Why the Opening Scene of The X-Files #14 is Not OK (Hint: It’s Rape)

A Panel from The X-Files Season 10 #14 © IDW
A Panel from The X-Files Season 10 #14 © IDW

Ever since writer Joe Harris tweeted a rather risqué panel from an issue of The X-Files: Season 10 late last week, the X-Files fan community has been abuzz with excitement. The panel shows Scully, wearing seemingly nothing but one of Mulder’s shirts thrown haphazardly on, knelt over Mulder in bed and pointing a gun in his face while he in turn remarks on how he is “more of a cuddler post-coitus” and suggesting that “sexy gunplay” isn’t really something that suits them.

This then appears to be the fun, sexy X-Files bedroom scene I have dreamed of seeing for over 15 years; but then looks can be deceiving. What we are actually viewing is the aftermath of a rape.

The wider context of the panel, as you can see over at Bloody Disgusting’s free preview, is a three-page scene of Mulder and Scully in their bedroom post coitus. Only Scully is not happy. She’s pointing a gun at Mulder because at some point very recently, she has realized what we as readers have known since the ending of the last issue: The man in her bedroom isn’t really Mulder at all. Oh, it’s Mulder’s body alright, but he’s being possessed by a sentient alien who has taken control over his body and mind and is fully controlling him. That’s where the scene shifts from the adorable to the scary.

Rape-by-deception is notoriously hard to prove and controversial in American courts. Loosely, it can be defined as “a crime in which the perpetrator has the victim’s sexual consent and compliance, but gains it through deception or fraudulent statements or actions” or as “a crime in which the perpetrator presents him/herself as someone he/she is not through acts of deception and coercion culminating in non-consensual sex.” Considering how hard it is to define, applying it to less real-world situations and more science-fiction ones is even harder. However, on looking at this scene, I asked myself a few questions:

1. Would Dana Scully have willingly consented to sexual intercourse with Fox Mulder? Almost certainly, yes. Although the circumstances of that particular night are not known, it has been established that the two are in a healthy, loving, romantic relationship by this point and we can safely assume that sex is a part of it.

2. Would Dana Scully have willingly consented to sexual intercourse with the alien being later identified as Sheltem? Almost certainly not.

3. Would Dana Scully have willingly consented to sexual intercourse with Sheltem knowing that he was controlling Mulder’s body, mentally and physically? Again, almost certainly not.

Screenshots from Small Potatoes showing Mulder's interruption and Eddie just prior to shrugging dejectedly on being found out © Fox
Screenshots from “Small Potatoes” showing Mulder’s interruption and Eddie just prior to shrugging dejectedly on being found out. © Fox

After answering those questions, we can see that this is indeed a case of deception because Scully would almost certainly not have engaged in sex with “Mulder” if she had known the truth about his identity at the time.

It’s a disturbing case when applied to real life and sadly, not the first time the show has used a similar premise as part of a plot. Season four’s “Small Potatoes” featured a man (Eddie van Blundht) with the ability to shape-shift and appear as anyone else. He uses this power to engage in sexual intercourse with a number of women, appearing variously as their husbands and even as Luke Skywalker from Star Wars, before later attempting to seduce Scully by changing himself into Mulder and getting her slightly drunk.

The episode is played out as a comedy, but when viewed through the lens of “rape by deception,” it’s anything but funny. In fact, that episode contains one of the most disturbing lines ever uttered on mainstream network television as Eddie tries to explain away his actions:

“Look, I’m not saying anything one way or another. I’m just saying hypothetically, if some women wanted to have kids, their husbands weren’t… capable, and everybody was happy and no one got hurt, well hypothetically, where’s the crime?”

I find myself saddened that this same trope has been reeled out once again within the X-Files canon. However, what concerns me even more is that the situation doesn’t appear to have been recognized for what it is.

I’m going to give Mr. Harris the benefit of the doubt because I do not believe for one second that he is intentionally “playing the rape card” here. If you had just discovered that your partner/boyfriend had been possessed by an alien being that is now possibly about to kill you both, you probably have more pressing issues than confronting it on sexual assault charges.

There is every possibility that once the “real” Mulder is returned, presumably in the next issue, that Scully will open up on a long, emotional discussion about what has happened to them both; but realistically speaking, that feels unlikely. In fact, Scully seems completely unaware of what has happened to her, merely angry about what has been done to Mulder. The whole scene seems to serve no purpose other than to give Scully a means of recognizing that the man with her is not Mulder, possibly (and if so, even more disturbingly) as one panel suggests, because he has been overly rough with her in bed.

Once Scully recognizes the alien for what it is, the creature knocks the gun from her hand and pins her to the floor by her throat where the following lines are exchanged:

Sheltem: “You want to see then? Is this what you want?”
Scully: “Get – Hnnn – Off of me!”
Sheltem: “Surrender yourself to me, Dana Scully…”

"Mulder" pins Scully to their bedroom floor by her throat in an extremely provocative panel © IDW
“Mulder” pins Scully to their bedroom floor by her throat in an extremely provocative panel. © IDW

The pair are actually discussing Sheltem showing Scully information related to the alien/government conspiracy that underpins the entire franchise, but the very particular choice of phrasing combined with the image of a man pinning an almost naked woman to the floor by her throat paints a very different, far more sexually violent image. It’s deeply disturbing on its own and to anyone who has experienced sexual assault (and as the “Yes All Women” trend showed us, that’s an enormous percentage of the population), it’s terrifyingly familiar.

One final point that must be raised is the role of Mulder himself, or more accurately his consciousness, during all this. Later in the issue, Sheltem informs Scully as they drive that:

“I can assure you [Mulder]’s fighting this right now.”

This line strongly suggests that Mulder is awake and aware of his surroundings and actions whilst he’s being possessed. This, in turn, leads to the idea that Mulder too has been sexually assaulted in a way during the issue’s first scene as he almost certainly did not give permission for it to occur. If you struggle to see this, place yourself in Mulder’s shoes. Another consciousness is fully controlling your body, making you say and do what it wants without concern for your wishes. You then see yourself proposition your partner for sex, aware that he/she is unaware of the truth, but unable to warn them or stop the act from occurring. It may be a fantastic situation, but the emotions and later feelings of defilement are all too real.

There are only two ways a scene like this could be allowed into a published comic book:

1. The author was aware they were writing a rape scene and included it intentionally.
2. The author wrote the scene without recognizing it as a rape at all.

Both are equally worrying and point at the rape culture that is so prevalent in our society. I will be interested to see how many reviews of the issue even tackle this major point, and how many fans identify the opening scene for what it is.

Finally, I ask Joe Harris three questions and invite him to respond here on GeekMom:

1. Was it necessary to include the scene?
2. Was the scene identified as rape in advance of publication?
3. Will there be consequences?

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

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