Eight Reasons Mulder and Scully Are Actually Terrible FBI Agents

By Andy Hughes in Daily Lists, TV
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 6:00 am


Many heroes are really bad at their jobs, and for good reason: how many people want to watch a movie about Robocop dutifully standing outside in the parking lot with the rest of his support team while his superiors handle everything? Still, we often willfully forget about the gulf between what we see onscreen and what would probably happen in real life, and in the case (ha!) of everyone's favorite pair of paranormal-fighting G-person lovebirds, it may have been for the best. Because when you get down to it, there's a whole bunch of reasons why, despite their best qualities, The X-Files' Fox Mulder and Dana Scully weren't the sort of agents you'd really recommend for career advancement. I'm not saying they were bad people, bad characters, or even bad at dealing with aliens or demons or ghost rapists or stretchy people or what have you. It's just that, although I've only made it through the first eight seasons, something tells me these guys wouldn't have lasted very long if not for the dense layers of TV magic and fan love keeping them on a regular investigation schedule.

Detailing why this is so is going to be a little more difficult than, say, calling the CSI characters out for not following correct forensic procedure, because a) The X-Files employed a scientific consultant and endeavored to be accurate when possible and b) many times the writers had other characters fully acknowledge the absurd things Fanox Sculder were able to get away with, especially in the later seasons, when that seemed to become a lot more interesting to them than a typical monster story. Mulder and Scully do seem to spend some time on the more mundane aspects of federal investigations, at least more than most television crimefighters seem to. But that doesn't mean that they still weren't hopelessly reckless when it comes to actual FBI protocol (of which I admittedly know very little) and common sense (of which I definitely know little). Obviously, some some seriously expired spoilers follow.

8) They're horrendously high-profile

Quick: name five active real-life FBI agents whose names were the title of a '90s alt rock song. Can't? Secrecy would appear to be a fundamental part of the job for the X-filers' work, yet about ¾ through the series Mulder is described as being too well-known to show his face in Las Vegas, a city famous, of course, for being predominantly quiet and easy to spot people in. The seventh season took this idea to a whole new level, with two episodes in particular treating Mulder and Scully essentially as if they were celebrities first and law enforcement second: "X-Cops" had the agents appearing on national television, and "Hollywood A.D." even saw a movie made about them using their real names. Yeah, the movie was probably a flop, but it's a record of the agents and their work that anyone could theoretically see. By this point in the series, the two of them don't seem all that concerned with the security risks of their names and histories being public, and that's a bit of a problem if your entire job description involves matters of national security (Scully, to her credit, did hate being on TV). Oh, and for the record, part of me does want to see a movie featuring the Richard Gere version of Mulder, if solely on the chance that it might at least be better than I Want to Believe.

7) They rack up the travel budget

Ok, they didn't pay for this one, but still.

I don't care if it's for work or not: you can't exactly say these two are stingy when it comes to booking flights, renting cars, or in Mulder's case, furthering his crippling porn addiction on the company dime. Incidental, maybe, but when you consider the money spent on travel, lodging and sunflower seeds per episode, you can see how quickly it could accumulate. On some level, those are probably our hard-earned tax dollars sending them to places like Antarctica and the Bermuda Triangle for something that totally won't end up with more job growth for this country, and you don't have to be a fiscal hardass to find that a teensy bit questionable. However, it's not like anyone's stopping them, and the citizens of the U.S. have probably collectively already funded enough of the Cigarette Smoking Man's Morley's to have covered the national debt twice over. Like a few other items on this list, this is directly addressed in an on-the-nose scene in the season 7 finale "Requiem," with the agents getting a list of all their expenses read straight to their faces, but you'd think the people in charge would have caught on a little sooner than that.

6) They get along terribly with local law enforcement

Fun fact: when FBI agents work together with the authorities of specific areas, they do so in a cooperative capacity, and contrary to popular belief, don't take authority of these cases away from those police forces, at least according to their official FAQ. And in most cases, The X-Files doesn't necessarily get this wrong. However, if the goal of these kinds of collaborations is to get different parties to, well, collaborate, then the classic X-Files team fails pretty hard on a lot of fronts, as the star agents usually do most of the real work themselves while the grizzled local sheriff or whatever hems and haws and refuses to buy any of it. Sometimes they allow for their forces to show up and shoot the bad guy down at the end, or bust open a door right as the killer is about to get away. Even when their investigations go smoothly, though, the end result is usually some reluctant praise from the former doubters at best. Chances are Mulder and Scully don't have a whole lot of character recommendations to bank on, which is great if you're a roguish TV lead, not so much if you're actually trying to build up a resume. And while we're on the subject...

5) They often don't call for backup when they need it

Yes, there are instances where these two successfully marshal larger forces together to fight evil, or act as part of a larger plan (sometimes under Skinner's direction). But once again, it's mostly just them going alone, probably not the best course of action when a dangerous killer is on the loose, especially if they can pop out of your toilet. It's one thing to antagonize small-minded hicks because they can't see that a certain disemboweling was CLEARLY done by a creature out of mythical African folklore or something. That's understandable (kind of). Barging into danger with your
pants down and your ass hanging out, as Colonel Tigh would say, is just foolish (though a little impressive on an athletic level). When the other officers show up, it tends to be to after the big brawl, not before. This becomes even more apparent in some of the Doggett episodes, like "Roadrunners," where we get the strange sensation of having our male lead ask for assistance and the local police essentially say, "ok."

4) They get transferred and reinstated, like, seven times

While not every season ends with the X-Files being shut down, it certainly feels like it, and this happens so frequently the further you get into the series that it starts to feel as perfunctory as the opening credits. Yes, I know this is part of the "mythology" and that most of these plotlines do provide (somewhat convoluted) reasons to bring Mulder and Scully together again after each fake ending, even if it takes a few episodes (or Robert Patrick) to get us back there. Still, that's not a very stable job history. It's hard enough to work your way up the ladder if your employers see that you took a gap year: I feel like explaining to them about how you were recuperating in a Native American spirit dimension would not generate much sympathy.

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