If it feels shocking in 2018 to have to ask for a show to allow women onto its writing staff, it should feel shocking. And yet, here we are.
Ahead of the X-Files season 11 premiere, it was announced that creator Chris Carter had assembled an all-male writers room for the new episodes. This led to an uproar on social media over the summer, with star Gillian Anderson also pointing out that only two of the series’ 207 episodes have been directed by women. The network later announced that two of this season’s episodes will be written by women, and that two female directors had been added to the team as well. (This story contains spoilers for the episode.)
In response to the backlash, Fox co-chairman and CEO Dana Walden told reporters in August that while she didn’t want to make excuses for the gender disparity, she believed that Carter was inclined to stick with writers who were already familiar with the show’s complicated mythology. “The crew that was with Chris for a really long time happened to be a group of male writers,” Walden said.
This week’s season premiere, which aired on Wednesday, was not one of the episodes written or directed by a woman, and it showed. At the start, viewers caught up with Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Anderson)—our damsel in distress—who’s in the midst of a seizure in the basement office she and her partner (in both life and alien-slaying) share. EMTs arrive and rush Scully to the hospital while Mulder and Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), our knights in shining armor, follow behind.
They arrive at the medical center where Scully’s being treated, and they’re greeted by the female doctor in charge of her care—progress, right? I’m afraid not, X-Files fans.
The doctor reveals to Mulder and Skinner that Scully’s in a coma, as her brain is essentially “on fire.” Mulder, who is in no way a medical professional, repeatedly interrupts the doctor as she discusses the details of Scully’s diagnosis, which forces Skinner to step in (I know, I know—how brave of him). “Why don’t you let her talk?” Skinner begs.
Moments later, Skinner catches a glimpse of something on Scully’s MRI brain scan. Whatever’s taken control of Scully’s body appears to be sending a message in Morse code.
“Find him,” Skinner says, effortlessly deciphering the dots and dashes. Mulder is then shown sitting at Scully’s bedside, as any doting boss/beau would, while battling some serious internal demons about his role in her current health crisis.
While it’s nice to see men taking responsibility for their actions, it does little to push the X-Files premiere plot along, and instead serves as yet another way to cement Mulder’s status as the big, strong man in the story. He has also managed to make this about himself while Scully remains captive in her hospital bed, having visions about Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) and her son, William.
“As she lies here so helpless … if I caused this, how then can I make it stop?” Mulder wonders to himself.
Later, the Smoking Man speaks with Agent Reyes (Annabeth Gish)–one of few women in the episode who aren’t playing medical caregivers–about his dastardly plans. He implies that he’s essentially unstoppable, telling Reyes, “You can’t stop what’s already begun.” From this wild, largely nonsensical discussion, she deduces that he’s doing this all because he’s in love with Scully, since that, of course, is the only reason he could be so truly horrible.
As the episode progresses, after one minor display of her strength as both a woman in general and a character on X-Files, Scully gets a final chance to shine. The same mystery man who had been tailing Mulder earlier in the premiere has tracked Scully down in the hospital and come to kill her via suffocation. She wakes up and puts up one hell of a fight for her life.
Great, right? Guess again.
Scully’s not strong enough to fend off her attacker, which is why, just as it seems she’s doomed, Mulder—who’s been on a ridiculously long journey to and from the South—appears in the hospital room to finish the guy off. He grabs a scalpel and slashes the man’s throat, saving the day once more.
And of course, the biggest shocker of the episode is the reveal that Cigarette Smoking Man somehow impregnated Scully and is William’s father instead of Mulder. This caused an uproar from fans who thought the twist was misogynistic toward Scully, an accusation that Carter has said he “resented.” Carter also, somewhat inexplicably, maintains that Scully was not raped but was instead “impregnated … with science.” Um.
It’s unclear whether the remainder of the season will maintain the premiere’s tendency toward mansplaining, guys interrupting women and a lack of females in strong positions. But given that no women are credited for writing or directing the next four episodes, you’d be forgiven if you have a hunch as to how things might be heading. Also unclear is whether the story developments or lack of opportunity for women have contributed to Anderson saying recently that she is done with the show.
Somehow, this situation continues to be a sign of the times, even in TV, which has generally taken major strides in hiring more women as writers, showrunners and execs. Perhaps the recent flurry of workplace-harassment accusations in Hollywood and other industries will finally help underscore the need for even more women in positions of power.
But progress won’t come easy, with one example being that no women were nominated for best director heading into this Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony, despite plenty of worthy options (hello, Patty Jenkins and Greta Gerwig). And a study released Thursday showed that women made up just 4.3 percent of directors for the top 1,100 films released from 2007 to 2017.
Yes, the truth may be out there, but men shouldn’t be the only ones allowed to find it.