It was all in the casting.
Once upon a time, David Duchovny was your average unknown actor. Swinging from bit part to bit part like so many vines dangling in the Hollywood jungle, this one time aspiring poet was looking for a holy grail in a haystack: his Big Break. Already off to a good start, he'd landed supporting roles in forgotten classics like Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead and The Rapture, which were fairly noticeable. (You probably forgot he was in Beethoven, too.)
Duchonvy had even made his foray into more erotic territory in his regular gig hosting the Red Shoe Diaries, with all the charm of a hungover Rod Serling. His seminal role as a transgender FBI agent in Twin Peaks has to be brought up as well, since it's a bigger deal than anyone seems to have ever let on.
Yet despite playing second, third or fourth fiddle to the rest of the cast on modest productions, Duchovny had a look to him - a set of distinctive features that were better suited for a leading man than just another character actor floating around out there.
Until he found the right opportunity, our future Californicator was an LA drifter with an east coast Ivy League education. Luckily, in 1992, he was sent a script for that very opportunity, that Big Break one which would soon make his face a very familiar one indeed.
Meanwhile, across town, 24 year-old Gillian Anderson, actress and industry newborn, was about to collect her last unemployment check when she decided to go to an audition for the pilot of some show called The X-Files.
Prior to moving to LA, the Chicago native had accumulated a decent amount of theater experience in NYC, plus a few small film roles she picked up on the side. The biggest was a brief role in The Turning, a lost indie film shot in Pocahontas, Virginia. To this day, it's only claim to fame is a particularly revealing love scene that makes the still makes rounds online. (I can just feel you Googling it now.)
What really got her noticed was a small cameo appearance she made on Fox’s forgotten Class of ‘96, which naturally brought her to the attention of the network execs. Like Duchovny, there was something special about Anderson. She carried herself with an air of grace found only in classically trained actresses cut with a fresh 1990s attitude . And also like Duchovny, she seemed lost until she found the perfect platform with the right co-star to compliment her strengths as a performer.
When Duchovny and Anderson screen tested together for The X-Files, there was an instant spark that some network suits resisted at first. They protested: "We want a female lead who's taller, sexier, with more legs." But creator Chris Carter's foot was down - he knew he'd found both his Special Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder and he wasn't going to let them go.
After the show premiered in the fall of 1993, it was quickly discovered that the relationship - professional or otherwise - between Mulder and Scully was quite popular. In fact, that element became yet another key to its mass appeal, if not it's biggest. The chemistry between the two - and every bit of sexual tension fans everywhere projected onto it - attracted millions of loyal viewers to a low budget sci-fi cult show left to sink or swim on a lonely Friday night time slot.
In fact, for better or worse, the “will they/won’t they” speculation overtook The X-Files. It was a topic anyone eventually brought up in all conversations about the show. It's easy to see why - the public was constantly teased with this for years and years until near the end of the series, when it was revealed they had a child together (in more words than less).
The show's biggest draw would also lead to its eventual downfall during the final years, as Duchovny left the show full-time in 2000. And guess what? People began noticing that without Mulder and Scully, it just wasn’t The X-Files anymore. Yes, Robert Patrick was brought in as Agent John Doggett, a character so opposite from Mulder it was genius. Patrick’s presence changed the flavor of the show, turning the one-time romcom sci-fi digest into an intense action/horror thriller. Although this gave the series a much needed creative resurgence, it didn't fill the X shaped hole in the hearts of all those obsessive fans who spent the better part of a decade falling in love with a power couple. The romance was gone, packed up and moved away before it even got a chance to fully bloom.
This is proof undeniable that, whether we like it or not, The X-Files is a franchise that is completely dependent on its two original lead characters - and actors - to work properly. Without David Duchovny or Gillian Anderson, and without Agents Mulder and Scully, well, it's simply not The X-Files.
Okay, enough about the sappy lovey dovey crap. We have some fIles to rank. We’re continuing on with ranking all the episodes with the next 50, until we wind up at, oh, say, 100.
James Zark has provided another astounding piece of X-emplary art, this time focusing on characters and imagery from seasons 3 and 4. See if you can spot the cockroach, the inbred Peacock momma and the Giovanni Ribisi!
Let me also go ahead and re-plug our comic project The Occult Generation, which we're about to kickstart. I'll just leave this here. Feel free to click/touch/carress for more info.
Now that we've officially been wow-ed, let's continue on down the list, shall we? Yes? Okay.
149. "Hungry" (6x03)
This standalone entry is told from the perspective of the monster of the week himself, a flesh eating mutant who works at generic Burger King. It’s a nice gimmick, very Columbo, but just like most offerings on the dollar menu, it doesn’t fully satisfy your appetite.
- Chad Donellas’s performance really carries the story and keeps you rooting for him, if only slightly.
- The ending. (No, I don’t mean it like that this time. It’s a legitimately good ending.)
148. "The Calusari" (2x21)
After members of her family died in weird ways, a grandma summons Romanian ghostbusters to bust all over their home. Mulder and Scully step in to oversee said busting.
- Some creepy bits here, like the final exorcism scene, for example.
147. "Signs & Wonders" (7x09)
Snakes and Jesus! Praise the lord. Hallelujah.
