, which, if they were kind of acting the opposite to their true feelings, maybe it indicates how much they really care for each other.”

3. Season Four: Scully’s “Memento Mori” cancer scare brings the agents closer together.

The slow burn of Sculder was extra fiery all the way through this episode, as Mulder’s reaction to Scully’s alien-induced cancer made it abundantly clear how much he cared for her. It also ended with a forehead kiss and a full-body hug, the most intense display of physical affection between the agents yet.

On the newsgroups, the noromos could no longer ignore which way the wind was blowing. They were not pleased. Some looked for reassurance:

“Can someone please tell me if there is any truth to the rumour that Scully and Mulder are going to have an on screen affair? This is scary stuff, coz i reackon it will ruin the show!”

And some just lost their damn minds:

“The day Scully and Mulder kiss, or Scully has an on the screen romance or bedroom scene, is the day I stop watching X-files forever, burn every piece of x-files memorabilia I have, assassinate Christ Carter, bomb Fox studios, and drop a nuke on Vancouver. If we want love, we can watch crap like Melrose Place or 90210.”

4. Season Four: “Small Potatoes,” in which Scully nearly makes out with a Mulder impersonator.

That’s not actually Mulder going in for a kiss (the man is a shape-shifter, and the real Mulder bursts through the door just as they’re about to lock lips) — but Scully doesn’t know that.

Not only does she seem awfully receptive to smooching her partner, but this scene also gave reluctant shippers a safe space in which to imagine an X-Files romance without having to commit … and they liked it. They really, really liked it!

“I have to admit I’ve been sitting on that ‘should they or shouldn’t they’ fence for a long time now but last nights episode pushed me over the edge. For the first time I think that putting these two together (more than they already are - they already have a dynamic bond that is undeniable) would only enhance the characterizations of our heroes. “

5. Season Five: Mulder says “You’re my one in… 5 billion” in “Folie a Deux.”

Clutch your heart and hit your hallelujah, because Mulder just basically told Scully that she’s his soul mate. Confined to a hospital bed by doctors who don’t believe that he’s being stalked by a giant bug monster, Mulder pleads, “Scully, you have to believe me. Nobody else on this whole damn planet does or ever will. You’re my one in … 5 billion.”

The excitement over this moment ultimately gave way to disappointment over a near-miss kiss in the first X-Files movie, which was released a month or so later. But for the moment, exuberant shippers declared victory:

“We reeeaaaalllly need an anthem right about now.  As far as I am concerned, this battle’s as good as won.  At least they are acknowledging that they HAVE a relationship, even if it’s not the one we want.”

6. Season Six: Mulder and Scully play ball in “The Unnatural.”

At this point, an X-Files romance was looking pretty much inevitable — but they were still taking their sweet time with it, teasing fans with adorable cuddly moments like this one, which was the last scene in the “alien baseball player” episode written by David Duchovny himself.

“Have we gotten a glimpse into how the actor himself would like the ‘romance’ to play out,” a shipper mused. “Please, say it *is* so!”

7. Season Seven: Millennium, and beyond (at last, they kiss!).

Here it is, your moment of Zen: On November 28, 1999, Mulder and Scully touched mouths, romantic-like, in celebration of the new millennium, and the will-they-or-won’t-they debate was as good as done … although some noromos, bless ‘em, still clung to hope:

“After the big old kiss in Millennium, the interaction between M&S is unchanged. The status quo is preserved for noromos, but for shippers this must surely be a striking blow to their notion of the ship. … Mulder wouldn’t be able to do what he does with an authoritative significant other like Scully, let alone tolerate a significant other like her. They are clearly not meant for each other.”

Except that they were, of course.

While Mulder and Scully continued to have their ups and downs from seasons seven through nine — what with Mulder fathering a child with Scully, being abducted by aliens, and uncovering an extraterrestrial plot to colonize Earth — their romantic relationship became an established fact. And it was no surprise that when the show ended, the agents ended up together: just two fugitives spooning on a motel bed, tentatively making hopeful plans for the future.

Which makes it all the more devastating to learn that, after all that, they couldn’t make it work. But with six new episodes to go, there’s hope yet that they might find their way back to each other — a hope best articulated by one newsgroup poster who started out anti-romance but experienced an epiphany as things heated up in 1998.

“Part of what makes them Mulder and Scully is the dance they do around the issue of romance.  How they fight that passion while displaying so much passion in other areas, while together. It’s blatantly obvious, especially after the film, that their relationship is going to steadily become more intense and physical eventually. I want that. I want to see them exhaust ever [sic] ounce of strength they have remaining platonic until it almost kills them both, and the last episode of the show, I want to watch them walk off together, bathed in afterglow.  I want them to be happy.  I want to know more people, even fictional ones, can find true love for the rest of their lives, regardless of their outrageous or banal circumstances.

I want to believe.”

As do we all. But in separating Mulder and Scully before the new series debuts, The X-Files may be giving fans a chance to relive all that excitement, anguish, and hope for a second time.

*A previous version of this piece said that Mulder said “I love you” in season five’s “Folie a Deux.” That actually happened in season six’s “Triangle.”

A Brief History of Mulder and Scully’s Romance