Science fiction on television has been making a big comeback in the past few years with shows like Fringe, Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica, and Lost, and recently with brand new shows like V, Flash Forward, and Stargate Universe. But as this new era of otherworldly entertainment slips back into the mainstream, it seems rather appropriate to take a look back at The X-Files, a program that can be cemented as more than just a passing influence on the televised sci-fi we see today. For the newcomers who couldn’t see the pre-Tivo TVs through the bars on their cribs or for any reason missed this pop culture phenomenon the first time around, here is a list of my top ten episodes, just a few gems to watch out for.
10. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space (Season 3, Episode 20, 1996)
Often cited as a superfan favorite, Jose Chung removes itself from the serious, heavy, and ominous tone of most of The X-Files episodes seen up to this point in the series, and takes a rather goofy route by injecting some old school slapstick comedy, outlandish fantasy sequences, and brilliantly bizarre cameos from Charles Nelson Reilly, Jesse Ventura, and another one so hilarious that it’s better if you see it for yourselves.
9. Pilot (Season 1, Episode 0, 1993)
As the introduction to a show that very well could have been written off as a joke, The X-Files pilot had enough intrigue, mystery, emotion, and even adventure to peak the curiosity of any sci-fi lover. Even though the program really didn’t pick up in ratings and fan base until a bit later in the series, this episode did its job by immediately giving the audience reasons to care about Mulder and Scully, their eventual journey, and their developing relationship, all of which delightfully teased the audience during their first case in Bellefleur, Oregon.
8. One Breath (Season 2, Episode 8, 1994)
It was a very close race between One Breath and the Duane Barry/Ascension pairing (season 2, episodes 5 and 6), but the dramatic return of Agent Scully from her alien abduction is just too unforgettable. Not only does it crank the emotional intensity up to eleven, but it also explores the government conspiracy behind her abduction and the existence of alien life with appearances by Mr. X and the Cigarette Smoking Man. The verbal sparring matches between Mulder and Scully’s equally feisty sister, Melissa, created an interesting dynamic in the absence of Scully’s perspective, as did Nurse Owens’ role in Scully’s struggle to survive.
7. Pusher (Season 3, Episode 17, 1996)
Who doesn’t love a good game of cat and mouse? It’s great fun when Mulder and Sully are paired with a worthy, or at least slippery, adversary. Even if, like Robert Patrick Modell, he has a secret weapon in his corner. In Modell’s case, something has given him the power to ‘push’ people to do his bidding, most of which consists of causing themselves or others bodily harm. With Mulder, however, he sees a real challenge and wants to push him further, to cause him real agony. The story from beginning to end is a suspenseful, fast-paced treat that will forever leave you twitchy and paranoid at the mention of ‘Cerulean Blue’.
6. Irresistible (Season 2, Episode 13, 1995)
Ah, Donnie Pfaster. Just when Scully thought she had gotten off the crazy train. Excluding CSM and his cronies, Pfaster has got to be the most disturbing villain that our favorite agents have encountered. Nick Chinlund plays up little idiosyncrasies as Pfaster, making the character more of a person and less of a caricature or typical blueprint for the run-of-the-mill serial killer. Couple that with his characteristically appropriate obsession with women’s hair and a post-abduction Scully once again in mortal danger, this episode is nothing short of, well, the title says it all…
5. Biogenesis (Season 6, Episode 22, 1999)/The Sixth Extinction/The Sixth Extinction 2: Amor Fati (Season 7, Episode 1 & 2, 1999)
For intent followers of the heavily layered mythology arc of The X-Files, it is evident that as the show progressed, the episodes surrounding those storylines and the breaking points Mulder and Scully endured push them further and further towards total, irreversible defeat. This is especially poignant when viewing this anxiety inducing trio of episodes. With Scully off in another continent discovering the possible origin of human existence and Mulder sinking deeper and deeper into a world inside his own head, you’ll be glad you won’t have to wait a whole summer between seasons to view the conclusion to this story.
4. Home (Season 4, Episode 2, 1996)
Kids, gather ‘round the TV! And by that I mean run far far away. Home, to my knowledge, was the only X-Files episode that was preceded with a warning for mature content. According to IMDB, it was banned from Fox after only one airing. If the story about three brothers, their inbreeding shenanigans, and other revolting content wasn’t enough to signal there’s trouble afoot, the ample silence that replaced the usual suspenseful soundtrack for a good chunk of the episode will keep you agitated and jumpy. That, along with slivers of dark humor and thought-provoking moments of dialogue between our heroes, made this one of the show’s most popular episodes.
3. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Season 3, Episode 4, 1995)
The late Peter Boyle makes quite a memorable appearance as Clyde Bruckman, a true psychic in the midst of many phonies who is wise enough to know that no good comes from messing with the future. Not to worry; plenty of future messing ensues, as do many profound queries about death and fate. My favorite of those is this particular exchange:
Bruckman: Do you wanna know how you’re going to die?Mulder: Yes, I would.Bruckman: [Pause] No, you don’t.
2. Anasazi (Season 2, Episode 25 , 1995)/Blessing Way/ Paper Clip (Season 3, Episode 1 & 2, 1995)
Here is yet another trilogy that leads Mulder and Scully deeper into the labyrinth of lies, truths, and the ever-present arsenal of unanswered questions. Excluding Scully’s abduction just prior to these episodes, the events that go on here really laid the groundwork for the mythology arc for the rest of the series. The story of the Anasazi is a fascinating one, and connecting it to the running themes of the show and Mulder and Scully’s journey brought much more significance to what is to come.
1. Two Fathers/One Son (Season 6, Episode 11 & 12, 1999)
Out of the nine seasons of The X-Files, the Two Fathers/One Son two-parter has got to be the biggest turning point and moment of revelation for our heroes. They were also jam-packed with ‘Did that just happen?’ and ‘Ah-ha!’ moments that are extremely satisfying for any dedicated viewers. Ghosts of myth-arc past come back to haunt Mulder and Scully and plop even more insanity into their laps. Even though it’s in the sixth season, the wait is totally worth it, and the thirty seconds it takes to switch from part one to part two will give you such a magnified sense of that anxiety and anticipation that, by now, you will have come to know and love when watching The X-Files.