The Cave's X-Files Commentary Archives:  Dana Scully

Title: Prying open Dana Scully
Author: LoneThinker (bardsmaid)

Post: Having recently participated in some intensive e-discussions about Never Again with a die-hard fan of that ep and then seeing Memento Mori again last week on FX, I was struck by the conflicting impulses that are showcased in these two episodes: on the one hand, Scully's pressured attempt to open up the little box she keeps herself in and discover who is really inside (Never Again) and her innate tendency to close herself up so tightly that no one else will be able to see what lurks inside that private self.

(It's been disputed that the following assumption is actually the order 1013 had in mind, but it doesn't really affect my premise that much.)

If we assume that Never Again is preceded by Leonard Betts (the eps aren't listed this way, but it is said this was the intention), then Scully's frame of mind at the beginning of NA is highlighted--indeed overshadowed--by the threat of the cancer Leonard Betts has seen in her. It renders her unable to concentrate on Mulder's interview with his suspect; instead, she is drawn to the Wall with its 58,000 inscribed names of the dead, a ghostly assembly she may soon be joining. The Wall itself is made of highly polished black granite, designed to reflect the image of the onlooker, and the symbolism of seeing herself imprisoned behind the carved names must not be lost on Scully. Indeed, she bends down and picks up a rose petal--not a fresh, live petal but one that is withered and blighted as well. "Cancer lurks deep in the sweetest bud," Shakespeare says, and Scully may well be contemplating this very thing.

To return to the basement office, then, with this cold, new vision and see Mulder's desk and Mulder's poster/clippings and the filing cabinets holding Mulder's reasons for existence, must leave Scully with an overwhelming sense of non-accomplishment: she has spent five years working here and yet has left no mark. And soon she may be gone entirely--dust--and there will be no mark, no indicator that she was ever there or that she ever accomplished anything. "Why don't I have a desk?" she asks Mulder, vocalizing the merest tip of the iceberg, and his cluelessness in reply only accentuates what she already sees: that she is a professional subset of Mulder, that she is (in Mulder's mind) a subset of himself. 

Scully has long defined herself as a professional, and sees her life in terms of her profession; indeed, she has given up her attempts to have a life outside work. But if her professional self has become--will be--a non-entity, the next question becomes, who is she? If she is not THIS, then WHO IS DANA? And she feels the urgency of needing to find out while she still can.

So she attempts--contrary to instinct--to stretch out of the little box she keeps herself in so neatly, to discover the person who hides inside. Her investigations for Mulder lead her to intersect with Ed Jerze, and their confluence becomes the canvas upon which she attempts to delineate Dana. That this does not come naturally for her is seen in their initial meeting in the tatoo parlor, where Ed invites her to dinner and she at first shows interest, then almost immediately retreats behind the excuse of having a plane to catch (does this echo the smile-blush-look down reaction we see by the elevator in Paper Clip?) It takes Mulder's tactless remark about her having a date ("You're kidding!") to finally push her to action. 

The Dana Scully we see in the bar with Ed Jerze is one we have never seen before, but I didn't realize how drastically different until I rewatched Memento Mori. The personal, casual, more flowing--and yes, smiling--Dana who sits sipping drinks with Ed is, we realize, someone we have NEVER seen with Mulder. It highlights just how little on a personal level--except crises associated with their investigations--passes between our two agents.

The scene in the tatoo parlor sees the interior Dana venture even farther from the box that usually contains her. Whether under the giddy influence of a new freedom, the drinks, or whatever other contributing factors (I didn't see a clearly-delineated reason for this sudden drastic jump in level), we are suddenly exposed to a very sensual side of Dana Scully, though interestingly, the erotic experience she seems to be having is one she is having alone. Ed stands by, monitoring her as a lover might, but the experience is hers alone. 

That she does not sleep with Ed (a number of people, including reviewer Sara Stegall, protested vigorously at this) does not indicate to me that Scully has chickened out in her attempt to define/stretch herself. Ed Jerze has showed disturbing tendencies from the beginning (she seems to recognize right away the danger sign inherent in the picture with Ed's face burned out), and to let herself go given these circumstances would be completely out of character for her. 

The fact that Scully's foray into her inner self ends badly and leaves her right where she started, in the basement office facing Mulder--still with no desk--may impress upon her the dangers of stepping outside the lines, of opening the box and letting out what dwells there (the episode title, Never Again, may reflect Scully's state of mind at this point.) Mulder, for all his concern, is not able to see the dark cloud that presses down on her, and not being able to see the enemy, he is helpless to fight it. His candid near-admission that she is so integral to his life that he considers her life his, he realizes will only exacerbate the situation, and he forces himself into uncomfortable silence--underscored by lack of music--as the scene fades to black. 

The very next time we see Scully, she is (Memento Mori) standing in front of a set of x-rays, looking at the verification of her cancer. Her thoughts have turned to her own imminent death, and to the partner she must reluctantly but necessarily leave. And yet when Mulder comes into the room, Scully is calm, cool, detached. She describes her disease and its probable course as if they were someone else's. She is wearing her strong-Scully armor; it is Mulder who flounders for meaning and comprehension. This pre-emptive posture shows up again when Kurt Crawford is finally caught in the alley. When Scully's nose starts bleeding, Mulder's concern for her is instant and obvious, yet Scully responds by telling him--almost ordering him--not to keep staring at her, because she is--say it with me now--'fine'. (She made the same protest at the end of Irresistible, too, and was able to carry it off UNTIL she was forced to look Mulder in the eye.)

Clearly, Scully is affected by her prognosis, but how deeply she is affected by it is shown not in her outward attitude and presentation (she is the strong one when having to face Mulder and her mother) but rather in the fact that in her extremity she begins to write a diary. And in that diary she addresses herself not to her mother, or to herself, or to the diary itself (in the way Anne Frank gave her diary a name, as if it were a secret friend), but rather to her partner. The overwhelming nature of this crisis forces her once again to open up, to reach outside the box for support. But this opening up is not the kind we see with Ed Jerze. It is not social; neither is it superficial. In the diary Scully makes some revealing admissions: that she has come to trust no other, that she feel him close (in spirit), that SHE NEEDS TO KNOW HE'S OUT THERE if she is ever to see this experience through. None of this can be an easy admission for a woman who is not often willing to see herself; even putting it down on paper could involve a huge leap of faith. Furthermore, she expects Mulder to read the diary (perhaps after she is gone?), for she says, "I feel these words as if their meaning were weight being lifted from me, knowing that you will read them and share my burden..." and "that you should know my heart...is a comfort to me now..." Putting these thoughts to paper gives them a palpable reality that Scully has not been able to face before, but she has the courage to put them down. And yet...

...And yet, in the end, when the crisis has subsided momentarily, Scully decides to throw the diary out, to take back what she has so daringly (for her) laid bare. Mulder has read her words, and she is upset and self-conscious. The moment has passed, and the lid has been put firmly atop the box once again.

Scully mentions as one of her motivations for coming back to work that she still has things to prove, both to herself and to her family. I believe it is this family background, the Navy upbringing and the perceived need to be strong (a strength she often does not feel inside) that drive her to shut away what she may feel to be an inadequate (soft?) inner self, and to erect the strong-Scully armor once again. 

In the end, Mulder is there for her as always, waiting in the wings like a guardian. Her peace spoken, she allows herself to be drawn into his comfort--a comfort she both needs and knows she must accept sparingly if she is to remain strong. He kisses her forehead, cups her face in his hands, and allows her to slip away. Scully walks toward her room. She is leading in this dance, and Mulder looks after her as if he wished the music had lasted longer.

 

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