I’ve re-watched The X-Files so many times but its been years since I just randomly popped in an episode and enjoyed it. I’m rigidly stubborn and have to watch things in order. Well I just had a kid and kids force you to adjust, dammit! So one way I adjusted is that I ranked the first season based on how I feel Mulder fared in each episode and am now watching them in reverse order, paying special attention to him. (So yeah, I decided that right after having a kid is a great opportunity to waste more time).
So here are my rankings starting with #24…Space.
Space is by far the worst episode ofthe first season of The X-Files. However, one silver lining I normally get from bad episodes is that Mulder usually elevates weaker material. Not here though…Mulder actively sabotages the episode just like a certain Early-90’s-CGI-Space-Ghost-Whose-Expression-Looks-Perpetually-Constipated sabotages the space program.
The concept of Mulder being a fanboy for all things NASA actually fits his character well; beneath his wounded, sarcastic and self-righteous veneer, Mulder has always been very hopeful with a highly romantic view of the world. This trademark makes it very believable that he’d have deep admiration for the space program and Colonel Belt in particular.
Unfortunately, Space wants Mulder to undergo a pretty major character arc which means his behavior bookending the episode is far too extreme. On one end of the spectrum, we have Mulder acting like a naïve child early on and not the brilliant Oxford-educated criminal profiler/porn enthusiast that he actually is. Some of it is amusing and endearing; Mulder excitedly jogging behind Scully and fawning over Belt is a nice character beat. BUT most of it feels like a Mulder lookalike. Just check out that scene where he asks literally zero questions of Belt while Scully does all of the hard work! Duchovny tries to play him like he’s nervously fidgeting but it doesn’t work and Mulder just comes off as lazy here. I understand Mulder giving Belt the benefit of the doubt and not being aligned with Scully (hell his behavior here is actually kind of similar to how he reacts to Scully’s theories about Diana Fowley in One Son). But the complete lack of professionalism he displays in this scene doesn’t feel like Mulder. Mulder is not one who lives by a strict code of professional integrity but its never because of laziness or apathy.
But here’s the thing…that lack of professionalism is NOTHING compared to the lack of impulse control he shows later when he nearly kills Colonel Belt during the climax. The entire scene with Belt having a seizure is utter nonsense but its made infinitely worse by Mulder usurping all authority from Scully and the medical professionals around him so that he can get Belt to focus on his goddamn finger. The scene plays out like this is a big heroic moment for Mulder; he trusted Belt implicitly early on and now he’s come around and he’s going to fix the situation, dammit! But the way it plays out….holy shit it’s awful. What is this rudimentary “focus on my finger” garbage Mulder is doing?? And to top it off, his steamrolling Scully is pretty damn insulting.
Somehow this is not the worst thing about Mulder in Space. No the worst thing is that the bulk of the episode struggles to find something for Mulder and Scully to do. The body of this episode is just brimming with scene after scene of them as bystanders. The amount of times they stand in the background in the control room shifting uncomfortably is pretty staggering. Gillian Anderson does a decent enough job in these scenes; Duchovny though looks like he’s struggling which isn’t a surprise. He’s a phenomenal actor when he’s engaged but throughout the show’s run, you can feel him disengaging when the material is weak. Not saying he does it on purpose here but he definitely looks like he has no idea what to do during those endless control room scenes.
Standing around and doing nothing is not Mulder’s strength. But Chris Carter doubles down on this crappiness by then having Mulder and Scully do a series of busy-work tasks that can only be described as the sexy FBI Agent version of “tiring your kid out so that they take their nap”. These tasks include following Michelle from the hotel to mission control (lets ignore Mulder rescuing Michelle from the car crash because that is somehow more boring than the drive itself), going to Colonel Belt’s apartment to wake him up, investigating issues in computer processor rooms, and solving the decade-long-mystery of the FUCKING CHALLENGER EXPLOSION. What the hell?! Mulder (out of nowhere) makes the leap to go through a vague amount of NASA files and in a matter of mere moments, has made connections and conclusions in one of the most publicized tragedies in modern human history with absolutely no fanfare. Its cringeworthy and is a blatant attempt to have Mulder and Scully do something meaningful.
Yeah so Mulder (and the episode’s usage of Mulder) is really bad in Space. I wish there was something positive to say about him here but, outside of about ten seconds worth of cute character beats, Mulder spends his time either out of character, ambling aimlessly on the periphery, or randomly solving some of humanities greatest failures. It makes watching him simultaneously boring, infuriating, and laughably bad.