- All them snakes plus Randy Olgesby’s slimy performance make for one an intense hour of TV, y'all.
146. "Lazarus" (1x15)
Oh no. One of Scully’s old partners is injured in a bank robbery. Oh no! He got possessed by the spirit of a dead bank robber. Oh no...it’s not that interesting.
- Would have been a lot cooler if the writers were allowed to keep their original idea of having Mulder be the one who was possessed. But that might have been too risky a move to try out that early in the show’s run.
145. "Darkness Falls" (1x19)
This is your typical early Season 1 episode, complete with blocky neon rain jackets, overcast weather and intrigue you'd find buried in the pages of your high school Biology book. Basically what happens is, Mulder and Scully wander around the woods with a few guest stars. Then these glowing firefly bugs try to trap them all in their car with a big cocoon made of webbing. Crazy, huh? There's more talk than anything else, so if you're into that sort of thing, great. I'm not, but to each his own.
- Has a great example of a classic X-Files ending. So much so, it feels close to being a parody.
- Yes, Scully's ghetto fabulous jacket.
144. "4-D" (9x04)
Believe it or not, The X-Files rarely played around with the concept of alternate realities. Maybe the writers just couldn’t think up a pitch that would do the idea justice. Maybe it was too complicated to cram into a single hour of network TV. (Or maybe they were saving it up for Fringe.)
Either way, I think this might be the only parallel universe story in the show’s history. (No, I don't think the Season 7 premiere counts.) Is it a good one? Yes, because it takes a lot of gambles that wind up working out in its favor. No, because it somehow manages to be dull and forgettable despite its aspirations.
The plot resembles something like this: There’s a killer who seriously injures Doggett. This killer can move between realities, kind of like Jerry O’Connell in Sliders, but more stabby. He technically hurt alternate reality Agent Doggett, not our own. There was a mix-up and Alternate Agent Doggett got stuck here. Meanwhile, Agent Reyes gets a new apartment.
What prevents "4-D" from living up to its potential is its tedious, muted delivery. All main characters don't have much to do action wise, so instead they just stand around in hospital rooms and offices expositing in hushed tones. Plus, Doggett’s hospitalization makes this entry feel like an unintentional companion piece to "Audrey Pauley", that horrible standalone where Reyes was injured and trapped in a doll house. Both episodes hit the same beats and have a similar air of exhaustion. Also, Annabeth Gish's Touched by an Angel inspired performance kind of ruins it.
Come to think of it, if there’s one big problem with this episode, it would be Agent Reyes. Her demeanor, which bounces between Lifetime-Original-style-sincerity and daring, CBS-movie-of-the-week-bravery, isn't appropriate here. She also simply talks way too much in this episode, trying to explain as much about the plot as possible to the folks watching at home. This makes her less of a character and more of a function.
If you like you're interested in seeing how a parallel world story would be told through a procedural case-of-the-week lens, or if you like your TV movies mediocre and nap-inducing, this file’s for you.
- Again, the parallel universe stuff is a neat concept, if even the delivery was much too sleepy.
- Carey Elwes actually has more to do here, so this feels like the ensemble show it’s pretending to be at this point.
143. "John Doe" (9x07)
Agent Doggett has an epic rager in Mexico, blacks out and doesn’t remember who he is or how he got there. He blames a memory vampire that also a drug cartel lord, but who hasn't?
In all seriousness, this is probably the best Agent Doggett episode out of the entire series. Everything about it is so quintessentially Robert Patrick. The setting, the washed out look, the action, the score...it's like watching one of his lost direct-to-DVD movies.
What makes it compelling is that it makes Doggett out to be the monster-of-the-week as it goes along. In order to survive and get to the bottom of what's going on, he has to rely on his innate bad-assery to get through it. And with all his training and conditioning from the military, that bad-assery is extra bad to the ass-bone.
But we also get to see, once again, just how much Doggett's son Luke is a key to his motivations.
- Robert Patrick being all Robert Patrick-y.
- This episode is the first time writer Vince Gilligan and director Michelle Maclaren teamed up years before they worked together on Breaking Bad.
142. "Invocation" (8x05)
After being missing for over a decade, a little boy named Billy returns to his family - and he hasn’t aged at all. Is he evil or what? Agents Doggett and Scully will get back to you on that.
This is another important Agent Doggett episode, one in which we actually get introduced to that backstory about his son I mentioned a couple seconds ago. "John Doe" may have been a great way to explore how this influences him as a character, but it didn’t feel like an X-Files episode, did it? Well, "Invocation" does, and in the most literal way. It's your average routine standalone that exploits a classic horror trope - this time on the “weird supernatural child” one. You can totally feel the tension created from little Billy’s unexplained presence throughout the whole hour, and it ignites much needed character development for Agent Doggett in that understated, beneath-the-surface delivery that’s the X-Files has been so good at perfecting over the years.
- Scully’s speech to Doggett at the end about coping with the unexplained with a skeptic’s mind was great. She stepped into the role of mentor so well during this era.
- A few creepy scenes stand out here, like the psychic having an aneurysm and the hidden message backmasked on a tape recorder.
141."How the Ghosts Stole Christmas"(6x06)
On Christmas Eve, Mulder drags Scully out to a haunted house in Maryland because he is just so considerate like that. What they find there are two corpses that are dressed exactly like they are - plus, Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin. The clever twists lead perfectly into a climax in which the stakes have rarely been higher. Probably one of the best holiday episodes of any show ever.
