The X-Files isn’t a TV show, it’s a culture.
And it continues to live on to this day, stronger than it ever was. It was one of the first fandoms to use the internet to connect, discuss and debate. (Okay, fine, sit back down, Star Trek.)
Outside of that obvious historical note, The X-Files also had quite a bit of media under its belt that allowed such a huge fanbase to keep living in the world of the series between episodes. For example, there were a series of books, all of them I haven’t actually read all the way through. Each one followed the format of your average monster-of-the-week episode and, like most tie-in novels, had no real bearing on the main story arc of the show at all.
The first one, Goblins, by Charles L. Grant, was about an invisible killer. His next effort, and the second in the series, Whirlwind, was about - surprise - another killer that uses the forces of nature for to do that killing thing. The next three books in this particular series were written by Kevin J. Anderson. Ground Zero was a nuclear science horror story, Ruins was an adventure in the jungles of the Yucatan, and Antibodies was a race-against-time thriller. The final novel, Skin by Ben Mezrich, deals with medical malpractice and a skin eating monster from Thailand (apparently).
Then there were the comic books, which were a lot cooler. The first run by Topps from the ‘90s is pretty spot on tonally speaking, although it’s probably most remembered now for its deliciously striking cover art. The late 2000s saw The X-Files get picked up by Wildstorm, and while they certainly tried their best at resurrecting interest in the franchise, the stories they were telling were simply just okay. (Not the 30 Days of Night crossover, that was actually quite good.)
IDW’s recent attempt at creating the theoretical continuation of Season 10 is probably the best X-Files comic experience you will ever have. That is not an exaggeration or a shameless plug - that is all genuine admiration talking. Joe Harris does a marvelous job creating a comic book extension of the show’s universe that honors the legacy of the series while actually having the balls to do something original with its complex mythology that’s both organic and fun to read. Having recently read the entirety of this ambitious comic project, I’ve taken it upon myself to tell fans everywhere that yes, reading it all is most definitely worth your time.
Speaking of ambitious comic projects, let me take a moment to plug my own - The Occult Generation. It may not be X-Files related, but its storytelling approach is certainly inspired by one of my top favorite genre shows ever. Find out more by visiting the website and by reading the prequel stories (which I’m also writing) on Medium.com, here.
And now it’s that time again - let’s take a look at another gorgeous piece of original artwork by the master of photo-realistic illustration, James Zark. This one is inspired by Seasons 5 and 6 and Fight the Future. (Probably my favorite era of the series.) Can you spot the Frank Black hiding in there? Of course you can, because 1.) he’s not really hiding and 2.) you’d recognize that somber, brooding mug anywhere.
99. "Improbable" (9x13)
When Agent Reyes uses numerology to track down a serial killer, she winds up trapped in a parking garage, playing checkers with Agent Scully while Burt Reynolds does the samba.
Basically, the premise here is - what if Burt Reynolds is god? (Wait, you're telling me he isn’t?) This episode written and directed by Chris Carter gives us a glimpse at what a universe run by the Bandit would look like, and apparently it’s all ruled by numbers and patterns and silly musical numbers. I guess you could say it’s pretty much like our own, but to a comically exaggerated degree. It’s also got this custesy, quirky vibe to it, and lots of early aughts throwback lounge music. It’s so adult contemporary. Like, 2002 adult contemporary.
But is it an X-Files episode?
In name only. It has the same settings and characters you’ve seen before in The X-Files, but the tone and the attitude here is lighter than ever, even more so than most Season 7 episodes, and that’s saying quite a f***ing lot. In the wake of Season 8, one of the show’s darkest ever produced, this feels jarring. But in the context of Season 9, which felt like it was co-produced by the Lifetime network, it’s a fake diamond in the rough.
- Karl Zero’s “Ca Va Ca Va” is kinda catchy if you let it be. Maybe?
- Scully’s hair is the star of Season 9, hands down.
- Carter’s attention to detail here deserves a lot more praise. I notice something new each time I watch "Improbable". If you look at past it being “The Burt Reynolds Episode”, there’s some clever touches in there. What? Stop looking at me like that. I'm being serious.
98. "Elegy" (4x22)
What do a string of recent deaths have to do with an autistic bowling alley attendant? And why do all the victims keep appearing to him as ghosts bearing the message “She Is Me”? The agents are going to find out, but Scully will be faced with her mysterious illness in the process.
The setup here is simple, straight-forward - routine. If it feels like it’s been ripped off by other shows a few dozen times, it’s because it most definitely has. Even the series itself is overly aware of how fillery it is. I mean, come on. It's got all the same old typical beats from every other X-Files filler episode ever - complete with the whole Spooky Mulder Vs. Close-minded local law enforcement exposition sequence thing.
But one element keeps “Elegy” from being just another throwaway killer-of-the-week snooze.
As soon as the plot starts heating up, "Elegy" twists into quite the moving little Scully focus ep.
Remember, in the larger tapestry of the series, this episode comes in towards the end of her character’s cancer storyline, which is arguably the most emotional arc The X-Files has ever pulled off. These are the days of the show when exposition scenes would be cut short because Scully’s nose would start bleeding, causing Mulder to make his adorable sad puppy faces. That happens in this episode, in fact, and it's what makes things to start get interesting. A single drop of blood that falls from Scully’s nasal cavity brings all the attention away from the mundane plot-of-the-week and to more important matters, where we really want it to belong anyway. Only then do we slowly begin to realize that, hey, this standalone actually does serve a function - it gives one of our main characters time to reflect and gather strength for the personal struggle that's up there, looming over the horizon.
Thanks to this, "Elegy" is much more of a memento mori than “Memento Mori” was.
- The other saving grace of “Elegy” has got to be the performances. This is a finely acted hour of television, folks. Everyone brings their A-game.
- Scully’s therapy session was absolutely fascinating to sit in on, and a surprisingly intimate moment for this show. Makes me wish this was a recurring plot device.
- Mulder and Scully’s emotional confrontation at the end is so, well, emotional. They really had some great material to work with during late Season 4 and they played it to the max.
- Unsettling ending is unsettling, yeah?
97. "Vienen" (8x18)
In the big proverbial messy pile of unfolded laundry that is The X-Files’ mythology, the black oil is pretty important, just like a favorite shirt. I mean, the first film was pretty much all about that, wasn’t it? And so was one of the video games. (I think.)
Even so, there came a time in the show’s run where our beloved evil slime was basically forgotten and dropped like a casual friend-with-benefits that was getting too attached. (The X-Files was always a little afraid of major long term storyline commitments, wasn't it?) Somehow, this episode happens to be the final appearance of the insidious goo that has unsuspecting minor characters everywhere saying, “You've got something in your eye.”
Okay, let's run with that FWB analogy, because that laundry metaphor I tried out up there didn't work out quite as well as I wanted it to.
"Vienen" is kinda like The X-Files was out at Target to look for a new shower curtain. The black oil just happened to be there too, in the bathroom section of all places, shopping for hand towels. It’d been over a year and a half since they’d last seen each other. Thus, it was kind of awkward. The X-Files would probably have avoided the black oil if he hadn’t had seen her first. But he did, so...The X-Files walked right up and asked how it had been, what it was doing. You know. All the stuff you feel like you should ask.
“I’ve been good,” the black oil would say. “I’m just here to buy some hand towels.” The conversation would awkwardly drift around for a bit until they'd both go their separate ways, wondering what the other one was thinking, feeling vaguely horny.
This is kind of unfortunate, because I think we can all agree that the black oil would have been a welcome addition to the sleepiness of Season 9 (yes, I’m harping on that yet again). But, it is what it is.
