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The X-Files: ‘Bad Blood’ — Metafiction, Partnership, and Vampires

Written by Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) and directed by Cliff Bole (Star Trek), ‘Bad Blood’ is the twelfth episode of Season 5 of The X-Files. It opens on a spooky-looking forest in the middle of the night, the moon shining bright as FBI Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) pursues and stakes a man in the heart. Right as Mulder plunges the stake into his chest, Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) catches up and witnesses her colleague seemingly commit manslaughter. He points out the now-dead man’s fangs as an explanation, and Scully pulls them out, showing that they’re fake. Due to the severity of the event, the two agents must report to their boss, Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), but before they do, they realise they both have very different perceptions of the investigation.

The implication of Mulder having killed an actual human being who he mistook for a vampire is really quite disturbing, but instead of going in the direction of focusing on the gravity of this (such as in, say, the Buffy episode ‘Ted’), the episode favours a comedic approach. This humour is immediately apparent in how the opening credits cut Mulder off from saying “shit”. After the credits, an upbeat score kicks in while Mulder screws up a piece of paper and attempts to throw it in the bin in his office, misses, then walks over to repeatedly kick the bin out of annoyance while Scully looks on, deadpan as always. Instantly, the comedic tone is set, and we know we’re in for a fun 45 minutes.

Mulder and Scully’s respective recollections of the investigation is an example of ‘the Rashomon effect’, a narrative technique pioneered by Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon that centres on unreliable narrators and divergences in the truth of the story. Vince Gilligan claimed he actually took inspiration from an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show called ‘The Night the Roof Fell In’, in which the main characters, Rob and Laura Petrie, tell different versions of a fight they have had, but the effect is the same. ‘Bad Blood’ is also one of Gillian Anderson’s all-time favourite episodes of the show (which counts for more than something!), and it’s easy to see why, with this compelling and amusing way of exploring Mulder and Scully’s characters. Through the opposing portrayals of events, the “dysfunctional aspects” of Mulder and Scully’s partnership (as Susanne Kord and Elisabeth Krimmer describe it) are highlighted and poked fun at.

Scully and Mulder stood in the funeral home, Mulder mocking Scully's 'theories' with air quotations while she looks on irritably

First of all, we have Scully’s point of view. When she enters his office, Mulder is “characteristically exuberant”—he’s almost hyperactive, firing information at Scully at lightning speed about the assumed vampires in Texas. He interrupts her constantly, mocks her theories with air quotations, and is generally dismissive and condescending towards her. The two agents arrive at the ‘Peaceful Slumbers Funeral Home’ (the town of Chaney is too small to maintain a morgue facility), where they meet cowboy-hatted Sheriff Hartwell (Luke Wilson). He’s handsome and quickly strikes up a repartee with Scully, who is blatantly attracted to him. In contrast to Mulder, Sheriff Hartwell validates Scully’s theory immediately and is visibly in awe of her intelligence while they ignore her partner. On the other hand, Mulder looks bewildered at someone actually agreeing with Scully, emphasising his disrespect of her; he even briefly forgets her name while introducing the two of them to the Sheriff initially.

Detracting from Scully’s scientific theories on conditions that make humans believe they are a vampire, Mulder interjects with an out-of-the-blue comment about the cadaver’s shoes being untied, claiming “this means something”. He then demands the Sheriff take him to a town cemetery (“the creepier the better”), and that Scully does a complete autopsy. When she asks him what she’s even looking for, Mulder places both hands on her shoulders and says with total sincerity, “I don’t know”, before walking out. In Scully’s mind, Mulder’s ideas are scattered and seemingly unrelated, bordering on complete nonsense and idiocy.

Conducting the lengthy autopsy alone, Scully is visibly bored and exhausted. It’s irritating for her to have to do all this heavy lifting while Mulder goes off to god-knows-where on a weak lead that she assumes will lead to nowhere. After starting to relax at the motel, Scully is once again hounded by Mulder returning, covered in mud, stating that she has to do another autopsy; when she points out that she only just put money in the ‘magic fingers’, he replies, “I won’t let it go to waste”, laughing with glee as he shoves her off her own bed and enjoys the massage. The emphasis is again on Mulder’s annoying behaviour and attitude. On her way out, Scully passes the pizza guy (the same man Mulder kills in the cold open, named Ronnie) delivering her dinner, and she half-heartedly says Mulder will pay for it.

