Aliens, monsters, government conspiracies, a red-headed sceptic and a smart-mouthed believer. Well-filmed, well-acted and well thought out, each episode of The X-Files (1993-2002) was like a short film – whether part of a larger story or a ‘monster of the week’ type episode. As a belated celebration of the show’s twenty-year anniversary, here’s a chronological list of thirteen key episodes from its nine-year run.
The Erlenmeyer Flask (1.23, 1994)
“Okay, Mulder, but I’m warning you: if this is monkey pee, you’re on your own.”
This might have been the last ever episode if the show hadn’t been so popular. It pays off everything the first year promised with a climactic feel as well as a step closer to the allusive truth, along with a few fatalities. One of these, the producers no doubt came to regret. The conspiracy arc and Scully’s early-90s wardrobe make the first season episodes especially intriguing, with this one perhaps being its best.
F. Emasculata (2.22, 1995)
“I stand right on the line you keep crossing.”
After what was probably a surprise success, season two was neither here nor there. This episode is a bit grizzly and conflicting; a not-so-nice-guy is infected with a gross disease, running from those who want it covered up, as well as Mulder and Scully, who are trying to stop the contagion. Not whilst you’re eating.
Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ (3.20, 1996)
“Love – is that all you men think about?”
The show began a comedic-parody tone in season two’s ‘Humbug’ and here it works even better. The writers (here Darin Morgan, who incidentally played Flukeman in ‘The Host’) knew the alien abduction theme was ripe for humour and here it is touching, as well as clever.
Wetwired (3.23, 1996)
“Scully, you are the only one I trust.”
Scully goes nuts, which is interesting, but is her paranoid condition stronger than her partnership with Mulder? This episode is decidedly creepy and tense in mood. The show stepped-up in season three.
Paper Hearts (4.10, 1996)
“Thirteen sounds so much more magical.”
Serial killers and abductions were a big part of the show. Here we are introduced to John Lee Roche, one of its most memorable, acted brilliantly by Tom Noonan. Was Mulder’s long-missing sister one of the unknown murdered? This episode offers a lot of intrigue and emotion.
Never Again (4.13, 1997)
“Your contact, while interesting in the context of science fiction, was, at least in my memory, recounting a poorly veiled synopsis of an episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle.”
Now this was a dark day for the duo. Scully goes it alone, soon becomes a victim and we get a man-hating Jodie Foster too- well her voice at least. Scully may have finally had enough.
Bad Blood (5.12, 1998)
“You’re my proof! You were there! Okay, now you’re scaring me. I want to hear exactly what you’re going to tell Skinner.”
This episode is great for its different perspectives shown through flashbacks. Hugely funny tale on vampires and the subjectivity of story recounting.
Folie a Deux (5.19, 1998)
“Five years together, Scully. You must have seen this coming.”
Contestant for the scariest episode ever. Paranoia is again employed and the audience just wants to shout at Scully for not seeing the zombies. Good acting as usual from Mitch Pileggi too, as the formidable Skinner.
Tithonus (6.10, 1999)
“Hi, my name is Fox Mulder, we used to sit next to each other at the FBI.”
A location change from Canada to LA gives the show a slicker feel from this point. Still, this episode is thought-provoking with its ambiguous bad guy and Stephen King-esqueness.
Hungry (7.3, 1999)
“You know how they always say you should never see the kitchen of your favorite restaurant?”
As well as an interesting take on the vampire archetype, this episode is notable for perhaps the most undeserving death in the show, ever. The balance in tone, of both drama and humour, as well as the monster’s perspective makes this a highlight in an otherwise X-Files-lite season.
Je Souhaite (7.21, 2000)
“Your wish is breathtaking in its unoriginality.”
Mulder meets a jinniah and the old wrong-wish syndrome kicks in – you can guess the rest. If it weren’t for the acting and dialogue, the concept would just be more old-hat, but this light-treatment of season seven is once again redeemable. An entertaining carpet-ride.
Roadrunners (8.4, 2000)
“Your life… is about to take a wonderful turn. You’re going to become a part of something much, much greater than you are. You’re going to be… so loved.”
A most disgusting (in the euww sense) mockery of organised religion. Scully’s in peril (once again), but who will save her now David Duchovny has left? The scary small town vibe and Gillian Anderson’s acting take us through this one to its grisly reveal. Season eight thankfully returned more horror to the show, as well the unsuccessful reintroduction of the conspiracy arc, but let’s not talk about that.
4-D (9.4, 2001)
“God, I enjoyed you. You bled just like a pig.”
Reyes (Annabeth Gish) and Doggett (Robert Patrick) are more than up to task in this other-dimensional shocker. A highlight in the last season, this seems proof the show had potential to continue, even (especially) without Scully, who disappointingly spent most of these last episodes crying or just pottering about.
And The Stinky Fish Award goes to…
Teso Dos Bichos (3.18, 1996)
This episode from an otherwise consistent season three, has something to do with an Egyptian curse… or something. As well as the snails-pace and lack of anything interesting, after reading the script, even the cats were too unmoved to act convincingly. ‘Bichos only redeeming moment is in fact the unintentional humour in Scully being attacked by one of the felines, which more than suspiciously resembles a hand-puppet. Meow.