“Vienen” comes in the latter half of Season 8, AKA “The Better Part”. Mulder’s been back in action for a hot minute, even though he seems lost amongst the gritty new faces and the gory special effects. Once again, he’s the loose cannon, the rogue element, the wild card of the FBI. (Sorry, Dana. You just weren’t believer-y enough, girlfriend.) Which makes you wonder, how in the hell is this dude even still hired on?
Agent Doggett is assigned to discreetly investigate a mysterious death on an offshore oil rig, a set piece that seems both incredibly obvious and extremely convenient at the same time. Why did they wait this long to connect the black oil to a location like an oil rig? Never mind, I don’t really care.
The isolated atmosphere of the offshore rig gives “Vienen” a tasty flavor that’s straight from the palette of the first two or three seasons. That’s a good thing, right? Yep, sure is. Except, instead of Mulder and Scully bein’ all nosey somewhere and pissin’ minor characters off, it’s Mulder and Doggett this time. Doggett plays Scully, while the real Scully is off shore dressed up in an unconvincing fat suit and piping in exposition via radio transmission.
As previously evidenced in “Three Words” and “Empedocles”, the Mulder/Doggett dynamic is ripped from a ‘90s buddy cop movies with an extra scoop of testosterone mixed in. Because they’re manly men who are so very man-ish, their manliness clashes with one another creating man powered man-splosions every place they decide to be manny at. Because men, y’know?
This hyper masculine edge made me remember “Vienen” to be a lot more action packed than it really is. Despite the strong masculine overtones that fuel it, it’s a rather quiet thriller that takes its swee time telling the audience what’s going on - which is, again, very much a throwback to the show’s salad days.
The climax of the episode - in which Mulder and Doggett leap off of the “exploding” rig - is technically the only action sequence of note. But, hey, it’s manly and shit. Because fire. And jumping.
In the end, the great manly oil rig adventure comes across more like an on-the-job training exercise for Agent Doggett than anything else, just like a bunch of other episodes from Season 8. Mulder is just there to help Dogget learn how to flip the figurative burgers (i.e. unexplained cases) and work the deep fryer (i.e. deal with Kersh’s bureaucracy) of the metaphorical fast food joint that is the X-Files office. What a nice guy. (Okay, I am so done mixing my metaphors.)
- Oh, look at that, Mulder actually finally gets fired from the FBI at the end! For disobeying orders! It only took, what, a decade?
- Doggett: “You can find a conspiracy at a church picnic.”
Mulder: “Which church?”
96. "Monday" (6x14)
Groundhog’s Day. Yes, like so many other TV shows before it, The X-Files went there to pay homage. The time loop storytelling template is bever fails to be entertaining, because it’s perfect for showing off personality traits of the character who’s consciously experiencing the reruns.
What’s the plot here? Mulder gets caught reliving the same disastrous day over and over again, in which he gets caught up in a bank robbery that continues to end badly for everyone involved. The more he encounters the girlfriend of the robber (who is technically the real “Bill Murray” of the story) the more he starts to realize what’s going on.
I never thought much of this one until I rewatched it for the purpose of this article. Now I’m wondering why. "Monday" is a quality episode of The X-Files, not only because the gimmick is entertaining and the guest cast is stellar, but also because it gives us a glimpse of out two protagonists caught up in the mundanity of the daily grind, and it’s relatable. I mean, can you really think of another episode where Mulder has to go deposit his paystub directly at the bank just so a check won’t bounce? Or where Scully gets stuck in a very real, very tedious work meeting with her FBI colleagues that isn’t a heavy infodump to provide context for the plot-of-the-week?
Also, you gotta love the ‘splosions.
- Darren E. Burrows, who played Ed on Northern Exposure, was a superb casting choice for the role of the bank robber. (Does anyone else remember that show? And why is it completely forgotten? Really, I need answers.)
- The waterbed gag from “Dreamland” comes back to haunt Mulder to a hilarious degree (even thoug that two-parter has a low ranking).
95 & 94. "This is Not Happening/Deadalive" (8x14, 8x15)
What happened to Agent Mulder in Season 8? Where did he go, what did he eat, did he take pictures of it, where can we see them? Well, unfortunately, he didn’t eat anything because he was too busy having his face stretched out with space hooks by shapeshifting aliens that choose to look like oppressive German men. I guess they’re just really curious about what cheeks are and why they exist? I’m not really clear on that.
This two-parter gives us back our David Duchovny after like ten something episodes getting by with just the new dude (wasn’t he in Terminator 2?) and Scully, who started wearing an ungodly amount of turtlenecks all of a sudden, didn't she?
For the record, these are a good couple of episodes. A lot darker than I remember them being, but hey, how can you not get dark when killing off and then resurrecting your precious lead character?
Was that too spoilery? Oops. Okay, so yes, let’s just say that Mulder’s crazy abduction didn’t exactly leave him feeling too...alive. We find this out in a powerful moment at the end of “This is Not Happening” in which a desperate Scully falls to her knees and cries out, appropriately, “THIS IS NOT HAPPENING!!!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOO” (which is totally The X-Files equivalent of the Darth Vader thing at the end of Episode III.)
As a resolution to the “Where’s Mulder?” stunt arc, this pair of eps goes down a different path than most other mytharc sagas before it. Sure, the sci-fi/alien crap is still there as a foundation. But the horror elements that had started to take over the series at this juncture are plate up to their fullest degree. This means that we get a lot of beyond Cronenberg level disgusting body horror moments, like the Billy Miles shower scene in “DeadAlive”, that make other gross-out scenes from more notorious episodes like “The Host” seem domesticated.
These eps also have the pleasure of introducing us to Agent Monica Reyes, the Cousin Oliver of the show, a character that will go on to further cheapen the franchise the more screen time she was inexplicably allowed.
- I’ve always admired how they tied in Mulder’s abduction to forgotten characters from previous seasons you thought you’d never hear from again, like, again, Billy Miles and Jeremiah Smith (who was last seen at the way back at beginning of Season 4). It lends the series a sense of scope that should have been utilized a lot more.
- The UFO sequences here are some of the best The X-Files has ever done.
- The big jump in time at the beginning of “DeadAlive” leaves you wondering what happened during the three months after Mulder was buried. Can't you just imagine a grieving Scully coping with her loss while continuing to work on X-Files cases with Doggett? There must have been an awesomely moody monster-of-the-week adventure somewhere in there.
93. "Daemonicus" (9x03)
The new agents are assigned to look into a disgusting Satanic double homicide in which a man was tricked into killing his own wife. Agent Reyes feels a haunting sense of true evil at the crime scene, which Agent Doggett questions thoroughly. After consulting with Scully at her new job teaching at Quantico, all three agents are drawn into a sickening game played by a possessed mental patient and a pair of strange demonic figures. But Doggett continues to ask himself: is it all a hoax?
This is a prime example of a “new X-File” done right. The sinister atmosphere, the serpentine plot-twists, and the outrageously shocking horror sequences are precisely what the rest of Season 9 should have capitalized on. I’m tempted to go out on a limb and say this is probably the best episode out of that entire year (and I would probably be right), but, by all means, judge for yourself.
- The puke scene must be seen to be believed.
- It’s interesting how this episode goes out of its way to establish that Scully is no longer even working in the same building as the X-Files division, and that she is moving on with her life, personally and professionally speaking. The rest of the season all but forgets this, giving her gobs of time to run around investigating bargain bin X-Files cases with the newbies. What gives, you guys?
- Apparently Robert Patrick isn’t a fan of "Daemonicus" because it felt too disturbing to be shot and aired around the 9/11 tragedy. I get his reasoning, but when viewed outside of this context, it’s really not so bad.
92. "Terms of Endearment" (6x07)
Bruce Campbell guest stars! And he’s a demon. A demon that wants your baby. Nothing else needs to be said. Just watch it.