At the second autopsy, Scully pointedly acknowledges that she’s “foregoing both dinner and sleep”. Her approach is apathetic and she keeps having to stretch her neck from the pain of being active for such a long period of time. At one point, she receives a weird phone call from an unknown person breathing down the line. The autopsy does prove useful, as Scully discovers that the pizza is poisoned. Immediately, she rushes back to the motel to save a collapsed Mulder from a vampiric Ronnie (Patrick Renna). Although her bullets miss him, she does manage to puncture one of his car tyres so he’s forced to escape on foot. Upon waking, the drugged Mulder speaks a load of gibberish in a cartoonishly comedic manner.

Scully puts her head in her hand, clearly exhausted at having to put up with Mulder's ridiculous theories

Now for Mulder’s POV. Scully arrives at his office, “characteristically less than exuberant”; where Mulder was dismissive of Scully’s theories in her own POV, here, Scully is downright rude in regards to his ideas. In response to every one of his sentences, she acts as though he’s an inconvenience, her tone irritable, almost repulsed. As opposed to his overbearing attitude in Scully’s version, Mulder is now more humble, sensitive, and respectful. Both his countenance and language are far more accommodating; we hear phrases like “as always, I’m very eager to hear your opinion”, even “I respect that” in response to Scully straight out denying the existence of vampires, which is a clear exaggeration of his patience.

At the funeral home, Scully continues to be unimpressed with Mulder’s supposedly expansive knowledge, and instead fixates on the Sheriff in an almost schoolgirl way, swooning and gazing dreamily at him. There is a notable lack of focus on her intelligence and scientific theories here. Hilariously, the Sheriff is also not as suave as when we previously saw him—he has buck teeth and is significantly dumber, missing the intellectual back-and-forth with Scully and mindlessly agreeing with her every word, seemingly because he doesn’t have much of a clue what’s going on. Meanwhile, Mulder reels off endless vampire lore as a demonstration of his erudition.

This time, we see Mulder and Sheriff Hartwell at the cemetery. Based on his usual “gut instinct”, Mulder assumes that the vampire will return here, so the two of them stake out the area (pun intended) until nighttime. Ronnie briefly passes them by. Here, Mulder finally reveals that the reason why he flagged up the dead man’s untied shoelaces was because vampires are renowned for being obsessive-compulsive, therefore would be compelled to untie any knots. After a tip-off about a situation at the RV park, they bump into Ronnie again, and Mulder ends up trying to shoot down an RV driving in circles. He grabs onto it, being goofily dragged round and round, which is how he got covered in mud.

A dead body with two puncture wounds on the neck falls out of the RV after it comes to a stop, but with the lead turning cold, Mulder has no choice but to head back to the motel. Obviously, it would be impossible to tell the story accurately by omitting this information, but it’s worth mentioning that Mulder acknowledges his own shortcomings to Scully—apart from when he claims they “prevailed” in taking down the RV, when in reality it ran out of gas.

Back at the motel, a poor, downtrodden Mulder is reprimanded by Scully. When he informs her that she has to do another autopsy, she rants at him aggressively, rapidly complaining and shouting: “I do it all for you, Mulder!” Slamming the door violently as she leaves, she instructs him not to touch the bed; in this version, he doesn’t flop down on her bed with muddy clothes, but respectfully gets changed first. We see Mulder have to pay Ronnie for the pizza, as Scully says in her POV, and he realises he’s been drugged after noticing his shoes have been untied.

The bizarre phone call received by Scully is revealed to have been Mulder trying to ask for help, but the chloral hydrate has impeded his speech. Ronnie returns, and Mulder cleverly distracts him by throwing his sunflower seeds so he has to pick them up before attacking. When Scully comes in to save him, Mulder claims she shot the vampire square in the chest multiple times, hence why he assumed he wasn’t human.

