Ranking Mulder in The X-Files Season One (#15 – Shadows)

Next up in my reverse rankings of Fox Mulder in Season 1 of The X-Files, Shadows slides its way in at #15. I always knew it was going to be in the middle of the pack seeing as it’s about as milquetoast of an episode for Mulder as you can get. But as I went through Season 1, it became clear that each lower ranked episode either had some really dodgy Mulder content (Born Again, Fire, Shapes) or didn’t focus on him enough (Beyond the Sea, Roland). And every episode I haven’t ranked yet has at least one memorable Mulder moment to push it above Shadows. Shadows has neither a subpar nor a substantial Mulder moment; he’s just sort of there.

“See Scully, I’m here. You can see me in this reflection.”

Mulder’s portion of the story is not bad by any means; its just there’s always an issue hampering it. He does a bang-up job of actually investigating the case from noticing the blurry image in the ATM footage, figuring out that Lauren is connected to Howard Graves, and deducing that Howard’s ghost is protecting Lauren. He even gets to witness a levitating human body and a ghost who enjoys trashing his colleague’s office! This is good because often Mulder and Scully get shunted to the background which isn’t the case here. The problem with Shadows is that all of that investigating is just Mulder and Scully slowly piecing together things that we mostly know. I get that The X-Files relies heavily on them doing just this but rarely does it feel this uninspired. Mulder and Scully spend several scenes trying to verify that Howard Graves is dead after the audience has already seen that he is a ghost. That’s literally us watching them doing the hot, sexy version of busywork! And I’m sorry but shots of Mulder slowly developing a photograph taken while inexplicably stalking Lauren Kite from outside her home are not suspenseful; they just drag.

Being a voyeuristic stalker has never been less fun.

By the time Mulder and Scully are all caught up with the audience, we’re left with riveting scenes of Lauren giving them the silent treatment because without all of the padding in this episode, it would have been over before the teaser ended. So despite Mulder showing his investigative prowess, I’m always a little bored watching him here because all of his scenes feel like variations of stalling for time. What Shadows could have done is actually put to good use the potential drama between Mulder and Scully and the two tight-lipped tight-ass government agents who brought them onto the case. Mulder does get to be (justifiably) self-righteous with them early in the episode which Duchovny has always been masterful at playing. But rather than have the conflict between the four agents result in anything meaningful, its just haphazardly revealed that Mulder and Scully’s case is intertwined with a dull industrial espionage case. Very expository and non-character based. While it makes thematic sense for The X-Files to deal with this, it does not do any favors to Shadows-Mulder in these rankings.

“Oh my God Mulder, the truth is so boring.”

The few times it seems like the episode has a chance to explore Mulder’s character with some depth, writers Glen Morgan and James Wong take their feet off the gas. I love that Mulder’s initial theory is a well-versed description of psychokinesis that turns out completely wrong. The show so often has Mulder throw out an early theory and he rarely has to course-correct so its good to see that he’s not 100% accurate. Plus both the writing and Duchovny’s delivery really sell Mulder’s enthusiasm and expertise when it comes to these matters. So even though Mulder ends up initially wrong, there shouldn’t be any fear of him looking foolish.

But unfortunately, Shadows doesn’t really do anything with this. Rather than have him acknowledge that he was wrong, the episode just moves right past it because that initial theory is only there to misdirect the viewer (which admittedly, probably works on first viewing). And it kind of sucks that Mulder offhandedly does mentions a poltergeist as a possible explanation after thoroughly explaining psychokinesis. It feels cheap because the machinations of the script ensure that Mulder was right anyway.

Shadows does give us some nice little interactions between Mulder and Scully that stand out. They are both almost giddy as they leave the medical examiner’s office early on as they conspire against the shady government agents. Mulder’s little “fingerprints on the glasses” stunt is delightful, as is their cute banter where they reference horror movies. And the fact that Mulder is comfortable enough to perform an impromptu Elvis impersonation for Scully and not let it phase him that she completely ignores it speaks volumes of where they are at by now. This is the first episode where Mulder’s sense of humor doesn’t seem to be a way of masking his distrust, territoriality, or fear of Scully leaving him (see my Jersey Devil ranking).