- Grrreat performances from everyone involved.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your stance, The X-Files avoided doing vampires. They were the kind of monsters the show seemed the most uncomfortable dealing with. "Bad Blood", obviously, knocked it out of the park - and the parking lot. Then we had "Patience" later on, but its status is debatable since that was more of a bat creature than a vampire anyway.
"3", however, is the (mostly forgotten) episode of the show that went all in on the grungy early ‘90s goth vampire craze without much shame, purpose or direction. It’s one of the most unusual hours in X-Files history because of this and its place in the overall narrative - which is right after Scully’s abduction in Season 2. In fact, it’s the only episode during this time when Mulder went on a case without his partner. "One Breath", which aired directly after, couldn’t wait to reunite the two.
That might be why it’s kind of a letdown. Such a huge shake up to the status-quo should have lead to some really interesting places (as it would later on). Instead, "3" turns out to be a D-list erotic thriller that feels more at home on late night Cinemax than it does a major network's prime time slot. Because of this and more, "3" borders on being one of the more unwatchable episodes. But, c'mon, it takes risks and tries something new, and plus it’s somewhat of a historical anomaly when compared to other episodes, so it’s worth a look. But know this: If the X-Files were a band, this would be one of its B-Sides.
- The burning vamp sequence was super grisly!
- Seeing the filming crew try their hardest to make Vancouver look like LA.was cute.
139."The Field Where I Died" (4x05)
After storming a cult compound, Mulder meets a mysterious woman who he realizes he knew in a past life. Lots of weeping and sad Duchovny puppy faces ensue. A filler episode that feels like a filler episode, yet makes its character of the week overly important without actually earning it. Bad X-Files, bad!
- Kristen Cloke went on to play one of my favorite characters in Millennium, so it’s fun to see her showing off her acting chops here.
- I’ll admit, some of the monologues in this make me sad as hell.
138."Goldberg Variation" (7x06)
Who’s the luckiest man on earth? Stanford from Sex and the City, that's who. He falls out of skyscrapers and lands without a scratch, he wins big when he buys lotto tickets, and he survives getting hit by delivery trucks. Is it because he’s such a nice guy? He wants to give a young Shia LaBeouf a hundred grand, after all.
This is a rare kind of X-File, one that means us no harm or ill will. For that reason, it tiptoes on the threshold of being “a very special episode”. The staff could get away with pulling this stunt in Season 7 and just about nowhere else, since that year felt unusually cuddly anyway.
Bottom line: If you’re looking to watch something on Netflix to help you relax and go to sleep, try this episode out. It's a good bedtime story.
- The episode’s structure is like on big Rube Goldberg machine. #clever
- LaBeef in baby fat mode.
137."Dod Kalm" (2x19)
A US Navy Destroyer makes you old and wrinkly if you’re on it for too long. Just ask Mulder and Scully. They’re aging by the minute, faster than the practical make-up effects of 1994 can keep up with.
Seriously, though. The prosthetics they used to make Mulder and Scully look old are fugly. Their appearance injects an overpowering amount of camp into an hour that’s otherwise very grim and tense.
I think what makes "Dod Kalm" memorable is the fantastic blend of gothic atmosphere and Mark Snow’s bleak score. I remember how unsettlingly dark this was when I saw this as a kid, and it maintains that signature haunting quality today. It’s just those masks, man. Ugh.
- The very end with Scully’s narration about the Norse apocalypse is so perfect.
- Oh yeah, some guy drinks water out of a toilet.
Stephen King writes a monster-of-the-week episode in which Agent Scully takes a vacation to Maine (surprise) and winds up battling an evil American Girl doll that makes people hurt themselves while listening to “The Hokey Pokey”.
Might sound fun, but in reality it comes across a caricature of both Stephen King’s work and an X-Files episode. Even though those two things sound like they’re made for each other, they're actually not so much. Yes, I’m just as baffled as you are.
Instead of being an ideal combo like chocolate and peanut butter, these two ingredients are more like, say, chocolate and mayonnaise - good enough on their own but not mixed together. We don’t need King’s overexaggerated dimestore fantasy in our X-Files just as we don’t want the ambiguously cheeky storytelling of The X-Files in our King novels. Although the two feel related, "Chinga" is undeniable proof that the two don’t mix well together.
- Looking past the problematic story, this episode gives us a running gag that will be used for the rest of the series: Mulder’s ceiling full of No. 2 pencils.
- Mulder watches porn while on the phone with Scully.
135."Red Museum" (2x10)
Wisconsin teenagers are found wandering around in their underwear, with “He is One” tagged on their backs. What does this have to do with a vegan cult that wears red headdresses? I still don’t know.
- Another iconic classic episode with a slow pace, this entry was originally conceived as a Picket Fences crossover. Yes, really.
- This also classifies as a mytharc episode...kinda sorta.
Agent Doggett’s very own tragic storyline is ultimately resolved. Who murdered his son? A Sherlock-esque FBI Cadet (who is more of u plot device than an actual character - which is sad because he hijacks most of the episode's focus) will help him find out once and for all.
