I’m continuing my reverse rankings of Fox Mulder in Season 1 of The X-Files and we’ve arrived at #17. The Jersey Devil is a major turning point for the relationship between Mulder and Scully. It is also a prime example of The X-Files’ tendency to occasionally suck. But that is the dichotomy of The Jersey Devil: deep beneath its plodding, dull, boring shell lays some interesting and illuminating Mulder character moments. How does one deal with a situation like this? Why, we rank it #17 on this list!
Let’s start with the major positive for this episode — Mulder and Scully’s relationship. This is the first episode where you really feel like they genuinely like each other. Sure there was attraction and fascination in The Pilot, mutual respect and admiration in both Deep Throat and Squeeze, and compassion and empathy in Conduit. But in The Jersey Devil, it’s easy-going camaraderie. While I prefer it when their banter is more focused on back and forth intellectual debates (something we barely see in this episode), its nice to also see them being playful and amicable with each other. Scully is all about the jokes and gentle ribbing here, whether its hilariously comparing Mulder to a vagrant or telling him he has no life. However, I don’t think Mulder is quite as comfortable with Scully as she is with him which plays into his larger character arc in the episode.
Since The Pilot you can feel Mulder’s attitude towards Scully transitioning from jovial distrust to full-blown respect. She’s shown her integrity and strength of character multiple times and Mulder has definitely noticed. More than that, Mulder seems to really love working and interacting with her; he relishes having someone who challenges him intellectually and respectfully. The problem is, Mulder doesn’t expect her to be long for his world; he figures her interests, passion, and competence are going to propel her up the career ladder away from the X-Files basement (which he implies as much in Squeeze).
So it’s interesting how much of The Jersey Devil feels like Mulder subtly testing Scully’s limits. In a way it reminds me of The Pilot where Mulder keeps arrogantly poking and prodding at Scully, trying to get a reaction. There he does it to see if she can be trusted whereas in The Jersey Devil, its almost like he’s trying to figure out how devoted to the work she is. Basically, he wants to see if these cases stoke the same kind of fire in her that they do in him. When he casually asks her to drop everything and spend the weekend in Atlantic City, he likely anticipates some resistance but more along the lines of “this isn’t an X-File” or “we have other cases to work”. But I think he’s genuinely shocked when she mentions she has plans. He understands why Scully wouldn’t necessarily be passionate about a case but prioritizing a social life is not something he expected. His attitude when he exclaims “what do you have a date?!” feels less like jealousy and more like something a condescending parent would say if their kid wanted to go against the parents wishes. It’s almost like a defense mechanism because her having a social life reaffirms his expectation that she has grander plans than sticking around with ol’ Spooky in the basement.
Mulder tentatively tests her again when he asks her if she can cancel a date to stick around AC. He’s no longer completely floored by the idea of a social life but he still hopes/expects that she will prioritize the work. When she tells him that she “would like to have a life”, I think he is 99% being honest when he says “I have a life”. Mulder doesn’t have any ill-will towards Scully here but I do think he’s trying to show her just how important the X-Files are to him. That’s why the ending of the episode is so important for the rest of the series. Mulder’s been mentally checking all of these boxes so that when Scully inevitably leaves (as he expects her to), the emotional toll is softened. So when she subverts his expectations and chooses a trip with him to the Smithsonian over a date, he is genuinely and pleasantly surprised. And just like that, these two are destined to be life partners.
I do wonder whether Mulder or Scully were romantically interested in one another at this point. My take is that Mulder hasn’t thought of it beyond “she’s attractive” while Scully’s interaction with her friend implies to me that she may be mildly interested but has written off the possibility. What would have happened if Mulder had been serious about taking in a floor show in Atlantic City (ie asking her out on a date)? My guess is they would have gone out once, had a decent time, realized that they were not romantically compatible, and then drifted apart due to the awkwardness of the situation. I think Mulder and Scully work as a couple only based on their shared experiences and trauma; they would never have worked in a traditional romantic relationship.
And that’s it for positives. The rest of The Jersey Devil is pretty bad making it my second least favorite episode of the season. Chris Carter may have nailed Mulder and Scully’s overarching relationship but man, did he struggle in Season 1 with introducing new character traits. Case in point: our introduction to Mulder and porn. The character trait is fine but the scene is utter nonsense. I don’t buy that he would be casually looking at porn at work with his back to a wide open office door when he and Scully have only been working together a short while. In a way he might be testing Scully here as well to see her reaction but its dumb and uncomfortable. What it amounts to is a young professional female walking into her office and finding her older male colleague (whom she still doesn’t know all that well) looking at pornography. In real life, that would be a SERIOUS problem and who knows how it would play out. While the scene is played for laughs, there’s an uncomfortable subtext to me of Scully just playing along with what her male coworker is doing. I have zero issues with their banter over porn in later seasons because they have a level of intimacy in their relationship at that point. Here though, I hate that Mulder even puts Scully in this really inappropriate position.
The remainder of The Jersey Devil is devoted to a few of Mulder’s defining character traits. Things are superficially compelling as we witness Mulder’s drive, determination, and relentlessness as he dives headfirst into the case, giving up his weekend and his motel room for a dirty blanket in a dark alley and a jailcell. But the problem is that the word “relentless” feel dissonant when applied to this absolute slog of a case. All of Mulder’s investigative scenes are too languidly paced to be enjoyable. Long walks through the woods, long walks through the poor parts of Atlantic City which are conveniently walking distance from the forests of Vancouver, long-ass walks through a dilapidated warehouse in what may be the most boring “suspenseful” scene in the show’s history. So…much…fucking….walking. I don’t mind a slow pace if we’re building suspense or atmosphere but its not a good thing when the fastest paced scene is one where the central conceit is “multiple conversations occur at once”.
