The X-Files' Dana Scully Is A Direct Homage To Another Classic FBI Character

"The X-Files" is often cited for its massive influence on sci-fi TV shows. At its peak, the show was delightfully creepy and unquestionably original, with witty and relatable characters. So the series deserves all the praise it gets — and so does one of its main characters.

In 1993, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) walked into the basement office of Fox Mulder and gave women a character to look up to. Scully trained as a doctor of internal medicine, but chose to join the FBI instead of pursuing a traditional career in medicine. She joined up with conspiracy enthusiast "Spooky" Mulder (David Duchovny) and investigated X-Files, the paranormal cases the FBI has largely given up on solving. Together, the agents hunted monsters, aliens, and smoking men. Scully was solving crimes and saving Mulder's butt long before there was a push for stronger, more independent women on television.

Before "The X-Files," sitcoms ruled early '90s TV. Shows about everyday life like "Seinfeld," "Home Improvement," and "Roseanne" dominated the ratings, and the everyday life of a woman was often depicted as that of a partner and mother. Some women can relate to the frustrated wives and exhausted mothers in those shows, as I can, but that is not the only role women can play. Yes, we can be wives and mothers, but we can also be scientists and FBI agents, just like Scully.

Inspired by faith, science, and one specific FBI character from an acclaimed '90s thriller, "The X-Files" creator Chris Carter created a relatable non-traditional female character for '90s television.

'Hello, Clarice'

Late '80s and early '90s TV was lacking in diverse, non-traditional female characters, but certain films helped bridge the gap. Ellen Ripley is an unquestionable badass in "Alien" and Sarah Connor is a hardened warrior in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," but an FBI trainee with a good bag and cheap shoes inspired the creation of Scully.

It's difficult to watch "The Silence of the Lambs" without being transfixed by Hannibal Lecter, but the character of Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) deserves just as much respect. Her Grand Ole Opry accent and toxic relationship with Lecter often overshadow her Scully-esque qualities, but Carter certainly saw them. He hinted to Smithsonian Magazine that Starling was a big inspiration for Agent Scully:

"It's not a mistake that Dana Scully has red hair like Clarice Starling in 'The Silence of the Lambs.'"

Carter didn't specifically highlight more traits the two characters share, but there are plenty. Scully and Starling are highly educated women who chose to pursue a male-dominated career path. They want to prove themselves capable of not only surviving in a mostly male field, but dominating it, so they are both competitive and ambitious. Like their male counterparts, they run towards danger instead of away from it, but they remain relatable.

Starling faces down notorious cannibal Hannibal Lecter, and she's clearly unsettled by him, but she never allows him to get the best of her. After their first intense meeting, she cries, but she does it outside of his presence. She is capable of controlling her emotions and refuses to let him see her be vulnerable. Throughout "The X-Files," Scully shows this same control around unhinged psychopaths like Donnie Pfaster and Dwayne Barry, and similarly keeps her vulnerability under wraps.

Carter's blend of science, religion, and Starling in Scully not only helped bolster a massively successful TV series, it also resulted in a culture shift.

God and science

One of the most interesting things about Scully is that she is a well-rounded character with complex feelings and beliefs. She is a woman of science, who often challenges Mulder's blind acceptance of extraterrestrial existence and the paranormal, but she is also a woman of faith. Simultaneous belief in God and science is generally seen as paradoxical, but Scully has faith in both. Like all of us, including series creator Chris Carter, Scully is a ball of contradictions and internal conflict. In that same interview with Smithsonian Magazine, Carter discussed his own contradicting beliefs and how they inspired Scully's:

"There were a variety of inspirations. But the idea itself came out of my religious background and my interest in science. My brother is a scientist. He's a professor at MIT. He brought science fiction into my world. But I am a person of faith and so it's the combination of those two things."

Though she is both religious and scientific, Scully's strength of belief in the two concepts yo-yos throughout the series. At certain points, she finds strength in science while struggling with her religion, and other times, science doesn't provide the answers and she finds strength in God. Her ability to move back and forth keeps things interesting and makes the character more believable than a one-dimensional religious zealot or hardened scientist.

'The Scully Effect'

Agent Dana Scully investigated the unknown for 11 seasons and inspired other women to do the same. According to The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Dana Scully inspired women to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields. According to the study, 63% of female "X-Files" fans reported that Scully strengthened their belief in the importance of STEM fields, and half of women working or studying STEM subjects reported that Scully was one of their inspirations to do so. This is known as "The Scully Effect."

"The X-Files" was one of the most unique TV shows of the '90s. It pushed the boundaries of episodic television with its complex storylines, creepy monsters, and authentic characters. While the series as a whole left its mark on television and the science fiction genre, its strong female lead left an imprint on an entire generation of women.