Slam Adams’ Top 10 Best X-Files Episodes
The X-Files was a cultural phenomenon. It was one of the rare occasions where something that represented geek so well struck big with the general audience. The show has been off the air for some time so maybe a little refresher is in order. FBI Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is tasked with keeping an eye on the conspiracy theorist and resident pain in the neck to the administration, Special Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny). Together, they investigated the titular X-files, a collection of unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena. The series ran for 9 seasons developing a strong mythology consisting of a coming alien invasion and the human beings preparing the world for said aliens. The following is my personal favorite episodes of the series.
10. Monday (Season 6, Episode 14)
“Monday” has nothing to do with the overall arc. It isn’t even really about Mulder and Scully taking on a case. Mulder wakes up to find his waterbed broken. He needs to go to the bank to pay his landlord for the water damage. While at the bank, a would-be robber shoots Mulder and eventually blows up the building. And than everything happens all over again. Co-written by Breaking Bad‘s Vince Gilligan, this episode was inspired by The Twilight Zone episode, “Shadow Play,” but it has obvious connection to Groundhog Day. In fact, most tv shows seem to at one point do a Groundhog Day type episode, but what makes this feel a little more original, is that it is neither Mulder or Scully who is reliving the day over and over. It is a random women connected to the bank robber. It is a great episode that depicts how effective The X-Files was at embracing and reinventing the tropes of its’ genre.
9. Pusher (Season 3, Episode 17)
BIG TIME SPOILER FOR THIS ONE. I can’t talk about this episode with talking about the ending. It is what makes it so great in the first place. The title, “Pusher,” refers to this episode’s villain, Robert Modell. He is a contract killer who Mulder believes has a psychic ability to “push” people to do his bidding. This comes particularly handy when he pushes people to kill themselves than to actually incriminate himself. Mulder’s inquisitive mind forces him to look deeper. His investigation eventually leads to a hospital where Modell has been getting treatment for a brain tumor. Mulder comes to the conclusion that his brain tumor is the source of his psychic ability. The episode ends with Modell and Mulder at a table playing Russian Roulette, Mulder a slave to Modell’s “push” power.
8. The Post-Modern Prometheus (Season 5, Episode 5)
This might be one of the weirdest episodes of The X-Files. After a series of strange pregnancies, Mulder and Scully find themselves on a monster hunt for a creature dubbed The Great Mutato by a local amateur comic creator. It takes a lot of inspiration from the “Frankenstein” story especially the James Whale directed movie, hence, the whole episode being shot in black and white. Continuing its odd nature, there are clips from “The Jerry Springer Show” and a soundtrack made up of Cher songs, the Great Mutato’s favorite artist.
7. Bad Blood (Season 5, Episode 12)
“Bad Blood,” like “Monday,” takes advantage of another television trope that most tv shows eventually take advantage of, the same story from 2 different perspectives. Basically Mulder and Scully both narrate their versions of what happened on their most recent case to their supervisor, Skinner, after Mulder stakes their suspect in the heart. It is interesting to see how Mulder and Scully see each other. They both see the other as being the irritated and annoyed one. These differences in the story also extend to how that small town sheriff is portrayed (guest star Luke Wilson). Mulder sees him as a buck-toothed simpleton while Scully see him as an attractive charmer. I could be wrong, but I think this is the second and last time the duo investigate a case of vampirism. This one takes a more geek approach, depicting the vampires as modern morons while Mulder categorizes their weaknesses and even tries to use the usually ignored OCD condition.
6. Triangle (Season 6, Episode 3)
Mulder boards a cruise liner that has mysteriously appeared in the Bermuda Triangle. Once aboard, Mulder finds himself transported in time to 1939 during the outbreak of World War II. Nazis have taken over the cruise liner, and Mulder helps a familiar face (Gillian Anderson playing an old fashioned dame) take it back. It is notable because Mulder’s time on the ship is shot and edited to look as if it is one interrupted shot. Of course, it is eventually interrupted when The Lone Gunmen let present day Scully know about Mulder’s disappearance. Nevertheless, the gimmick and surprisingly light-hearted tone make “Triangle” one of the most fun episodes of The X-Files.
5. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Season 3, Episode 4)
Often considered the best of the series, “Final Repose” is probably the most heartfelt episode. Clyde Bruckman (Peter Boyle) is a feeble old man who can see how people are going to die. When Clyde finds one of many dead fortune tellers, he is interviewed by Mulder and Scully and gives them information he could not possibly know. Mulder, believing he has a gift, invites him to help with the investigation. While the investigation is a classic twisty turny thriller, what makes this episode really great is Boyle’s performance. He is soft-spoken and sometimes a little too blunt and honest. He builds a fast relationship with Scully, who, of course, is skeptic of his ability.
4. Drive (Season 6, Episode 2)
This is the first time that writer Vince Gilligan and actor Bryan Cranston work together before making one of the best shows on television, Breaking Bad. Cranston is cast as a redneck bigot, who after the mysterious death of his wife, takes Mulder hostage and forces him to drive west. Driving west seems to lessen the pain that Cranston gets in his head. While Mulder is upset at being a hostage and having to listen to Cranston’s antisemitic slurs, he also feels an obligation to do the right thing and help him get over his illness. Scully investigates his house concluding that a Navy antenna emitting ELF waves has caused an increase in inner ear pressure thus the pain. It is one of the more thrilling episodes combining the ticking clock that is the oncoming western seaboard as well as the thrills that naturally come with a good car chase.
3. Beyond the Sea (Season 1, Episode 13)
The purpose of Beyond the Sea is to reverse the roles of Mulder and Scully as believer and skeptic. Scully, having just lost her father in a very haunting scene, falls for a charismatic death row inmate (played awesomely by Brad Dourif) who claims to have psychic powers. He tells Scully that he will be able to talk to her father for her. The inmate also wants a stay of execution if he helps with a kidnapping. I do not remember why Mulder feels so passionately skeptical about the situation, but it doesn’t really matter. This episode is about Scully. Despite her usual skepticism, she is a devout Christian. It’s something Mulder has tried to take advantage of a few times to get her to be more open-minded of his kind of paranormal. Her steadfastness further reinforces the contrast of Mulder’s obsessive search for truth and most people’s acceptance of the mystery. This is her most challenging episode yet as she has a crisis of faith with her father’s passing. It seems strange that they would tackle this idea so early into the series. They didn’t even finish season 1 before they started messing with the character relationship, but I suppose that is easy to say in retrospect. They probably never thought the show would make it 9 seasons after all.
2. The Unnatural (Season 6, Episode 9)
Before I revisited the series a year ago, this episode was my most memorable. It works like a classic monster-of-the-week episode, but it still deals with an alien. Investigating some Roswell newspapers, Mulder sees his old friend Arthur Dales, a retired FBI agent who also worked on the X-Files, posing with the alien bounty hunter who had been showing up everytime Mulder was getting close to the “truth.” What he finds instead is Arthur’s brother (also named Arthur) who used to work for the Roswell Sheriff’s department. He tells Mulder a story about the time that he was tasked with protecting an all African-American baseball team from harassment (during a time where racism was still pretty out in the open). Arthur eventually finds out that one of the ballplayers is actually a shape-shifting alien. It mixes The X-Files usual thrills and chills with the light-hearted drama found in many sports movies like Field of Dreams.
1. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space (Season 3, Episode 20)
I think this is one of the few episodes of The X-files that represents all of the qualities of the show. It follows Mulder and Scully investigating the alien abduction of 2 teenagers as well as the science fiction author interviewing them for his next work. There is a lot of black comedy based on a number of mishaps and misunderstandings as well as the usual suspects being smarmy toward Mulder’s usual ramblings. This is despite the fact that some really tense and crazy things really go down. I wish I could go into detail what actually happened, but there are just so many unreliable narrators (as well as some presumed manipulation) that it would be hard to tack down any cohesive narrative. But that is what makes it so good, that The X-files writers can straddle that line between truth and fiction. Plus, there are some remarkable one-off characters including a pair of men in black played by Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura and the science fiction writer, played memorably by Charles Nelson Reilly