The show’s basic premise turns on a family tragedy, tracing Mulder and Scully’s backstory.
I once had the opportunity to ask what Glen Morgan thought about Chris Carter killing off Melissa Scully, because personally, that REALLY pissed me off! He told me that most networks have what’s called “character payments”. If a character that a writer created returns in another episode, they get a couple hundred bucks. This doesn’t happen on FOX, so there goes any cash for the Lone Gunmen, Skinner, Tooms, Scully’s Ma…etc. “If we did get character payments, I would have been more bummed that they killed Melissa. Now I just feel bad for Melinda who is a wonderful actress and a really nice person … sorry if I sound greedy but it’s sort of joke between Jim and I.”
Anyways, just thought I’d share that little anecdote since this article was written before Melissa’s unfortunate demise. – Sensation
Although the main focus of The X-Files is the cases Mulder and Scully solve every week, the show’s basic premise turns on a family tragedy, the disappearance of Mulder’s sister, Samantha. Although the writers have wisely refrained from overplaying Mulder’s quest for Samantha, it is inevitable that they (and the viewers) would want to see both Mulder’s and Scully’s families worked into the storylines. Mulder’s parents did not appear until late in the second season, in the two-parter “Colony/Endgame” and the finale, “Anasazi,” but viewers met Scully’s family early on in the series with the first season’s “Beyond the Sea”, and subsequently in the second season’s” Ascension” and “One Breath”. Even though their presence has been brief overall, Scully’s family has become much loved by the show’s audience.
The conception for “Beyond the Sea” originated with a desire on the part of scripters Glen Morgan and James Wong to write a “Scully episode” with the goal that such a story would both highlight Gillian Anderson’s acting ability, and humanize the dour Scully. They believed the best way to achieve that was to tie the episode’s X-File case to her in a personal way: by introducing her parents and having her father die before the teaser ended, and then linking her need to speak once more with her father to a psychic prisoner on death row.
Morgan recalled that, “In the pilot, Scully mentioned that her parents didn’t want her to become an FBI agent. We found that interesting. So many people want their own lives, and yet need their parents to accept that life, and we thought it seemed to be a common phenomenon around us. So we put it into the story and hoped it would connect with people. And we thought maybe Scully’s parents lived in Washington. And if they live in Washington, what could her father do? It was kind of obvious to us he was in the government and we put him in the military. Then we thought, ‘OK, he has to be a higher rank, a Navy captain’s kind of neat. And we just worked backwards from that.”
Director David Nutter cast Don Davis, familiar to genre viewers as Major Briggs in Twin Peaks, as William Scully, and Sheila Larken as Margaret Scully. “Scully needed to have a father and mother both of real strong qualities and charisma and three dimensions,” he said. “I felt that Don David and Sheila Larken would bring the required weird to the parts.”
Davis, who has a Ph.D. in theater, moved to Canada in 1981 to teach in the theater department of the University of British Columbia. He started doing extra work during the summers, and eventually found himself doubling for Dana Elcar in Macgyver He won a leading guest role in that show, with more series work to follow, and was able to give up teaching for full-time acting. Nutter had worked with Davis previously on several shows, including Broken Badges, and called him personally to ask him if he would accept the role of William Scully, despite its brevity.
“The character is very similar to Briggs on Twin Peaks,” Davis noted. “William is a military man who, although he loved his child deeply, was unable to verbalize that love until it was too late. It was very much along the line of the Major Briggs character, that this was a guy who was at the top of his field and the way he showed his love to his family was to give his children an example to follow and to provide them with great security. That’s kind of where I started off from with the character.”
Although William had died, on The X-Files anything can happen, and he reappeared in “One Breath” to deliver to the comatose Scully the paternal message she had longed for in “Beyond the Sea”. David said that director Bob Goodwin’s concern was that his monologue would not “become maudlin. He wanted me to be on the verge of being overcome, but he didn’t want it to happen. He wanted the character to be strong, to be very much the man that had fathered Dana. So what I tried to do was to show a man holding himself in, a man who was filled with emotion but who, as a military man, controlled the emotion. We did a few takes and each time Bob was bringing me down.”
In between “Beyond the Sea” and “One Breath” David made an uncredited, off screen appearance as a dialogue coach for “Miracle Man.” As a native of the Ozark Mountains region, and a former theater professor, he lent his expertise to the guest cast to help them properly pronounce Southern accents.
Scully’s mother Margaret was portrayed by actress Sheila Larken, and in the X-Files world, where almost everyone has a hidden agenda, Larken’s maternal warmth and sincerity was a bright spot within all the bleakness. David Nutter had met Larken when he auditioned her for his 1985 film Cease FIRE, and although he didn’t cast her, she made an impression on the director.
