Last week marked 28 years since The X-Files first aired in the US. The pilot episode - which saw skeptic Scully partner with “Spooky” Mulder in his search for answers to unknown mysteries, including the abduction of his sister -started more than just a craze for the paranormal. The show shaped everything about online fandom and shipping as we know it now. So to celebrate these past 28 years of shipping, we thought we’d take a look at what we think are the top 5 shippiest episodes of that first groundbreaking season.
Before Scully’s own abduction arc, cancer arc, Mulder’s brain tumour, and IVF revelations, a show whose creator insists that he only ever created a platonic love story, sure had a lot of UST bursting out of the early episodes.
5) 1x08 “Ice”
Let’s politely call “Ice” a “homage” to the classic 80s horror movie The Thing, where a group of researchers in Antarctica find themselves the target of an extraterrestrial parasite that inhabits the occupant before turning them homicidal and killing them. When Mulder and Scully travel to the Artic, to a remote research facility, along with 3 other doctors, a pilot and a dog to investigate the murder-suicide of the previous inhabitants, paranoia looms large.
Still in the early days of the Mulder/Scully partnership, the episode focuses on the distrust between the pair, implanted by the higher-powers who paired them up. Though their partnership has already been well cemented, the lingering doubts on the validity of their persona being projected remains lodged in each of their consciousnesses.
In the confines of the research facility, with the mystery of the deaths of the scientists there before them, violent events beginning to unfold, and an impending storm putting paid to any hopes of escape, their new found loyalty is truly put to the test.
When Mulder is found with a dead body, the others believe he is the latest host for the Martian parasite, and lock him into a storeroom for their own safety. Scully discovers two parasites in one host will neutralise each other, and in a deeply intense scene, enters the locked storage room to tell Mulder.
The close confines, single swinging-lightbulb, and high-tension urgency in their exchange imbues a life-or-death conversation with a whole lot of heat. Mulder imploring Scully not to infect him, in classic impassioned whispers close to her face, show Mulder’s desperation to convince his sceptical partner of his innocence.
Producing the classic line “I don’t trust them, I want to trust you”, the scene then gives us a role reversal parallel to the robe/mosquito scene from the Pilot. Here, it is Mulder who is prepared to make himself vulnerable, offering Scully the back of his neck for inspection of signs of infection. Scully’s fearful pulling down of the back of his shirt, followed by her relieved hands massaging over Mulders shoulder muscles is a true bonding moment. But it is the second-half of the trust exercise that brings the heat, as Mulder suddenly grabs Scully’s shoulders before she can leave the room. The fear that he’s infected and violent is instantly washed away when he tenderly pulls her shirt down and brushes her hair from her neck before smoothing his hand over her skin.
In the course of the first few seasons we see Scully put her hands on Mulder’s face and head plenty of times (due to his attraction to injury) but this scene has a different tone and fever to it, that gives it a sexual tension not seen in many other softer, bonding exchanges.
See a clip here:
4) 1x13 “Beyond the Sea”
“Beyond the Sea” introduces not only to one of The X-Files classic bad guys psychic murderer Luther Lee Boggs, but also introduces us to the Scully family, as we meet Dana’s parents for the first time.
When Scully’s father dies hours after a visit to see her, she sees a vision of him in her living room before learning of his death. Returning to work soon after, Mulder is so concerned for her emotional welfare he calls her “Dana” and cups her face tenderly - not a strictly platonic work partner move. However, as the case and episode progresses, it’s Scully’s care for Mulder that takes precedence.
After Mulder is shot in the line of pursuing Bogg’s psychic message tip-offs we see how scared Scully is of his death. As he is rushed into hospital, Scully watches on, closing her eyes in pain at watching Mulder suffer, and shortly afterwards she returns to Boggs to deliver him a message of her own.
The normally cool, professional Scully builds up a head of steam as she lets Boggs know she believes he set up the entire situation to get at Mulder, whose profile helped put Boggs away. Losing control of her voice and emotions she threatens the stunned psychic that if Mulder dies, “nobody will be able to stop me from being the one that’ll throw the switch to gas you out of this life, you son of a bitch!”
Seeing Scully’s emotions so heightened - admittedly fueled by the loss of her father - shows how attached she has become to Mulder already, and how when it comes to Mulder, all bets are off for Scully the ruler-keeper.
Mulder’s final reassuring hand on her arm when she sits on his hospital bed talking about her father, is the final shippy touch in this emotional episode.
See a clip here:
3) 1x12 “Fire”
When you have ice you must also have fire, and that’s exactly what The X-Files gives us in the twelfth episode of the first season. An episode ostensibly about a supernatural pyrotechnic pyromaniac murderer, but also largely about Mulder ex-flame (geddit?!) Phoebe Green, played by the marvelous Amanda Pays.