That’s not to say that there isn’t any conflict between Mulder and Scully. Late in the episode, Mulder is understandably frustrated with Scully when she manipulates Lauren by insinuating that she believes Lauren’s story. They have a brief and interesting conflict about what their respective priorities are in solving the case and Mulder truly seems taken aback. But even here, Shadows fumbles away the potential for anything meaningful. Instead of being included as a way to grow the characters, it simply feels like a throw-away scene so that Scully can name-drop the episode and move on with her life. And five minutes later, Mulder is awkwardly telling Scully that they should go check out the Liberty Bell, another scene that rings hollow for me. I’m sure there’s fanfic out there all about interpreting this as their first date but I find it clumsy and don’t see anything flirty or romantic about it. It just feels like an obvious way of telling us that Mulder is trying to live in the moment since they just dealt with a case directly related to the afterlife. And this is Fox Mulder we’re talking about! A man who is DEFINED by his tragic past and deep-seated yearning for the repair of his destroyed life is not about to start living in the moment.

“It’s hard to live in the moment if you laugh at me bringing up ghosts when I was actually a witness to two separate encounters with a ghost. Like do you think I just make this shit up?!”

But in the end, none of this is really bad. Mulder does superficial Mulder things and Shadows should be applauded for that. But the lack of depth is why this episode can’t go any higher than #15 in these rankings.

And now for some Mulder tid-bits.

1.) Number of Sarcastic Mulder Jokes: 4

He has a nice bit about participating in a “willful campaign of misinformation” and his Elvis impersonation is directly followed by him hilariously stamping out Scully’s enthusiasm when she is shocked that he thinks she is right about something. But the episode is so diligent with having Mulder and Scully play catch-up that Mulder doesn’t have many opportunities to be funny. Even his adorable back and forth with Scully about horror movies is mostly Scully carrying the load.

2.) Number of Self-Righteous/Pretentious/Hyperbolic Mulder Moments: 2

He begins to get all Mulderific with the two government agents early on but rather than go full throttle on them like they deserved, he just swipes some fingerprints. He gets a bit hot and bothered with Scully when she manipulates Lauren but that goes nowhere.

Actually, now that I think about it, Mulder’s reaction to the hilariously deadpan coroner is all wrong! While i think its genuinely funny how Mulder is smirking at her reactions, Mulder has a proven track record of absolutely hating people who don’t put their full efforts into doing what’s right. So yeah, a funny scene, but it probably would have been fitting for Mulder to launch into a diatribe about the truth right about then.

3.) Number of Mulder theories: 3.5

As I’ve already discussed this episode is pretty theory-heavy for Mulder which is generally good. The 0.5 is for Mulder’s line of “if she lived, she’d be Lauren’s age.” Not only is that a pretty half-assed line but I didn’t realize that part of the FBI job description was to throw out softball red herrings now and then.

4.) Number of Mulder leaps: 0

Nothing really “jumps” out at me here. Get it? (Jump is another word for leap, that’s why this joke works)

5.) Number of quality Mulder investigative moments: 5

Mulder is rapid-fire with the investigation in the first half of the episode as he desperately tries to keep the episode interesting as he and Scully play catch-up. But Shadows falls into that early X-Files trap of having Mulder figure literally everything out while Scully just reacts.

6.) Number of times Mulder’s voice goes into that trademark sad “Duchovnyish-Whisper”:

Wow he whips the voice out when talking about psychokinetic manipulation. What a pleasant surprise!

7.) Number of times Mulder’s gun is drawn: 1

He’s got his gun drawn as he runs into Lauren’s house when the poltergeist fucks up some assassins. Mulder obviously knows that poltergeists can’t be hurt by bullets so I have to believe that his gun was actually drawn because he was furious that the reason Scully wasn’t able to witness the poltergeist is because the writers had her get stuck with a fussy seatbelt.

8.) Number of times Mulder is in danger: 2

Mulder is actually in danger a decent bit in this episode but neither scene really works for me. The out of control car scene is poorly directed and is so quick that it doesn’t really have any impact. And the final scene in Dorlund’s office strays a bit too far into cheesy-territory. Plus, it pisses me off that Scully again misses out on the poltergeist here and then has the gall to scoff at the idea at the end.

9.) Number of fiery Mulder interactions: 0

Again, we could have had some good stuff with the government agents but other than briefly raising his voice, Mulder is pretty subdued here.

10.) Number of times Mulder pisses someone off: 1 (very long instance)

I’m guessing he’s pissing the shady government agents off the entire episode just by the act of investigating the case but I’m only going to count that as 1. Otherwise, what the hell are we doing here??

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