Although this is straight from the tail end of the worst era of the franchise, it’s a great piece of closure for one of the most underrated and underappreciated characters during the show’s run. Impeccably acted, uncomfortably chilling and appropriately sensitive to its subject matter without seeming exploitative, "Release" is one of the only gems to be dug out of a wasted final season.
- Robert Patrick’s performance, as always, is flawless -- especially in the final scene.
- An unexpected resolution to the Brad Follmer storyline. I mean, Carey Elwes.
Remember that Arthur Dales character I mentioned in Part 1? He was in the really bad episode about living water. You don’t? Well, whatever. He makes his debut here, in this quiet little throwback episode about the very first X-File ever - a case from the ‘50s the involved Mulder’s dad and secret spider parasites which may or may not serve as a loose metaphor for communism. I'm not sure just yet.
This episode isn’t your typical one as it comes from the highly experimental Season 5, which loved to do episodes that didn’t feature the main cast because they were too busy with post-production on the first film. Much like the The X-Files' influences, this plays out exactly like an installment of a true anthology horror series like Tales from the Darkside, Night Gallery or (my personal favorite) Monsters. It’s a nice origin story for mythology completists, yet winds up having as much impact on the ongoing narrative as a forgettable tie-in novel.
- Those communist spiders are pretty gross, bro.
Someone is murdering people who are pretending to have the stigmata. When a young boy named Kevin is next on the list, Scully is insistent that he is protected lest the end of the world occur.
- A good introduction to the plot thread of Scully’s faith in Catholicism.
- Kenneth Welsh (Wyndham Earle from Twin Peaks) guest stars! He's like the evil Frasier.
People are tripping balls in Pennsylvania. They’re seeing messages on digital devices that tell them to do bad things. Very, very bad things. So they do them. Mulder’s going to figure out what it is that everyone’s on, because he wants some too, obviously.
Another classic that demonstrates the scariest special effect is emphasizing the tension hiding beneath the surface. This was something The X-Files was always so amazing at - creating uncomfortable atmospheres painted in muted tones of dread and uncertainty that are still like nothing else on the airwaves today. “Blood” is one of the most powerful examples of how effective this was - even if the subject matter is a bit silly or dated (or both).
- One of the most potent examples of X-paranoia from the earlier days.
- The climax at the watchtower.
130."Lord of the Flies" (9x05)
If you look past its premise of “MTV’s Jackass gone wrong”, this monster-of-the-week is actually quite tolerable. Maybe even enjoyable.
This is, in part, due to the wonderfully capable guest cast. We have Jane Lynch, pre-Glee and Party Down, who plays an overbearing mom pretty well. We also have Hank Harris from Pumpkin (a cult movie you need to see if you haven’t already) and Supernatural, who was born to play the stock character of troubled supernatural anti hero. And, last but not least, we have Aaron Paul, aka Jessie Pinkman from Breaking Bad, being all wild-eyed and mischievous. It’s almost as if the ghosts of TV future had come back in time to wave at us.
Famous faces aside, this episode works in a classical, by-the-book way any monster-of-the-week entry should. It also has a gently humorous side to it, which is the most funny when “sexy” entymologist Rocky Bronzino tries to hit on Scully. Her deadpan reactions are golden, and something I wish the show had been keen on playing with more often.
- Any scene with Rocky and Scully.
- All those allusions to Syd Barrett were pretty cool.
Some asshole is using his psychic pyro powers to burn people alive. Meanwhile, Mulder goes on a date (kind of).
- The pyrotechnic effects were so incredlible, they were apparently quite dangerous on the set.
128."Brand X" (7x18)
Not gonna lie: cigarettes will kill you. Especially when they have beetle eggs inside of them. Because then you’ll inhale them when you light up. And see, then the beetle eggs will be in your lungs. Which means they’ll hatch. And then all these little baby beetles will be crawling out of your mouth. So stop smoking, kids. Start vaping. #themoreyouknow
- Tobin Bell from Saw does his Jigsaw thang before any of those movies were unleashed on the world.
Skinner! What’s up with that dead hooker in your bed, bro? Oh, she’s really a succubus? Sure she is. Wink wink. Wait, who’s that screaming old woman standing in the corner over there?
As the very first Skinner focus episode ever, “Avatar” serves as a crash course on the life and times of our favorite constipated FBI Assistant Director. Did you know he had a wife? Well, he did. Her name’s Sharon. He also had a very traumatic near-death experience in Vietnam during which an angel like being who looks like an old lady came down and saved his life. (Think of her as his spirit guide.)
This episode serves as a dissection of a conflicted character who had been operating in a grey area for most of the first two and a half seasons. (Remember, the main tagline for the show at this time was “Trust No One” for a reason.) In that sense, it feels like a clever way to put Skinner on a figurative trial for his behavior thus far.
And like its successors in later seasons, this Skinner episode’s major goal is to endear him to the audience. It does so by re-establishing his emotional connection to Mulder and Scully, which was always sort of a buried treasure in the series. Most of all, it reminds us why we need Skinner around. For someone who acts as a foil for both the villains and the heros, that’s important.
- Skinner’s speech about his past. “I wasn’t a boy scout. I inhaled.” Right.
126."Three Words" (8x16)
After being gone for over half of Season 8, Mulder’s finally back! And we’re not talking in flashback or corpse capacity - we’re talking legit, real time Duchovny action here.