- “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage is somehow the theme song of the episode, even though it was released a good three or four years prior to its airing. Garbage's second album was already out by then. Why not promote that?
- Don’t you love it when Mulder gets all up in the bad-guy-of-the-week’s grill? Sure, it’s harassment, but it’s a justified harassment that’s so fun to watch.
91. "Millennium" (7x04)
Whether or not you’ve seen Chris Carter’s other short-lived yet brilliant show, Millennium, may determine how much you’ll enjoy this one. Me, personally? I’m a big fan of it. It was an amazing series that took a lot more risks than The X-Files ever had the balls to try.
Strangely enough, I’m not like most of the other huge Millennium fans out there who absolutely detest this episode. That doesn’t mean that I don’t understand their reasoning - or that I disagree with it. No, "Millennium" is most definitely not the ideal resolution to the three years of emotional torture and loss that stoic antihero Frank Black survived with a grave expression welded to his face. No, its oversimplified nature most certainly does not do the mind-bending, eon-spanning global conspiracy of the Millennium Group any narrative justice. And, no, sadly, it’s not a satisfying send-off for a character that deserves to be an icon like his sexier, alien loving cousins.
But is it good to see Frank and Fox and Dana all team-up together, at last, facing off against undead zombies of all things, like the genre heroes they really are? Um, yes. Yes, it sure as hell is. If that’s all the FOX network would let Carter and the writing team get away with, then I’m going to be thankful. Maybe you should too? (It's just a suggestion...)
Oh yeah. That kiss.
- Delicious crossover goodness.
- Frank Black gets a happier ending than he did on his own show. What’s not to love?
- Zombies!!! (Did I already mention that?)
- The dad from Donnie Darko plays a necromancer. A necromancer! I mean, come on. That’s some cool shit right there.
90. "Small Potatoes" (4x20)
A shapeshifting rapist poses as Mulder in order to get some somethin'-somethin' from Scully.
And that’s about it. “Small Potatoes” is a classic for sure, and although I remember it being a lot funnier at the time, I hate to admit that it hasn’t aged incredibly well. I suppose that’s because it aired during the time when The X-Files zeitgeist was at its peak, and Mulder and Scully's will they/won’t they roller coaster could be milked for sweeps material. (Ah, what simpler times those were.)
Watching this today, with the whole rape theme in mind, "Small Potatoes" seems a tad insensitive. But hey, we’ve got some great material here in which we get to question Mulder’s life choices and become aware that, yes, he’s actually a pretty big nerd that wastes his studliness by choosing to spend most of his life in a basement. Now that's commentary.
- “Does he have a lightsaber?”
- Darin Morgan plays the shapeshifter. I didn’t know that until just now. (Don't kill me.)
- This episode’s template will be ripped off - and drawn out - later in Season 6’s “Dreamland”. It's much more entertaining here, trust me.
89 & 88. "Talitha Cumi/Herrenvolk" (3x24, 4x01)
The Season 3 finale and the Season 4 premiere once again shake up the world of the The X-Files, killing off familiar faces and introducing fresh ones that will come back to haunt Mulder and Scully much later on in the show’s run.
A tragic shooting at a fast food restaurant in Virginia. A mysterious man named Jeremiah Smith heals all of the victims just by laying his hands on them. What are the source of his strange powers, and what is his connection to the Cigarette Smoking Man? And what do they have to do with Mulder’s mother’s recent stroke? The search for these answers leads Mulder into a fateful face-off with Mr. X, a mysterious colony of clones in Canada, and bees! A shit ton of bees.
- Cancer Man and Mulder’s mom...hmm…
- Love me some of these action sequences. Specifically the chase scene at the beginning of “Herrenvolk”. Yum.
- The bees will be used again throughout this season and will eventually return again in the movie. Ultimately, though, they'll be ditched just like the faceless rebels and other weird stuff I’m probably forgetting about.
87. "Demons" (4x23)
Mulder wakes up in a hotel room, covered in someone else’s blood, without a clue of how he got there or what he’s been doing. He keeps having flashbacks to his childhood where witnesses a fight between his parents about his sister - and he remembers seeing a cigarette smoking man there. As Agent Scully tries to backtrack and figure out what’s going on with her wacky partner, she discovers a psychological experiment that went terribly wrong.
Is this filler or yet another puzzle piece in the over arching mythology? I remembered it to be more of the latter, but now, upon rewatch, “Demons” comes off as just another tease. Truths about Samantha and Mulder’s mom are hinted at, and will eventually be disclosed at some point in the far off future. But not here, in this late Season 4 episode, when the show was still playing all of its narrative cards close to its chest.
I guess Mulder is supposed to be the damsel in distress here while Scully takes a turn as the knight in shining armor, but this dynamic swap immediately falls flat. I’m not sure exactly why. If it was business as usual, Mulder would be owning the shit out of the hero role like he always does, busting chops and beating up informants in a deserted parking lot on a rainy evening just to exonerate his best lady friend. But it’s like the writers won’t let Scully embrace this fully and do something risky. Maybe it’s just more in line with her character, who can be passive and by the book during some cases. I dunno. But Mulder’s name needs clearing here - he needs her help to find the evidence to bail him out. This should feel way more urgent than it does. Unfortunately, it’s played like “just another case-of-the-week”, and it is, despite the spooky flashbacks and the emotional weight of its circumstances.
- The flashbacks look grainy and dated today, but back then they were haunting and definitely the most memorable part.
- I guess I forgot that the Cancer Man was hinted at being Mulder’s father so early on. I only remember this becoming very overt around Season 7.
86 & 85. "Within/Without" (8x01, 8x02)
The Season 8 premiere is all about dealing with the fallout of the Season 7 finale "Requiem". Mulder is missing. Scully’s pregnant. Where does the show go from here? Into intensity. And, ultimately, absurdity. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Introducing the storyline of Mulder’s abduction injected a new and much needed sense of life into a series that was getting sleepy...very sleepy. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and this is absolutely true in Duchovny’s case. At last, X-Files fans everywhere faced an undeniable truth - they had it pretty good for all those years, with just Mulder and Scully hanging out, chasing mummies in Iowa, racking up frequent flier miles and kissing politely every other year. Seeing Mulder and Scully in action together was now instantly nostalgic upon Duchovny’s departure.
This two-parter introduced who was to become the replacement-cum-underdog hero of the later years of The X-Files: Agent John Doggett, played by Robert Patrick. And what an entrance he made. Scully herself threw water in his face, a symbolic gesture that represented the general consensus of the devoted fanbase at the time. Who was this chiseled newbie who wanted to replace our favorite paranoid hero? Who was this skeptical army vet who trusted the government and scoffed at conspiracy? Who does he think he is, anyway?
The brilliance of his character, who would ultimately become one of the most stable and trustworthy figures the show ever had, is something that will hopefully continue to be realized as the years go on.
- It was great to have Gibson Praise back, even if the way he was shoehorned in doesn’t make any kind of sense.
- Duchovny actually does appear here in a nonspeaking role, and he's in the opening credits, but it's like he’s just another one of the special effects. It’s weird.
- This is the debut of Mark Snow’s “Scully’s Theme”, which was originally composed for Season 7’s “all things”. Back then, it was a bold cinematic choice. Now, it’s just more icing on the melodramatic cake.
84 & 83. "Two Fathers/One Son" (6x11, 6x12)
It was the middle of Season 6. Fans were getting restless with all of the teasing that they survived in the past year or so. “The movie will reveal the truth you’ve been waiting for!” Yeah, no. It really didn’t. “Wait, okay, the new season will answer all of your questions! It will be like nothing you’ve ever seen before!” Hmm. Nope. It mostly frittered its time away with cutesy standalones featuring B-list celebrities.
