Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Every great story has an opening which serves to introduce its audience to both the characters and the central ideas of the story. It’s a little more difficult to do that with a television show, because most of the time the show ends up evolving into something completely different than what the creators originally intended, as different writers are brought in and as fans react in certain ways. “Pilot” is no exception, although it does manage to establish several things which remain central throughout the series, which is pretty remarkable considering how most television shows change their focus radically throughout their run. The X-Files is really a modern epic, just set in television form. Epics tend to establish their main themes at the beginning. “Pilot” does so in some ways. The show certainly grows in scope, but that’s partially due to its unexpected success. Nobody thought this show would become popular; certainly they didn’t envision it becoming what it did, a smash hit.
We begin this grand tale with a young, up-and-coming FBI agent named Dana Scully, who already earns the respect and admiration of the audience for being a smart, independent woman in an environment overflowing with testosterone. Practically everyone in a position of power at the FBI is male, and most of the females we see working there are secretaries or specialists; very few are out on the field. From what we know about Scully, she seems to have little experience on the field herself, and is a medical doctor teaching at Quantico, fresh out of the FBI Academy. She was recruited by the FBI out of medical school, and decided to join because she felt it was a place where she could “distinguish herself.” All these details may seem mundane, but they’re extremely important. Think about it: what does this tell us about Scully? Well, for one thing, she’s young, so we know she couldn’t have graduated from the FBI Academy too long ago, and she already had a teaching position at Quantico. In other words, she’s pretty damn smart. She’s not going to approach any job she does without the little gears in her brain whirring at full speed. And indeed, later in Mulder’s office we learn she’s no dummy: she rewrote Einstein for her senior thesis. Her senior undergraduate thesis, mind you.
What this also tells us is that she is really and truly a very practical woman. She has a background in hard science, and she approaches her work through the lens of hard science. Certainly this is what Blevins had in mind when he put her on the X-Files with Mulder. What he didn’t realize, of course, is that Scully is just too badass to be part of anyone’s agenda, and so Blevins’ plan kind of backfires. But we’ll get to that later.
We start learning about Mulder before we even meet him. It’s an effective way to introduce his character, because it creates a relationship between Mulder and his work: Mulder, like the X-Files, is kept hidden from the audience, leaving us guessing at what kind of a person he might be, if only temporarily. When I first started watching this show I had no idea what Mulder would look like. All I knew was that there were two FBI agents named Mulder and Scully, and I remember on my first watch I was actually afraid that Blevins was Mulder, and was about to get really disappointed. (What a boring show that would have been.) So I was very pleased when Scully walked down to that basement to find who is perhaps the most puppyish, geeky, weird, very attractive and adorable genius that is Season 1 Mulder. See, isn’t he cuuute?
And I don’t care how platonic they were during the first season, I swear there is a hint of relief on Scully’s face when she goes down to the basement and finds that her new partner is quite good-looking. In fact, let’s talk about that basement scene, because it is perhaps one of the most important scenes in the whole first season, maybe even the whole show.
It’s established right from the get-go that Mulder and Scully have opposing views. Mulder is willing to believe in almost anything, be it aliens, ghosts, vampires, or a giant flukeman. Scully, however, doesn’t like to believe in anything until she has scientific proof, hard evidence, in her hands. In other words, Mulder won’t not believe until it is disproved, and Scully won’t believe until it is proved. And they are not afraid to support their sides, loud and proud.
But it is also established that while they may disagree with one another, they’re not mean people. Whatever they may think of the other’s opinion, they don’t let that interfere with how they view one another. Their first conversation in the basement is really just witty repartee more than argumentation. Almost – dare I say it? – flirtatious repartee. You can tell that Scully sees Mulder as an exciting new challenge, and one that is wrapped in a very awkward and adorable package. Mulder, for his part, sees Scully as an interesting new development in his life and his work, in the form of a fiercely intelligent and beautiful young redhead. Both are willing to give the other a chance. In fact, you don’t even see any indications that one is going to drop the other. The big smile Scully gives at the end of the basement scene is perfectly indicative of this. God only knows what she was thinking when she gave that smile, though.
