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The Mother Of All Metas: X-Files "William" And Dana Scully's Nine-Year Maternal Melodrama

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So, I've seen "William" now. And so at last, I can unload the very angry meta about Scully's nine-year reproductive nightmare that has been slowly building up in me during this rewatch.

Before we go on, let me just establish a few things about "William" itself:

1) Scully’s motivation for giving William up makes no logical sense whatsoever. After seeing what the new conspirators can do in “Trust No 1,” what in the world makes her think that placing him with a random family in a remote location will afford him any protection? The only way you could hope that this would succeed would be to do the adoption unofficially; and yet that couple is signing forms and there are random strangers dropping William off. Given that, under what appear during most of this season to be prevailing conditions, it would be impossible to do this secretly (especially if going through a third party; you know, domestic adoption is regulated, there is government oversight) would it not actually be safer for William to be raised by someone who knows what his special circumstances are and who is surrounded by heavily armed people who also understand this and can protect him?

2) I've been complaining about Monica Reyes a lot lately. So let me just say that from my POV the best thing about Monica Reyes is that because of her, this show not only occasionally passes the Bechdel test, but occasionally passes the "please can someone be realistic about pregnancy and parenting for just one fucking second" test. In particular, I would like to thank Monica Reyes for being the only person in this episode to point out that Scully's decision to give up William makes no fucking sense. When Scully laments that she can't promise William that he'll never have to be afraid, Reyes says, "Who can?" And she's absolutely God damn right. If the test for whether you deserve to be a parent is that you will never allow your child to know fear and that you will always protect him from all harm, then we should all just stop reproducing and let the species die out.

3) Many things about the plot itself make no sense. How Jeffrey Spender survived being executed in Mulder's office by Cancer Man, for instance. Well, I guess dead is not dead in Seasons 8 & 9 just in general. But the resolution of William's paranormality also makes no sense. Spender injects him with a form of magnetite which is presumably the ore that caused Creepy Moustache Man to self-destruct in that quarry at the end of "Trust No 1." By doing this, we are to assume, Spender neutralizes William's supersoldierness, so that he can now live life as an ordinary child without telekinetic abilities. From this we can infer that William was in fact the result of genetic manipulation and implanation, which means that he's not Mulder's baby after all...only wait. If that were true, that injection would have killed him, wouldn't it? Because that stuff certainly killed Creepy Moustache Man. So, maybe William is Mulder's baby after all, and the telekinesis was passed on somehow (because remember, Mulder was going telepathically batshit crazy in "Biogenesis" as a result of exposure to the magical spaceship rock), and the people who harvested all of Scully's eggs missed a couple, and magically...but in that case, why would an injection of magnetite make him normal?

4) ARGH! Does ANYTHING about "William" make sense? Is it even possible to extract a coherent meaning from the ending of Scully's long, long, LONG struggle with fertility?

Yes. It is. I can tell you exactly what kind of sense "William" actually makes of this whole crazy storyline. But I'm going to warn you right now: you're not going to like it.

Still with me?

OK then. Go get a sandwich and a bag of chips, this is going to take a while. 

So. The pregnancy only happens at the end of Season 7, but Scully’s fertility has been a subject of intense interest to the (all male) core of regular writers since season one. In “Jersey Devil” they send Scully to a kids’ birthday party just so her friend can grill her about whether she plans to settle down and have kids. Gillian Anderson’s actual pregnancy in Season 2, which would require her to skip several episodes, prompted CC to create the show’s first real story arc around Scully’s abduction. The fact that this fused alien abduction with pregnancy once and forever in CC’s imagination is visible in a weirdly decontextualized shot of a metal tube sticking into the very pregnant belly of what we assume is Scully, which appears as one of the images of what’s happening to her during her abduction.