And how does it feel? A little...weird, actually. Mulder has returned to a show that has moved on in his absence, a story that has become an entirely different creature than what it once was back in his day. Scully’s pregnant, some newbie name Agent Doggett's running around trying to make sense of everything, and the main conspiracy arc is mostly vaporous. The X-Files is now a dark, soapy action-oriented gorefest, not the quirky highbrow philosophical star studded meta-event that it used to be.
Nevertheless, this episode tries to get back into something that resembles its old groove. Scully falls back in line as a supporting character, passively following Mulder around like a happy puppy wearing a fat suit. Agent Doggett is immediately ghettoized into his own storyline in which he's forced to deal with the newer mythology threads that aren't as intersting. And the Lone Gunmen just hang out, providing a safety net of familiarity for it all.
It’s a very invovled episode that tries to juggle a lot and succeeds, but still leaves you feeling a more than a little cold.
- Mulder’s awkward first shouting match...I mean, encounter with Doggett.
- The nice easter egg throwback to the 1998 feature film.
Y’know what, this all but ignored Season 7 monster-of-the-week attempt has a lot going for it. For one, it tries something different. Mulder and Scully are split up, working on two very different cases. (This was for production purposes, but still.) Mulder investigates an incident of witchy revenge amongst suburban housewives somewhere Vermont, complete with broken mirrors and evil ravens. Meanwhile, Scully’s on a boring stakeout in Washington D.C. looking for a mysterious blonde woman.
Both check in with each other throughout the episode on the phone, mostly for humorous effect. This makes it a spiritual cousin to Season 5’s “Chinga”, as it’s basically the flipside of that situation. And like most episodes from this particular year of the show, it has a wistful aura to it despite the underlying menace it still wields. "Chimera" is skippable, sure, but c’mon. Give it a watch.
- Scully’s stakeout is resolved to humorous effect, and in turn gives the Mulder the key to solve his own case. Neat little writing trick there.
- The raven monster (?) proved that the show could still do creature features quite effectively this late in the game.
An eensy weensy little Indian man crawls up people’s butts. Agent Doggett shuffles around making uncomfortable jokes. Scully tries to be like Mulder and believe in ass monsters but winds up crying about it instead. Butt gremlin gets away. The end.
- There's nothing else to say.
123."Scary Monsters" (9x14)
I like this one. It’s simple, scary, and fun without getting too mushy like the rest of Season 9. Agents Reyes and Doggett are led up to the mountains by Agent Layla Harrison (from “Alone”), who insists that a woman who repeatedly stabbed herself was influenced by outside forces. What they find is a disturbed young boy and his angry, overprotective father isolated in the mountains. Who’s the real culprit here?
“Scary Monsters” is a display of awareness from the writing staff, a wink to let fans know that they knew The X-Files wasn’t the same anymore. It does this by making a rather confusing statement, which can be paraphrased as: “Doggett and Reyes aren’t Mulder and Scully (but they are). So get used to them.” Fangirl avatar Harrison spends the whole episode comparing the two new lead actors to their unbeatable predecessors as she runs alongside them like a manic pixie Scrappy Doo. In the final scene, she admits that she’s now a big fan of Doggett and Reyes, and even goes so far as to suggest that they might be doing a better job running the joint(!). (Meanwhile, a disinterested Agent Scully stands in the background wondering if that extra Lean Cuisine is still at the bottom of her freezer.)
I guess this was what they hoped the fanbase would do eventually, but it's a hopeful suggestion comes across as being more forceful than intended. It says, “Hey, you better get on board with our new show and these changes we’re making or else!” It also does the equivalent of switching you to decaf without telling you and claiming that it’s still caf. Yes, John and Monica are resourceful. Yes, they can solve vanilla cases-of-the-week quite well, actually. But their pairing was always too corporate, too close to what Fox had envisioned during the initial casting sessions for the show, and too predictable to win us over.
- The way it blends so many different horror tropes (supernatural child, body horror, fire, bleeding eyes, etc.) without making any of them feel tired was impressive.
- Scully’s interactions with Harrison and her boyfriend were hilarious. If I could say something nice about Season 9, it would be that it was great at allowing Gillian Anderson to do more comedic bits.
122. "William" (9x16)
A severely burned man walks into the X-Files office, claiming to know important stuff. They test his DNA and discover that it’s the same as Mulder’s. But is he really Mulder? Nah. Well, maybe…?
After almost two long years of hearing Scully whine about her friggin baby, our loyalty (and patience) is rewarded with a rushed and half-hearted resolution to what could arguably be the most important story arc in the final third of the series.
Even so, it’s still entertaining to watch, even if it doesn’t feel like The X-Files at all. Besides, it’s required viewing by anyone who is serious about following the show’s narrative at this point, period. Don’t argue with me.
I’m not going to mention that Season 9 is not a very good season again. (Looks like I just did anyway.) One of the reasons why it falls so flat is that the big huge reveals that it proclaims to make aren’t the payoffs we feel we need after following years of convoluted nonsense. Although it had its moments and episodes, the storyline about William was always the most nonsensical to follow, and quickly became the most irritating. It was nice to see it go, but not like this.
