Guest Post – The Shipper ‘Issue’

Alright, kiddos, we have a new guest poster this week and he has a great topic for us! Eamon is an X Files-lifer and has his own blog dedicated to the entire works of 1013 Productions called “I Made This” which you should definitely go and check out. Yours truly comments over there on the regular. You can also follow him on Twitter for updates at @IMadeThisCC.

Have we Shippers taken over the fandom? Does The X-Files have any lasting legacy other than Mulder and Scully? Even if it does, do we care? Don’t forget to tell us what you think below!

Puking worms. I guess you could say it started with the puking of worms. Okay, that sounds disgusting when you put it like that, but the moment when I realised I was in love was when the sanitation worker puked up a worm in the shower, but only after eating half a tube of toothpaste. Just to clarify I wasn’t actually in love with a sanitation worker, I was in love with the show he was appearing in, The X Files.

It all started about a year earlier actually, flicking through my television when I came across the Jersey Devil stalking the forests of…well…New Jersey (clue in the name I suppose) and being killed for her troubles. It was so unlike anything I had ever seen before, the dark lighting, the moody music score, and plus there was something very appealing about the red head helping the tall, lanky guy who seemed to be the lead character. It was the start of a major obsession, and it played that way all throughout that first season, but it would take the unfortunate shower scene before I’d realise that it was love, pure and simple, a love that would come to define me and my life for years to come. As sad as it sounds, The X Files would play an important part of my life, I could name major parts of my life as they ran concurrent with episodes and storylines of the show (I would have my first girlfriend during the early stages of season eight, when Scully missed Mulder, but then break up with her during the later stages when Scully got him back, oh the irony).

I think it shows how pop culture can be important and somewhat scarily impactful when you care more about a television series or a film than yourself, but it’s true, The X Files ran through my head nearly 24/7. I would buy the comic book, tape and endlessly re-watch episodes of the show, save my pocket money for the latest video tape releases (these were the days before DVD of course) and magazines, in fact I seem to recall buying not just the Official Magazine/Comic Book (they were combined in the UK, one half the comic, the other half interviews, features and the like) but any magazine that displayed the series, which took up too much space in my bedroom as always but which I would devour again and again. Nothing ever took hold of me in the way the adventures of Special Agents Mulder and Scully did and whilst other pop cultural phenomena have played an important part in my life, I don’t think anything has ever topped Chris Carter’s magnum opus. My back wall was a basic shrine to the series, images of David, Gillian, Mitch Pileggi, Robert Patrick and nearly everybody that appeared in the show littered my back wall. I say a shrine but it was more like a mini museum of X Files posters, post cards and anything else you can imagine, with the centre piece being the Fight the Future theatrical poster.

As the series became more sucessful and more popular, many fans, who termed themselves as shippers (I might be wrong here but it might have been with The X Files that the term was coined), documented to a large degree the partnership at the heart of the show, focusing on all those little looks that linger on for a moment longer than normal, a hand holding scene, the little hint of physical contact between Mulder and Scully and that near kiss in Fight the Future. As the years went on and the series entered its sixth and seventh seasons, the series started to play a little bit more with the relationship, episodes like The Rain King starting to more than hint at a romantic interest between the pair whilst season five finale The End introduced Agent Fowley, prompting a jealousy in the character of Scully. The character got the shippers beyond angry despite the fact that in actuality the character only appeared in seven of the two hundred and two episodes of the show, yet scarily seems to have made quite an impact.

I consider myself a bit of a shipper,  as the years have went on I’ve developed more of a love for the central relationship of the series, albeit not in a way that it became my sole reason for loving the series. Truthfully the basis of my love of The X Files has stemmed of my love of science fiction, horror and mystery and in many ways no show before or since has managed to mix these elements as well as Chris Carter and his talanted team of writers did. There have been other shows since that have tried to take on the mantle of “the next X Files” and have succeeded in many ways, namely Fringe and Supernatural, although Fringe is predominantly more science fiction whilst Supernatural is more of a horror series, both shows started off flying in the coat tails of The X Files, mixing stand alones and mythology tales, but they have really flown brighter when branching of in their own directions, developing their own mythology and story arcs, whilst still retaining a sense of that X Files DNA (the late great Kim Manners of course was one of the executive producers on Supernatural).

It’s these elements that have made these shows a success, taking The X Files formula of great mystery and great characters and fashioning great shows, and it’s a great legacy the series has left behind.  Despite controversies over its casting changes and the direction the mythology took, becoming more and more confusing and inconsistant with story revelations, the series has genuinely made a long term impact and it’s played an important part in spearheading the next generation of genre television.

