The X-Files – Examining The ‘Essential Episodes’


Over a decade after The X-Files closed the door on its cabinet of weirdness in 2002, creator Chris Carter revealed there are 10 episodes X-Files groupies and newbies needed to watch before they dove back into the adventures of Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson). Pretty handy, considering the entire nine-year run amounts to a whopping 202 episodes. We decided to check those 10 episodes out ourselves and see how well they hold up all these years later…

“The following story is inspired by actual documented accounts,” we’re told at the start of the very first X-Files, and boy does Chris Carter make us believe it. In just 48 minutes, he introduces a great number of the key elements that will define The X-Files for much of its nine year run. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson share great chemistry from the off as FBI agents Mulder and Scully, the latter a scientist and sceptic, the former a believer. With a plot that feels part Twin Peaks, part something else, this is a fun, mysterious and creepy introduction to the world of alien abduction. It’s dated really well, too. Though it looks its age, the storytelling and performances remain hugely compelling, and it’s not hard to see why this grew into a phenomenon. (Season 1, Episode 1)

Deep Throat
Pretty much picking up where the first episode left off, this second X-File ramps up the conspiracy angle as Mulder meets ‘Deep Throat’ (Jerry Hardin), a shady informant whose motives remain unclear. Meanwhile, he and Scully investigate the case of a test pilot whose erratic behaviour has his wife concerned. Of course, that leads them into a case involving alien abduction, culminating in Mulder (sans Scully, naturally) encountering a strange, triangular aircraft. Is it a spaceship? Though not as strong as the pilot, Deep Throat builds on its predecessor and boasts an infectious paranoid atmosphere. Hardin is fantastic as the enigmatic informant, and there’s even an appearance by a young (and shaggy-haired) Seth Green as a UFO-obsessed teenager. (Season 1, Episode 2)

Beyond The Sea
An unbelievably dark delve into the aftershocks of grief, this episode from writers Glen Morgan and James Wong puts Scully front and centre as she reels in the wake of her father’s sudden death. Determining to keep working, she attempts to debunk a supposed psychic, death row inmate Luther Lee Boggs (Brad Dourif), only to find herself believing he really can communicate with the dead. It’s easy to draw comparisons with Silence Of The Lambs as Scully finds herself both drawn to and repulsed by Boggs, who has answers she needs, and with Mulder out of action for much of the episode, the episode takes full advantage of . It’s a testament to Anderson’s skill as an actress that she’s not eclipsed by the fantastically creepy Dourif. By episode’s end, Scully emerges wiser – critically – more complicatedly human than ever. (Season 1, Episode 13)

The Erlenmeyer Flask
It’s finale time, and The X Files’ first season draws neatly to a close, ending with a scene that mirrors the final sting from the pilot as Cancer Man places a pickled alien in a box in the Indiana Jones-esque file room at the Pentagon. He’s not the only one making a return, with Deep Throat back and crazier than ever, finally offering up some answers – and they’re juicy as prime steak. Scully discovers ET DNA (you can actually freeze frame her mind being blown) and Mulder attempts to chase down a doctor whose DNA has been spliced the ET’s. The stakes have never been higher, and this is a thrilling end to the first season. The conspiracy deepens (just who are these lackeys working for Cancer Man?), the techno-babble is on top form (we learned something about the structure of DNA, woo) and with the FBI threatening to close the X Files, it’s cliffhangers ahoy. This is how you do a season finale. (Season 1, Episode 24)

The Host
With the X Files closed at the end of the first season, this episode deals with the fallout of that while also delivering as an entertaining monster of the week. Mulder goes on the case of a “giant bloodsucking worm” that’s making its way through the sewers of New Jersey, calling on Scully to lend her scientific eye to proceedings (perform an autopsy, receiving mysterious tip-offs). It’s no coincidence that Mulder’s told he has “a friend at the FBI” within minutes of Skinner assigning him a case that looks suspiciously like an X File, and while this episode’s monster plot is relatively routine (albeit with some great prosthetics), the clever handling of the conspiracy keeps things interesting. Meanwhile, there’s genuine affection in Mulder and Scully’s handful of scenes – it’s Duchovny and Anderson’s chemistry that gives the show its lifeblood. (Season 2, Episode 2)