- David Duchovny wrote and directed this one, so the production feels much more in tune with the earlier years of the show.
121."Fallen Angel" (1x10)
After being detained for sneaking into a top secret UFO crash site in Wisconsin, Mulder meets Max Fenig, uber-nerd, who claims to be a multiple abductee. (Just his type.) Needless to say, they become like two paranormal peas in a pod until Scully steps in to rain on their geeky parade.
- Introduction of Max Fenig, who will come back to haunt us in a grim Season 4 two-parter.
120."Per Manum" (8x13)
What’s up with Scully’s baby? Is it an alien or what? And how exactly did she get pregnant? This episode attempts to give us some insight into this conundrum while providing flashbacks to Season 7 moments between Mulder and Scully that were kept hidden from us. Like any good X-Files episode, it leaves us with many more questions than answers. But by the end, we know one undeniable truth for cetain: Mulder has masturbated at least once.
- The Mulder and Scully scenes were a sight for sore eyes at the time. Duchovny's absence was so pronounced around the time this aired during sweeps.
Mulder and Scully babysit psychotic cloned twin girls who were created as part of a secret experiment. The girls try to poison their sodas. Evil, right?
- Great atmosphere, good guest stars. This is one of the few Season 1 standalones that works well because it was simple yetedgy at the time.
This case-of-the-week is the kind that every other paranormal crime TV series has resorted at one point or another. Hell, it’s basically a pitch for a mediocre prime time show itself - two FBI agents work with a psychic who can feel everything a kidnapping victim goes through.
Even so, “Oubilette” knows that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. It presents its stock plot with a delivery that portrays the emotional reality of the situation. Thanks to this, a routine story about a kidnapped girl feels almost exactly how it would in real life - tragic and unsettling.
- Most intense CPR scene ever perhaps?
- Tracy Ellis, who guest stars as the psychic, later returns as the eponymous “Audrey Pauley” in Season 9.
117."Deep Throat" (4x05)
Guess who Mulder meets in a men’s bathroom in the second episode ever? Hint: he might have a long neck. That’s right, you guessed it - Deep Throat.
Why is such an essential episode with such iconic moments ranked on the lower end of the list?
Because have you seen it recently? It’s a little boring. Also, kind of awkward. It’s the second episode ever, so although it resembles The X-Files in form and appearance, it’s still not The X-Files as we know it. This is most evidenced in Mulder and Scully’s exchanges. Mumbling through each scene with their tongues in their cheeks, Duchovny and Anderson are obviously still trying to figure things out. Their chemistry isn’t mixed up quite yet, either.
But there are cute moments between them because of this, moments that would be a rarity for seasons to come. The scene in the diner where she calls Mulder a sucker comes to mind. They’re still approaching this material with a lot of wonder and excitement. Apparently they weren’t worked to death just yet.
If you’re all about the history of The X-Files, “Deep Throat” is essential viewing. Dry and uninteresting, but essential.
- Mulder’s iconic UFO sighting, of course.
- Seth Green is always an excellent guest star to have.
116."Three of a Kind" (6x20)
The sequel to Season 5’s Lone Gunmen adventure prequel "Unusual Suspects", which we'll talk about in a couple seconds. This time, the trio hits up Las Vegas to find the mysterious lady-in-peril Susanne Modeski. Needing extra help, they trick Agent Scully into flying down to assist. Hijinx, needless to say, ensue.
- The very well done and shocking faked “assassination” scene.
- Gillian Anderson gives us a rare comedic performance as she plays Scully stoned on laughing gas.
115."The Unusual Suspects" (5x03)
Wanna know the Lone Gunmen’s origin story? If you do, watch this one. If you don’t, walk away.
To say too much about how our other favorite icons of The X-Files band together would be a disservice, but let's just say that after viewing it, you'll discover that these three are much more important to the mythology than you might have known. "Unusual Suspects" also humanizes them past being just quirky plot devices. It gives them purpose, reason, and emotional relevance. Plus, it makes us realize that Byers is forever our hero.
- Funny Lone Gunmen nerd banter.
- X makes a posthumous cameo.
- So does Richard Belzer, playing his trademark character from Homicide: Life on the Street somehow.
When I was 11 years old, this episode scared the hell out of me. Specifically, the last 10 minutes with Mulder and Scully crawling around in a dark, cramped ventilation shaft being chased by the spooky monster-of-the-week. His name’s Aboah, by the way, and he’s an African American pigmentation vampire who steals hormones from black men to his skin tone.
Obviously, this does not sound tasteful or appropriate in any way, which makes it a strangely offensive mid-'90s time capsule. Its clumsy handling of immigration issues and xenophobia does it no favors, either. If that's not enough, "Teliko" is also an unnecessary remake of "Squeeze/Tooms".
But because of the final few minutes, this will always be the X-Files episode that kept me up for a week straight, thinking that there was a man with purple eyes staring at me through the crack in my closet door.
113."The Beginning" (6x01)
Following directly on the heels of both Fight the Future and Season 5’s finale, "The End", this season premiere has a LOT of work to do.
First of all, it has to juggle all those new characters we were introduced to in "The End", such as Agents Spender and Fowley and spooky genius boy Gibson Praise, all while tying up each’s dangling plot threads that the movie ignored by design.