From Mulder's POV, a close-up of Ronnie starting to attack, with glowing green eyes and fangs showing

The discrepancies between these two stories are blatant, but there is enough consistency to have a solid picture of the general events. Any incongruity is completely based on self-perception or perceptions of each other and other people, other than whether or not Scully’s bullets actually hit Ronnie. Certain character flaws are therefore brought to the surface, such as Scully’s desire to be right all the time, Mulder’s disrespect of everyone but himself, and their mutual disdain for each other’s approach to cases. Tension between Mulder and Scully is also highlighted due to their conflicting portrayals (hence the episode’s title, ‘Bad Blood’); judging by their respective depictions, they take little pleasure out of working with one another.

However, romantic tension is an underlying feature. As Michelle Bush points out in her book Myth-X, Mulder and Scully describe themselves in a way that they feel makes them attractive to the other: in Scully’s version, she’s showered with adoration for her smarts and capability and is relatively calm and cooperative with what Mulder wants her to do, and in Mulder’s version, he’s sensitive and understanding while also extremely knowledgeable. All Scully wants is to be taken seriously as a resourceful scientist and for Mulder to respect her constant hard work, and all Mulder wants is for Scully to stick by him and admire his intelligence.

In objective reality, however, the two agents have each other’s backs. Before entering Skinner’s office for the report, Scully tactfully encourages Mulder to emphasise that he was drugged so he’s treated more leniently, and Mulder later helps to set Scully up with Sheriff Hartwell by suggesting they do a stakeout together. They do each other selfless favours with their wellbeing and desires in mind. However, Mulder tries to persuade Scully to manipulate her version of events to suit him, without any regard for her reputation. He also interrupts her story as she tells it, correcting tiny details such as the name of the motel, and sounds mocking of her at times—for example, when the Sheriff refers to her by ‘Dana’ in her version, Mulder scoffs and says “Dana?! He never even knew your first name!” For the most part, though, their partnership is one of care and balance, and a lot of this teasing is playful banter.

An interesting aspect of both portrayals is the difference of the Sheriff. In her book Fantasy Girls: Gender in the New Universe of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television, Elyce Rae Helford acknowledges that Scully’s perspective of him is a unique subversion of the male gaze. Sheriff Hartwell is essentially presented to the viewer as eye candy via Scully’s female gaze, where there is no representation of Scully or any other women in this way throughout the episode, not even via Mulder. The way in which Mulder perceives Scully as dazed and doe-eyed when in the company of her object of affections is an obvious drawback, but even this could be read as a commentary on his own toxic masculinity.

He’s clearly jealous of the Sheriff replacing Mulder as the person that Scully gleans intellectual stimulation and validation from, so he goes in the opposite direction with his depiction to avoid being emasculated. To feel better and more secure in himself, Mulder posits that the Sheriff is stupid and unattractive—it’s worth mentioning that the overbite Mulder exaggerates on him is actually a physical feature he has himself, therefore he’s perhaps projecting his own bodily insecurities onto him.

Sheriff Hartwell enters the room, buck teeth on show (Mulder's POV)

Another glaring issue in Mulder’s version is the specific way in which he perceives Scully in gendered terms. On the one hand, it’s probably just done to generate humour, but on the other, it could be quite an astute deconstruction of misogyny and skewed perceptions of women. As Mulder sees it, Scully is basically a misogynistic stereotype of a nagging, icy, bitchy co-worker; she shoots him down unprovoked, moans at him constantly, and is even aggressive (see: door slamming). Although it’s also an exaggeration, Scully’s POV involves pretty valid microaggressions, with Mulder being utterly dismissive of her, patronising when she presents her theories, and unappreciative of her sacrifices for the job.

Both depictions are hyperbole, but Scully’s seems ever so slightly closer to the truth and to the realities of working as a woman in a male-dominated field. There seems to be a key gender bias, as Scully’s criticism stems from a very real place of being underestimated and disrespected in the workplace, whereas Mulder’s is more of a fabrication of having a nagging partner that feels like more of an unfair (not to mention archaic) generalisation of women.

