“After having worked on The X-Files for so many years and really spent so much time thinking about these characters of Mulder and Scully, you do fall in love with them a bit, you do obsess about them. You find yourself thinking about them for hours and hours and hours. And that’s what Milagro’s about. It’s about the power of that kind of obsession.”
– Frank Spotnitz
Yeah, me too, Frank. Only I don’t get paid for it.
You’ve heard it all about “Milagro” before. How writers Spotnitz and Shiban came up with the idea for it after commiserating over the trials and tribulations of the creative life. How the character of Padgett is really a stand-in for the writers on The X-Files, right down to his board full of index cards.
I’m going to let smarter, more academically disciplined heads than I grapple with the more intellectual issues that “Milagro” raises – authorial intent, metafiction and the viewer as voyeur. That’s not why I’m here. I have a much more simplistic outlook on the “Milagro” message: Dana Scully is a friend of mine.
“Au contraire,” you say, “Dana Scully doesn’t exist.”
“Au contraire,” I mimic, “Dana Scully exists absolutely.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my state of mental health. I like it here with my childhood friend. Here they come, those feelings again!”
- Men at Work
Dana Scully is real. She lives in my head. She probably lives in yours too. She gets around like that.
You see, an idea is real. It’s an intangible reality that’s as real as any physical manifestation. Faith is real. Hope is real. Love is real. No one outside of Karl Marx would call me crazy for believing that. But if I said to you that I would only believe Faith was real if I saw it standing before me, then I’d have earned my right to a padded cell.
Dana Scully is an idea. She started out in the mind of Chris Carter the Beloved, she was translated into the written word by various scribes, she was interpreted in the body of Gillian Anderson the Sacred, she was relayed through a series of messengers, directors, photographers and editors, and finally, she was accepted by faith into the hearts and minds of many a television addict.
Like a game of Telephone, it’s hardly doubtful that Dana Scully as she began is not the same Dana Scully that viewers know and love. Every hand she passes through shapes and creates her, including the audience that eventually receives her, until she is a recognizable and independent form that even an objective observer can say, “That’s Dana Scully” or “That’s not Dana Scully” the same way they could say “That’s patriotism” or That’s narcissism.” She’s her own entity, moving at her own speed and toward her own destination despite Chris Carter’s original best intentions. At least, that’s what “Milagro” is telling us.
Back when I first started to watch The X-Files I was watching reruns on FX and was way behind the current run of the show. Before I swore off the internet and chatrooms (see the upcoming “The Unnatural” review), I couldn’t resist doing a little investigating into the future of the Mulder/Scully relationship. You can only imagine my 13-year-old horror when I discovered that Chris Carter had sworn on a stack of show bibles that Mulder and Scully would never be a romantic pair. I’m not ashamed to say I felt something akin to panic.
So I did the only thing I could and attempted to console myself by watching more of The X-Files. I watched and was quickly comforted – What I saw didn’t match up with what Chris Carter had so adamantly avowed. It’s then that the rebellious thought occurred to me, “That man doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Said thought was accompanied by the dismissive facial expression only a 13-year-old can make.
How can the viewer claim to know more than the creator? In my defense, I instinctively knew from watching the real Dana Scully what her Pygmalion-like creator may have still been in denial about, that come what may, she was falling in love with Fox Mulder. It didn’t matter what anyone else said, including Chris Carter. Scully told me. It was the gospel truth.
The more cynical among us might say that Carter eventually caved in the MSR department only because of fan pressure and potential ratings, but I’m not of a cynical turn. A Mulder/Scully romance would have happened eventually because their relationship naturally evolved irrespective of original intent or outside expectations. By Season 6, to keep them apart much longer would have been more unrealistic than a man-sized worm. My Philey Sense tells me that Chris Carter realized this and just went with the flow.
Philip Padgett, Scully’s creepy admirer, is a not so subtle, if far less socially adept, substitute for Carter himself as the writer whose character has escaped his control long enough to writer her own script while he wasn’t looking. Like I said, intangible ≠ unreal. Scully is so much her own person, such a fully fleshed idea, that Padgett can no longer predict her choices. The question is then, did he ever really? Where does the writer’s intention end and the real Dana Scully begin?