Yet I can’t help but feel that for all the intelligence, all the brilliant storytelling that went on in The X Files, it usually  gets forgottten about in favour of the relationship. I’m not a non-romantic, I love the realtionship between Mulder and Scully. I even love watching the wonderful work that you can see on You Tube, some of the most romantic moments on the show played out to strains of some of the best love songs you can think of (a personal favourite of mine is played to the beautiful melody Love Remains the Same by Gavin Rossdale), my biggest problem with the whole shipper thing is that it seems to dominate the fanbase, the discussions and dissections of the show, that a two second moment of screen time where Mulder and Scully hold hands gets more attention than the frequently ingenious plotting and filmmaking that made the series as great as it was. If you were to describe the story beats of an X Files episode to someone it would sound like a great series, it was this sort of thing that made the series the sucess that it was, with somebody watching it, telling their friends, who then told their friends who then told their friends and so on and so forth (just imagine the split screen moment in Wayne’s World to know what I’m talking about) and yet, despite how thought provoking, intelligent, wonderful and truly, frequently brilliant this show was, it does appear that many get stuck on the one thing when discussing the series, namely “the relationship”.

I don’t think it would really be a problem, but all one has to do is look at season’s eight and nine to see why this could be construed as an issue. David Duchovny’s contract in season eight meant he would only be appearing in half the episodes, season nine he wouldn’t appear at all until the final episode when it was decided the series would shut up shop for good. I’ll not lie about this, I think the penultimate and final seasons of the show have a lot to recommend it. Season eight would see the series re-discover it’s horror roots and it’s brilliant. Roadrunners, Via Negativa, Redrum, they’re great and when Mulder comes back in the second half, the series reformats itself into a serial, building up to the birth of William, whilst season nine has some truly great stand alones (Scary Monsters, 4-D, Audrey Pauley, Release), although the mythology had completely lost it by then, but the stand alones make up for it, yet these last two seasons are largely ignored because of the lack of Mulder and if they do come up it’s largely the Mulder episodes that get the attention, with very little attention given to the great work by the writers, directors, or Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish, who slot into the series nicely. Hell, some fans took an instant dislike to Patrick that seems to have never let up mainly because he took over the mantle of leading man in place of Duchovny.

Look, nobody worships Mulder and Scully more than me, I still have a poster of them on my wall to this day because they’re more than just fictional characters to me, they’re icons, but there was more to the show than whether or not they would ever get it together and the wonderful work by Robert and Annabeth in those last two years shows that the series could function without this “romantic” element, that the writing and direction, feature film-esque production values and atmosphere were as part of the show’s success than the chemistry. Robert Patrick’s performance was a wonderful one, full of dignity and respect and was quitely and understatedly superb. I know Annabeth Gish seems to get a hard time of it from a lot of fans and critics, but I have a thing for quirky brunettes and I’ll fly the flag for Monica Reyes (if she ever releases a CD of Whale Song, I’m first in line), and look at it this way, it’s Reyes who showcases in 4-D and Audrey Pauley, they’re predominantly vehicles for the character and from what I remember they were the most acclaimed episodes that season (both written by Steven Maeda who really seems to shine quite brightly amongst the writing staff those final two years).

In some ways I understand, the Shippers come in a large army and they speak the loudest, and yet I feel that they have too much of a say in the legacy the series has had. One of the things I love about Salome’s blog is that as a reviewer she gets the balance right. {*Editors Note: I didn’t make him say it. I swear.} Wonderful analysis of the tales themselves with a love and respect of the relationship, but more often than not the majority of reviews and analysts from other X Philes are one sided, as if the show is a romantic one, not a scary one, so I beg everyone watching the show to remember, it’s a genre show, always has been, always will be. It was created to be a scary sci-fi show, not a romantic one, the romance becoming a bonus that the series only focused on more in the later years. Chris Carter wanted to create a scary show and that’s how I’ll always think of it.

I suppose it’s probably better that I don’t mention that I’m a big fan of 3 and really like Diana Fowley, those are stories for another day.


22 responses to “Guest Post – The Shipper ‘Issue’

  1. Very well put!

    The X-Files was a genre show, focus on telling stories and did not mind on soap-operatic elements like dealing with the personal lives of the lead characters. But also, it was not an ensemble show, it only had two main characters which were also incarnations of ideas: the believer, the skeptic. Inevitably this brought more focus on the characters.

    But today, nearly 10 years after the show ended, I agree with you that the most vocable and compulsive examples of fandom are shippers, to the point that discussion on any other issue is often quickly killed off. More importantly, it looks as if shippers are essentially the only kind of fandom that is visible to the eyes of Carter, Spotnitz and other Fox/1013 people, which might further influence the work they do in order to meet perceived expectations as compared to a situation where they just write what they want to write.

