‘X-Files’ And Dana Scully v. ‘Bones’ And Temperance Brennan

Now that I’m charging through the first season of The X-Files, I’m finding that I can’t help but compare that show’s FBI doctor who did her residency in forensic medicine, Special Agent Dana Scully, with everybody’s favorite federally-employed forensic anthropologist, Temperance Brennan. They’re both fascinating — and at the beginning of each show, single — female scientists who go by their last names and with partners who can be more spiritual than rational. And it’s interesting to see how each show handles a very smart woman who’s in conflict both with an institutionalized bureaucracy and a competing worldview. So, this far in my viewing, how do Scully and Bones stack up?


Scully may be the only woman in the universe who can make a ’90s pantsuit look good. Perfectly coiffed and preternaturally composed (Gillian Anderson was just 24 when she got the role), if Scully’s hair goes up, as it does when she’s investigating a creepy Arctic emotion-manipulating tapeworm, or her clothes get mussed, as they do on her first case with Mulder, you know something serious is going down. Rocks pretty seriously ’90s lace on a date she’s set up on. Her apartment, at least what we’ve seen of it, tends towards minimalist and has an enormous bathroom. Brennan, by contrast, opts for jeans and blazers, accented with funky jewelry she picks up on her world travels. Lots of smokey eye makeup, too. And lab coats. Scully may have to deal with weird things, but Brennan has to handle grosser ones. Her apartment is similarly full of artifacts from her travels, one of which her father used to murder a corrupt FBI agent; tribal music; and a refrigerator that’s occasionally rigged to explode.


Man, is Fox Mulder annoying. A conspiracy theorist since the disappearance of his sister during their childhood, Mulder’s perpetually in trouble with authority, hectors Scully to question her assumptions when he isn’t turning on the charm — and frustratingly, is almost always right. The show, at least what I’ve seen of it so far, seems like it might be better if he was wrong sometimes. It’s more interesting if the road to the truth is genuinely hidden, and if it takes some work to find it. And if there’s some actual tension between Mulder’s gonzo tendency to sneak onto crash sites, commission computer viruses, and sleep in alleys, and Scully’s tendency towards straightforward investigation. But despite the fact that he’s kind of irritating, I get the early sexual tension. That scene in the pilot where Scully has Mulder check her for alien probes that turn out to be mosquito bites? Total sparks-flying moment.

Seeley Booth, by contrast, believes in something he can’t prove, one way or another: God. But this hunky FBI agent’s quarrel with his partner isn’t really about the existence of another world. It’s about whether she’s cutting herself off from certain experiences. Over the course of the show, as Brennan and Booth grow closer together, she becomes more open to the idea that everyone has their own way to grace, and he learns that the way she sees the world is miraculous even if it’s not divine. And he learns more respect for scientific inquiry, while she becomes more open about her empathy for victims. Also, they’re going to have what one assumes will be a pretty adorable kid. That’s not an alien implant.

Approach to Protocol

“I don’t understand why you’re always ignoring protocol, Mulder!” Scully snipes at rule-breaking Mulder. Bones, by contrast, introduces herself to us by shooting a dude who’s trying to set her on fire and explaining it later. You get the idea.

Time Spent Doing Actual Science

The science in both shows is totally phony, so let’s leave that aside for the sake of comparison. Scully doesn’t seem to get to spend much actual time in the lab, maybe because the X-Files division is an underresourced dead-end division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Jeffersonian Institution, by contrast, has all kinds of nifty toys and is blessed by Brennan’s prodigious gift for fundraising, so of course everyone is eager to get back to the lab even if it means shipping all sorts of gross stuff there. Plus, the squints may not be as enduring as the Lone Gunmen, but they do get to do some pretty nifty experiments.

Conspiracy-Minded Henchmen

Speaking of the Lone Gunmen, they may not be as sexy as Jack Hodgins, but they’re better at making a living off their conspiracies than he is (not that he needs to, being one of the richest men in America). And to our knowledge the Gunmen’s conspiracy theories have never convinced any of their best friends to become the accomplices of cannibalistic serial killers.


It’s really unfair that a woman as attractive as Scully is doesn’t seem to be allowed to get any (Until, of course, she gets with Mulder towards the end of the show’s run. I don’t care about spoilers. And I did see the movie.). Brennan, by contrast, gets to have an active and interesting sex life. Whether you ultimately envy Scully or Bones is probably a matter of whether your favorite David is Duchovny or Boreanaz.