I don’t know the answer to that exactly but I know that it’s not just the writer who creates her. According to that same game of Telephone I mentioned above, the idea of Dana Scully is communicated to a series of people through a series of mediums and the method of communication is in part what shapes her.
In a lot of ways, I bet life is easier for a novelist than a television writer. A novelist creates and idea and shapes it with words, communicating directly with his audience. A television writer sees his vision revised by several sets of minds and hands until what the viewers at home see may or may not be recognizable to him. But that’s just tough cookies.
Is it a wonder fans sometimes act like they own Scully? We’re partially responsible for creating her. Not that any of us can take credit for the original brilliance of idea that she is, but we’ve taken that idea and obsessed over it until it’s taken a concrete form in our own minds; she’s a shared idea. 10 Philes from 10 different countries with 10 different perspectives could sit around and talk about her like they all know her… because they all do. Great fiction tends to work like that. (For instance, I recognized Hogwarts the instant I saw it on the big screen. I had already seen it in my mind’s eye, after all. Funny, but my best friend whose mind’s eye doesn’t belong to me recognized it too.) And great characters live on long after you stop reading or watching them.
And I suppose that’s why The X-Files was/is a benchmark of fanfiction. It created characters whose adventures its audience couldn’t help but chronicle offscreen because they existed, waiting to be chronicled. After all, how could a TV show hold them anymore than it could hold you or me? In fanfiction, the viewer becomes the writer, flipping the natural order on its head but at the same time drawing even more attention to the heart of the process of characterization.
The milagro, the real miracle here is the mysterious power of the obsessive mind to create life where there was none. No, these earthly creators can’t breathe the physical breath of life into Dana Scully, but they can do pretty much everything shy of it, to the point where I sometimes find myself wondering how it could be possible that Dana Scully isn’t standing in front of me with eyebrow raised in inquisition the way Naciamento appears before Padgett…. though I suppose she’d come for Chris Carter first. But I’m next.
Right at this moment “Milagro” is playing in the background. And if Dana Scully were to plant her fingers on the bottom of my television screen and pull herself out, only mild surprise would register on my face.
She already exists in my head, why shouldn’t she exist in my room?
No, I’m not done yet:
The great thing about “Milagro” is that there are so many intellectual and emotional questions raised on various levels that like any good work of fiction, there are many ways to read it. There isn’t another episode quite like it and it’s certainly more meta, and more overtly artistic, than The X-Files is usually comfortable with. That’s probably why it feels so personal.
While Shiban and Spotnitz rough drafted the idea of “Milagro”, it was Carter, the creator himself who wrote it up which is so fitting you’d thing someone had scripted it. What? You didn’t recognize his legendary purple prose? I swear, he must’ve been holding the thesaurus open with one hand for this one. All these years and I never realized he was actually holding back most episodes. Here he lets it all hang out, using his skills in flowery verbiage to purposeful effect by making it difficult to distinguish between the actual goings on of the Scully mind and the writer’s fantasy, for those are two separate things both in the world of “Milagro” and in this one.
Fortunately for all of us, the well-rounded Chris Carter is no Philip Padgett, though it’s possible he identifies with him all too well in some ways. Padgett is the worst kind of stereotype of a writer; awkward socialization, barren existence, overuse of highbrow language. And in his youthful arrogance he believes that as the author he actually has authority over his characters. Ha! He learns that lesson.
Padgett is wonderfully played by 1013 repeat offender John Hawkes, who previously guest starred on Millennium and auditioned for the role of Pinker Rawls in “Trevor” (6×17). The part of Padgett was actually written with him in mind so it’s not surprising that he fills it well. Somehow, despite his gratingly calm assurance and his Creepy McCreepy vibe Padgett manages to be an empathetic character. We start to glimpse his humanity when he first confronts Scully before the painting of the Sacred Heart, a scene that quietly reveals the root of this episode that’s all about the relationship between creator and created.
It’s the God-given desire to share love.
