Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while know that I’m not a huge fan of romantic fiction. I despise romance novels, and I refuse to watch any movie or TV show where the plot revolves around who is shagging whom.
But once in a while, a fictional couple comes around that is capable of giving me some genuine warm and fuzzies. (Every couple ever written by Jane Austen, for example.) Most recently, it’s been the original OTP themselves, Mulder and Scully, who have broken down my cynical anti-romance mind blocks and made me care about their relationship.
So I thought I’d use them as an example of what I look for in a TV couple. Behold, my romance standards:
1) Both partners must be equally well-developed characters, and I must like them both equally.
From day one, Mulder and Scully each had their own character arcs to go with their day-and-night personalities. Some episodes focus more on Mulder and some on Scully, but the average episode gives them about the same amount of screen time. And I love both of them equally (well, okay, I’m a little bit partial to Scully, but that’s because I’m automatically biased towards female characters who are more than just “the girlfriend”). Both undergo the same amount of character development, and both their stories are exciting and poignant, though usually for different reasons. This is extremely rare on TV. I can’t think of another show that puts the same amount of effort into developing both halves of a romantic couple, or portrays both halves with the same amount of sympathy. Of course, it helps that the couple in question were the co-stars and co-protagonists of The X-Files from the beginning.
2) BUT – they must be even better together.
As much as I love Mulder and Scully’s separate character arcs, I tend not to like the (rare) episodes where one of them doesn’t show up at all. Mulder isn’t as fun to watch when he doesn’t constantly have to defend his ideas to Scully. Plus, when she’s not around he tends to do stupid things, like make out with vampire chicks and wave guns in people’s faces at the wrong times. And Scully isn’t nearly as fun when she doesn’t have Mulder’s crazy ideas to snark at, or his jokes to help her lighten up. They bring out the best in each other. This is a hard balance to strike, and its success in The X-Files has a lot to do with the actors’ amazing chemistry.
3) The relationship must be based on mutual respect.
That’s what they tell you in all the dating articles online, right? Yet it’s funny how rarely it happens on screen (or in real life, sadly). Most fictional couples give me the impression that they’re only together because of mutual hotness. Not so with Mulder/Scully (although they’re both pretty attractive, too). The only reason they’re able to work together at all is because they respect each other in spite of their radically different opinions. No matter how much they disagree, they always listen to each other and never dismiss each other’s ideas out of hand. And if a particular goal is important to one of them, the other will make it their first priority, too.
4) Neither partner can be afraid to call out the other one’s mistakes.
As much as our agents respect each other, they’re also fully aware of each other’s shortcomings, and they really know how to bring the tough love. Scully, especially, excels in this (to the point where it sometimes becomes one of her shortcomings). But neither agent can get away with doing anything stupid, wrong, and/or embarrassing without the other pointing it out. And they sure can’t lie to each other for long.
5) The relationship must not be the most important thing in either character’s life.
I know, I know, it sounds harsh. But I cannot stand those stories where one romantic partner acts like the entire universe revolves around the other (I’m looking at you, women of Doctor Who). This is my biggest beef with fictional relationships in general, and it’s a major reason why I’m more receptive to romance in the context of speculative fiction. Because sure, romance is important, but so are friendship, family, jobs and saving the world. If one fellow human being has become your whole world, then, frankly, your world is pretty small. And if you’re on TV, your story is pretty boring. But Mulder and Scully don’t fall into that trap. Quite the opposite–they didn’t even kiss or say the words “I love you” for, like, six whole seasons, because they were too busy trying to save people from aliens. It’s obvious that they love each other, first as friends and later as something more, but they don’t let their feelings get in the way of their search for The Truth. And their common devotion to that goal actually makes their relationship stronger. It is, to quote Scully, “Folie a deux: a madness shared by two.”
So yep, I ship Mulder and Scully pretty hard. I think all TV couples should aspire to be like them.