With the news officially breaking last week that cult hit 90’s TV show The X-Files would be making a come-back we decided to take a look back at the show and pick out some of our favourite episodes. One of the things we discovered is that over the course of the 9 seasons picking favourites can be really hard. But one of the common traits seemed to be episodes that managed to incorporate elements of humour, which is surprising for a show that was generally considered quite dark and dramatic.
We apologise in advance for the length of this article, it’s really hard to narrow down the choices and wordy responses as to why these episodes were so good, it’s difficult to keep our excitement contained when attempting to describe its brilliance.
“Pilot” – Season One, Episode Zero (it’s the pilot, so according to IMDB it is Zero)
It literally begins with a pilot episode that introduces everything you really need to know about the show in one thrilling engaging 45 minutes. We’re given introductions to our characters, Special Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), the “spooky” guy who believes in aliens and his newly assigned partner Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), the medical doctor and skeptic who is there to keep Mulder in check. They’re investigating cases that are unexplained or have elements of paranormal involvement. However there’s something much bigger going on here, a possible Government conspiracy to hide the existence of extra-terrestrial life and Mulder wants the truth. But somebody shadowy (Cigarette Smoking Man/Cancer Man portrayed by William B. Davis) is thwarting him every step of the way.
From the beginning we’re shown that Mulder has a cocky dry wit, and Scully is a strong smart independent woman but in order for them to get to the truth they need to trust each other and work together. — Carina Nilma
“Ice” – Season One, Episode Seven
Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate deaths at the research facility of the Arctic Ice Core Project. What they didn’t expect was to find an ancient micro-organism that causes aggression and erratic behaviour in anyone it invades. “Ice” uses the idea of a “bottle episode”, to amplify the anxious, claustrophobic tension that continues to escalate.
Many of the X Files stories focus on “monsters” being the scary part of an episode, or use Government conspiracy to create fear, but in “Ice” the terrifying part is how no one can trust each other, not even themselves. The trust that has been established between Mulder and Scully is tested in this episode, however, even in the midst of an extremely tense situation, Mulder has opportunities to puncture the tense atmosphere with his dry humour. As Scully examines Mulder for any sign of the organism, he comments “Before anyone passes judgement, may I remind you we are in the Arctic…” Oh, Mulder! — Jadey O’Regan
“Beyond The Sea” – Season One, Episode Twelve
After eleven episodes in this first season, this is the first one we get that’s dubbed as “Scully-centric” since it focuses more on Scully’s journey and events in her life. After her father suddenly dies Scully and Mulder work with death-row inmate Luther Lee Boggs (Brad Dourif) who claims he’s psychic and can help them apprehend a kidnapper who has already murdered one person. Chris Carter has often said that Scully was his version of Clarice Starling and in this episode we see some Silence Of The Lambs similarities. We also see Scully being emotionally compromised more than ever as she tries to come to grips with Boggs’ claimed psychic abilities and whether or not she believes him. Gillian Anderson is utterly mesmerising in this episode. — Carina Nilma
“The Host” – Season Two, Episode Two
An episode that terrified me as an adolescent, “The Host” feeds into so many common “icky” fears we have: scary creatures in the deep, slimy, blood-sucking parasites and a whole lot of raw sewerage. What makes this episode a stand-out is not only that it has a genuinely terrifying “monster of the week”, but it’s one of the few episodes where Mulder and Scully actually capture a paranormal creature and then have to figure out what to do with it. How do you prosecute a half-man, half-flukeworm? The episode also occurs at an important point in the X Files canon, where Mulder and Scully have to assess the future of their work together at the FBI.
My favourite (and very funny) moment of the episode is when Mulder hands over his case report to Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), only to have him reply in all seriousness, “Well, this all looks in order”. It’s an episode that will make you think twice before you use a Port-a-Loo anytime soon. — Jadey O’Regan
“Duane Barry” and “Ascension” – Season Two Episodes 5 and 6
We come to the episode(s) that would arguably shape the entire series to come. Some of creator, Chris Carter’s finest work lay here in this two-part saga that sees Mulder locked in a hostage situation as negotiator to escaped, mentally-unstable convict, Duane Barry (Steve Railsback), who asserts that he is a multiple-alien-abductee, and that he will be taken again. Meanwhile, Scully uncovers some dangerous truths about Duane, and her involvement puts her in grave danger – especially when Duane Barry escapes again.
The unexpected pregnancy of Gillian Anderson at the time created an opportunity perfectly seized by the writers to take The X-Files on a massive paradigm shift, thus providing an absolute wealth of exposition and snowballing mystery that would carry the show right through it’s amazing nine-season-and-two-film run. This seminal two-parter really showed us all where the show could go, and that the sky’s the limit.
Worth noting also is that, yes, this IS the infamous episode featuring Duchovny in those red Speedos. Y’know, if you’re into that sort of thing. — Rod Fletcher
“Anasazi” – Season Two, Episode Twenty Five
THIS. This is what all cliff-hangers should aspire to be when they grow up! If you watched this as it aired in 1995, along with the rest of us thirty-somethings, then you KNOW real pain; that pre-internet pain that comes with actually waiting almost a full year for some slither of resolution to this heart-stopping masterpiece.