Obviously, it was high time to do some damage control. “Let’s answer some of those questions we pretended we were going to. Let’s throw out all of that Syndicate stuff. All of it. And the bees. And the chips. And those weird eyeless guys with the flammable cattle prods. Who were they again?”
And so we have this two-part mythology cleanup fest. FOX advertised it as “Full Disclosure” in their promos (which were - surprise - more exciting than what we actually got). These were incredibly talky episodes in which we got a huge amount of info dumped on us that we felt we so desperately needed at the time. We found out about the alien human hybrids, the reasoning behind Samantha’s disappearance, the Syndicate’s overall master plan, Cassandra Spender’s purpose, and even the Cigarette Smoking Man’s (partial) name! Whew. That’s a lot, son.
Although these are masterpieces in the context of the show’s large overarching story, they are utterly impenetrable to anyone who hasn’t watched all that came before it. So, in that sense, these are going to bore the hell out of the uninitiated newbies. But to us hardcore philes, it’s a love letter.
- Seeing (or, rather, hearing) the Syndicate be burned alive by the faceless rebels is probably one of the most chilling scenes to come out of The X-Files.
- Agent Fowley felt like more of a hindrance here than she did in previous episodes. Scully’s overemotional reactions to her might be a big part of that.
- Also, that part where Mulder runs into a weak and experimented on Marita Covarrubias? That’s always haunted me just a lil’.
- CSM gives some of the best monologues, don’t you think?
82. "Via Negativa" (8x07)
One of the greatest Doggett focus eps also happens to be a pretty decent psychological thriller. Agent Scully takes some time off because of that whole having one in the oven thing. So what does Agent Doggett do? He tries to kill her in her sleep. What a joker.
Kidding aside, there’s a lot more to it than that. Like an evil psychic religious cult leader and rats and a creepy old axe and a bad batch of LSD and some scary third eye action going on. Plus, there's some Skinner’s thrown in there too, just for fun. It’s hard to summarize, so just go ahead and watch it. But be prepared: it’s a fairly cheerless hour of television.
- I completely forgot about Doggett's dream sequence with Scully’s severed head! Jesus, Season 8 is literally the bloodiest ever, isn’t it?
- The final act is superbly pronounced. The last scene in particular has such an unsettling gravity to it. Bravo, everyone.
- It’s so satisfying to see Skinner step up to the plate and start taking a more active, open minded role in cases like this. What he witnessed in “Requiem” really did transform his character. Why is that strangely overlooked by everyone ever?
81. "Theef" (7x14)
No joke: this episode is legit fucked up. A successful doctor and his happy family are terrorized by an evil southern man who practices hexcraft. Expect lots of blood and trauma. I promise that you’ll never look at a CAT scan the same way again. Of course, this means it’s one of the scariest X-File monster-of-the-weeks ever produced. See it. You’ll never unsee it. And other horror movie poster taglines.
- Billy Drago plays the role of voodoo killer dude so well.
- Even the intro is f***ed up. Just take a look at that screencap!
- Seriously. Watch. This. Episode.
80. "Grotesque" (3x14)
A crazy artist is killing people and blaming it on gargoyles. Mulder believes him, so of course his mind begins to unravel too…(oops).
“Grotesque” is one of the most classic monsters-of-the-week efforts ever. I see why - it’s got that rich and foreboding atmosphere the franchise quickly became synonymous with. This one's got all the ingredients. Dark abandoned warehouse-y rooms, cold drizzly nights, Mark Snow’s overpowering gothic industrial musical score, angsty Mulder faces. Even some blood here and there.
In retrospect, this charm does not hide the fact that the story is a little, shall we say, thin. It pretends to be so much more darker and horrific than it actually is. It’s pretty much all bark and no bite. Well, no, that’s not true. It nibbles. Not enough to draw blood, but just enough for you to say “Ow, stop it! Bad Grotesque! Why did you do that?”
Which is a shame, because it has all of the elements of a Thomas Harris-esque soul scraping horror show. There’s so much to play with here, especially in the subtext department. The implication that the monstrous gargoyle that’s running around making sculptures out of corpses is all just an illusion, that it’s really our own inner darkness externalized as a kind of sick mirage is a fantastically unnerving idea, and just the sort of twist the show is capable of delivering well.
But instead, we witness the real culprit behind all these satanic arts and crafts (who is such an obvious choice that you could guess they did it when the character was introduced in the first act) transform into said gargoyle monster while facing off against Mulder. It may be effective, it may be visually interesting, and sure, it may be the show's bread and butter. But it’s too on-the-nose, less Hannibal and more Supernatural. At the time of its airing, though, I probably wouldn’t have had much to compare it to, so I’ll give it a pass.
- Seriously though. The atmosphere here is gets under your skin. Makes me miss that early ‘90s gothic aesthetic.
- Snow’s score during the scene in which Mulder heads to the artist’s secret studio late at night is so perfect, it’s like its own narrator. Very reminiscent of sequences from Dario Argento films like Inferno or Phenomena.
- The guest casting for "Grotesque" was equally incredible. “Let’s hire these dudes because they totally resemble gargoyles.” Okay!
- Let’s just say, if you’re a fan of That ‘70s Show, you might enjoy this one.
79. "Tithonus" (6x10)
After meeting a mysterious photographer who manages to take pictures of people right before they die, Scully comes face to face with both death and immortality. But, the question is, which one is more terrifying? One of the most underrated standalones ever. Do not miss.
- A classic Scully episode, one that’s not bogged down by the Catholic stuff or the infertility blues.
- To this day, I still can’t get over what happens in the final act.
78 & 77. "Nisei/731" (3x09, 3x10)
Oh alien autopsies. You are so 1995. I remember when you were so synonymous with The X-Files franchise that anyone pictured you soon as they heard its name uttered. Which is funny, because there were barely a handful of episodes that featured you.
These two happen to be in that modest bunch. And they’re good, yes. They serve as a fun little chapter in the mythology. Yet, somehow, they’re not that memorable. I can only recall just a few moments sitting here now, writing this, having just rewatched them for the first time in over a decade.
This is not to say this two-parter is uneventful - the shit, it definitely goes down in "Nisei/731". We get action sequences and more details about Scully’s abduction and some intense Mr. X crap. But...if I were to pick a couple mytharc eps to watch for fun on a rainy day (or perhaps even a sunny one), these wouldn’t be on the short list.
- The effects make up for the weird fugitive patients were….kind of Star Trek-y, actually.
- Train car goes boom.
- Love the sequence of events that kick this saga off.
76. "Kill Switch" (5x11)
It’s a little ironic that, despite how much our lives have become defined and transformed by the technology we use, the cyberpunk genre went into hibernation sometime back in the 1990s. I’m sure William Gibson, the leading pioneer of the movement, would probably agree with me on that. He co-wrote this Season 5 episode with Tom Maddox (another early cyberpunk visionary) about a rogue AI system that’s developed a curious taste for blood. Mulder and Scully team up with a mysterious young woman, Esther AKA Invisgoth, to track it down at its source and pull the plug.
Deep down, "Kill Switch" is about how we’re using technology to access and preserve different parts of our inner self in hopes to attain immortality. But on its surface, it’s about virtual reality and kung fu kicks and guns being fired, kind of like The Matrix before The Matrix ever Matrix-ed. And I kinda love it.
There’s something about the aesthetic of this episode that I really enjoy, being a big fan of that virtual reality side of the ‘90s, which feels creepier here than it does most anywhere else. The climax sequence in which Esther and Scully infiltrate an abandoned RV trailer to rescue Mulder from the mainframe computer system he’s trapped inside of is colorfully spooky, like a an old Nine Inch Nails video.
