Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Top Ten "X-Files" Episodes

I enjoy a rare geeky distinction among geeks. Back in the fall of 1993, I was one of the few people who actually watched the first episode of "The X-Files" as it originally premiered, with the special pre-show disclaimer screen and everything. Through junior high and high school, though I had other shows on my plate, "The X-Files" came first. I tuned in every Friday or Sunday night for years, and loved it as only a socially inept geek girl could. And I stuck with it much, much longer than a should have, all the way up to the end of the eighth season, when it seemed that Mulder and Scully would be replaced for good by far less interesting leads. Now, a decade later, I expect that some kind of reboot or spinoff is only a matter of time. "The X-Files" was one of Fox's biggest TV properties, and it would be a good fit with the recent resurgence of supernatural-themed movies and television shows. But before that happens, here's a look at my top ten favorite episodes, unranked, in chronological order. Please note I was never much one for the "mythology" stories, so these are all stand-alone cases.

"Eve" - Two of "the X-Files'" most intriguing early monsters were a pair of identical girls, discovered on opposite sides of the country. They meet thanks to the FBI's investigation into the strange circumstances around their foster fathers' deaths, and Mulder and Scully soon discover the girls may be part of a secret cloning project - with a history of turning out psychotic homicidal maniacs. Lots of little touches, from Mulder and Scully being mistaken for the girls' parents, to the superb work by guest star Harriet Sansome Harris make this a memorable, creepy early outing.

"Darkness Falls" - With a classic horror movie scenario, this was one of the first episodes that really scared me. Investigating disappearances in the Oregon woods, Mulder and Scully have to contend with swarm of lethal, tiny, swarming insects that only attack when it's dark. Stranded far from civilization with a group of hostile, frightened locals, the situation gets worse with each successive night. The show did a couple of these extreme survival episodes like "Ice" and "Firewalker," but "Darkness Falls" was by far the most thrilling and effective of them.

"Humbug" - You may remember this one as the episode with the circus freaks. There is so much to love here, from Mulder and Scully unearthing a small town's secrets (and potatoes), encounters with a big ensemble of colorful characters, including suspects played by Michael J. Anderson and Vincent Schiavelli, and the circus folks getting the last word on the subject of freakishness. This was one of the first largely comedic "X-Files" episodes, which I always held a special affection for, and you can expect several more of them to appear on this list.

"Soft Light" - Horror can come from anything, even something as simple as your own shadow. This episode has one of the weakest premises, but such strong execution, that it manages to summon up some real paranoid chills. It also features another great performance from a guest actor, this time Tony Shalhoub, a few years before "Monk." Other favorites in this vein include "Mind's Eye" and "Roland," for the work of Lili Taylor and Ċ½eljko Ivanek respectively, but it's "Soft Light" that had the most impact on me. I still remember the creepiness of some of the images to this day.

"Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" - Speaking great guest stars, here we have Peter Boyle as Clyde Bruckman, an unassuming insurance salesman who can tell you how everyone is going to die. The tragi-comic tale of his involvement in a murder investigation is one of the most touching episodes of "The X-Files," a meditation on death, depression, and how knowing the future is definitely not all it's cracked up to be. Peter Boyle won an Emmy for playing Clyde Bruckman and Darin Morgan won an Emmy for writing him. And they were both very well deserved.

"Jose Chung's From Outer Space" - We go from tragi-comic to out and out comic, with the second of Darin Morgan's great contributions to "The X-Files." In one of the most free-form and self-mocking episodes of the series, a writer named Jose Chung gathers information for a new book based on one of Mulder and Scully's cases, interviewing witnesses to a possible alien encounter who have wildly different interpretations of what happened. Part satire and part "Rashomon," this is "The X-Files" having fun with its pop culture image in the best way.

"Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" - The show's great roster of minor characters has mostly been missing from this list so far. This episode gives us a peek into the (speculated?) dirty doings of the show's signature villain, the Cigarette Smoking Man. And we find out that though he is a thoroughly despicable human being, he nurses his own small aspirations and his own private dreams just like anyone else. One of my favorite moments in the whole series is the ending of this one, culminating in a searing, bitter monologue that starts with, "Life is like a box of chocolates."

"The Post-Modern Prometheus" - More of a modern-day Frankenstein story than a Promethean one, told with B-movie horror, comic book, and daytime talk show flourishes. In a small rural community, Mulder and Scully discover that someone has been dabbling in genetic experimentation, and a "monster" named the Great Mutato may be lurking. However, this is a monster unlike any they've met before – he's a Cher fan, for one thing. From the black-and-white cinematography to the fairy tale ending, this was an unusual experiment for the show that paid off big.

"Triangle"– Probably best remembered for Mulder somehow getting himself stuck on a passenger ship in the Bermuda Triangle and sent back in time to when the ship was being hijacked by Nazis during World War II. However, I think of it as the episode with the amazing long take of Scully extracting secret data from the FBI building, narrowly avoiding detection by Kersh and Spender, and finally getting away with the help of the Lone Gunmen in their microbus. "Triangle" was one of a string of ambitious post-movie episodes that cemented the sixth season as one of the show's best.

"The Unnatural" – And finally, we have a nostalgic baseball fable about a remarkable friendship between two minor league players, from different worlds. And I mean that literally. It's also about the famous 1947 Roswell crash and racial segregation in the 1940s, but the focus is friendship and baseball. Thus, "The Unnatural" is one of the most feel-good hours of television that "The X-files" ever produced. And with its Southern-infused music, tongue-in-cheek humor, and touch of the miraculous, this was the show proving again that it could tell a very wide range of supernatural tales.


  1. No "Die Hand Die Verletzt"?! Otherwise a good list :)

    1. It would be in the honorable mentions, along with "Pusher," "Tooms," Beyond the Sea," and "Excelsis Dei."