That’s what Padgett tries to explain to Scully through the story of Jesus and St. Margaret Mary. That’s why any creator creates, to share their heart, good, bad or indifferent. That’s what humans are designed to do is share the love in their hearts. Maybe for the writer that love is easier to express in writing. Maybe for the fan the writer’s love is easier to share in because it takes place in an alternate reality of fiction.
I’m going to shamelessly take Pagett’s story of Jesus’ Sacred Heart even further and say that in the same way the Creator speaks into existence fully formed personalities and then gives them free will, a human creator is at his best when he, through his love, forms an idea so powerful that it has a life of its own.
Why does the writer write? To share his heart. Why does the reader read or the watcher watch? To share the heart of the writer. Who is Dana Scully? She’s the collective beating hearts of the writers and the watchers. She’s the idea they all love.
– Philip Padgett
The Middle C of Consciousness:
Since when do 16-year-olds take out personal ads?
You want to stop the killings, Padgett? Here’s an idea, stop writing this drivel. You’re not Stephen King.
If I were Scully, no way I would have kept drinking Padgett’s coffee. Freaks like that drug people.
“I think you know me better than that, Mulder.” Scully isn’t good at lying to Mulder. She should stop trying, but she won’t – “En Ami” (7×15).
Scully’s spent so long trying avoid becoming the object of inappropriate or demeaning sexual desire on the job that she’s thrown out the baby with the bath water. She’s forgotten how flattering it can be to be admired. Well, the camera makes up for that because it takes its time admiring her here.
You’ll notice Scully’s top button stays unbuttoned this entire episode. Or at least when she’s wearing buttons.
I love that Mulder’s biggest argument against Pagett being able to imagine the truth before it occurs is that he can’t be accurate in what he wrote about Scully.
It’s interesting that Padgett realizes Scully’s already in love at a moment where, on the surface, she’s protecting Padgett. But really she’s protecting Mulder from himself.
My favorite part about Padgett’s “Agent Scully is already in love” pronouncement… well, besides the smug satisfaction of knowing Chris Carter wrote that line himself, is how neither Mulder nor Scully are flustered by it. There isn’t a, “What??” reaction. It’s more like, “Hmm… where does this guy get his intel?” Neither of them are taken aback at all.
After that, somewhere in my imagination I used to think that Scully’s eyes followed Padgett while Mulder’s eyes followed Scully. However, I watched very, very closely this time. Several times. Mulder glances down at Scully, briefly, one time. But it’s a very telling time.
This is one of Mark Snow’s best scores.
According to Chris Carter, this is Sean Penn’s favorite episode.
I have to admit that it wasn’t till about half-way through my first viewing of this episode that I started enjoying it. It’s highly stylized so the tone and intent isn’t easy (for some of us) to lock onto. It took repeated viewings… and a college education… before the meta message of the author (Chris Carter) losing control of his characters (Mulder and Scully) sunk in. I still can’t say I adore it the way some fans do, but it does make me think.
That “Titian hair” line makes me smile because it recalls to mind my first obsession: Anne of Green Gables. What is it with me and redheads?
Real? Not real? The conversation continues… Who Really Writes the Stories?
Scully: Loneliness is a choice.
Padgett: So how about a cup of coffee?
Padgett: By their nature words are imprecise and layered with meaning – the signs of things, not the things themselves. It’s difficult to say who’s in charge.
Padgett: Big mistake. I misjudged her character, her interest in me.
Naciamento: Now we’re on to something.
Padgett: She’s only trying to get his attention but doesn’t know it.
Naciamento: Why do I want their hearts?
Padgett: You tell me. Why do you do it?
Naciamento: I’m your character. You tell me. My reason is your reason.
Padgett: I want to feel love.
Naciamento: No. No. You had it right up to there. You were a tool of the truth. And when it finally arrives — when I arrive — you don’t want to see it.
Padgett: But what is the truth?
Naciamento: Man imagines that he, too, can open up his heart and expose the burning passion — the flames of charity — like the creator himself but… this is not in his power.
Padgett: I made a mistake myself.
Mulder: What’s that, Mr Padgett?
Padgett: In my book, I’d written that Agent Scully falls in love, but that’s obviously impossible. Agent Scully is already in love.