And, for a tech-heavy piece of television, the sparse and no-tech atmospheric filming locations were an interesting way to visually juxtapose the theme of man versus computer - and save a few bucks in the process. Most of the settings are empty fields and old diners. If a story like this would be told on TV today, it wouldn’t have sophisticated, artistic touches such as that.
- Although it hasn’t aged incredibly well, Mulder’s VR mindwarp still might be one the raddest moments of the whole series.
- Scully shoots a tiny robot. With her gun. We are not worthy.
- All of the main cast knocks their performances out of the park here. Especially our Lone Gunmen.
75 & 74. "Sein und Zeit/Closure" (7x10, 7x11)
“All right already! What happened to Mulder’s sister?! We need to know. Now. No more clones, no more serial killer fakeouts, no more cryptic Cigarette Smoking Man monologues. Just give us the truth. Jesus Christ, y’all, it’s been seven years!”
Fine. Maybe this wasn’t what most people were saying back in 2000. I mean, yeah, we already heard about why she disappeared. That was all fine and dandy. But what happened to her after she was taken? Was she kept alive? Did she become queen of the aliens? Is she a stripper in Sacramento? Where did she go?
This two-parter will tell you. Maybe the answer isn’t what you want to hear. Maybe it’s not what you expected. Maybe it’s not as, I dunno, “sci-fi” as you want it to be. But get over it. You’re going to have the feels anyway.
Is it insensitive to tell the final Samantha Mulder story through the lens of a "ripped from the headlines" Jon-Benet Ramsey allegory? Maybe. It’s most definitely a very ‘90s thing to do. But it makes sense, given that both girls became these tragically mysterious cultural figures during those years.
Most critics have been supremely critical of the way these episodes tie up such a long running (and surprisingly neglected) storyline. I get why. It feels out of step with the earlier themes and storytelling tricks that the series relied on in its heydey. (Which, sad to say, was over at this point in its run.) In fact, the resolution feels like it was stolen from a different show. That’s because The X-Files had evolved into a completely different beast in 2000 than it had been in, say, 1995. It was no longer about fear, uncertainty and overcast paranoia; it was now about sentimentality, reflection and faith. Thus, the Samantha Mulder mystery arc was wrapped up in a way that it always should have been - sensitively. The resolution was about acceptance and completion. It was about crawling out of the rabbit hole - not about staying buried within it to remain sheltered from reality.
One thing’s for certain, though: this marked the end of the road for Fox Mulder’s journey as a character. This was was a truth that both the show and the staff knew for damn sure, as seasons 8 and 9 will tell you.
- The easter egg reference to Carter’s other-other-other cancelled show Harsh Realm is a treat, but super confusing if you don’t get it.
- Moby’s “My Weakness” will forever give me the super mega feels.
- Speaking of which, maybe it sounds silly, but these are the only episodes of The X-Files that have ever made me cry. 😢
73. "D.P.O." (3x03)
Yes, the iconic lightning boy episode starring the one and only Giovanni Ribisi. A legitimately classic X-Files standalone that packs a good amount of tension yet still feels slower than later attempts.
If it weren’t for the remarkable cast here, this one would be placed much further down on the totem pole. It doesn’t hold up well when compared to episodes that came after it, and even some of those that came before it. It’s slow and predictable, and the plot is, tbh, nothing to write home about.
But it’s just so ‘90s, you know? Like the dark side of the ‘90s. Where grunge music videos and Liquid Television and Marilyn Manson all hung out. Thus, as a time capsule, “D.P.O.” deserves its place in the X-Files hall of fame. But storywise? It’s unremarkable.
- Did I mention Jack Black is there, too?
- Filter’s song “Hey Man, Nice Shot” is featured during a pivotal death scene. After this, the band itself came to be associated with this franchise, appearing on both soundtrack albums with some pretty great tunes. I’ve always wonderd if the lead singer, Richard Patrick, played a role in getting his brother Robert signed on to play Agent Doggett a few years later.
- I don’t know what it is about Karen Witter but her acting kinda sucks here. Her performance clashed with literally everyone else’s in this episode. And come on, her supermodel look was very out of place in the grimy setting of small town Oklahoma. If you want to single out a weak point here, it’s got to be her.
72. "Patience" (8x03)
It’s Scully and Doggett’s first case together, so of course it’s gotta be a doozy. There’s this bat creature in Idaho, see. Kind of vampire-y. Kind of not. It marks people. Then it kills them. Yup. Not much to talk about there, but everything else is pretty great. Like Scully’s first turn at taking on the believer role, for instance.
Gillian Anderson plays this as self-conscious and as uncomfortably as possible, and it works. She is now viewed by her colleagues and local law enforcement as “the weird one” as she tries on Mulder’s shoes for size (and inherits his porn collection, if she wants to). But as we all know, Mulder always wore those shoes with a sense of “fuck you” pride. Scully realizes now that carrying herself this way is much harder than it looks.
Meanwhile, Doggett is now taking Scully’s former role as the skeptic. Except he’s not an bookish naysayer with a PhD; he’s a practical, down-to-earth, no-nonsense military man. His meat and potatoes style grates against Scully's adventurous scientific nature in a delightful way, giving The X-Files an intriguing new sense of life that it would never have gotten if Mulder stuck around.
Actually, you know what? I love everything about “Patience”. So what if the monster plot is a load of guano? So what if the guest stars act like they're from the deep south instead of rural Idaho? So what if Agent Doggett or Agent Scully aren’t the perfect substitutes for Mulder? The edges are a little rough, but this is a quintessential X-File at its core, and one of the most important episodes the show has ever pulled off because it shows how the series's format can carry on after a big upheaval and still be engaging.
- Love the scenes in which Scully sounds like a loon. It was so inspiring to see her character have enough courage to think and act like the person she had admired for so long.
- If you view this as a character focus episode and not just another creature feature, it’s not as hoakey.
- I always wondered if this means the bat monster thingy will come back to kill Scully later on down the line...
71. "One Breath" (2x08)
One one hand, this is one of the most important X-Files episodes ever. It resolves the earliest narrative shakeup stunts the show ever pulled: Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy. Crap, wait, I mean, Agent Scully’s abduction. (Same thing.)
At the time of its airing, “One Breath” was highly experimental. It was a landmark that served as a cathartic emotional release, a spiritual journey that’s also a sincere character study, something that later mytharc climaxes would refer to as a template.
But, when viewed in retrospect, after having spent years and years witnessing how the show’s storytelling evolved and grew more comfortable with its identity, this episode may across as melodramatic. This is in part due to Duchovny’s over-earnest delivery. He oversells Mulder’s emotional response to the situation, which sounds harsh, I know. But a majority of Mulder’s screentime in the first year and a half was spent playing out the same neutral character beats, so such an emotional outbreak feels out of character.
If Duchovny oversells the drama, Anderson somehow manages to undersells it. She doesn’t have much to do or say, being in a coma most of the time, but when we see her she looks like she’s waiting for her name to be called at the DMV rather than being a lost spirit floating somewhere in the backwoods of British Columbia.
Speaking of which - those dream sequences. They’re quite good, actually. Visually memorable. You can tell the production was really aiming for a Twin Peaks-y vibe but did their own thing with it in the process. Scully’s father’s monologue, for instance, is a great moment indeed. It looks so early ‘90s, you just gotta love it.
The twist about the angelic nurse at the end, however, I can live without.
- Scully’s sister gets introduced. She’s not going to stick around for long though…
- Skinner has a bigger role than ever to play here, one of his first “assists”.
