The X-Files Couldn’t Avoid Falling Into One TV Trope Trap

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

Early on in The X-Files, creator Chris Carter wanted to establish how independent Agent Dana Scully really was. In the very early episode “Deep Throat,” for example, he deliberately wrote a scene where Scully subdued a security agent as a way to prove to audiences she wouldn’t be some damsel in distress who always needed Mulder to help her. That works well on paper, but in practice, the rest of The X-Files soon fell into this damsel trope because Mulder is constantly saving Scully from one peril or another.

It Started With A Height Differential

The X-Files

One of the reasons that the X-Files creator wanted to fight against this trope is the height differential between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, something Mulder sometimes teases Scully about (regarding why he never lets Scully drive, he once joked that “I was never sure your little feet could reach the pedals”). When looking at the male agent towering over the female agent, years of TV and movies have conditioned us to think he would always be rushing in and saving her from danger. Chris Carter knew this all too well and decided to use the show’s second episode to show how tough Scully could be.

Scully Can Certainly Hold Her Own

The X-Files

Certainly, seeing Scully kick a security agent’s butt in “Deep Throat” helps establish her as a strong, independent woman, one who wouldn’t need Mulder to help her or run to her rescue. Including such a scene in the second X-Files episode shows how much Carter wanted to put such a tired TV trope to rest. However, as the show went on, this trope kept rearing its head again and again.

Tropes Will Be Tropes

The X-Files

For example, when Scully is abducted by Duane Barry, it’s Mulder who leads the charge to try to rescue her, though she ends up abducted by aliens. Later, when she’s in the hospital, Mulder stays by her side and helps lead her out of a coma that nearly claimed her life. In the two-part episode “Redux,” he risks both his career and his life in order to cure Scully’s mysterious cancer.

Dana In Distress

The X-Files

If we listed every X-Files episode with the trope of Mulder saving his own damsel in distress, we’d be here all day. When she is abducted and nearly killed in “Our Town,” her partner runs in to save the day, and in the Fight the Future movie, he breaks into a UFO to save Scully from yet another alien abduction. Speaking of aliens, Mulder spends all of the episodes “Essence” and “Existence” protecting Scully from alien super-soldiers so she can give birth to his love child (yes, we’re choosing to ignore that goofy later retcon).

Flipping The Script

the x-files monster

As you can tell, despite Chris Carter’s best intentions, The X-Files soon succumbed to the tired TV trope, and fans were treated to one season after another of Mulder rescuing Scully. However, the show deserves credit for making this a surprisingly equal story beat: Scully spends quite a bit of time rescuing Mulder, and depending on how you count, she actually saves him more than he saves her. That was insanely progressive for a 90s TV show whose creator and cast soon learned “the trope is out there,” giving fans scene after scene of charismatic characters saving each other’s lives.