The X-Files: Detour

Case: A man disappears while walking his dog in the woods in Florida. Mulder uses this to avoid doing some FBI teamwork training.

Destination: Leon County, Florida

"Communication is key."

I wrote an article for an online journal recently on shipping - the desire to see fictional characters get it on, not the transportation of goods by sea. One of the things I talked about in the article was the three different types of ships. There's the canon (e.g. Buffy/Angel) the crack (e.g. the TARDIS/the Impala - I don't even want to know how that works) and then there's some of the most popular ships, the somewhere-in-between. The ships that aren't quite canon but that certainly don't come from nowhere either. For years, Mulder and Scully - according to Internet lore, the originators of the term, which supposedly referred to those 'Relationshippers' who wanted them to get together - were in that middle category.

The thing about these middle-category ships is that everything becomes open to interpretation. Sometimes 'shippers' take something not meant romantically and deliberately force a romantic meaning onto it. Other times, the writers, producers and actors throw something in that's a little bit shippy, a little bit possibly-romantic, a little bit 'these-people-are-very-close-indeed', just to get a rise out of them - sometimes because they want people to believe they might, eventually, go there, sometimes just for the heck of it.

This entire episode is one big Ship Tease, is what I'm saying. And I love it for that.

The episode leaves things just open enough that you can choose whether to read Mulder and Scully's actions as romantic or deeply platonic, but there's no doubt the entire 40 minutes exists purely to provide a close look at the state of their relationship at the start of season five. It's like someone looked at the great, Darin Morgan-scripted boat scene from 'Quagmire' and decided to build an entire episode around a reboot of that scene.

A lot of the first part of the episode has the pair of them acting like giddy teenagers. We open with Mulder and Scully sitting like naughty kids in the back of the car while another FBI couple (and the actors' body language suggests they may be partners in several senses of the word) talk about teamwork training and communication. Then Scully turns up to Mulder's motel room with cheese and wine. It's a really weird moment in some ways - however close they are, this is not normal behaviour. It was Scully we saw opening up to the possibility of romance with someone she thought was Mulder in 'Small Potatoes', and we have to wonder here exactly what her intentions are here. Perhaps that experience suggested to her that maybe this was something she really did want to pursue. It never gets anywhere though, because there are developments in the case, where the latest guest star provided for Scully to be jealous of (like Bambi in 'War of the Coprophages' or Det. White in 'Syzygy') is actually a capable redhead in law enforcement, just to really hammer the message home.

And then, of course, we get that scene - the adorable moment in which Mulder has been injured and Scully cuddles him (to keep him warm, for purely medical reasons, naturally) while they sit out the night in the middle of the woods. Mulder asks Scully to sing to him in the darkness and she reluctantly launches into a supremely awkward rendition of 'Jeremiah was a bullfrog'. And a million shippers' hearts swelled to ten times their normal size and launched themselves out of their bodies.

There is, it should be noted, a serious undercurrent to the scene. Still recovering from her cancer and miraculous recovery, Scully talks about her anger at the injustice of dying young, and Mulder talks about his belief that Nature is simply indifferent (and therefore there's no point getting angry). But it's the singing you'll remember. It's a perfect moment to encapsulate where these two are - Scully's exasperation and reluctant willingness to go along with it, Mulder's reliance on her and need for her to reaffirm to him that she's still there, she's still with him. It was Scully who nearly died, but it's Scully who's taking care of Mulder here, and in many ways that represents their dynamic throughout the show. She is capable, grounded, a link between him and the rest of the world, while Mulder is inspired but prone to putting himself at risk.

The episode overall is really very slow - it's mostly wandering around in the woods - and the reveal isn't that thrilling (it's something to do with a fountain of youth. Possibly. It ties in with the death conversation). But the episode is a favourite simply because of the Mulder/Scully interactions. You don't have to read it romantically, though I would definitely argue it lends itself to that interpretation. But either way, this is a great showcase of the fun to be had from their relationship and the chemistry between the actors. And Scully should sing in every episode.

Other Thoughts

 - The woods of Canada are very pretty. I have no idea how good a match they are for the woods of Florida - it seems to me those two places are very far apart from each other and must have quite different climates - but they're very pretty.

 - Mulder asks Scully how many bullets she fired and she says 6, maybe 7. She's an FBI agent and she doesn't know how many shots she fired? That seems like something a professional should keep track of.

 - There's a great shot just after Scully's fallen in the hole in which you can just about make out a figure shuffling towards her over her shoulder.

 - When Mulder jumped in the hole, all I could think of was Leo from The West Wing, in the middle of his 'a guy falls in a hole' story, saying "Are you stupid? Now we're both down here!"

 - British people problems: I've never heard of a mothman and I'd never heard 'Jeremiah was a bullfrog' before.

Quotes

Scully: Mulder? We've got this conference. They're waiting.
Mulder: Yeah. How do I say this without using any negative words, Scully?
Scully: You want me to tell them that you're not going to make it to this year's teamwork seminar.
Mulder: Yeah, you see that? We don't need that conference. We have communication like that, unspoken. You know what I'm thinking.

Scully: I must remind you this goes against the Bureau's policy of male and female agents consorting in the same motel room while on assignment.
Mulder: Try any of that Tailhook crap on me, Scully, I'll kick your ass.

Mulder: I was told once that the best way to regenerate body heat was to crawl naked into a sleeping bag with somebody else who's already naked.
Scully: Well, maybe if it rains sleeping bags, you'll get lucky.

Scully: Jeremiah was a bullfrog, he was a good friend of mine...

Final Analysis: Adorable. Three out of four bullfrogs.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

5 comments:

Billie Doux said...

The Jeremiah was a bullfrog song is "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night. It's the same song that opens one of my favorite movies, The Big Chill. :)

Heather said...

Juliette,
I really love your review of 'Detour'. And I agree that Scully should sing every episode. :)

ChrisB said...

And a million shippers' hearts swelled to ten times their normal size and launched themselves out of their bodies. What a great line! And, oh yes, count me in.

The story is supremely silly and not well thought out, but the scene in the woods makes it worth a watch and a re-watch. I love Scully singing, but again, it is Mulder's reaction that makes me smile. The look on his face when she starts to sing is hilarious, but the simple "chorus" as she tries to stop makes my heart launch.

Great review, Juliette.

Juliette said...

Thanks guys :) I may have watched an episode of Supernatural all about cartoons right before writing that one...!

Lydia said...

Oh man. All the slowness of the episode can be forgiven for that five-minute ship tease scene with Mulder and Scully cuddling. Also the naked sleeping bag talk was totally blatant flirting, right? Their profound conversations are simply the best though. They're honestly just relationship goals whether you see them romantically or not (and how can you not?? look, i'm all for not romanticizing every male-female platonic friendship on television, (*cough* finnrey *cough*) but it's MULDER AND SCULLY, how can you not ship them? it's just humanly impossible). I'd love to have someone like that, it's just in the warm way they talk to each other, so much unsaid love and respect. I do agree the cheese and wine thing seemed a bit much, tbh, and call me delusional but I believe that ever since she almost kissed the 'wrong' Mulder in 'small potatoes', she's been seeing their relationship in a new light. Anyway, loved this episode, and now I have 'Joy To The World' stuck in my head. Bonus!