Phoebe, an ex-girlfriend from Mulder’s time at Oxford, brings the agents onto a case involving an arsonist who is targeting British aristocracy, and leaving no trace. Mulder believes Phoebe’s motives are less than honorable, and that she’s using the opportunity to mess with his mind, over their past and his phobia of fire.
“Fire” doesn’t have one particularly overt shippy scene, but the episode is peppered with jealousy and territorial-ness from Phoebe to Scully, and somewhat vice versa. From their first prickly interaction where Phoebe whispers “she hates me”, to Scully mimicking Phoebe’s accent at the end of the episode, it’s obvious that both women sense their similar place in Mulder’s lives, and don’t want the other inhabiting it with them.
Scully is, naturally, more reserved and steps back from the cattiness that Phoebe is emanating, but still when she witnesses a slow dance and kiss between Mulder and Phoebe, her eye-roll says it all.
Although both women engage Mulder’s mind, with the case aiding their connection, it becomes clear that Mulder is right and Phoebe is doing it in a deliberate, manipulative way. Whilst Scully sees the case as a way to understand more about Mulder, to listen to what he has to say, using her skills to solve the case for the case’s sake - not as some Sherlock Holmes-esque game.
Of course Phoebe has a redemption in the end, but Mulder has seen through her and the allegory revelation that fire no longer has the effect on him that it once did, is very clear by the close of the episode.
See a clip here:
2) 1x05 “Jersey Devil”
This may seem an odd choice for shippiness, given Scully goes on a date with another man, but despite the lack of the tactile, sexual tension filled scenes, this episode has a huge significance in the development of Mulder and Scully’s relationship - particularly when you consider it was written by show creator Chris “purely platonic” Carter.
The plot itself does not lend itself to romance, with Mulder and Scully going back and forth to New Jersey on the search of a bigfoot-esque man, which turns out to be a bigfoot-couple... in fact a bigfoot-family. However, it is the secondary story with Scully’s personal life where the interest lies.
At this stage in the game, The X-Files is entirely a show about their partnership and the paranormal shenanigans they investigate, with Mulder’s past a shadow hanging over it all. Then suddenly in “The Jersey Devil” we get the most domestic look into Scully’ life, and not in a way relevant to the case as in “Beyond the Sea.”
No, what we see is a bit ABBA’s “The Day Before You Came” with a glance at the life Scully led before Mulder. We see her attending her godson’s birthday party where she hangs out with a friend and flirts with a divorcee, Rob, who asks her out on a date.
Scully’s life is,, however, now punctuated with calls from Mulder to bail him out or chase up something for him or follow him into madness. Even on Scully’s actual date with Rob she is interrupted by a phone call, and she doesn't appear too upset about it.
And that is what makes this episode so shippy. It shows, so early on, that Scully’s life has turned upside down because of Mulder, and frankly everything in her old life is pretty dull and run-of-the-mill compared to the intense excitement of a world with Mulder. So much so that in fact Scully turns down a second date with Rob, in order to devote more time to Mulder.
It’s staggering that Chris Carter created this plot where he showed not only that Scully was giving up much of her own life to be involved in The X-Files, but very specifically that she was giving up her romantic life and choosing Mulder over it. Not forgetting that Scully’s friend says Scully told her Mulder was cute.
It is a perfect ship foundation and a clear indication of what place Mulder would have in Scully’s life. But sure Chris, it’s just platonic.
See a clip here:
1) 1x01 “Pilot”
Speaking of foundation, there is no better place to start - or end - than the very first episode introducing us to Mulder and Scully and their partnership that would change the world. The chemistry floods the screen the moment Mulder and Scully shake hands in the basement office, and it doesn’t go away - ever.
Creating the classic structure for an X-Files episode, the “Pilot” gives us Mulder and Scully investigating the abduction of local teens in rural Oregon. It would become the first of many, many “nice trips to the forest” for the pair, each of which offer the opportunity for bonding in wet woods, car trips and dingy motel rooms.
And bonding is certainly the watchword for the shippiest scene in the episode. After enduring a 9 minute time loss, weird lights and car activity, and listening to teens tell of abduction and being returned with odd marks on their body, poor Scully is spooked. She turns up at Mulder’s motel room door, wearing a robe which she quickly lowers revealing her underwear, and asking Mulder to check out the marks on her lower back.
Naturally, all this takes place in a powercut, and the scene has a very charged atmosphere as Mulder holds a flickering candle to Scully’s back, as she stands exposed, vulnerable, semi-nude. When Mulder reassures her it’s just mosquito bites, it’s not surprising she falls into a hug - the first MSR huge of so, so many.
Subsequently, we see the pair bond further as Mulder tells Scully of his past with his lost sister Samantha, in a set-up that looks like so many other ‘ships, before and after, sitting on a bed or the floor, in the dark, sharing whispered truths and revelations.
It is such an iconic scene that the show revisits it in the final ever episode “The Truth”, and the show ends as it begins with the sharing of fears and hopes in a motel room, only this time Mulder is in the bed with Scully.
See a clip here: