The X-Files is number two of “My Top Ten All-Time Favorite TV Shows.” And deservedly so. For nine seasons, viewers followed Mulder and Scully into the world of bizarre, disturbing, and not-of-this world phenomena. Sometimes we laughed, sometimes we cried, sometimes we covered our eyes, sometimes we couldn’t believe our eyes, and sometimes we simply didn’t know what was going on. The mythology didn’t always fit together nicely (the alien-human hybrid business and such were never quite resolved), but the show was top notch when it came to the memorable characters, the freak of the week plots, and perhaps most notably, the chemistry and ever-evolving relationship between Mulder and Scully. After browsing through tv.com’s X-Files episode guide, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite X-Files episodes. I couldn’t pick just ten, so instead you get twelve.
- “Pilot” (Season 1) – The one that started it all. Newly paired agents Scully and Mulder headed to small town Oregon to investigate some unsolved murders, possibly linked to alien abduction. I loved that they returned to this town years later, and that Billy Miles reappeared as a super soldier in season 8. While watching the pilot, it was clear that this show had a lot of potential, and that potential was realized over the show’s nine year run.
- “Humbug” (Season 2) – This episodes has Mulder and Scully traveling to a Florida town inhabited by circus and sideshow performers to investigate the death of the Alligator Man. It was bizarre and hilarious at the same time, but there was also some social commentary about Otherness in our culture.
- “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (Season 3) – This episode came together beautifully and is one example of how The X-Files could be poignant when it wanted to be. Mulder and Scully enlist the help of a psychic (wonderfully portrayed by Peter Boyle) when they investigate a serial killer who targets fortune tellers. The episode is well written, finely tuned, and has an ironic conclusion.
- “War of the Coprophages” (Season 3) – Who knew that cockroaches could make for such entertaining tv? From Scully’s jealousy over Mulder’s attraction to Dr. Bambi, to the cockroach that crawls across the tv screen, this episode is a great example of The X-Files’ special blend of humor and horror.
- “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” (Season 3) – There are two sides to every story, or in this case, even more, as we get conflicting versions of the same tale about two teenagers’ supposed abduction by aliens. The narrative structure is what makes this episode a classic. We go back and forth from the science fiction writer’s office to the various versions of what happened, slowly putting together the pieces along the way. Very fun episode.
- “Home” (Season 4) – Sometimes the X-Files’ brilliance was its ability to unsettle us or make us gasp in horror. This episode about a reclusive, homicidal, and inbred family, complete with a matriarch who is kept hidden under the floor boards of the dilapidated house, certainly fits in that category. Unfortunately, this episode isn’t for everyone. This happened to be the episode that was airing when I tried to convince my college roommate that she should watch the show. I didn’t know what the episode was going to be about, but by the time it was over she wanted nothing more to do with The X-Files ever again. For me, though, this episode is yet another instance of The X-Files doing what it does best: providing its viewers with genuinely terrifying stories told in the most unsettling of ways.
- “Leonard Betts” (Season 4) – There was nothing funny about this episode, which revolved around an EMT who (literally) loses his head, but proceeds to walk out of the morgue, grow his head back, and begin killing people who have cancer because he must feed on cancerous tumors to survive. Gross? Yes. Fascinating. Yes, again. This episode also blindsided viewers with the revelation that Scully had cancer, as Betts had her cornered in an ambulance and said quite matter of factly, “You have something that I need.”
- “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (Season 5) – From decapitated heads and tumor-eating EMTs, we make the unusual jump to Jerry Springer and a “monster” who loves Cher. Filmed in black and white, this humorous episode was also a heartwarming one, as Mulder and Scully investigate strange happenings in a town whose residents believe that a two-faced monster has been impregnating women. As usual, things are not what they seem, and by the end of the episode, Mulder and Scully are helping a misunderstood and abandoned son of a mad scientist realize his dream of attending a Cher concert, and viewers are treated to the sight of our favorite FBI partners sharing a dance.
- “Bad Blood” (Season 5) – This may be my favorite X-Files episode of them all. It is just so funny! It finds humor in unexpected places, like vampire fangs, pizza delivery guys, hotel beds, and small town sheriffs. I love the way the episode is structured, giving us Mulder and Scully’s very different accounts of the same events. Luke Wilson is fantastic as Sheriff Lucius Hartwell – adored by Scully and ridiculed by Mulder. The episode has many twists and turns, and manages to surprise us in the end.
- “Arcadia” (Season 6) – The first part of this episode plays like a “what might have been,” had Mulder and Scully met under different circumstances, gotten married, and found domestic bliss in a planned community. It was amusing to see them go undercover as Rob and Laura Petrie. The episode shifts from humor to horror once it becomes clear that the missing residents didn’t just move away. This neighborhood takes its rules and regulations a little too seriously, as Mulder and Scully soon discover. The ensuing chaos was fun to watch.
- “Daemonicus” (Season 9) – This episode was my favorite of the Doggett/Reyes era. There’s no denying that the show lost a lot of its magic when Mulder left, and never got it back, even when he returned on a recurring basis. But, I still enjoyed the last two seasons – just not as much. Doggett was a great character, and Reyes was rather interesting, too. This episode stands out because it was a return to the good ole days of creepy, disturbing plots. The opening scene of the old couple playing chess, followed by the scary masked guys, was only the beginning of this chilling episode.
- “Existence” (Season 8 Finale) – This season finale could very well have been the series finale. It was riveting, suspenseful, and satisfying. It was more like 24 than a typical X-Files episode, from the epic showdown between Skinner and Krycek, to Scully having to give birth to her baby in an abandoned town. The closing shot of Mulder and Scully together, holding the baby in between them, would have provided a small amount of closure (I say “small” since there would have still been tons of unanswered questions about government conspiracies and alien races). Instead, the next season got all muddled down in Scully’s baby being a chosen and special child, and eventually the writers had to shut that story down by putting William up for private adoption. How convenient. Anyway, I think this would have been a good place to stop the series, perhaps with a movie to wrap things up. However, we still got some pretty decent entertainment out of the last season.
Based on my review of the episodes, I think that seasons three, four, and five were the strongest ones for this show, and seasons seven, eight, and nine were the weakest. Despite the show’s ups and downs, just about any episode of The X-Files is better than most of the sci-fi/paranormal shows that have been produced since its era. Only now, with Fringe, does the television landscape have a show that is potentially as well made and intriguing as The X-Files was for nine seasons.