Season 4, Episode 13: “Never Again”
Original Airdate: February 2, 1997
Mulder and Scully are not having sex. Not with each other, no matter what the fanfic tells you, and not with anyone else either. On the rare occasions that we glimpse them in their downtime they are having a quiet evening at home, or sneaking onto UFO crash sites. You could argue that it’s because they’re desperately in love with each other, too in love with each other to act on any other impulses; you could argue that their lives are too often disrupted by alien abduction and gulag torture, but honestly. When it comes to sex, The X-Files can be remarkably quaint.
Although “Never Again” has sex, it overall does little to disrupt the show’s chaste parameters. It’s structured as a tale of malaise, of Scully being annoyed, finally, that Mulder is the only one of them who has a desk and a nameplate. And that’s because she has cancer, right, because she has cancer and she’s re-evaluating her life? Except that “Never Again” was originally meant to come before “Leonard Betts,” before Scully knew anything at all. The switch was Super Bowl-related—“Leonard Betts” seemed a better way to capture new viewers—but the side effect is that Scully’s annoyance now appears to stem from a specific place, a stage of grief. The stage where you finally stand up for freaking self, and your partner gives you the side-eye and tells you to do a background check on a possible informant while he reluctantly takes a vacation.
The X-File of the thing is not much of a thing at all. There’s a man named Ed Jerse, a divorcee who’s recently lost custody of his children. After a night of drinking and scowling, Ed gets a tattoo, Bettie Page winking over a banner reading Never Again. Almost immediately Bettie begins to talk to him, to tell him that she’s his only friend and that he should give in to his lousy feelings about other woman, and when I say give in, I mean murder. Bettie speaks with Jodie Foster’s voice, so maybe you can’t blame him. Under Bettie’s influence, he kills his lady neighbor and stuffs her into a furnace. Ed isn’t so gone that he doesn’t realize what’s happening; he goes to the tattoo shop to ask for help and there he meets-cute with Scully herself, in town to do all that work that Mulder assigned her to do.
Ed is good looking, and Scully is too. She’s interested, but says she’s leaving town the next day, and she is in fact leaving town the next day, until she talks to Mulder. Mulder’s at Graceland, ecstatic over Elvis’ furniture and annoyed when Scully tells him she’s turned the investigation over to the local police. Scully is annoyed at Mulder’s annoyance, annoyed enough that she calls Ed and arranges a date. It’s a little act of rebellion that, in this show’s celibate context, feels like a gigantic act of rebellion. As Scully overshares to Ed on their dive-bar date, she’s got a complex, a father-figure, authority-figure complex. Going out with Ed is like sneaking out of the house to neck in the backseat of her high school boyfriend’s car.
After a few drinks, Scully gets nosy about Ed’s tattoo and he suggests she get one of her own. Now in full high school badass mode, Scully takes him up on it, gets an ouroboros tattooed on her lower back. As the needle goes in circles, Scully gazes up at Ed with her lips slightly parted and it’s almost obscene. It’s hotter, at least, than what happens next, than when Ed takes her home and they kiss in a shot structured so strangely that you never really see their lips meet. The next morning Ed is sleeping on the couch and Scully is sleeping in the bed, so maybe they didn’t, but she’s wearing his shirt, so probably they did. Maybe it’s meant to be coy, but instead the did-they-or-not feels frustrating, a card uselessly held. Scully is young, hot, brilliant. She ought to be having sex all of the time, not just that one time when she happens to be dwelling on her dynamic with Mulder and/or her own mortality.
And when Scully does have sex, she shouldn’t be punished for it. But we know that’s what’s coming, we know when they kiss and Jodie Foster bellows that “she’s dead!” The morning after, Ed goes out for coffee and Scully opens the door to two cops who tell her about the murder, tell her about some abnormalities found in blood left at the scene. Scully does a bit of research and determines that the tattoo ink used on both of them contains enough ergot to cause hallucinations. She means to tell him as much, but he snaps, attacks her. There’s a fight—her second in two weeks!—and at the last minute he gets control of himself and shoves his tattooed arm into the furnace.
Which is bad enough, to have your one-night-stand turn out to be a body-mutilating murderer. But there’s worse ahead, as Scully’s indiscretion earns her a (second) appearance in the X-Files and a torrent of scorn from her partner. Mulder scolds her like a father figure, mocking her tattoo and biting off his words. “All this,” he asks “Because I didn’t get you a desk?” Scully stares at him like maybe he’s got a tattoo telling him to act like a huge dummy all the time. “Not everything is about you, Mulder,” she says. “This is my life.” He replies a little too quickly. “Yes, but it’s –” And there’s maybe an “m” there, like he meant to say, “it’s my life more” or “it’s my party” or “it’s me the one who matters, Mulder, me.”
It is fortunate, I think, that the Super Bowl forced the change in sequence. As it is, the episode’s development of Scully is clumsy and strange. Had it aired before “Leonard Betts” we would be forced to read her actions as reactions to Mulder and Mulder alone, even as she claimed that not everything was about him. Stray from the path, Scully, and you shall be dragged to a fiery pit. But with her life on the line, with her body rebelling, “Never Again” gains a thin shred of poignancy. It’s not just rebellion against Mulder, or the X-Files, but a rebellion against herself. A necessary rebellion, despite its failure, despite the fact that ultimately she will turn back to the path. She will eat her own tail. And she’ll probably never, ever have sex again.