The X-Files is literally true. Mulder and Scully are two FBI agents travelling across America finding aliens and ghosts and vampires and psychics and electrokenesis and voodoo and vampires and black helicopters and Legally Not The Loch Ness Monster and all sorts of supernatural shit, and they’re being interfered with by a high-ranking member of a US government conspiracy. Their success comes from a few things. There’s a lot of luck involved – a few coincidences and moments of extraordinary timing that one could sometimes put down to a benevolent God, as well as the luck of happening to be liked by a guy who is high up in the opposition’s bureaucratic ladder. It also comes down to Mulder and Scully having the systems of the FBI backing them up; the wide-ranging information systems on names, DNA, and fingerprints; the morgues, offices, and motels the characters use; the authority to question, arrest, and kill people. The most famous source of their success is their relationship, in which Mulder suggests wild theories and Scully shoots parts of them down with real-world science – an eternal battle between a skeptic and a believer.
There’s a few principles one can draw on here and they’re all connected to community – even a community of two. That famous pairing of Scully and Mulder is a perfect demonstration of the strengths of one person bolstering the weaknesses of another. Mulder generally isn’t angry when Scully corrects him – indeed, when they first meet, he’s practically beaming at the chance to have his theories taken seriously. There’s a common belief that conflict breeds creativity, which I think is a misconception – I think it’s more accurate to say that conflict breeds systemisation, forcing you to use only what works. The conflict of World War I forced the oil industry to create a standardised system of quality control and measurement, which is to say throwing all but the most effective ideas. The two financial extremes of the video game industry today – the multimillion dollar budgeted AAA games and microbudget ‘shovelware’ – both draw on the cheapest (and frequently most addictive) video game tricks to try and capture as wide and loyal an audience as possible, while the indie game market is where most of the industry’s true innovation is happening.
Mulder and Scully’s conversations are where the conflict of community happens. Scully’s questions and facts only end up strengthening Mulder’s theories when he comes up with responses she has no answer to, and he’s just correct enough that he ends up reducing the damage if not saving the day. Importantly, after a single case’s worth of conflict is done, they’re going to get back together and do it all again tomorrow. A community isn’t a place with no conflict, it’s a place where you choose the conflict you want to have. I used to be more afraid of interpersonal conflict and I think it comes from the same place as other people who desperately dive into every single conflict that crosses their path – a fear of failure, maybe a fear of being (or being perceived as) a loser. When you see it a chance to refine a theory rather than confirm esteem, it’s much harder to be afraid of it and it’s very easy to be part of a community – to choose conflicts that refine the position rather than divide community. And, of course, the broader world the characters operate in shows the need for education and larger systems. One could argue this is ironic, given the show’s distaste for The System, although perhaps not – it’s not that Systems are inherently wrong, it’s that this one is poisoned and makes the world worse.
The X-Files is a psychedelic landscape. None of it is real; it’s a bunch of actors reciting unrealistic dialogue as they perform unrealistic actions around unrealistic special effects. Television has traditionally been seen as an anti-auteur medium – combining the massive crew that movies typically have already with a large writers room that flattens most individual voices. One could argue that the light oversight the writers on The X-Files received would only enhance this sense; Vince Gilligan has reported that there was no real writer’s room and each was left to their own devices when writing their script. I would argue this makes seeing the show through an auteur lens more potent – a Chris Carter episode, a Vince Gilligan episode, a Darin Morgan episode, and a James Wong/Glen Morgan episode are all so distinct from each other that the show could be seen as cycling between auteurs, and each individual episode is an intense individual psychological experience.
Scully and Mulder aren’t real people but expressions of each auteur’s wonder and skepticism respectively. Darin Morgan dislikes wonder and loves skepticism, so he roasts Mulder at every opportunity and shows Scully solving problems. Chris Carter has a habit of letting Mulder run away with him and occasionally forgetting about Scully entirely. Everyone else tends to find a better balance between the two, using Mulder to generate wonder and Scully to carve it down (Vince Gilligan is best of all of them at this process). Each case is a thought that has entered this little psychological space, and psychic projections of Belief and Skepticism pound it into something comprehensible through a clear process.
This ends up implying the exact opposite principle that one gets by taking the whole thing literally. A individual mind must allow any thought to enter it, especially thoughts that contradict the other thoughts. An individual mind cannot afford to specialise or to block out a thought because a) any one of them could hold the solution to a problem and b) focusing on the wrong thought can lead you down a wild goose chase. It used to bother me when people were hypocritical because I believed that people should only be one thing and they should loudly tell you what it is. Once I truly understood that being just the one thing is intensely difficult because we’re all driven by contradictory impulses – including me – I came to believe it’s a person’s duty to square those impulses, to reduce their destruction by curbing the contradictory aspects of themselves as appropriate. Now I’ve changed my mind again: I believe the only way to ‘square’ impulses is to give into them, to let them all happen at once, to let Mulder pull you in one direction and Scully in another until they’re pulling you, together, in the right direction. From this psychedelic perspective, the FBI and medical school and interrogation rooms are still authority and education; the dry facts of the world. It’s important to read books, study, listen, and learn.