  2. I know what you mean by that last point Kimon. I enjoyed I Want to Believe, but there was definitely an eye to targeting the shipper audience with it. As I’ve said, I’m not anti-shipper, I enjoyed the relationship, it is the beating emotional heart of the show, it’s just I wish it didn’t dominate the discussions and analysis of what is essentially one of the most thought provoking and intelligent genre series to have emerged from American network television.

  3. I, Shipper till I die, agree with both of you. I have a couple of theories about this phenomenon that I’ll expound on this weekend… that is if I discipline myself into writing it up. 🙂

  4. Same feelings here!

    I love what you said about Seasons 8 and 9! I love those seasons! I am a shipper but at the same time I love The X-Files series as a whole–the story, the conspiracy, the horror etc etc. I’ve been saying this since I watched the show…yes, I was 13. The X-Files is one of the most brilliantly written shows ever. For me, MSR is a plus. :)) Yes, I love having those MSR moments but most shippers I know focus on the writing as well. So, that’s good news!


  5. I’ve never thought about the subject from this angle, but you’re right, Eamon. The legend that has become Mulder and Scully’s relationship is owed entirely to the fact that The X-Files was a great show, and provided a wonderful, intelligent and well constructed springboard for their romance. I’ll admit, my heart jumps even now when I rewatch particularly ‘shippy’ scenes, but I rewatch entire seasons because it’s a great show, and I learn so much from it. Even the first few seasons, with the giant cellphones and the hokey special effects, are a joy to watch because the stories are so good. The show’s legacy should not just be of Mulder and Scully’s relationship (even though I do think it’s right that it’s acknowledged as one of the most touching TV partnerships EVER). I do have to say though, that it works both ways, and as great as the writing, directing etc is, it became so hugely successful because of Gillian and David’s phenomenal chemistry on screen. Even when they’re not being schmoopy, or even saying anything at all, I just love to watch them interact.

  6. Overall, I was not a huge fan of season 8, but that had little to do with the absence of Mulder or the addition of Doggett. Actually, when every other Phile I was in contact with (online…I didn’t really know any real life fans) was bound and determined to hate both Doggett and Robert Patrick, I decided to keep my mind open. I never saw him as a Mulder replacement, which was the problem a lot of people had, though I think he, at times, had a bit of a crush on Scully. But that’s okay. Lots of us develop crushes on people we work with, especially when they’re hot. I also had no problem with Annabeth Gish–in fact, I absolutely LOVE her and her character. Reyes and Doggett were sort of like Mulder and Scully, but different enough so that it didn’t feel like I was watching the whole series again but with different actors. I was one of few in the camp that would have continued to watch the show after season 9, with just the two newbs, because I thought the show was still interesting and I liked the idea of kind of starting fresh. Maybe they could have revitalized the mythology or found a completely new angle. Who knows? It would’ve been cool to see what happened, though.

    No; my issues with season 8 lie, for the most part, with one person. David Duchovny. That’s right; Agent Mulder himself almost ruined the show for me. Perhaps I take contract negotiations too personally, but I find demanding huge sums of money for something like acting to be out of line (and I’m actually an actor, so if that’s coming from someone who’d kill to get paid to be on stage…). I grew very weary of Duchovny’s constant griping about the show and how tired he was of playing the same character. Playing the same character on stage is one thing–it’s the same show night after night (and how those people on Broadway do 8 shows a week for months at a time without going postal is beyond me). But playing a TV character is completely different, especially when it’s not a huge ensemble show and you have writers constantly fleshing out your character. And it’s not as if he wasn’t given the opportunity to take his character in new directions; writing episodes kind of gives you that freedom. No–he just wanted out. Like so many actors before him who left a show to pursue a movie career (David Caruso, anyone? Shelley Long? Hello?), he left a lucrative career behind to make…the same amount of movies he could have made while still on The X-Files. And now, he’s back on TV, playing a character day in and day out. Granted, each season of Californication is shorter than average, but it’s still the same thing. So…yeah, I took it personally. It felt like a slap in the face to all of the fans that had supported him for years, that had stood behind him and his character, who had made him the superstar that he became (and no celebrity gets anywhere without his fans, simple as that). So when season 8 began, I was stuck in quite the quandary of not caring about Duchovny, but desperately wanting to see Mulder, especially after the end of season 7, of wanting to see the Mulder and Scully interaction, especially with all of the developments. That was one of the best parts of adding Reyes to the mix; she gave Robert Patrick someone else to play off of, and the chemistry he had with Annabeth Gish was a bit more considerable than that he had with Gillian Anderson.