Second, it has to acknowledge the elements introduced in the feature film itself, such as the scary warrior aliens and the mutated black oil strain.
Third, it has to also introduce the most important character in the latter half of the series: the production’s sunny and dry new filming locale - Los Angeles.
Finally, it also has to do that frustrating thing where Scully is reset to being a skeptic despite having gone through that big budget blockbuster abduction in FTF. Beacause status quo.
(Oh, and it also has to reopen the X-Files branch somehow.)
Holy shit. That’s a lot. How’d they do it?
As well as they could have. I mean, think about it: there were so many balls in the air here, and so many different types of viewers to cater to at this point. The writers had to appeal to the long-term viewers just as much as those casual newbies who had seen the movie over the summer and wanted to try the show out. Unfortunately, despite all of ambition and the hard work present here, it doesn’t seem to please either of them too much.
The leftover mythology stuff from the previous season certainly alienated most new viewers, and the few scenes that did attempt to incorporate sloppy bits from the film left diehard fans feeling cheated. But how could anyone successfully follow up such an immense amount of hype and make every single person ever happy? The truth is, it couldn’t be done.
Either way, this made for a fairly solid, duty-driven season premiere that ushered in a completely new era for the franchise. From here on out, The X-Files would be a new creature with a set new of rules and a tan.
- These slight attempts to bridge continuity with Fight the Future are some of the only we’ll ever get, so savor them.
- There’s a Simpsons easter egg somewhere in here. You’ll know when you see it.
Creepy, emotional and thrilling, this is yet another stellar attempt from the latter half of Season 8, one of the show’s best kept secrets. Old and the new regimes clash once again when Mulder is prompted to look into a bizarre killer’s connection to the unsolved murder of Agent Doggett’s son. Is there a thread of supernatural evil present here? Yep. And somehow, it’s kind of lava-y.
This is also kind of fun because of an unintentionally amusing exchange between Agents Reyes and Mulder, one of the only scenes they’ve ever had alone together. Both of their performances clash horribly - Gish is sincere and soapy, Duchovny is aloof and couldn’t care less. And be sure to keep an eye out for yet another shouting match between him and Robert Patrick soon thereafter.
- One of the only episodes where we had all four headlining agents on board. And, somehow, it doesn’t feel crowded.
- The nod to Marilyn Manson’s Holy Wood in the beginning was a nice flashback.
- Agent Reyes was good here, but only in a supporting role.
Sorry folks, this has nothing to do with Kajagoogoo. It does, however, have to do with a mutant who preys on chubby women on chat rooms, because 1.) Tinder didn’t exist and 2.) he needs to eat fat to survive. This is not as ridiculous as it sounds, I promise. The creature makeup effects are pretty effective, and the lighting is great as always. Does it feel rehashed? Yeah, but whatevs. It works.
- The last scenes between Scully and the fat eating monster is sooo good.
- Mark Snow’s score for this is like a twisted outtake from Fantasia.
110."All Souls" (5x17)
Agent Scully wants to know why a special needs girl with extra fingers died so mysteriously. I’ll give her a hint: it’s because she was linked to ancient angels that got it on with human women. And satan. Can’t forget the satan.
- Scully’s character arc from "Christmas Carol/Emily" is unofficially continued here, so it serves as a nice companion piece.
- The scary parts are really well done.
In one of the very first mytharc installments, Mulder and Scully track down a truck with some highly sensitive cargo: an alien and a UFO.
This is the very first episode that introduces The Lone Gunmen, so it’s an early milestone in timeline of The X-Files. Other story stuff makes it required viewing if you’re serious about following the mytharc. But don’t expect it to be that entertaining - it’s not. There’s hardly any action, and the exchanges between Mulder and Scully here are played immaturely.
There’s plenty of political intrigue and dated UFO culture exploitation to make up for that, so give it a watch.
- “Mulder, the truth is out there...but so are lies.” Great Scully quote.
- This is also the episode that introduces the Lone Gunmen for the first time. Their first scene is a highly amusing one.
- Lots of juicy Deep Throat drama.
108 & 107."Tempus Fugit/Max" (4x17 & 4x18)
As an extra two-part saga tossed in at the end of Season 4, this two parter is a highly symbolic and self-reflective entry in the show’s mythology.
"Tempus Fugit" and "Max" take responsibility for visually interpreting all of the suppressed emotional trauma happening in the ongoing narrative that the show wants to indulge itself in more but can't because of its loosely serialized nature. (This is right in the middle of Agent Scully’s bout with terminal cancer, the most bleak story-arc in the show’s history.) It does this by conjuring up one of the show's most powerful set piece ever - the wreckage of a downed commercial aircraft.
Both of these episodes are written as somewhat of a spiritual checkpoint for The X-Files. The Apollo 11 medal that Mulder gives Scully is a perfect symbol for this. Scully’s monologue at the very end of “Max” explains exactly why this is in inspiring detail. See for yourself.
We also summon back to us a relatively obscure minor character from Season 1, Max Fenig from “Fallen Angel”, to represent just how far the show has evolved during the course of three years or so. He was from such a different era of the show, back when the show was still a B-Movie and not a Hollywood blockbuster. In fact, Mulder’s quest for Max here is the perfect allegory for The X-Files’ search to find its identity as it continued to grow larger and spiral out as the years went on. That Mulder eventually discovered that Max was dead and gone might be telling in itself.