70. "Zero Sum" (4x21)
Skinner’s up to something. He’s trying to bury an X-File case that Mulder is looking into. And it has something to do with those evil, evil bees. Is this because he made a secret deal with the Cigarette Smoking Man? If so, what were the terms of that mysterious agreement? Okay, I’m done asking rhetorical questions now. Just watch the f***ing episode.
Wait, hold on. Before you do that, let’s take a second to talk about how this is, like, the best Skinner episode ever. How come? It gives him something to do. He’s not put in peril like he is in “Avatar” or “S.R. 819”. He’s not given some menial subplot that has no bearing on the main storyline - he’s dealing with loose ends from the mythology that at the time seemed very confusing (and, let’s face it, probably still do). It also reaffirms that Skinner’s character is still pretty shady, manipulative and loves to hang out in that grey area.
“Zero Sum” isn’t like your standard X-Files episode either. It takes a break from the standard procedural routine to give us a mysterious Hitchcock-ian suspense thriller the series normally doesn’t do. We see the action from the perspective of someone who is more closely involved with the “dark side”, whether he likes it or not. Part of the fun here is watching Skinner try to outsmart both Agent Mulder and the Cancer Man at the same time, which has got to be a tricky.
- Marita Covarrubias, the sexy informant with a name you can’t spell, makes another one of her sporadic appearances here. She really vamps it up this time, too. I bet someone like Kristin Wiig would do a great impression of her.
- This episode has a lot of bee deaths that are, quite frankly, hard to sit through. There’s this one scene that opens with a close up on the face of a kid who was stung to death, lying down in the hospital. The doctor pulls a sheet over his face and says “I’m sorry” as the child’s mother starts to sob. How dark is that shit?!
- The dialogue for this one must have sounded ridiculous on paper. I am consistently amazed at how well the production sold this material.
69, 68 & 67. "Biogenesis/The Sixth Extinction I & II" (6x22, 7x01, 7x02)
It was the end of Season 6, the year that changed The X-Files as we knew it (well, the first time, anyway). Everything was different now. Shooting in dry and sunny LA lended not just a lighter tone to most of the episodes, but also allowed room for a more star-studded experience that contributed to said levity. On top of that, years and years of mythology involving the Syndicate and the alien invasion had been thrown out in a mid season two-parter ("Two Fathers/One Son"). So, where do Fox and Dana go from here?
"Biogenesis", the Season 6 finale, is very much concerned with finding an answer to this. So much so, in fact, that a weary Agent Scully breaks down and asks an incredibly dazed Mulder that very question. “What more could you possibly do or hope to find?” “My sister,” he answers. Which is someone that everyone had more or less forgotten about in the wake of all of the high-stakes blockbuster adventures these two had been through.
But just as soon as she’s mentioned, the plot puts Samantha Mulder back on the shelf, teasing us of what’s to come in the following year. What it gives us instead is a new kind of mythology, one that's more existential and sweeping in scope than what came before. Is it as compelling, though? That’s definitely up for debate.
A mysterious rock has been found on the coast of Africa. Inscribed on it's surface is Navajo writing, among other human languages and quotes from religious tomes. Upon investigating this “magic rock”, Mulder starts going insane in the membrane and is placed in a mental institution. Meanwhile, Scully tracks down an old friend in the desert who can translate and explain what’s on the rock.
This is all resolved in an unexpectedly dreamlike fashion in the following episodes, the first of Season 7: "The Sixth Extinction I" and "The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati". What had begun as a darkly intriguing throwback to the murkier seasons had now turned into something completely unexpected: a sentimental two-parter that features two wildly different plots running in tandem. One is Scully’s Lovecraftian adventures investigating the rocky alien remains in West Africa. The other is a sentimentally trippy character study of Fox Mulder, presented through the lens of The Last Temptation of Christ. No joke: Fox Mulder himself is treated as a Christ-like figure, complete with moments of not-so-subtle iconography.
Is this the worst trio of mythology episodes? Not by a long shot. In fact, I think they’re some of the most fascinating, even if they end off in a tenderhearted and intimate space that show had just begun to explore.
- "Biogenesis" is one of my personal favorite season finales ever. It’s very “back to the basics”, and even has a lot of visual similarities to “The Erlenmeyer Flask” (like the weird monkey experiments).
- Not so sure how I feel about how Agent Fowley being killed offscreen. Seemed like a very cheap way to write her off the show and an apology to all the rabid shipper fans out there.
- Gotta love how the repercussions of Mulder’s operation will have lasting effects you won’t find out about until Season 8.
66. "Alone" (8x19)
This is a fun episode. Mulder has been back in action for a hot minute after his abduction. He’s been doing the buddy cop thing with Doggett, which is actually a lot more entertaining to watch than anyone could have guessed. Scully’s finally on maternity leave because of that weird Jesus baby she’s been baking for what seems like forever. And Agent Doggett, well...he's not sure where to go from here. So guess what? We get to meet a new character, Agent Layla Harrison, who is basically a big X-Files fan girl full of Mulder and Scully trivia. (And, yes, she is a funny little plot device.)
Agents Mulder, Doggett and Harrison all get sucked into this crazy kooky monster-of-the-week case that gets ugly fast. There’s this whole thing with a reptile shapeshifting dude and a spooky underground cave place beneath a mansion. Plus, a couple characters go blind! Neat, huh?
This episode’s secret agenda is to examine Agent Doggett’s issues with finding his place in the world after Mulder’s return. The episode’s title, in fact, is mostly referring to his emotional state, being the only person officially assigned to the X-Files unit. Can the X-Files be managed by a single man who has no crusade? He’s not Mulder, he’s not Scully. He’s Agent Doggett, a man who lives and dies by the facts - less National Enquirer, more Newsweek. He’s a fish out of water that just inherited a few acres of dry land and has no idea what to do with it. There are some beautiful character moments for Doggett because of this which Patrick plays so well. As a lead actor who was slowly taking over a huge franchise, I'm sure he could relate.
Stay tuned for the ending to this one. It’s one of the funniest and most self-aware moments in the show’s entire run. If you’re a die hard fan like me, you’ll want to watch it over and over because it’s that damn cute.
- Vince Gilligan wrote and directed "Alone", and I'm so very thankful that he did. It’s in my personal top ten.
- Layla Harrison is kinda Mary Sue-ish but she was meta before meta, so whatevs.
- Speaking of her, how funny was it when she would bring up weird old cases to try and be helpful that Doggett would only react to uncomfortably because they all sound ridiculous?
65. "En Ami" (7x15)
Scully goes on a road trip with the Cigarette Smoking Man.
By that one sentence description alone, you’d think this is an episode of The X-Files that shouldn’t exist. And you’d be right - that’s what makes this adventure one of the best.
There’s some miracle science and some throwback themes to Scully’s cancer arc from Season 4, but it’s really all about how CSM and Dana go on a trip together. This showcases the supervillain’s human side beautifully, more so than maybe even "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" did. (Probably because William B. Davis wrote the script himself.)
This is also one of the ballsy risks the show realized it could start taking so late in the game. And, obviously, it paid off.
- That dinner scene though.
- Take a good look at that lake they filmed at. You’ll see it again, only a few episodes later, in “Patience”.
64. "The Unnatural" (6x19)
The first episode of The X-Files written and directed by David Duchovny is about baseball. 1940s baseball. And racial segregation. And aliens.
One of the more memorable entries from Season 6, “The Unnatural” is not your average standalone. Because it hardly features the main cast, it’s more like a throwaway episode from one of the anthology series that inspired this franchise’s format. That said, this one doesn’t really do much for me. I appreciate its ambition and its sweetness, which was a great tonal shakeup (at the time of airing).
But I gotta be honest: I’m not into baseball. I didn’t grow up playing it, watching it, or having anyone in my life who motivated me to be interested in it. I’m not hating on it by any means, but it’s not my cup of T-ball. (I’ll still rep the Giants though. ;) Thus, I want to like this episode more than I do - but it bores me. Duchovny’s next effort in Season 7 was far superior because it took the X-formula and had some much needed fun with it. "The Unnatural", however, can be cute or offensive, depending on how you want to view it. Personally, I don’t think I have a reason to rewatch it again, and I’m okay with that.
- The alien wearing the baseball cap. Duh.
- Mulder and Scully’s baseball magic at the end. <3
63. "all things" (7x17)
Guess what? The only episode ever written and directed by Gillian Anderson is about Agent Scully! Shocking, I know. What’s up with her personal life, anyway? Did she ever have one outside of the first season? Or did she spend most of her time memorizing the glossaries in the back of all her college textbooks?
“all things” takes a few minutes to finally give Dana Scully some desperately needed character background. We find out that she once had a love affair with a teacher of hers from medical school and it was a little, shall we say, scandalous. We also find out that her spirituality is much more fluid than her Catholic baggage suggests. And we also find out that she likes to listen to Moby. A lot.
- Love the ambient sequences.
- This has to be the only episode to feature a lesbian character.
- The opening scene with Mulder and Scully bantering is one of my favorite X-Files moments ever. (And, for the record, this episode is another one that's high up on my list of personal faves.)
62. "Wetwired" (3x23)
Okay, yes, it’s a time capsule. It’s about television and how the airwaves can program and manipulate your brain. It’s also full of artifacts like VHS tapes (my favorite) and arguments about violence on TV. (Which is such a moot point nowadays.)
Still, “Wetwired” is a solid X-File if you look past the trappings of its outdated nature. For three seasons, the show’s philosophy of “trust no one” was seen through the character of Fox Mulder and his personal struggle. He was the poster boy for paranoia. Dana Scully was just there to ground this and study it at the same time, to be the rational force of gravity of the show. Which is funny, because she'd been through a lot more trials and tribulations than her partner ever did during the short time they were working together in pursuit of the truth.
This is the first time we get to see Scully be the paranoid one - and it’s really, really unnnerving. Without her character’s calming presence firmly in place, the show feels that much more dire and dangerous. It’s like all of the paranoia and conspiracy she surrounded herself with during the past three years all caught up with her.
The thing is, you know it’s a fakeout. You know that her delusions and hallucinations aren’t real at all, and you know for certain that everything will be okay in 20 minutes or so. But you’re still right there with her, feeling everything she’s feeling, in a state of unbearably gloomy tension. This episode is full of fakeout moments that on paper sound like a wild goose chase - but it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. The early Vancouver, BC days of The X-Files was overcast and dark and rainy, it’s own kind of noir. The atmosphere here sells everything.
- We find out Mulder is red/green colorblind.
- The trademark Millennium “boom boom” noises make a cameo.
61 & 60 & 59. "Gethsemane/Redux I & II" (4x24, 5x01 & 5x02)
At the end of Season 4, the stakes were set perilously high. Mulder was in the middle of what was perhaps his biggest personal crisis - and was presumed to be dead. Scully was literally on her deathbed. A whole season overflowing with gloom and doom converged at a quiet and understated finale, "Gethsemane", that served as a capstone of emotional turmoil for both characters. It ended with a cliffhanger that left everyone and their mom’s dog theorizing about what would happen throughout the summer of 1997.
When Season 5 began later that fall, the two parter that was to wrap everything up, "Redux I & II" had quite a lot to accomplish in a limited amount of time. How do you provide resolution to a whole year of intense storytelling? How do you close out its themes while setting up new plot threads? How do you back out of killing off a pivotal main character and make it not feel cheap? How do you reset back to the status quo without pissing off your fanbase? Answer: as carefully as possible.
Although these episode succeed in turning things around, they aren’t perfect and come across as a little dry. “Redux I”, for instance, is especially boring. It’s padded out with narrated montages of old stock footage from WWII and Roswell that make you feel like you're watching the History Channel. Even so, the emotional performances given by both Duchovny and Anderson here are landmarks of the entire series and should not be missed - period. Forget that some of the plot elements don’t make a lot of logical sense. And forget that you fell asleep through most of the middle. Just focus on the emotions here, dammit.
- Wasn’t this so preciously epic at the time it aired? Looking at it now, it’s more anticlimactic than anything else. (Even if a major character gets shot and left for dead at the end.)
- It’s insulting that Scully’s health (and life) is constantly reduced to collateral in Mulder’s game with the Syndicate and their conspiracy. And, in turn, it’s equally insulting for the resolution of her cancer arc - a very personal storyline - to be all about Mulder. Everything revolves around Mulder in The X-Files...even long after he left the show.
- Michael Kritschgau is such an undersung supporting minor character. He comes back again next season, but only briefly.
58 & 57. "Essence/Existence" (8x20, 8x21)
Season 8 is perhaps the most controversial year of The X-Files ever. And for good reason - Mulder wasn’t around much, Robert Patrick took over as a lead actor in his absence, and Scully was mysteriously knocked up. It’s also one of the only seasons ever to feature a groundbreaking serialized remix of standalone and mytharc stuff blended together.
So, how did they end an incredibly ballsy year of television? With as much action as they could muster.
This was totally appropriate, too. By this point (as I may have mentioned before) The X-Files was no longer the cerebral exploration of the small town horrors that hide in the dark. It was a wham-bam thank you ma’am sci-fi action potboiler that kept you on the edge of your seat while grossing you out with buckets of blood and guts in the process.
Naturally, the final two episode of this season had to be explosive. And they are - even if there aren’t any, y’know, explosions. We finally get a payoff for Scully’s pregnancy, which winds up being presented as this Judeo-Christian allegory that no one asked for. But I see the reasoning behind it. I mean, how else are you going to present an “immaculate conception”? Of course you’d have to reference all of that Bible crap.
But making this out to be a big spiritual moment for the show falls flat because the rest of this two-parter is filled with intense action sequences and gorey showdowns that seem to be there to balance out the sacred with the profane. Not that I don’t mind this - I really do enjoy it. I’m merely commenting that “Essence/Existence” has some issues with tonal whiplash, but then again, when did this show not have those anyway?
There are controversial decisions made here, specifically concerning Krycek, who suffers a fate that is at once appropriate, shocking, overdramatic and kinda sad. Even if he has been strangely endeared to the audience over the course of seven years or so, he is still irredeemable as a character. Come on, people, he shot Scully’s sister! What he gets here in “Existence” is what he rightly deserves and you know it so stop arguing.
I’ve heard some folks talk about how this should have been the series finale. In a sense, it is a series finale for The X-Files as we recognized it. And it ends on a high note in which our two lead characters are finally reunited, as a family, with all the time left in the world to get some serious smooching done. I can’t think of a more satisfying ending for these two, mostly because I can’t say I’d be too interested in finding out what happens to them after this. I’d be fine with leaving them there, in Scully’s apartment, holding their baby, lip locking for all eternity.
- Agent Reyes was actually pretty tolerable here. Yes, even when making whale noises.
- How many times has Season 8 ripped off The Terminator?! I know Robert Patrick is part of the cast now, but jeez.
- The Lone Gunmen as the Three Wise Men was a sweet little touch, wasn’t it?
56. "Ice" (1x08)
Mulder and Scully are trapped with the last few survivors of an Alaskan research team in an arctic base in the frozen wilderness. Unfortunately, so are alien parasite worms that make their hosts really, really pissed off. Things are about to get awkward...
- All the tension ever.
- This show used to be so cerebral when it tried to be scary, didn't it?
55. "X-Cops" (7x12)
Bad boys, bad boys. Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when The X-Files crosses over with you?