Then in “Home,” Scully talks to Mulder about the fact that she wants children, and Mulder, surprised but apparently delighted to hear about this, suggests that she doesn’t need to marry; she just has to find the right guy and then start “pumping out uberScullys.” Someone is already imagining Scully as part of what was, in the 1990s, a relatively new phenomenon: the career woman who is too busy during her 20s to date or marry, and instead decides in her 30s to become a single mother by choice. Another 90s show, Murphy Brown, had made a big deal out of this plot in 1990-1991 and taken a lot of flak for it from right-wing politicians out fighting the culture wars. Mulder seems OK with this idea of Scully becoming part of the Assisted Reproduction Vanguard, but the episode itself, which juxtaposes this whole conversation against the increasingly horrifying series of misbirths that produced the incestuous and homicidal family under investigation, is skeptical.

Then Mulder comes across a test tube full of Scully’s ova during one of his many foragings through the filing cabinets of the conspiracy; we are to assume that they were extracted during her abduction and stored. ALL of her ova, mind you. Aliens must have been involved, because the technology to extract immature ova from human ovaries in any kind of viable form did not exist then and it doesn’t exist now. (Also, to keep ova frozen, or sperm frozen for that matter, you need to store it in liquid nitrogen, so how Mulder managed to get that tube of Scullygametes to a fertility clinic without them thawing out and dying is a mystery to me.) But plausibility was never the point of the X-Files. The point was that Scully’s character was becoming the object of all the anxieties about fertility and assisted reproduction triggered (amongst men) by a new generation of women professionals who were postponing pregnancy in order to establish their careers. Female fertility does diminish with age, and the more women were waiting until their 30s to get pregnant, the more money there started to be in treatments for infertility. In vitro fertilization had been successfully pulled off in 1978 (the first “test tube baby”) and by the 1990s was becoming routine; there was also a lot of discussion at the time of more controversial forms of assisted reproduction, such as cloning. The extraction of Scully’s ova, which as Scully keeps saying (in a way that sets my teeth on edge every time) “left her barren,” was the first step in the manipulation of Scully’s fertility by shadowy government forces—a process that goes on, if we date it back to the season 2 abduction arc, for seven fricking seasons. 

So, by the time we get to “Christmas Carol”/”Emily,” in which she discovers that her egg has been inseminated with (probably) alien sperm in an attempt to create an alien-human hybrid, it’s pretty clear what the show’s take on all this is going to be: by committing herself to her job and to the X-Files to the extent that she has, Scully has forever lost her chance of ever having a ‘normal’ pregnancy or a ‘normal’ life as the mother of a ‘normal’ child. Her desire to have a child in spite of her work-related infertility, while understandable, is presented as fundamentally misguided; it will make her the victim of a number of increasingly nightmarish versions of in vitro fertilization, each of which leaves her physically drained and emotionally bereaved. When she attempts in “Emily” to adopt her own biological child, she is given all kinds of flak by the social worker for being a single mother whose career presumably keeps her too busy to parent; in the end, it’s a moot point, because the artificially engineered Emily is a biological anomaly whose brief life is so painful and so unsustainable that Scully comes to accept her death as a better fate for her. “Emily” repeats with a sometimes not entirely comprehensible insistence that Scully’s first test tube baby was never ‘meant to be,’ and punishes Scully pretty severely for attempting to become Emily’s parent.

When Scully becomes pregnant with William, everything just gets so much worse. Since we’ve known since “Christmas Carol” that Scully is “barren” (gngngngngn) because she has no ova, her pregnancy is inexplicable medically except as a result of IVF with either one of her harvested eggs or a donor egg. We discover in Season 8’s “Per Manum” that in fact Scully tried to become pregnant this way, using Mulder as the donor—and let me just say that their handling of that process was the ONLY point during this whole nine-year Scully’s Fertility Saga at which I did not want to kill the writers. I thought, in fact, that they handled the complexities of that relationship beautifully and the scene in which Scully comes in to tell Mulder that the last implantation failed is legitimately wrenching. But of course the writers are telling us this story only in order to eliminate that possibility, so that now we have to swallow the idea that her baby is either a legitimate miracle or the result of an even more aggressive and terrifying misuse and invasion of her body. 