    However, my biggest pet peeve with season 8 and 9 is the fact that, despite the fact that he was no longer an actual cast member, he received top billing every time he was on. If that isn’t crap, I don’t know what is. He should have received “Special Guest Star” at best. Let’s take a look at “This Is Not Happening,” shall we? Anyone care to count the number of words said by Mulder? How about the number of times he blinked? And for that stellar performance, he received billing ABOVE the people who were working week to week, hour upon hour on the show that he abandoned.

    It drove me absolutely nuts that the show’s ratings floundered in season 8; so many fans left because of Mulder, only validating Duchovny’s decision. I wanted so desperately for the series to gain new traction, to show him that, yes Virginia, the show goes on, and without you.

    Sorry…this is one of those things that drive me up a freaking wall. Apparently, even to this day. I apologize for going off on a rant, but the point is…I understand where you’re coming from, Eamon.

    • Now see this, this is why I tried so desperately hard back in the day to avoid any and all details of the machinations behind the show. I caught a glimpse of a headline here or there and even that was accidental 90% of the time. Why? God forbid I would find out something that would sadden, annoy or upset me and in any way compromise my viewing. I love all the people behind The X-Files, all of them, I really do, out of pure gratitude. But in the spirit of preserving said gratitude I studiously avoid details of their lives and, worse, their opinions. Oh, I’ve slackened in recent years because time has passed and it’s hard to believe much could affect my viewing at this point. But I still can honestly say I’ve only seen about 5 interviews with GA or DD combined. Scout’s honor.

      Anywho, back on topic… I walked into Season 8 with an open mind as well and while I didn’t enjoy it like seasons 5 or 6 or anything, it entertained me. It made me sad to lose Mulder but I didn’t resent it. I DID resent, however, DD’s wasted guest spots. If I remember correctly, DD was contracted for what, 8 episodes Season 8? Half of those were wasted on the same stock footage of him screaming.

      Okay, I exaggerate, but barely. In fact, I doubt that even meets the burden of proof for exaggeration, it’s too close to the truth. I mean, if Fox is going to pay him to show up, use him for heaven’s sake!

      • I don’t blame you at all for avoiding all of that nonsense; in retrospect, I wish I had as well. However, I was more than obsessed with the show and everyone on it at that point, so I couldn’t help myself. Unfortunately, I don’t have an ability to distance myself. Case in point–I just recently found out that Shelley Long treated people pretty horribly while on Cheers (ie, trying to get Kelsey Grammar fired) and made people’s lives kind of hellish; this shouldn’t affect the way I view the movies she made when I was a kid and that I always loved, but unfortunately it does. Knowing someone is unpleasant winds up tainting my view of all of their work. I think I take these things far too personally.

        But Robert Patrick did a great job, especially considering all of the animosity toward him before he even set foot on a soundstage. I never once felt like he was supposed to “replace” Mulder; he was an entirely new character with his own background and stuff. If they’d just tossed him in with Mulder dialogue and had given him the same history then, yeah…I could see why people would be up in arms about it. But like I said, he did a good job, and I would’ve watched season 10 and beyond.

        I agree with Duchovny’s underused guest spots; the only theory I have is if there was animosity on behalf of the writers because of all the drama going on, perhaps they decided that if David didn’t want to do the show, then by god, they’d make sure he just got to sit there and do nothing. Because, I would understand that if you were in charge of writing a character, and then an actor said he was tired of the character and it wasn’t going anywhere, I could see how a writer would become bitter toward an actor. That would go a long way to explaining why we, for the first few episodes we saw him in season 8, he mostly just stood there, or got to lay down and scream.

        • Ugh. I won’t get into it too deeply here because I’ve had an essay on this in the works for a while now, but the problem with anecdotes like you mention about Shelley Long is that it reeks of ingratitude. Not only that, who wants to find out that someone else is miserable giving you something that you enjoy? It taints the experience and that’s what good television is, an experience. I think fans like to think that the stars are in this thing with them – I know I do.

          I was getting frustrated by the end of Season 9 with the Mulder and Scully plotlines still being dragged out. I could have and would have watched a complete spin off series, but twas not to be.