After their respective versions of events, a new occurrence renders the meeting with Skinner obsolete: Ronnie’s return from the dead and attack of the coroner. This confirmation of Ronnie’s undead status leads Mulder and Scully to return to Chaney to find him. Here is where they bump into Sheriff Hartwell again; he and Scully stake out the graveyard while Mulder heads back to the RV park on a hunch. Scully and the Sheriff chat over coffee, and we soon discover that he’s actually a vampire too!

As Scully realises she’s been drugged via the coffee, Sheriff Hartwell claims that Ronnie “makes [the vampires] all look bad”—according to him, they’re good neighbours who pay their taxes, but Ronnie appears to be a wildcard in that he doesn’t understand the concept of “low profile”. This implies that this particular group of vampires have assimilated into human society. From the cattle exsanguinations that initially drew Mulder to the case, we can assume the vampires are not killers, but instead feed off animals to nourish themselves.

In the RV park, Mulder finds Ronnie sleeping in his coffin with headphones on (a brilliant image). He tries to arrest him, but is accosted by a group of townsfolk who also appear to be vampires, their eyes glowing green like Ronnie’s and the Sheriff’s. In an attempt to repel them, Mulder spots two garlic baguettes and raises them in the shape of a cross, but it has no effect. It’s interesting that classic vampire tropes such as an aversion to garlic, crosses, and sunlight bear no weight here. Even the fangs aren’t present, as the vampires attack with a regular set of teeth. As Mulder earlier points out:

“Fangs are very rarely mentioned in the folklore. Real vampires aren’t actually thought to have them. It’s more an invention of Bram Stoker’s. I think maybe you were right before when you said that this is just a guy who’s watched too many Dracula movies. He just happens to be a real vampire.”

So we can assume that Ronnie is the exception that proves the rule—he’s an odd vampire who indulges in tacky fictional tropes by glueing on fake fangs and sleeping in a coffin, which is a hilarious concept. The episode uses the opportunity to mock gimmicky aspects of vampire depictions in the media, while drawing attention to real vampire lore.

Ronnie sleeps in his coffin, headphones on

In his info-dump about vampires, Mulder mentions different types and aspects of vampires from myths and legends, such as:

  • Ekimu (Babylonian)
  • Kuang-Shi (Chinese)
  • Motetz Dam (Hebrew)
  • Mormo (ancient Greece and Rome)
  • Nosferatu (Transylvania)
  • Ubour (Bulgarian)
  • Red hair being an indicator of vampirism (Serbia)
  • Some vampires are eternal, some live for only 40 days
  • Sunlight kills certain vampires while others aren’t affected

Since the lore is so varied, any interpretation is possible, and ‘Bad Blood’ keeps this in mind. An often overlooked bit of vamp lore (perhaps my favourite) that the episode incorporates is the compulsion to pick up or count seeds. It’s a vital distraction or escape technique, which Mulder uses to prolong the time before Ronnie can attack him—plus, it gives Mulder’s habit of snacking on sunflower seeds a narrative purpose, which is really clever.

The use of chloral hydrate to drug victims is an interesting choice, since this doesn’t appear much in vampire media or literature; perhaps it’s a stand-in for hypnotism or trances, which vampires often use to seduce their victims. When Mulder and Scully come to, they are unharmed, with no puncture wounds to be found. The only indication of the vampire attack is Mulder’s undone shoelaces. In the long run, they couldn’t have feasibly implied that our main two characters were turned into vampires, but wouldn’t that have been fun? Imagine Mulder and Scully, vampire FBI agents, specialising in the supernatural for the rest of the show. Most of the show is set at night, so it could work…? I mean, it’s a spin-off I’d watch for sure.

All-in-all, The X-Files’s ‘Bad Blood’ is a whole lot of fun. On the surface, it’s a spoofy, metafictional comedy that would be entertaining enough—however, there’s actually some great character insights and commentary on gender perception, toxic jealousy, and insecurities, even if it is perhaps coincidental. With an excellent use of vampire lore and parody, ‘Bad Blood’ is honestly one of my favourite pieces of vampire fiction in the media. The lighter episodes of The X-Files are always a delight to watch!

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Written by Robin Moon

2 Comments

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  1. I love this article.

    By far one of my favorite X-Files episodes ever, and this analysis does it the justice it deserves.

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