The Main Character

Recently, I’ve been re-watching The X-Files from the very start – and a revelation has overtaken me: Scully is the main character. Yes, over Mulder. I know that when Mulder left the show (in what? Season 7? 8?), everyone cried foul because what is a show without its main character? Clearly, he’s the protagonist. Anyone at that time on the creative side arguing that it’s always been Scully must just be blowing smoke out their dirty, smelly anuses (anii?). But no: they were right. From the beginning, Scully was the main character. Let me tell you why.

I understand that a clear definition of “protagonist” is not necessarily agreed upon amongst… well… anyone, really. Let’s walk through the points, however, and at the end you can tell if (and why) I’m wrong.

The series is presented from her point of view

Even as we, the audience, are watching Mulder work, we’re watching him through Scully’s eyes, in the context of her understanding. We meet Scully first, as she gets this career-changing assignment, on the pinnacle of either the best or worst placement ever with “Spooky” Mulder. We follow her into her home-life (she’s the first character of whom we meet an outside friend – a classmate from the Academy – in one of the early episodes), we follow her into her hotel room when she finds what may be an alien chip or a bug bite, we follow her into her fears associated with that chip. She opens most episodes with narration, or at least closes them with her report. She is the skeptic whom we follow. Even later episodes like Season 3’s “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” are primarily from her viewpoint, as she tells Chung about the case in question.

In the first episode, when Mulder asks “Do you think I’m spooky, Scully?” he’s in effect asking us that question. Can we trust him? Do we trust him? Is he just too outlandish? And yet we know of his reputation – because of Scully.

Now, I’m aware that many other works depict the main character through the POV of another: The Great Gatsby, for example, is told entirely by Nick Caraway, with his own spin and his own color. It opens with his narration even before Gatsby is known or introduced, and he’s a strong narrator, displaying his own personality and opinions through till the end even past Gatsby’s death. He’s really the one character that we feel we can trust, as Gatsby has his clear delusions about recapturing the past and Daisy doesn’t even seem to know her own mind, to mention a few. I’m sure some can make a claim that Nick is the protagonist despite not being the titular character. In fact, I’m certain that following the steps I’ll propose in this post, if one character is identified as such, it is he. But that’s another argument with very polarizing sides for another time when that work is more clear in my mind. For now, we’ll stick with Mulder and Scully.

She is the character that undergoes the most major metamorphosis

Starting the series as an “unbeliever” – moreover, one who does not “want to believe” – Scully approaches Mulder and his theories and the cases the same way most of us, the viewers, do (or would in real life): through skepticism and a desperate clinging to the rational, the evidenced, the provable. If anyone, even someone with the brawny good looks of David Duchovny, suggested that a 135-year-old serial killer with extreme flexibility was on the loose eating people’s livers, we’d laugh in their faces. Finding Tooms’ elongated finger prints in 100-year-old case files might creep us out a little, but it would only be in the seconds before we start comforting ourselves with “rational” theories, for example that his grandfather must’ve had really strong genes.

And Scully maintains this stance, by necessity, through most of the series to remain a stabilizing factor in the universe of the show – despite having the fantastic proven to her time and time again. In fact, season 3 is the first time we see her as the believer and Mulder as the skeptic in “Revelations” about a kid who is implied to be the second coming of Christ. But it’s probably from that point onward, and with continued episodes like “All Souls” where we begin to break through the rigid rationalism that characterizes Scully and into her acceptance of the unexplainable. Season 8, with Mulder’s abduction, finally sees her as a believer.

Scully is the Luke Skywalker to Mulder’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. She is led by his experience and unconventional thinking (remember, Uncle Owen thought Ben Kenobi to be a quack and Jedi to be “sorcerers”) into viewing a larger truth of the universe existing even outside the seeming laws of nature (in one case, the Force, in the other, the Paranormal). Even, perhaps, Scully is Luke to Mulder’s Han Solo, with the roles reversed (Luke still becoming the believer as Scully likewise becomes a believer, Han just looking out for himself whose opinions don’t seem to change too much… and who is endowed with a roguish charm).

Scully is the one to whom we relate

This was touched on in both of the preceding sub-headings, but as the skeptic and therefore one who must be convinced, she is representative of us. We must be convinced. Through the magic of television, the creators must play the part of Mulder to turn us into believers, if even just in the suspension of disbelief. They must provide us with a premise that is not so fantastic that we think it’s stupid, and that in a weird way, makes sense if any of these things were possible or experienced first-hand.

As they lead us along a trail of conspiracies and government meddling, throwing out anomalies like Tooms with his genetic mutations or the fluke man that was the result of nuclear waste, which give us slightly-less fantastic stories with a more plausible explanation, they begin to feed us increasingly bizarre tales that science just cannot explain. The super soldiers are one huge question. “Gender Bender” is a particular episode that comes to mind – I mean… they’re gender-changing aliens, or… something? Even after seeing that episode a couple of times, I can’t really explain what the pseudo-scientific answer was supposed to be. While Mulder is carried on by his belief, Scully similarly to the viewers is carried on by the continual “evidence” fed to her through the cases.

What does this do for our storytelling?

My three criteria for identification of the main character (the presented POV, progressive change, and relatability) are definitely debatable, and I will be happy to listen to anyone who knows better. It probably is a useless question in creating after all – it’s really more useful in examination and interpretation.

One thing I do think it says about modern gaming, though, is that we are the new main characters. As long as we make the choices, we develop through the game (or at least choose how the character will) and see things through our context, we are characters in the game that is completely dependent on us.

What are the affects of having a different main character in every iteration of one story? How are the themes affected? Are people who make games excited or deterred by the thoughts that their themes may not be completely exposed in every iteration? What do you think?

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