- The plane crash sequences were uncomfortably real.
- Agent Pendrell, one of the rare co-workers Mulder and Scully actually interacted with, is killed off.
- The scene in which he gifts it to her for her birthday is one of their best moments ever and a milestone in their relationship. Will someone give me an Apollo 11 medal now?
106."S.R. 819" (6x09)
Newsflash: A.D. Skinner has only 24 hours left to live. He’s got some weird cyber virus made out of nanotechnology in his system. Like, how did that even happen? Mulder’s going to harass Senator Matheson until he gets the answer.
Much like “Avatar”, this does what all Skinner episodes must do - remind us why we care about Walter, and show us that he’s more than just Mulder and Scully’s third wheel. It also reaffirms that Skinner’s a slightly darker character than our dynamic duo, and he always will be no matter what.
If “Avatar” put his character on trial, “S.R. 819” puts a gun to his head and demands us to justify his continued existence on this show. This is tough because, for the most part, we take poor Walt for granted. Most of the time, he’s treated as a plot device that can works both with and against our protagonists, depending on the needs of each story.
So, why do we keep the Skin-man around, anyway? Because, just like Fox and Dana, we love the big guy. He’s the axis mundi of the show, really - a midpoint between Scully’s doubt and Mulder’s belief.
- You might deduce who’s responsible for Skinner’s illness early on if you’re observant, but it’s still a good one anyway.
- The scenes between Scully and Skinner here are some of the best of the show.
105. "The Pine Bluff Variant" (5x18)
In this twisty espionage thriller, Agent Scully starts suspecting that Mulder might be up to no good. Has he been running around playing double agent with a group of terrorists? And what do they have to do with a certain flesh-eating virus?
This is a criminally underrated standalone episode that never gets talked about much. I think it’s because it’s not quite X-File-y enough (i.e. paranormal). That doesn’t stop it from being an intriguing hour of espionage TV, and it shouldn't keep you from watching it. Now, if you can.
- Harrowing interrogation scene was harrowing.
- The movie theater death scene has haunted me forever.
The sequel to Season 2’s “Irresistible” sees Scully facing off with creepazoid Donnie Pfaster once again. There’s a few harrowing sequences, a haunting smooth jazz song put on repeat, and a mind-boggling reference to an obscure Cake song. It’s not as iconic as its parent, sadly, but it does have a genuinely haunting climax that’s one of the most unforgettable parts of Season 7. It’s also one of the best Scully episodes ever made, just so you know.
- The final slow-motion sequence at the end is flawless. The score, the lighting, the performances, everything.
- That smooth jazz cover of “Don’t Look Any Further” is kinda good. Too bad it wasn’t released.
103."Little Green Men" (2x01)
The first episode of Season 2 is basically a new pilot for The X-Files. The tone is darker, the mood heavier, and everything else feels more mysterious than ever. It’s like the show has gotten to know you a little better, so it’s more comfortable showing you more of its layers. The episode is a fever dream, a sweaty descent into Mulder's search for purpose after the X-Files was shut down.
Going through one of his many personal crises, Fox Mulder makes a pilgrimage to Puerto Rico to an observatory to prove that extraterrestrial life exists once and for all. Dana Scully traces his footsteps to aid him, even though they’re not officially working together anymore. #besties
- We flash back to the infamous moment in which Mulder’s sister is abducted.
- As this is the first episode of Season 2, you can feel the show starting to take itself more seriously than it did before.
- Mulder tells Scully that he needs her. <3
102."Paper Hearts" (4x10)
Mulder has this dream where he follows a laser pointer (?) to the body of a young girl secretly buried in the woods. Turns out, she’s actually buried there in real life. This leads Mulder to investigate the missing victims of a child killer he helped put away a long time ago. Now the killer is starting to claim that he was responsible for Samantha Mulder’s disappearance...and subsequent murder.
This is a great Mulder focus episode with some high emotional stakes, even though it feels like one giant tease by the time it’s over. It has the audacity (i.e. balls) to imply that a huge story arc could be resolved in a middling killer-of-the-week standalone, and for that, it deserves a pay on the back and a Starbucks gift card.
- Tom Noonan’s performance as John Lee Roche really makes this work.
- David Duchovny gives us some great vulnerability in this performance. He’ll need the practice for it in upcoming Season 4 and 5 episodes.
101 & 100."Christmas Carol/Emily" (5x06 & 5x07)
Happy Holidays, Dana Scully! What’d you get for Christmas this year? Oh, what’s that? A mysterious phone call from someone that sounds like your dead sister Melissa? And a little girl that may or may not be your daughter created from your harvested ova? Plus a big angsty crisis of faith? Well shit.
This is an excellent character study for Agent Scully, and one of the most forgotten and least-discussed mytharc entries in the show’s run. Really not sure why it gets ignored. I mean, it reveals that she’s technically had a child before, even if she didn’t actually, you know, have it.
Wow. It just now hit me that the X-Files is pretty a weird show.
- Touching flashbacks to right before Scully joined the FBI
- Everyone looks so damn purty during this era, don' t they?
That's it for this round of X-Files rankings. Stayed tuned for the next installment, which is now actually right here!