An X-Files episode ship guide for Fox Mulder and Dana Scully

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Dec 1, 2017

When one tends to think about epic television 'ships, there's one that manages to earn a top spot on the list time and time again: Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. The two co-leads of The X-Files for much of its initial nine-season run grew to become more than professional work partners at the FBI, and in the background of the series their relationship evolved to a point that could probably be termed romantic (even if a certain showrunner frequently balked at using the term).

More accurately, Mulder and Scully's relationship wound up transcending simple labels, and it was their connection that anchored the series even after Duchovny downgraded to a recurring role after Season 7. If you're watching The X-Files for the two of them, be prepared for the ultimate in slow-burn romance -- lots of longing looks, near misses, and implied sex offscreen are sort of what make up the trajectory of the M/S pairing -- but we've compiled the quintessential episodes that are worth revisiting or even checking out for the first time if you're curious about where these crazy kids end up. 

"Pilot" (Season 1, Episode 1)

The one where it all began. From the start, it's plain to see that Anderson and Duchovny have the onscreen chemistry that became part of the reason why shippers were so invested in Mulder and Scully's future. (It doesn't help that most of the time Mulder is a very close talker when it comes to engaging with his new FBI partner.) A pivotal moment in the episode leads to Scully baring most, if not all, to Mulder in order for him to check to see if the twin marks on her lower back are the same that have been found on victims. His confirmation that they're only bug bites sends her into his arms for their first of many embraces.

"Ice" (Season 1, Episode 8)

This episode, which is an undoubted homage to John Carpenter's The Thing, is a great example of Mulder and Scully being tested in the early stages of their working relationship. After being trapped in a remote Alaskan research facility with a few other scientists (and what turns out to be an extraterrestrial parasite), they have to learn the hard way to trust one another. "Ice" gets some bonus points for a scene in which the two have to touch one another in order to determine if they've been infected at all.

"War of the Coprophages" (Season 3, Episode 12)

Mulder and Scully are actually separated for the bulk of this episode, which is one of The X-Files' more comedic offerings, but these two manage to have a phenomenal rapport even over the phone. Mulder's investigating a series of deaths involving cockroaches while Scully works from home. By the time Scully makes it into town to give him a hand, it's time for both Mulder and the audience to breathe a sigh of relief. These two always work better together, anyway.

"Memento Mori" (Season 4, Episode 14)

Hands down, this is one of the show's best episodes -- but it's also one of the saddest. Scully has just learned she has an inoperable brain tumor and elects to start chemotherapy treatment, while Mulder focuses all his efforts on trying to discern the cause of Scully's illness. Eventually he begins to see the link between her symptoms and her abduction in Season 2. It's a bittersweet ep for the Mulder/Scully relationship, and culminates in the two of them sharing yet another hug when Scully is at her lowest.

"Detour" (Season 5, Episode 4)

To be fair, most of Mulder and Scully's shippiest moments tend to happen when they're somewhere on assignment together -- but what happens when they're waylaid while driving out to a company retreat? The whole scenario culminates in Scully cradling an injured Mulder while the two are huddled together for warmth in the middle of the woods -- all while singing Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World" slightly off-key. Such a ridiculously niche moment in the history of The X-Files, and one a majority of fans point to when naming their favorite M/S scenes.

"Triangle" (Season 6, Episode 3)

In addition to containing some prime M/S moments, "Triangle" is also one of the best-shot episodes of The X-Files. Just watch all of the long takes in and out of elevators as Scully runs around the FBI to figure out just what happened when Mulder goes missing in the Bermuda Triangle on a ghost ship. Mulder meets an alt-universe Scully (which is fun to see), and after some blatant flirting the two characters end up kissing, proving that they're destined to fall in love no matter the iteration of their characters. While in recovery from the traumatic experience running from Nazis, Mulder then declares his love for Scully for the very first time from his hospital bed. In true Scully fashion, she only replies, "Oh, brother." Can you believe it? A kiss and declaration of love in the very same episode. 

"Arcadia" (Season 6, Episode 15)

This might be one of the best X-Files episodes -- not because of the story, which is sort of unmemorable, or even the Monster of the Week, which is kind of unremarkable. It's because Mulder and Scully go undercover in a gated community as a married couple, including all the domestic underpinnings and cutesy pet names that go along with. In all honesty, "Arcadia" is worth it for getting to see Mulder and Scully call each other things like "honeybunch" and "poopyhead." (Pet names are clearly not one of Scully's strong suits.)

"The Unnatural" (Season 6, Episode 19)

For an episode that spends the majority of the plot focused on aliens playing baseball -- because it is The X-Files, after all -- David Duchovny (who pulled double duty writing and directing this episode) also worked in plenty of M/S moments. From Scully blatantly flirting with Mulder while eating ice cream to an ending scene where Mulder teaches her to swing a bat, there's plenty to love. Any episode where these two actually choose to put their arms around each other while having a moment of happiness is a must-watch.

"Hollywood A.D." (Season 7, Episode 19)

We can once again thank David Duchovny for this wonderful ship-filled episode featuring a big-screen version of Mulder and Scully (played by Gary Shandling and Tea Leoni) who heavily make out within the first four minutes of the episode. Add in some real Mulder-and-Scully flirting while taking a bubble bath (not together, unfortunately) and we see the casual, funny sides of the characters come out. Scully actually laughs at one point. (Also, the endless jokes about Scully and Skinner are clearly deflections. You're not fooling anyone, kids.)

"Existence" (Season 8, Episode 21)

In a callback to the Pilot, "Existence" is the last episode David Duchovny appears in for a whole season. So it (of course) contains several pivotal M/S moments. Although they spend most of the episode apart, it's because Mulder is trying to ensure the protection of Scully and their unborn son, William. #swoon

Towards the end of the episode, William is born and shippers get the only moment of the "happy family" together. Also, we finally get definitive proof Mulder has a key to Scully's apartment. This has become such an important episode for fans in part because (at the time of writing this ship guide) the family has yet to be reunited.

"The Truth" (Season 9, Episode 19-20)

The. End. At least for a while. "The Truth" marks the final two-part episode of the original run of The X-Files. There would later be another movie and two more "event series" (aka Seasons 10 and 11), but "The Truth" is meant to wrap up the Mulder and Scully relationship, and in plenty of ways it does a great job. There is a kiss and the two characters together in bed. Plus, the last shot is of the pair embracing. It's about as good as confirmation as we might ever get that they're soulmates.

Honorable Mentions (aka shippy moments that grace otherwise non-shippy episodes): "If there's an iced tea in that bag, it could be love" ("Tooms", S1 Ep21), the “conversation on the rock” (Quagmire, S3 Ep22), Mulder and Scully slow dancing to Cher ("The Post-Modern Prometheus", S5 Ep5), "you're my one in five billion" ("Folie à Deux", S5 Ep19), Scully explaining that sometimes friendship turns into love ("The Rain King", S6 Ep8), Mulder and Scully actually kiss for the first time on New Year's Eve ("Millennium", S7, Ep4), Scully getting out of bed at the beginning of the episode while a naked Mulder still sleeps ("All Things", S7 Ep17), Mulder comforting Scully after the death of her mother ("Home Again", S10 Ep4), Mulder and Scully holding hands and talking about faith and belief outside his home ("Babylon", S10 Ep5). (Oh, and if you want to check out the movies, there's the almost-kiss-interrupted-by-bee-sting in Fight the Future and bed snuggles in I Want To Believe.)