The X-Files is undoubtedly one of the best TV shows of the 90’s – in my humble opinion it is one of the best TV shows of all time. Among all those over-arcing plot threads, some of the best episodes were those which dealt with a “Monster of The Week”, where each episode we found ourselves treated to different aspects of the paranormal.
When David Duchovny left the series after season 7 many fans went into mourning. Gillian Anderson was still onboard but the show just wasn’t the same – it needed Scully and Mulder. Their onscreen chemistry and brilliant one liners separated The X-Files from other science fiction offerings.
In 2008, fans had their wish granted (sort of) in the form of a movie when ”The X-Files: I want to Believe” hit cinemas. Sadly, it was not the class reunion we were hoping for. The plot was more of a murder mystery than an X-File and the new supporting characters (who did not even appear in the original series) got as much screen time as Mulder and Scully did.
Fast forward to 2016 – many much-loved TV shows from the ’90s have been resurrected in the form of a movie or additional episodes, and The X-Files is one of them. While the fresh episodes were welcome for fans who were left wanting more after the film, they couldn’t live up to the first 7 seasons. Somehow, the tone was all wrong and that on-screen chemistry which had once made the show so great was gone – as was any trace of sexual tension between the two principal characters. Without giving too much away, the writers seemed to have forgotten certain events which took place in the previous seasons. One could be forgiven for thinking the new seasons were taking place on an alternate timeline, particularly in regards to the Cigarette Smoking Man’s story arc.
After two seasons of the resurrected series, this time Gillian Anderson decided to call it quits, and I daresay she’s picked a good time, unlike David Duchovny back in season 7.
So as we say goodbye to The X-Files once again I thought it might be time to reminisce and have a look back at the 10 best episodes from the original series that truly made it great.
1. Pilot (Season 1)
While pilot episodes might not normally appear on a top ten list, it’s definitely worth revisiting (or watching for the first time, if you arrived late to the series!) to see where it all began. Fox Mulder is an agent assigned to a clandestine department of the FBI that deals with unexplained phenomena or “X-Files”. He is passionate and dedicated but doesn’t have the respect of his peers who jeeringly refer to him as “Spooky”.
Dana Scully is a trained medical doctor who has left the field in order to work for the FBI, her logical and methodical approach has attracted attention and she is assigned to work with Mulder, in the hope that her level headed approach will debunk the X-Files completely. Introductions are prickly but after working their first case the pair earn each other’s respect and then slowly, each others trust.
2. Arcadia (Season 6)
In this episode we get a fun glimpse of what life would be like if Mulder and Scully were a typical suburban, married couple. The pair go undercover to investigate a series of disappearances at ‘The Falls of Arcadia’, a seemingly idyllic community that’s harbouring a dark secret.
At first things seem relativity normal, although the rules regarding conforming at Arcadia are a little excessive and the neighbours seem panicked about adhering to them. Curious about the consequences, Mulder begins to make small changes to their new ‘dream home’. What will happen if he puts up a basketball hoop? Or a lawn flamingo in the front yard?
He soon finds out that there is a very good reason why the neighbours are so paranoid about sticking to the rules…A very good monstrous reason.
3. Squeeze & Tooms (Season 1)
This one is actually a 2 parter from season 1.
Sometimes the scariest monsters are those which resemble humans. What could be creepier than a man with glowing eyes who eats people’s livers? What if this man-shaped monster also possessed a genetic mutation enabling him to squeeze through narrow spaces, thus accessing any locked room of his choosing? What if he were also immortal? (Providing he could fulfil his human liver cravings)?
Eugene Tooms is this particular variety of monster. He seems like a normal, albeit socially withdrawn, young man but Mulder and Scully soon uncover the truth and must work to stop him before any more bodies show up with their livers removed.
Eugene Tooms does not just rate as one of the scariest monsters of the week but also one of the most disturbing and grotesque in the “X Files” entire canon.
4. Folie a Deux (Season 5)
This monster of the week episode is about actual monsters.
The paranormal, paranoia and delusions collide when Gary Lambert, an ordinary man with a dull desk job becomes convinced that his new boss is a monster. Then, to make matters worse, after having one on one meetings with the new boss, his co-workers start turning into walking corpses. So, he resolves to hold everyone hostage. But still, nobody believes him. To the outside world it simply looks as though he is terrorising a group of innocent people.