Larken’s husband, X-Files’ co-executive producer Bob Goodwin, mentioned her at one point to Nutter, and Nutter immediately thought of her for Margaret. “She was perfect. She was the one, and I hired her.”
Larken was reluctant to take on the role of Margaret Scully. The New York native had left acting several years ago and had obtained a master’s degree in clinical social work. But after moving to Washington state with her husband, X-Files’ co-executive producer Bob Goodwin, she found herself busy with acting offers. Her hesitation stemmed, she said, from her own father’s death the year before from a heart attack.
“It wasn’t really something I really wanted to do or pull up,” she said. “But I did it anyway. I never thought the part would repeat. My interpretation when I did that scene at the funeral was of a woman so involved with her own pain, she couldn’t even react to what her daughter was asking her. And they allowed that, even though the daughter was the lead in the show.”
Larken saw Margaret as “a military wife, married before I graduated college, someone who never gets to finish her college degree or find a career for herself, but mainly gets enmeshed in her family. You know, the Everymother. Part of her emergence in becoming self-sufficient was during the course of this show with Dana. I think Margaret is ever-evolving. “
Larken’s favorite scene came in “Ascension, ” when Margaret and Mulder meet at a park and talk about the missing Scully. “You explore a scene and try to find what you’re thinking, and what you’re not thinking, and that one just jelled together. There were just so many little itsy-bitsy things that came together and they came together on camera.” She found working with Anderson and Duchovny to be a particular treat. “Their depth is multi-layered. A lot of times you work with actors, and when you look into their eyes, they’re a blank. You’re working alone. But when you get to work with Gillian and David, whatever you send is received and vice versa.”
Larken said that as Margaret she usually does not draw on her own experience as a mother, because “it’s almost too vulnerable to let in. ” She did admit to an exception: “There’s one scene where being a parent did work. In ‘One Breath’ where Margaret says to pull the plug on her daughter, Mulder doesn’t want her to do it. He moved away on me, and I called him his first name. I just went, ‘Fox!’ I could hear that ‘mother’ voice. And David stopped cold, he stopped in his tracks. It was like the voice of every mother; in that sense, the mother did come through.”
The arrival of Scully’s sister Melissa, in ‘One Breath’ was an unexpected one. Scully’s two brothers, of whom she spoke in ‘Roland,’ were glimpsed in “Beyond the Sea” and were seen as children in a flashback of ‘ One Breath.’ Yet the sibling who turned up in that latter episode was a previously unheard of sister, Melissa, played by Melinda McGraw. McGraw, who had trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, had spend several years as Syd Madison on The Commish, where she had become friends with Morgan and Wong, and they had wanted to write a part on The X-Files specifically for her. “Melissa was someone who had to understand Scully and yet be different to challenge Mulder’s actions,” said Morgan. “Who better than a mother or a sister? Considering where Mulder was at that time, we thought it would be interesting to see Mulder’s reaction to a believer of ‘positive’ ideas. So, again, it was a character that was created from the needs of Mulder and Scully’s characters. Most importantly, we wanted to write a good part of Melinda McGraw, with whom we shared a frustrating time on The Commish.”
Coincidentally, McGraw said, she brought up the idea of making Melissa a psychic, and found Morgan and Wong had already had the same thought. McGraw enjoyed playing a softer role after several years as a police detective. “It was really great for me to play a different character,” she said. McGraw felt that Melissa “was the black sheep in this family, probably a very difficult teenager, in trouble, very curious. She experimented, I’m sure, with drugs and boys, was very political and was always a bit left of center and always pretty conscious of developing her psychic ability.”
Morgan and Wong had also played around with making Melissa a girlfriend for Mulder, and although that idea was jettisoned, McGraw said she felt the element of attraction was still there, “Certainly from Melissa’s side. We had talked about that, and I think that for various reasons it wasn’t to be. Mulder had just had a romance the week before (in “3 “). McGraw felt that in the end, it was a good idea that the relationship “didn’t go that far, because that left grounds for something later. I think they wrote Melissa in a neat way, because she wasn’t all pure and light. She had this dark side to her, and this slightly jealous side, of being jealous of Dana.” But, she concluded, there is also a “total love. The bond of sibling love is so intense. It’s an age-old dramatic theme, and it’s one of the greatest loves that human beings have. It’s undeniably bigger than any other connection, because you’ve shared not only the same parents, but the same actual physical experience of being born to that mother.”