          • Cripes! When I hear about all this stuff going on in the background while the show was still in production, it makes me glad I didn’t start watching it ’til many years after it ended and I was pretty much unaware of this kind of unpleasant gossip. From what I read from recent interviews with DD, the passage of time has softened his attitude to playing Mulder. He now seems rather sentimental about his days on the X Files and is proud of his role as Mulder. As a relatively new fan I consequently can’t bear him any grudges for what happened on the show way back when. It’s enough for me that he’s got over that phase and is proud of the work he did as Mulder. So I won’t allow any past history mar my enjoyment of the M&S relationship or what little we have of DD as Mulder in S.8. As I’ve said before Robert Patrick was great as Doggett and he made a great addition to the show – but for me the X Files can never be as good as it was, or right without Mulder (& by extension, DD).

  7. Hi,
    Yes, the Shippers are till very vocal however I don´t think it is because they don´t care for the other aspects that made the show great. Many have been on fan forums for years where every ep and every detail has been analyzed to bits by now. There has been a fair bit of speculation and what-iffing going on about XF3 and how the mythology might be resolved – very interesting but with the uncertainty surrounding any future movies people seem hesitant to start tackling the mythology all over again. It is much less taxing to just relive the glorious M & S moments, the feel-good nostalgia of it while waiting for news.
    I´m a shipper but the most juicy part of the show was & is the Quest – Mulder as the questing hero in the classical, mythological sense, the Hero´s Journey (which Scully is part of, and William). There were some interesting parallels to Parcival and the Holy Grail, for example. The show seemed to be taking things to a more mythical/mystical level in s 7, 8, and 9 but never got to finish it – IWTB was just another stage on the journey, not the conclusion. Anyone familiar with the Hero´s Journey will realize that Mulder´s abduction, death, and return, William´s birth and adoption, and the hero´s subsequent retreat from the world (IWTB) before going back to fulfill his destiny (in XF3) all fit the pattern. In that light William was so much more than lazy writers trying to appease shippers with babies and a “normal life” for weepy mom and deadbeat dad, but truly mythological stuff and it has the potential for an epic ending IMO. The show is so not over Here is a rundown of the Hero´s Journey and the XF verison of it if anyone´s interested.
    (I didn´t write it, just found it) Sorry if this is not the right place to post something like this – but it´s a (non-shippy) aspect of the showthat is so juicy and so not concluded, and which i would love to see discussed more 🙂

    • people seem hesitant to start tackling the mythology all over again. It is much less taxing to just relive the glorious M & S moments, the feel-good nostalgia of it

      That’s a good point. I think the romance is more easily relatable for a broader audience vs. the mythology or even the MOTW episodes being geared to certain types of fans.

      I´m a shipper but the most juicy part of the show was & is the Quest – Mulder as the questing hero in the classical, mythological sense

      Yes, absolutely. Which is why the show continues to have such universal appeal – it’s a reworking of a classic archetype, one that always resonates.

      Thanks for the link! I’m packing/traveling so I haven’t had a chance to do more than scan it yet, but *definitely* feel free to drop nuggets of thoughtful X-Files goodness anytime your heart may please. ❤

  8. One more thing, regarding the changes in the later seasons. RP and AG did a great job with what they got, but to me the characters were not as compelling as M & S. It was no fault of the actors, and they may have grown on me like M & S if they had had more than two years to do so.
    As far as I know it was CC´s wish that the series ended with s7 and continued as a movie franchise but the network disaggreed and would have continued without CC as the showrunner if they had to.
    The work hours on XF were long and took 10-11 months of the year, this was something many guest stars commented on over the years. I can´t blame DD for starting to itch for a change of pace and the chance to be associated with something other than Mulder. Seven years in the same job, the same role, is a long time. For all he knew the show might have gone on for another 5 years or more – if he didn´t feel he could give it his all anymore then it was better to leave IMO. He was honest about it, and some took his bluntness to be ingratitude I guess. It´s not as if he broke his contract and slammed the door on the way out – the aggreement to be in 8 eps plus the finale was a fair compromise for both him and the writers to phase out Mulder. They could have used him a bit better, though – the abduction and its aftermath was inexplicably and criminally ignored if you ask me!

    • I feel the same way. I really enjoyed both RP and AG and their characters. I thought they were fab. But the inexplicable magic that was M&S is a hard act to follow, even if you’re great. I agree with everything you said. ^^

  9. Whoa! 3 and Diana Fowley bad.

  10. I was with you the whole way…until the bit about liking 3 and Diana Fowley.

  11. I always viewed the MSR as the frame for the building (noun) that was the rest of the show: it’s always there, in the background, supporting amazing stories but, like the frame of a building, not the main focus and not what is seen.
    Or put another way, the relationship is the glue that holds the picture (mythology, motw, etc) together.
    I’m a shipper and love when the frame/glue is visible but by no means think it’s the building/picture.
    Does that make sense?

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