Best X-Files Episodes
Chances are you've probably seen at least a few minutes of an X-Files episode at one point or another. The show logged an impressive 202 episodes while becoming at the time the longest running science fiction show on television. Inspired by earlier science fiction shows like The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the X-Files became an early hit for the Fox Network. The show was able to connect with the public's mistrust of governments and political figures while espousing conspiracy theories. While the X-Files was initially a cult hit, it eventually gained mainstream popularity and became a pop cultural touchstone of the 90's. "The truth is out there" and "trust no one" became popular sayings throughout the decade as the show matured. The show took stylistic cues from other dark, moody shows of the early 90's such as Twin Peaks. Although the show was ultimately science fiction, it covered several other genres, and at its zenith, was the finest drama of its era.
For anyone who might not know, Fox Mulder is a talented FBI special agent working on the X-Files, a file of unsolved and abandoned cases due to their strange and unexplainable nature. While Mulder plays the believer, his partner Dana Scully is a skeptic assigned to review the work done on the X-Files from a scientific viewpoint in order to validate or discredit Mulder's work. Early on Mulder and Scully come to realize they are pawns in a larger conspiracy involving contact with extraterrestrials. This story line becomes the larger mythology of the show, while there are also many standalone episodes known as "monster-of-the-week" involving strange phenomena.
So without further ado, here are the ten best (that is, my ten favorite) X-Files episodes:
(Warning: Spoiler alert on some episodes)
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With no opening theme music, a dark screen with creepy, background sounds states "the following is based on actual recorded accounts" before panning to a frightened girl running through the woods at night in her pajamas yelling for help. She soon runs into a shirtless, young man who is seemingly catatonic but still walking. A bright light appears in the sky as the wind picks up; the girl is found dead in the woods the next day with unexplainable markings on her back and no sign of the young man. Whoa!
Pilot episodes of popular shows are often times good enough that the show more or less hits the ground running, but in retrospect are a shadow of what the show will become. The X-Files Pilot episode is by no means perfect, but is an excellent first entry into the series, and in my opinion ranks as one of the finest pilot episodes of any genre. The plot of the episode involves several young adults who were seemingly abducted together while in high school, but returned unharmed, only to start dying one by one a few years later. The dark, ethereal mood of the episode set a precedent for what the show would later become.
People in a small town are suddenly going on killing sprees after getting violent messages on digital displays. It is eventually discovered that a controlled substance, LSDM, which is used to provoke a fear instinct in bugs, is being sprayed on the town's crops, and apparently affecting the town's residents. This explains the fear response in the killers, but who is sending the messages? Blood was one of the first episodes to expand on the early themes of conspiracy and paranoia to hint that foul play and even controlled experiments on entire towns was not beyond the government.
Mulder suspects that a villain who speaks German before lobotomizing his victims and setting them free, has the ability to project his mind's eye onto photographic film, and that he's not aware of his ability. The disturbed man speaks of "the howlers", spooks which haunt his brain and thoughts, and might be responsible for his condition. This episode is a very intense horror story, and I give special props to the art department on their depiction of the howlers.
Skinner is under suspicion of murder after waking up next to a dead prostitute, but Mulder thinks he has been framed. As it starts to look like Skinner has been set up, he starts seeing an old woman in a red coat in his house and in his dreams, just as he did many years earlier in a near death experience. Mulder now thinks he might have been set up, but a succubus has been protecting/haunting him. As far as a Skinner centered episode goes, this is probably the best. There are a couple of truly frightening scenes involving the succubus, including one where Skinner is awakened at night during a thunderstorm from the screams of the succubus, who is reflected in a mirror before it breaks into a million pieces!
Sometimes Mulder can get too involved and lost in his work. But Grotesque takes this to a whole new level. An old colleague of Mulder's has been treading water in a case for more than a year and needs his help. The killer of several young men has been caught, and claims he was possessed by a demon, but the killings have started again. It is discovered that the killer has been sculpting hideous gargoyles in an abandoned warehouse for years. This episode was shot almost entirely at night with a dark blue filter, giving the shadows on the gargoyles new, creepy dimensions. Mulder goes deeper down the rabbit hole than he ever has before trying to solve the case, including sleeping and living in the warehouse with all the gargoyles!
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5. Jose Chung's From Outer Space
Aside from all the aliens and monsters, the X-Files also had a sophisticated sense of humor which sometimes manifested in an ornery and ironic fashion. This episode is presented through several different sides of a story about a strange night of UFO sightings and alien abductions in a small town. Scully recounts her side of the story to author Jose Chung who can't make heads or tails of the other accounts he's gathered. Were the sightings and abductions just military activity? Was it aliens, or the military purposely trying to make it look like aliens? Conventional alien abduction stories are given a humorous twist in this episode.
4. Paper Hearts
One storyline throughout the show's mythology is the disappearance of Mulder's sister, Samantha, when she was a child. I like this episode because Mulder starts to piece together a separate X-File through his dreams, where he follows a red light which gives him directions. It is all very surreal, and eventually leads to a murderer Mulder put away several years earlier, and who might have been involved in Samantha's disappearance.
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This is the only true blue, mythology episode I put on this list. There are a lot of good alien episodes, but they are mostly two-parters, such as Ascension. But this episode is fantastic on its own. Duane Barry, a pathological liar, claims to have been abducted by aliens years earlier, and wants someone else to take his place when they come back for him. This episode is exciting because the viewer is left breathless and completely lost. Duane Barry abducts Scully and takes her to the top of a mountain for the aliens to take her. By the time Mulder shows up, Scully is indeed gone, and there are no signs he has killed or hidden her. In fact, there are still bright lights in the sky, possibly black helicopters, but it's impossible to tell.
When this episode first aired, it was the talk of the water cooler, as Scully was abducted and did not appear in the next several episodes. What was she abducted by? The show up to this point had not given any conclusive evidence that aliens really did exist. But if aliens did not abduct her, then who had? If it was the military or some other power, why would they want to abduct Scully?
A mortician develops a fetish for hair and fingernails, he has to desecrate the dead to obtain his prizes, but now he's getting bolder and might start stalking the living. This episode features a fantastic villain, Donnie Pfaster, who is so evil, that to his captors eyes his appearance morphs into demons and beasts. It is mentioned by series creator Chris Carter on DVD commentary that the original idea for this episode was necrophilia, but that the Fox Network would not allow such an episode to air back in the early '90s. This episode is notable in that there is no paranormal activity present, and the episode is much more horror than science fiction. In fact, I would not recommend watching this episode alone, ever.
1. Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose
Ok, here is my number one pick for the best X-Files episode. Peter Boyle plays an enigmatic man who can prognosticate the exact circumstances of a person's death. After learning of his ability, Mulder asks for his help in a case where a homicidal maniac, who thinks he is psychic, is killing all of the psychics in town. This episode is an almost flawless blend of everything that the X-Files has come to represent. The writer of the episode, Darin Morgan, was in a dark mood at the time of writing and wanted to craft a script around a character who commits suicide at the end. The producers wanted to add humor to the episode, and in a compromise, Morgan made the episode as dark as possible. It's sad, scary, and ironically goofy. Several dark and philosophical themes are explored by Bruckman including predestination, life after death, and happiness in a violent world.
Boyle won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his performance. Several reviewers have listed Clyde Bruckman as the best standalone episode of the series. In 2003, the episode was named the tenth greatest episode in television history by TV Guide.
So there you have it, the ten best X-Files episodes as rated by me. If you disagree or have other favorite episodes, tell me about it in the comments section.