Predictably, Mulder takes Lambert seriously. Scully, however, is sceptical and believes that Mulder is actually suffering from ‘Folie a deux’ – a shared psychosis.
There is something really unnerving about this episode which deals with delusions, mental illness and the possible supernatural.
5. Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man (Season 4)
Often, the episodes that shift the focus away from Mulder and Scully leave are sub-par, but this episode gives us a whole new insight into the shows’ enduring principal villain.
The Cigarette Smoking Man is one of television’s greatest villains of all time. He is the mysterious Machiavellian behind the curtain, lurking in the shadows, pulling the strings and yet, rarely getting his hands dirty. But who is he? And where did he come from? Did you know he wanted to become a novelist? Or that he was actually behind the shooting of JFK? A story about choices, opportunities, and what could have been.
Suddenly, the Cigarette Smoking Man becomes a more complex and at times sympathetic figure behind the cigarette smoke, rather than just a cold-hearted killer.
6. Tithonus (Season 6)
For many years, this episode has haunted me in a way I can’t quite explain.
What if it were truly possible to cheat death? What would the consequences be?
147 years ago, Alfred Fellig was lying in a hospital ward dying of yellow Fever. He watched as death came for those around him but when his own time came, he refused to look death in the eyes and thus missed his chance to be taken.
In the present-day Alfred Fellig is a photographer with a knack for always showing up to take photos of people just as they are about to meet their demise. At first Scully believes he is responsible for the deaths he is photographing, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is an X File, not your run-of-the-mill serial homicide case. Fellig is not photographing people dying but rather death itself, in the hope he will be able to finally rest in peace.
7. Jose Chungs from Outer Space (Season 3)
An episode that has everything: Aliens, government conspiracies, men in black, horror and humour.
It begins with a pair of teenagers being abducted by aliens. Then in a meta twist, the aliens themselves encounter other aliens.
Sometime later Scully has a fan-girl moment when her favourite author comes to town to interview her about the case, along with the several other people who were also involved. Everyone’s story is completely different, proving each of them to be an unreliable narrator. Did alien abductions even take place? Or was it in fact a series of experiments conducted by the government?
One of the funniest parts of this episode is the local sheriff’s retelling of events, where he literally bleeps out his own curse words.
8. Milagro (season 6)
Mulder and Scully are called upon to investigate a series of murders where the victims are found with their hearts removed (because serial killers in the world of “The X Files” seem to like removing organs).
Meanwhile, a new tenant who moves into Mulder’s apartment building has something unsettling about him. We soon learn he is a writer, but not your average pen and paper variety. Rather, he is a writer who possesses a special gift: Everything he writes about comes to fruition. He develops a fixation on Scully, which has both erotic and dangerous consequences.
It isn’t just the intriguing plot that makes this episode outstanding, but also the cinematography and direction. It just has such a beautiful aesthetic and we get a rare glimpse of a more personal, sensual side to FBI Agent Dana Scully.
9. Clyde Buckman’s Final Repose (Season 3)
This is another great episode where the horror and comedy elements sit in perfect balance.
After several fortune tellers are found murdered and their eyes removed, Mulder and Scully enlist the help of Clyde Buckman, a Big-Bopper loving, psychic insurance salesman played by Peter Boyle. The only problem is that Buckman’s psychic abilities are limited to seeing how and when people will die.
Buckman amusingly predicts that Mulders cause of death will be autoerotic asphyxiation. But when an ever-sceptical Scully asks him how she will die he cryptically replies, “you don’t”. This foreshadows the events which take place in Tithonus (season 6) when Scully manages to cheat death, possibly becoming immortal in the process.
10. Bad Blood (Season 5)
Mulder lands himself in hot water by driving a stake through a pizza delivery boy’s heart after mistaking him for a vampire. He and Scully must then explain to their superior, Walter Skinner what happened. As they begin detailing all the events which took place leading up to the pizza boys’ death they find that their recollections of events contradict one another.
While this episode isn’t close to being scary, it tops this list because it is hilarious and self knowing. Mulder and Scullys constant banter serves as a reminder why the X Files is such a truly great show.
Did we miss out any classic episodes? Let us know in the comments!