Abbie Anderson and The X-Files

A Brief History

The X-Files premiered in the fall of 1993. I watched from the beginning, but didn't know I was going to be hooked so deeply until about half-way through the first season. During those months I was finishing my Ph.D. coursework part-time while preparing for my Qualifying Exams and working full-time; The X-Files came as an extremely engaging (and welcome) diversion. It featured a strong, intelligent, professional woman who was still allowed to have a credible emotional life (she wasn't required to be a de-feminized "refrigerator" just because she was smart and ambitious), who could be beautiful without having to jiggle for the camera or remove articles of clothing (except for in the pilot, of course). To top it off, this strong, intelligent woman was allowed to have an actual friendship with a male co-worker--a friendship based on trust and respect (not to mention some teasing and some rather serious differences in world-view) as well as a growing personal commitment. Add to this the charismatic qualities of the lead actors (their voices alone still get to me), the dark, mysterious tone and paranormal subject matter of the series (all pretty rare on TV in 1993), and you had a rather striking original.

This was not passive entertainment for me, but a stimulating and challenging encounter I looked forward to every week. Airing on Friday nights, it was a perfect end-of-week refreshment. I of course was taping the show, and would re-watch on Saturdays to catch details I might have missed, whether in the storytelling, the direction, or the actors' performances (which were usually multi-levelled and highly involving because they weren't overtly "dramatic" most of the time). I loved the show's subtlety, and its insistence that I pay attention. For the first three or four seasons, it actually seemed as if the makers of this show wanted me to think--to participate in the story they were building (nowadays they seem to want me to sit back and enjoy myself and not ask too many questions--which is fine, since this is TV after all, but a bit of a come-down after my initial relationship with the show). I actually looked forward to going back to work on Mondays just so that I could discuss the most recent instalment with friends in the office after a weekend of stewing it over and debating it by e-mail and in person or on the phone.

I still dislike watching The X-Files on Sunday nights, right before my bed-time and right before the work-week. I almost never re-watch episodes any more--I have too many other things to do during the week--and I wonder whether this lack of opportunity to savor each episode has contributed to the dimming of my ardor for the show. Of course, the ratings really took off after they moved it to Sundays, so I must be in the minority on this; but the time-slot has pretty definitely added fuel to my frustrations with the show that started germinating in season four (when the switch was made) and really blossomed in season five. I have noted that almost every episode of The X-Files gets better with each viewing--and, like I said, I almost never watch new episodes more than once any more. I also rarely want to, however. The production values are still high, the directors are still sharp, the cast just keeps getting better--but the writers have let me down too many times with their willful inconsistencies and outright nonsense in the so-called "Mythology" (I have to spit when I say that word in reference to The X-Files). I hope to high heaven that they'll stop dashing their brains out trying to come up with new story ideas, and just let the thing rest after season seven. Unless they're going to let David Duchovny write some more episodes (wink).

OK, so flash back to the summer of 1994. I had just taken, and passed, my Ph.D. Qualifying Exams in Folklore and Ethnomusicology--and learned that my grant applications had all been denied, and I would not be receiving funding to go back to Nigeria for my dissertation research (largely due to political unrest there, which erupted just as I was submitting my applications the previous Fall). I had to switch to Plan B: a dissertation I could research in-town while working full-time (a much cheaper way to go, but one which would leave me much less attractive to prospective academic employers). I was now finished with all my academic work that was "on a schedule" or had a real deadline, other than the time limit imposed for finishing one's Ph.D. with a successfully defended dissertation (seven years after Qualifying, I believe).

More compellingly, the first season of The X-Files ended with a dual cliffhanger: the onscreen closing of the X-Files office and reassignment of Mulder and Scully to different departments, and the real-world problem of co-star Gillian Anderson's pregnancy (she would be entering her third trimester when production would begin for the second season). I was intensely hungry for new X-Files stories to get me through the summer, and also a little worried about how Ms. Anderson's pregnancy would be handled. Would Scully be made pregnant as well? Would they ignore the pregnancy and shoot around it? Would they shoot episodes without her? What were the writers and producers going to do?

With no immediate academic obligations to get in the way, and with a job that left with me with a lot of free time in the summer, I started writing my own X-Files. I was already used to the teleplay format after writing my Star Trek: The Next Generation script ("Rosemary for Remembrance"), and what I wanted was more episodes--so I wrote teleplays. In a virtual frenzy. The story ideas wouldn't stop coming, and I was having too much fun to stop; I ended up writing six teleplays over the course of the summer, three of which were my own answer to the Gillian Anderson Pregnancy Problem. I had a blast. I started writing again as the holidays approached, and had three more teleplays (with the start of a fourth) by January 1995. It was exhilarating to feel so inspired, and so engaged in something creative--something I hadn't felt since late High School, when my involvement with music (I played the bassoon) was really taking off, and I decided to go to Music School (a bad move, ultimately, for someone with as little confidence as I have, which is why I didn't continue as a musician--but that's another story). Over the course of 1995 and mid-way into 1996 I wrote two long stories in regular prose format. Since 1996 I have been working on a very long, involving, and thoroughly enjoyable collaboration with my good cyber-friend Debbie Goldstein on a sequel to her Angster fanfic "Death Will Be Our Darling" (really, we're almost finished now), while the itch to write X-Files of my own has faded.