Maybe that was the point…give Mulder a dull case and we’ll truly feel how obsessed Mulder is. But his obsession never resonates because not only is Mulder in total sloth-mode during his long walks, he’s also mostly a passive observer. A lot of the fun in watching Mulder work a case is witnessing his unique perception of the world with that trademark Mulder intuition. Here we get none of that. Scully is the one who makes him aware of the case. When Mulder obtains a ton of information from the Park Ranger, that is less an example of Mulder’s investigative skills and more an example of a lonely Park Ranger who apparently wants nothing more than someone to listen to him talk. He then happens upon a witness with a silly drawing of the Jersey Devil by just wandering a road and essentially asking aloud “is there anyone here who can help me advance the plot?” Finally, he gets another infodump from Dr. Diamond (a helpful expert type who Scully pulls out of her ass) where Mulder is a little more involved but only if you consider questions such as “why” and “what’s this chart” to be enlightening. As much as Mulder is driving the main plot, he doesn’t actually do anything.
The final ten minutes of the episode rush to focus on Mulder’s empathy. But though its a nice touch to have Mulder connect with the titular Jersey Devil, this seemingly comes out of nowhere. He mentions briefly in the diner about how she didn’t attack him because he wasn’t a threat but its a bridge too far for me to believe that he and Scully would wander around in a darkened warehouse without their weapons out. And during that awful slog through the warehouse, they treat us to some cringe-worthy and pretentious dialogue about how “maybe she isn’t all that different from us”. It all feels like a clumsy attempt to nail down the message Carter was going for; consequently Mulder’s emotions feel unearned. And of course, the climax of the episode is just Mulder and his crew running “urgently” through the woods only to arrive too late to do anything meaningful other than have Mulder stare at Detective Thompson with those wounded-puppy-dog Duchovny eyes. If things were a bit more dynamic or well-paced or if the stakes were increased in any way, Mulder’s characterization could have landed better. Instead The Jersey Devil is mostly a crappy episode for Mulder but still makes it to #17 for truly solidifying his relationship with Scully.
And now for some little Mulder tid-bits.
1.) Number of Sarcastic Mulder Jokes: 1
Mulder wasn’t his normal investigative self in this one but he also lacked that flippant charm he normally has! He drops a joke about “skipping the floor shows” but after that, the sense of humor is mostly gone. That’s part of the reason the episode feels like a slog despite Mulder being in it so much.
2.) Number of Self-Righteous/Pretentious/Hyperbolic Mulder Moments: 2
His reaction to Scully having a personal life and his treating Detective Thompson like the mayor from Jaws both count.
3.) Number of Mulder theories: 1
“What if its not a beast man?” That is the entirety of Mulder’s theory.
4.) Number of Mulder leaps: 0
That theory above may count as a leap but its too dull to count in both of these categories.
5.) Number of quality Mulder investigative moments: 3
Mulder has a couple of these moments where his brain seems to be working like normal, like connecting the case Scully brings him with the what we see in the teaser. But for the most part, this episode is not about Mulder solving anything; rather its a heavy-handed attempt to highlight aspects of Mulder’s personality.
6.) Number of times Mulder’s voice goes into that trademark sad “Duchovnyish-Whisper”: 1
I guess he pulls it out sadly when moping to Detective Thompson but I usually will only count this if the trademark whisper is well acted. Duchovny isn’t bad in this episode but you can feel him straining against the script at time.
7.) Number of times Mulder’s gun is drawn: 0
ZERO TIMES. This might be why I consider that search through the warehouse to be so damn boring. By not having their guns drawn, it literally ends up being Mulder and Scully walking around a non-descript room, talking about whether the Jersey Devil enjoys shopping. Unfortunately, the scene actually reminds me of the aimless ambling that people do when actually shopping which is not a good thing.
8.) Number of times Mulder is in danger: 2
Mulder is ostensibly in danger the first time he spots the Jersey Devil but that scene is so dark and poorly directed that you can’t tell what’s going on. When she actually attacks him in the warehouse, he’s in danger again but Duchovny’s acting is pretty bad in that moment so you can’t really tell what is going on in Mulder’s head. It’s only when Scully arrives and he announces to her about how the Jersey Devil “was beautiful” where you realize “oh…that’s pretty stupid.”
9.) Number of fiery Mulder interactions: 0
His interactions with Detective Thompson should be this but both the case and the episode just feel so devoid of drama that there isn’t enough energy to create a fiery interactino.
10.) Number of times Mulder pisses someone off: 3.5
Mulder pisses off Detective Thompson a couple of times but there is a really subtle moment when they are looking at the body early on where Scully flashes this very brief look of discomfort. It’s when Thompson mentions not knowing why the FBI is on the case and Mulder mentions they are there because Scully is a medical doctor and wanted to look at the body. I don’t think Mulder meant to throw her under the bus there but I’m surprised Scully isn’t actually pissed at him there. Granted she probably forgot all about it when he assholishly just tosses her the car keys across the hood of the car and left her to do a 5 hour drive by herself.