Of all the romances on this list, Mulder and Scully’s is the one I’ve found most difficult to describe. They rank number one both in spite of and because of this. They’re what I’d call a meeting-of-the-minds-of-different-kinds, and they’re also one of the great, drawn-out, will-they-or-won’t-they, friends-become-lovers stories.
Because their courtship is so drawn out, the most explicitly romantic parts of it don’t happen until after the show’s most iconic years, after the style becomes more hit-or-miss experimental and the focus shifts from episodic adventures to the not-entirely-thought-out mythos. Most of the milestones of their relationship also happen offscreen and are only confirmed later in passing, so it’s difficult to point to specific, defining moments.
To avoid this problem, I seriously considered saving this pair for a future list of favorite fictional friendships, because that’s the largest, strongest, most extensively explored part of their connection, but that wouldn’t be right. They do end up together, after all, as everyone knew they had to, and the attraction did exist from very early on, if the number of con artists who’ve stolen Mulder’s body to seduce Scully and nearly succeeded is any indication. I also considered a lot of other couples for the top spot, but every one that came close was a lesser, sometimes directly derivative variant of the same story.
The length of Mulder and Scully’s platonic phase is what gives their bond its special and unusual depth. It’s what makes them the classic and favorite that they are. Instead of constant sexual tension, which comes in just a few standard, universally recognizable flavors, the show explores who Mulder and Scully really are as people, how they see each other, how they work together, what they actually talk about, the elements that can easily get lost in a story that’s simply about falling in love. The romance between Mulder and Scully may be harder than average to find and pin down, but the love is everywhere.
Mulder and Scully first meet when Scully is assigned to discredit Mulder and his work investigating the paranormal. Instantly, they’re put in an adversarial position, but theirs isn’t the enemies-become-lovers story, even at first. They maintain their opposing outlooks, skepticism versus openness, long into the series (even once it becomes ridiculously obvious that their universe is full of the paranormal), but it’s almost always a friendly point of debate. They both delight in predicting the other’s take on unexplained phenomena. In one episode involving a killer doll, Mulder suggests the presence of witchcraft, and Scully declares her doubt that they’re dealing with any of a long, specialized and technical list of witchcraft variants. Mulder’s joking response? “Marry me.”
It’s also a very private debate. Scully is ready to defend Mulder to the rest of the world long before she counts herself a “believer,” however much she might criticize him to his face. She protects him from the regular attacks against his job, at the price of her own reputation, and Mulder refuses to hold the fact that she started off as part of one of these attacks against her. He’ll go to any lengths necessary to protect her too, usually from the more dangerous paranormal threats he understands better than the FBI politics that are her domain. He’s broken into secure government facilities, tried to let himself die by “heavy salt” poisoning (among many, many other things) and, of course, trekked through Antarctica to keep her alive.
The bond between them, deeper than the work they do together but still nonphysical for so much of the series, doesn’t always have to be demonstrated so dramatically either. My favorite moment between them happens when they’re stranded overnight in a forest full of the latest paranormal monster they’re investigating. Scully stands watch first, and Mulder asks her to sing so that he’ll know she’s awake. After warning him that she can’t hold a tune, she finally sings him to sleep in her lap with “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog.”
When their romance finally does become official, as stylistically odd and practically confusing as the story becomes, it does touch all the necessary, waiting points. Scully has to choose between Mulder and a respectable life, Mulder has to choose between Scully and his obsession with all dark and secret truths. The two of them sailing off into a tropical paradise together at the end may be tonally silly after the rest of the series, but it provides the sorely needed confirmation of what all the best moments of the series were leading to.
Will-they-or-won’t-they/meeting-of-the-minds-of-different-kinds honorable mention: Agent Seeley Booth and Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan of Bones. They’re decidedly together now, and they gave a nod to the influence of Mulder and Scully in their first episode, but they do still offer something new. Personally, I love a story about a partnership (rather than about one character who happens to have a partner) where the woman gets to be the more extreme personality for a change.
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