Nothing too important, actually. COPS is COPS. The X-Files is The X-Files. When mixed together, you get an hour of television that’s not quite sure whether it’s a parody or a slice of social commentary. And yet, it’s not confusing. It’s entertaining, clever, and kind of, I dunno, heartfelt?
It’s also an undercover homage to The Blair Witch Project, the popularity of which peaked just a few months prior to this episode's airing. But no one brings this up because they don’t remember. Personally, I caught on to what the staff was doing early on. When the final scene in which the agents infiltrate a haunted crackhouse flashed before my eyes, I couldn’t help but go “oh, I see what you did there.”
- I really enjoyed the way “X-Cops” exploits the aesthetic of COPS. The grungy locales, the insane characters, the intrigue of the handheld camera...so effective.
- Steve and Edie, the gay couple, are depicted as the warm emotional core of this story. I liked that.
- The placement of this episode after Mulder finally finds out what happened to Samantha in “Closure” fascinates me. If your view it in this context, it makes his character seem much more wiser and complete here than he was before.
54. "Unruhe" (4x04)
Uh oh! Scully’s in danger again! Save her, Mulder! Hang in there, Scully! Go Mulder, go!
Unfortunately, this is the familiar groove that more than a few episodes of The X-Files fall into. (I’m also looking at you, Fight the Future.) Some of these manage to pull it off way more successfully than others. And “Unruhe” happens to be one of them.
While investigating ominous photos of women taken right before they were abducted by a serial killer, Scully falls into his clutches. I hope she likes lobotomies, because he’s ready to give her one.
- This was the very first episode aired when the show switched to airing on Sunday nights.
- Might be the finest serial killer episode the show has ever done?
53. "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" (4x07)
A widely misunderstood episode, this Cancer Man focus ep is not really canon and shouldn’t be trusted, because it’s actually based on the fictional stories that CSM himself writes under the pen name Raul Bloodworth during the course of the episode. It states that he’s the man behind such major national events as the Kennedy and King assassinations, and maybe even the yearly Oscar nominations.
And therein lies a bit of unintentional tastelessness. The sequence in which we see a young CSM (played by Chris Owens, who later portrays Jeffrey Spender) shoot Martin Luther King, Jr. is hard to watch. He does it because of something King said about communists that the shadow government doesn’t like, supposedly, and CSM volunteers to do it because he respects the man so much, which is a nice safety net of nobility. But it’s still shockingly patronizing.
That said, it’s great to see our favorite chain smoker being vulnerable here. We see that deep down, he’s really just another human who has very real dreams and regrets. He’s a writer, which I can relate to (obviously), and all he wants to do is find success at writing his cheap pulp stories. If this doesn’t demystify him much, it certainly does something unexpected - it endears his character to the audience, which makes it hard to fully hate him now, despite all of the no smoking signs he ignores.
- I can’t say how much I love the fact that CSM is just another lonely writer. I think this episode is the moment where he became less of the show’s main boogeyman and more of just another tragic character.
- All of this was beautifully shot.
- His “Life is like a box of chocolates” speech was so powerful back in the ‘90s, when Forrest Gump mania was at its peak. It feels dated now and has less of a punch than it did when such context was more universal, but it’s still a hell of a good monologue.
52. "The Erlenmeyer Flask" (1x24)
Can you imagine if The X-Files didn’t get renewed past its first season?
It would be just another obscure cancelled FOX show, without much of an enduring legacy outside of the handful of smelly nerds that stayed home on Friday nights to watch it.
For a final note to end on, this is as good as any. It’s almost Buffy-esque in the way it goes about tying up a whole year’s worth of storylines in one single finale. All the unexplained phenomenon and impenetrable conspiracies that were either witnessed or hinted at during the course of the first season come to a head here, where we find out we’ve only just been scratching the surface of something grander.
If it were to have ended here, we would be left to hope that Scully’s character would be change considerably with what she has seen and discovered during the course of “The Erlenmeyer Flask”. Throughout their brief (and sometimes forgettable) adventures together, Mulder had pretty much always been the one to see any physical evidence of extraterrestrial life happen with his own two eyes. Scully hadn’t. I mean, she’d seen ghosts and liver eating contortionists and resurrected bank robbers and what have you, but those didn’t count. They weren't aliens. This time around, Dana finally got her hands on evidence that there is indeed life out there - and since it’s all scientific and data-driven and outlined on a spreadsheet, it’s right up her alley. So, if we’re living in this theoretical universe where there were no 8 extra seasons of The X-Files, we’d all speculate that Scully would have quite the different perspective on this paranormal thing.
But we’re not, and she went back to being the same old Scully somehow.
To kill off Deep Throat here was a huge shakeup to the status quo, and it was needed. As was the decision to shut down the X-Files division. It was very wise for Carter to finish off like this, with everything suspended in a state of paranoid tension. It’s almost a big fuck you to Mulder and his quest for the truth, an affirmation that the massive force of the collective (government) greatly overpowers that of the individual (Mulder) in the end.
- “Okay Mulder, but I’m warning you: if this is monkey pee, you’re on your own.”
- The final scene, which is symmetrical to that of the pilot, is pure genius.
51. "Folie a Deux" (5x19)
We’ve all had a boss or two in our working lives that we’ve found to be somewhat evil. It’s natural. This episodes takes that concept and tosses it around a bit, placing Mulder in the loony bin in the process.
What makes “Folie a Deux” work so well? Maybe it’s the way it’s constructed. We begin just like any other monster-of-the-week, with Joe Blow seeing monsters at his workplace. It quickly escalates into a hostage situation that feels straight out of the final act of any other X-Files episode. Then it twists and becomes all about Mulder seeing these monsters and getting put in a mental hospital himself.
The X-Files works best when it pushes its lead characters to the brink of their sanity. Mulder is usually the prime target for said pushing because he’s already classified as a kook. He can relate to this case because the disgruntled worker who suffered from these “delusions” initially is just like Mulder himself - seeing truths that everyone else is too weak or brainwashed to comprehend. Mulder sees pieces of himself in this case, and that’s a big part of what draws him in.
The title “Folie a Deux” references the shared insanity that two people can experience. This is mostly a reference to what Mulder is experiencing, but it’s really a statement about how both Scully and Mulder have begun to share their own headspace after working together on the X-Files for so long. She’s the only one who believes Mulder in the end, and she’s the only one who begins to see the monsters, just like him. (Sorry Skinner.) This is quite the romantic statement to make in the final standalone episode before the first big movie, isn’t it?
- The zombie effects were dope.
- The hostage situation scene makes me bite my nails to this day.
- Even if the monster wasn’t really explained thoroughly enough, it’s still an effective horror story because it's rooted in economic conditions.
50. "Tooms" (1x21)
Eugene Tooms, the crazy killer contortionist dude from "Squeeze", is back in one of the earliest sequel episodes the franchise ever dared to spit out. He’s still a creeper, but he gets released from the institution early anyway (somehow). Is it better than the original? That’s kind of an unfair comparison, but...I would rank the first one higher, mostly because it is such a classic introduction to this character. Gotta love that climax in the broken escalator, though! What a set piece.
- When Mulder states his case against releasing the immortal liver-eating Tooms in front of a room full of academic professionals, I couldn’t help but laugh. Like most X-Files cases, it sounds absurd on paper but is way more frightening in reality.
- The toilet part gets me every time.
- Is it just me, or was the climax here borrowed later on in “Teliko”? (Just like the concept of the monster himself?) Curiouser and curiouser.
Phew. I need a glass of water or something. Okay, that does it for this round. Stay tuned for the fourth (and final) installment that will reveal the Top 50 X-Files Episodes evaaaaaar! Until then, trust no one. Except your mom. (Maybe.)