Well, there are bascially two archetypal narratives out there for a boy child conceived by some means other than sex: He's either the messiah, or he's Frankenstein’s monster. Seasons 8&9 of The X-Files attempt to combine both narratives, and the results are just insane. On the one hand, William’s birth is attended by all the signs and portents of the Nativity, right down to the 3 wise-asses bearing gifts (in the form of Frohicke, Byers, and Langley). On the other hand, William is a supersoldier baby with telekinetic powers and weird iron-fused DNA who was conceived in a lab and then secretly implanted in Scully without her consent. He is also, at least according to the end of "Existence," the result of sex between Scully and Mulder, which would actually be completely medically impossible if the aliens really got ALL of her ova. There are too many explanations for how William came to be and they can't be woven into a single coherent story. The only thing we know for sure about Scully’s baby is that there are a lot of men in her world who don’t want her to have it. These men are also very keen to ensure that Scully can’t have both Mulder AND William. Krychek gives Skinner that ultimatum in the “DeadAlive” arc; the cult leaders insist on it too; and creepy moustache man tells her the same thing in “Trust No 1.” 

None of this makes much sense. It's never clear exactly why William is so important to all these people or why some people want to kill him and some people don't (this was also a problem with Cassandra Spender). The rush to kill Scully’s baby only matters functionally: the point is to force her to give it up. And eventually, inevitably, she does. And in order for that decision to make any sense, we have to believe—in spite of all the evidence from Season 9 that indicates that this is not literally true—that her child is better off with a two-parent, one-man one-woman, married-couple family living in a nice wholesome place in the country than he could ever be being raised in a city by a working single mother.

In other words, the only way the resolution of the William plot ‘makes sense’ is ideologically. It ‘makes sense’ only as the end of a long story in which Scully painfully learns that all the medical procedures that have been developed to help women like her get pregnant are Gothic horrors that can only create abominations, and that if she wanted to have children she should have got married and stayed at home and never gone to work at the FBI. It ‘makes sense’ mainly for viewers already prone to accept the idea that babies should be raised by ‘intact’ families with nice big houses, regardless of how the ‘fallen’ and ‘unwed’ single women who gave birth to them feel about it. Scully's final speech about how William didn't choose to come into the world, and she didn't choose what he would be, but she CAN choose to give him a good life, could come straight out of any maternal melodrama in which the poor and outcast single mother sacrifices her baby so he can have a better life while she more likely than not wanders off to starve to death in a snowdrift. It is extra-annoying that this ending for William becomes possible only after he has been 'cured' of the things that made him different. At no point during seasons 8 & 9 does Scully ever seem as if she's willing to try to find some positives in the fact that William obviously has special attributes. I don't blame her personally. On the X-Files, everything alien is bad.

All of this is infuriating. But it explains a lot of otherwise incomprehensible things about the way the writers deal with William. Who William’s father is and how he was created matters a lot to these people. How Scully parents him is a matter of complete indifference to them. I think they show Scully holding a bottle once. Otherwise, we never see her feed or change William, or do any of the fifty bazillion routine tasks that constitute parenting an infant and which are as important as any biological connection in creating the parent-child bond. They are not at all interested in the experiential side of parenting; they only care about it from a genetic point of view. Most of what we see from Scully as far as maternal emotion goes involves going apeshit all over the various people who try to kill her baby. There’s no attempt to individualize William; Scully never talks about all the tiny little cute things he does that differentiate him from all the other babies, or tells anyone what his favorite hat or toy is, or really does anything to indicate that she’s aware of him developing a personality. The one time we see her do something that we couldn’t see any mother do with any child is her singing “Joy to the World” to him as she takes him out of the car in “William;” and obviously that was only put in to make all the FEELS worse when she has to give him up. 

So this is my problem with “William,” in the end: it validates a whole lot of CRAP that was slung in the 90s and is still slung now about how it’s ‘better for the child’ to be raised in a white, affluent home by married, heterosexual parents, regardless of whether his mother loves and wants him. It presents Scully as someone who, despite her good intentions, is prevented by her career for properly caring for her baby. It represents assisted reproduction as nightmarish, wrong, and a mistake. It is obsessed with paternity and rejects the importance of nurturing. In other words, it is a rejection of everything that created my own little family, and I guess that’s why this got this long.