I started posting my teleplays to Internet X-Files fanfic groups, and got the occasional e-mail in response (which is how I met Debbie, actually), but it wasn't until I posted in regular prose story format that I started getting real "fan-mail" (what a good thing for my little ego, especially as I was struggling with my ebbing motivation for academic work!). There are real "superstar" fanfic authors, interviews with whom are often posted alongside their stories. I'm not one of those luminaries, but I have had a few people write me some really nice things about "Emergence" and "Penetrating the Shadows".

I didn't know about the world of fan fiction on the Internet (or X-Philes fandom in general, for that matter) when I started writing; I was just doing it for myself, blowing off steam. Wary of my own extremes, I've always been a little leery of the extremes of fandom (aside from the fact that I'm a terrible snob). As I got more caught up in the show I started to tentatively explore the Internet X-Phile universe, and was very fortunate to come across a website devoted to Assistant Director Skinner (now at't miss it), run by a warm, generous and energetic fan named Robin Mayhall. Robin and I started corresponding about The X-Files, and after a few months of becoming one of her many cyberbuddies, in the Spring of 1996 I was invited to join a little e-mail discussion group called (tongue-in-cheek) The Dana Scully Power Rangers. My life hasn't been the same since!

Being a Ranger swiftly became for me a defining characteristic of being an X-Phile. There are twelve of us, ranging in age from twenty-something to why-do-you-ask, married and single, all professional (from costumer for a New York soap opera, to astronomer turned freelance writer, to High School chemistry teacher). One of us is even one of those superstar fanfic writers I mentioned: Karen Rasch. You can read her stories on her website (; most of them are very romantic soft porn, and while I don't share Karen's sexual tastes (ahem: wouldn't that hurt?) I do admire her excellent, intelligent writing (not to mention her well-thought-out opinions on the show). These ladies (we're all women--not by deliberate exclusion; it just happened that way) are funny, smart, articulate, and diversely opinionated. We laugh and argue and scold each other and the show, and generally have a great time. A Ranger message always makes my day (and it's not always every day any more, as all of us have grown a little disillusioned with the show and have allowed Real Life to Interfere more than than we once would have). Through the Rangers I've learned that I probably wouldn't like much of the world of fandom, where differences of opinion are not generally well-tolerated, and where maturity levels (both in years and in character) can apparently be rather low (see, I told you I was a snob). Through them I also get to keep in touch with a lot of the juicy rumors and actual news about the show, without having to do the trawling myself (lazy me). I love these women. I've had the privilege of meeting seven of them face-to-face (six at a big weekend slumber party we spent in LA in January '97, the seventh one-on-one during a couple trips home to Seattle), and am happy to report that they're even more fun in person than they are in my inbox. Here's to you, Rangers: you're the best. I couldn't do it without you.

The "fanfic" universe is a fascinating one, more densely populated and diverse than you might think if this is a part of cyberspace you haven't explored yet. It's also highly organized by now (go to The Gossamer Archive to see The X-Files fanfic arena in its virtual entirety; I highly recommend the work of Nicole Perry). Readers have their own annual awards, called the Spookys. There are writers' workshops for X-Files fanfic, too, with elaborate networks of "Beta Readers" to preview a writer's work and offer critiques before the story is posted. If you're new to reading fanfic, however, be warned: a lot of it is based on sexual fantasy, and can get pretty explicit and even hard-core (it's always labelled, though; "slash" fanfic is explicitly homosexual, usually involving Mulder and Krycek and/or Skinner--just so you know). A fairly large proportion of it is poorly written from a grammatical and stylistic point of view--but there is a lot of really sharp stuff out there, too. For me the most interesting thing about it is seeing how the fans respond to the show--what they're curious about; what they're missing (like our heroes' lives before the X-Files and outside the X-Files); how they would "fix" certain episodes; what they imagine happened after the closing credits of a specific episode or between certain scenes; what they want to hear the characters say or see them do. Some of it can be pretty scary (fans are "fanatics", after all), but it's definitely an eye-opener--and very liberating for the people who write it and who read it. Here we have Alternate X-Files, where we can make anything whatsoever happen, no matter what the actual writers of the show try to do onscreen. The ultimate "up yours" to Chris Carter, if I may be so crude.