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose
A relatively talky episode, this third season highlight is buoyed by a fantastic performance by Peter Boyle as Clyde, a psychic with the ability to predict how people will die. He’s brought in to help with a murder case being investigated by Mulder and Scully, and many of the episode’s best scenes involve Clyde and Mulder discussing fate, determinism and the nature of free will – the head-spinny dialogue is a Christopher Nolan wet dream. There’s also a brilliant bit of effects work in which we watch Clyde’s body decomposing, surrounded by flowers, and some fun horror visuals – including a corpse’s face replacing that of a doll’s. While an episode like this probably felt groundbreaking back in 1995, now it’s simply a performance-driven curio that has interesting/intelligent things to say. (Season 3, Episode 4)

Memento Mori
Four of The X-Files’ biggest writers (Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan, John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz) combine to script this busy episode, which deals with the repercussions of Scully discovering she has cancer. While she ends up hospitalised, it’s up to Mulder to attempt to figure out a way to save her, which leads him down dark new avenues, encountering clones, more people floating in glass boxes, and that deadly assassin who reduces people to green goop. Oh, and he’s given a hand by the Lone Gunmen, always a welcome addition to any X-File. In the eye of the storm, Anderson gives a series-best performance, though her narration (she’s writing a letter to Mulder) adds little insight into her suffering. Meanwhile, it’s great to see Cancer Man back, with Skinner striking up a surprising deal that could save a certain redhead. In all, this is a zippy episode that furthers the conspiracy while deepening Mulder and Scully’s emotional connection. He even kisses her on the forehead. Gulp. (Season 4, Episode 14)

Post-Modern Prometheus
Frankenstein meets The Elephant Man in surely the oddest and most audaciously entertaining X-Files episode ever made. Setting out to smash the series mould to smithereens, Chris Carter writes and directs a black-and-white ode to Hammer horror in which Mulder and Scully find themselves in “Hicksville” when a woman wakes up pregnant after blacking out for three days. It’s not long before they’re bouncing between weirdo locals and yet more pregnant women as a monster stalks the town, but who is the monster and what does he really want? Boldly trying something new, Post-Modern Prometheus begins with a woman being attacked while Cher plays on the soundtrack and ends with Mulder and Scully slow-dancing to ‘Walking In Memphis’. It’s weird, lovingly crafted and, possibly, the moment the show jumped the shark. Because, really, what could they really do next? (Season 5, Episode 5)

Bad Blood
What could they do next? Well, keep the comedy coming thick and fast, as with this vampire-themed instalment, which is told mostly in flashback as Mulder and Scully attempt to remember exactly what happened led to them staking a pizza guy wearing fake fangs. Scully goes gooey-eyed over Luke Wilson’s lawman (then gets hungry for pizza for performing an autopsy), while Mulder’s attacked by the glowy-eyed pizza guy. Funny sights include Scully enjoying a vibrating bed and Mulder singing the Shaft theme tune, but despite this episode being scripted by Vince Gilligan, it’s oddly flat, dealing in goofiness instead of the show’s trademark grittiness. (Season 5, Episode 12)

Less obviously self-referential than Post-Modern Prometheus and Bad Blood, but still effectively taking an inward look at the merit of paranormal stories like those told in the X-Files, Milagro delves into the power of storytelling, exploring how passion often dictates our judgement. This being the X-Files, we also get ripped-out hearts aplenty as John Hawkes’ lonely writer works on a novel that bears a striking resemblance to real events. We’re not in puppet master territory, though, Milagro revelling in atmosphere and ambiguity while laying bear Scully’s secret passions. The episode’s notable for neatly switching her and Mulder’s traditional roles as skeptic and believer, and while this isn’t the showiest X-File, it’s a fine example of its measured, thoughtful approach to storytelling. (Season 6, Episode 18)

This article originally ran at Frame Rated.