The investigation itself is pretty mediocre as far as X-Files episodes go, but fortunately “Pilot” gets away with it. The parts that don’t involve the investigation are so much better than the parts that do, because they essentially are about Mulder and Scully trying out one another. Probably my favorite scene in the whole episode is after Mulder and Scully experience “lost time,” and Mulder stands in the rain and shouts “Oh, YES!” when he finds the X he sprayed on the ground. If I had to pick a scene that sums up MULDER in one second, that would be it. And Scully just looks at him like he’s nuts. It’s perfect.
Then there’s the famous motel room scene, which I believe was intended to let the audience know for sure that these two were never going to be romantically involved. Let’s get the sexy stuff over with. Scully takes off her clothes and Mulder doesn’t even show a hint of sexual interest. You see, audience? You see? They’re just friends. They’re never going to be a romantic couple, no siree bob. His Majesty Chris Carter hath ordained it so. So just in case you get any ideas, audience, just in case over half of you develop into a strange cult-like internet community solely dedicated to the romantic pairing of these two FBI agents, you can think again. Mulder and Scully will never –
Ah, but fortunately for us, just like Blevins, many of Chris Carter’s plans also backfired.
Speaking of backfiring plans, what was the FBI thinking putting Scully with Mulder in the first place? They’d already put him in the basement; that would indicate he’s more of an embarrassment than a threat. You could definitely make the argument that the FBI is trying to put some validity to Mulder’s work by pairing him with a scientist and therefore make his department seem more credible. But the decision to do this seems to have been made rather quickly, as Scully is called to Blevins’ office “on short notice.” Besides, the presence of the Cigarette Smoking Man indicates that there was more going on here than just the FBI trying to look good. Obviously they were threatened by something they thought Mulder might find. But that also begs the question – why, then, did they let him do it? Was Mulder such an FBI golden boy that they felt they could gain something by letting him work on the X-Files? But I digress; this is an issue that can be better explored in other episodes.
What I like about “Pilot” is that there are really two investigations going on at the same time. There’s the investigation of the Oregon case, which isn’t very interesting, and then there’s Mulder and Scully’s investigation of each other. Mulder asks Scully to go running undoubtedly to get to know her better. Scully declines because she’s trying not to be obvious in that she really does want to get to know him as much as she wants to solve the case. Later, in the motel room, they drop their investigations and just talk. Mulder tells Scully about Samantha, and Scully tells Mulder that she’s not part of any agenda, and that he’s got to trust her. Already, Scully needs Mulder’s trust. She needs the security he brings, as she is a newcomer to the FBI. Already, though, his personal motivations seem to give her a foundation on which she can perform her own, independent work. Dana Scully isn’t going to be anyone’s little spy. She’s going to choose for herself what she does with her position on the X-Files. And she chooses Mulder. It is the moment that gels the partnership together, the moment that puts the two puzzle pieces together into one beautiful whole. Mulder and Scully will forever be a fearsome duo.
What “Pilot” doesn’t do terribly well is, as I said before, the actual case. A lot of strange things happen but they happen in a sort of awkward way. Unfortunately this is a recurring thing in Season 1, which tries very hard to find its footing and doesn’t always succeed. Overall, though, “Pilot” is a successful beginning to a beautiful story.
It can be very special to go back to “Pilot” after you’ve seen the show. Fun fact: Watching “Pilot” after you watch Season 7’s “Requiem” is actually enough to make your soul shrivel up and die. After all, there’s something bittersweet, poignant, and moving about going back to where it all began.
Final score for “Pilot” is 7/10. The investigation isn’t very interesting, and it can get awkward at times, but the episode does manage to establish themes and characters that will become integral to the show.
- I love the way Mulder says Scully’s name for the first time, as if he’s trying it out, seeing how it sounds. It’s almost as if he knows he’s going to be saying it a lot.
- Gillian Anderson in the graveyard scene is the definition of adorable.
- Has anyone ever wondered what the Cigarette Smoking Man whispers at the end? It’s just quiet enough that you can make out the sound of him whispering, but you can’t understand what he says. I don’t know; it’s just something I’ve always wondered about.