Of course this assessment applies to my own stories, too. Scully kisses somebody in all my stories, for instance, although it isn't always Mulder (honest!). The second-season episode "One Breath" had a particular impact on me. This is the episode which returned Scully to the show after her abduction (which storyline allowed Gillian Anderson to give birth to her real-life daughter, Piper)--but in a coma, and expected to die. It might be surprising that I'm so strongly affected by this one, since normally I'm "Scully-centric" and have little patience for what I consider to be Mulder's wallowing in self-imposed, self-indulgent, self-sanctifying guilt (I think it's fair to describe Mulder as a guy with a Messiah complex, an apparent death wish, and a rather marked father figure fixation--blecch). "One Breath" is definitely a Mulder episode, perhaps the ultimate Mulder episode; yet it gets to me because of what we learn about Mulder, how other characters are developed around him--and how those other characters try to force him to examine some Truths he's been neglecting. I found Duchovny's performance riveting as Mulder nearly went over to the Dark Side in his conflicted grief and rage (I can't help it, I'm a sucker for strong feeling, which we had seen little of in Mulder up to that point). I loved the introduction of Scully's sister Melissa, the psychic (!), and especially liked the scenes between Mulder and Skinner, Mulder and the Cigarette Smoking Man, and Mulder and the mysterious X ("You're a damn schoolboy, Mulder!"). And of course there's that wonderfully understated scene where Mulder and Scully are reunited in the hospital room after she has come out of coma (with the implication--at least to me--that she has done so purely in response to his need). I could have done without the heavy-handedness of the literal visual metaphors in the scenes where Scully is "floating" in her coma and "coming out of the woods" into consciousness, not to mention the corny speech from the figure of her dead father (whence came the title of the episode) and that awful "pyramid boobs" white dress they had her laid out in for her near-death visions (and do they really keep people in comas lying on top of the covers in hospitals?), but otherwise the emotional textures of this episode still get me goin'. The trauma Mulder went through in "One Breath"--and Scully's apparent awareness of him and his pain while in her coma--couldn't just be ignored, couldn't just be passed by without repercussions, I felt; so I wrote bits of my feelings about those things into "Stepping Out", "One Blood", and especially "Emergence".

Probably the best thing that came out of my compulsion to write X-Files stories is that in the process I gave myself permission to write again. Between 1) my academic obligations (I still have trouble allowing myself to sit down with a novel to just read for pleasure) and 2) embarrassment over the vain, adolescent pretension that was a large part of "my writing" (erk) in High School, I hadn't allowed myself the "indulgence" of writing a story in many years. The X-Files broke through all of that. I wrote my first science fiction story when I was seven years old; this is just something my brain likes to do, regardless of whether I'm any good at it and regardless of whether I try to "make anything of it". It gives me the chance to play around with human stuff (why we act the way we do, how we relate to each other, and how we feel about it) and imagine different ways of dealing with said human stuff. And unlike in the real world, you have a little control over the variables involved and how they combine. It's great therapy, and it's free.

If you're not familiar with the world of X-Files fandom, it may help to know that there are two main "political" camps: the Relationshippers, or Shippers (whose tastes in the show run toward the "shippy"), who believe to varying degrees that Mulder and Scully ought to be a couple in a romantic/sexual sense if they aren't already; and the No-Romos or Anti-Shippers, who feel very strongly that Mulder and Scully should not be a couple, at least not on the show (citing "Moonlighting" as a testimonial). When I began writing fanfic I was eminently intrigued by Mulder's and Scully's relationship, and wanted to imagine that their friendship--so well-founded on mature qualities of trust and respect, as mentioned earlier--could become deeper emotionally (and I like kissing, too). Another important contingent is the Angsters, who savor what is known as MulderAngst or MulderTorture (definitely not my taste, at least not when taken to the extremes of Angster fanfic). They enjoy stories that explore Mulder's capacity/propensity for agony, both emotional and physical. This isn't really sadistic, I don't think: this X-Phile taste seems more operatic and cathartic than bloodthirsty.

Overall, I'm an ambivalent Shipper--and not an Angster, despite my reaction to "One Breath". Mulder is such a tangled mess emotionally, and so self-involved (so focused on his own Issues), that I have to admit I wouldn't wish him on anybody as a romantic partner (as a recovering co-dependent, I just have to say no to that); and Scully is so battened-down emotionally that I think it would be very difficult for her to give Mulder what he needs. I'm still awfully fond of both of them, and want the best for them; and being an insufferable, incurable romantic who is working on her second decade of being in love with a rather complicated fellow, I tend to think of "being in love" as part of "the best" (although I'll readily admit that it can also be a lot of work, and that confusion plays its part in the process, too). If our heroes were real people, however, I'm not sure it would be such a good idea, especially considering how intense their work together already is without adding intimate issues to the mix. After the end of season six, however, we see the two of them much closer to being able to get past these problems; Mulder has admitted at least to himself that he loves Scully ("Triangle", possibly "The Unnatural"), and Scully is more overtly wrestling with her feelings and her priorities for herself. We shall see what the writers decide to do (if we can stand it, since they don't seem to know what they want from one episode to the next, much less remember what they've done before). Ahem.

Fanfic is the best vengeance.

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Abbie Anderson
Last updated 8/12/99