Our pair of agents are approached by a reclusive computer hacker, claiming to have found his way into the Department of Defence’s complete alien intelligence files. Mulder, initially believing this reveal to be a hoax, comes to understand that some are taking this leak very seriously, and with devastating results. Broken trust, espionage and even murder all pave the way to the Navajo desert where a startling, even horrifying discovery is made. Seriously, do they even make TV this good anymore? “Anasazi” is a pivotal keystone in the series’ mythology, and, up to this point, a major game-changer! — Rod Fletcher
“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” – Season Three, Episode Four
One of only four Darin Morgan-penned episodes, Clyde Bruckman exhibits all my favourite elements of the series. Darkness, comedy, sincerity, and thought-provoking gloom come together to create one of the most loved episodes of the series. Peter Boyle portrays Clyde Bruckman, a man who can reluctantly foresee people’s deaths, as both isolated and endearing to such a magnetic degree. As difficult as it was to choose which Morgan-penned episode was my favourite (between “Humbug”, Bruckman, “War of the Coprophages”, and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”), Bruckman takes the gold for it’s enthralling blend of humour and poignancy. — Bernadette Manaois
“Pusher” — Season Three, Episode 17
Sometimes it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly why an episode is my favourite, but this one has stayed with me ever since the very first time I saw it. Robert Patrick Modell AKA Pusher (Robert Wisden) has the ability to “push” people to do his will, a form of telepathic ability that has enabled him to murder people by making them commit suicide. The episode turns into a game of cat and mouse as Modell and Mulder battle minds and will coming to an excruciating climax. We get to see Mulder at his criminal profiling best as he picks apart Modell in an attempt to understand why and how he does what he does. This whole episode is a tense thriller but that Russian Roulette scene at the end gets me right in the gut every single time. — Carina Nilma
“Quagmire” – Season Three, Episode 22
This episode is one of the early ones that I really enjoy. The first scene after the opening credits is just typical Mulder and Scully with a little humor thrown in.
Scully: “So you think that there’s a serial killer at large?”
Mulder: “The operative word being large.” *trying not to giggle*
I also love the fact that Scully brings her little dog, Queequeg, along for the episode (well most of it…). Poor Scully is just so upset when Queequeg is eaten, you get to see another side of her that you don’t see too often. My favorite part of the whole episode is when Mulder and Sully get stuck in “the middle” of the lake…yet they end up being only about a stone’s throw from the shore. I absolutely love the conversation they have on that rock, serious, with some humor thrown in, mostly from Mulder. Overall, I like the back and forth between Mulder and Scully in this episode, more than I do the story, but for me, it’s one of my favorite episodes. — Arielle Stout
“Paper Hearts” – Season Four, Episode Ten
A brilliant, if somewhat overlooked episode that sees Fox Mulder reluctantly enlisting the aid of an imprisoned adversary from his past to help unravel mysteries of the present – including that most personal to Mulder himself. Played to chilling effect by Tom Noonan, child murderer, John Lee Roche, has Mulder locked in a Silence of the Lambs-esque psychological gambit. Recanting his crimes, Roche brings Mulder to believe that he may have been involved in the unsolved disappearance of Samantha, his sister.
Is Roche just playing to Mulder’s desires and fear… or are we really one big step closer?
This episode is palpably tense – tightly written, acted and executed, and offers audiences another piece of the puzzle that permeates the show’s mythology and is Agent Mulder’s driving force behind the X-Files project itself.
Be warned, though: this episode may be found to be as heart-wrenching as it is thrilling! — Rod Fletcher
“Bad Blood” – Season Five, Episode Twelve
The cold open of “Bad Blood” is easily my favourite of the entire series. The episode begins with a young man being chased through dark woods, eventually getting taken down and having a stake pummeled into his chest— classic Vince Gilligan-penned cliffhanger cold open. Duchovny and Anderson play off each other’s character traits skillfully and the addition of guest star Luke Wilson creates an entertaining contrast between their portrayals. Vince Gilligan has offered up a fairly simple vampire story, with small additions of rarely seen vampire tropes, to frame masterfully written recounts. While I want to use Bad Blood as the gateway episode for introducing potential fans, the earned context from the previous 5 seasons truly make for layered understanding for Mulder and Scully’s respective sides of the story. — Bernadette Manaois
“Arcadia” — Season Six, Episode Sixteen
Mulder and Scully go undercover as a married couple. Need I say more? This is another pleasantly humorous episode showcasing Mulder and Scully’s interactions. The living community that they investigate is something that definitely still exists in terms of the ritualistic (not sure if that’s the right word to use, but I couldn’t get the right word to come to mind) type of way they went about their daily lives. Move-ins have to be done by six, no basketball hoops, no yard decorations. You get to see the dark side of a picture-perfect American neighborhood. My favorite part of the episode is this interaction.
Mulder: “Woman get back in here and make me a sandwich”.
Scully (off camera): *throws her rubber gloves at Mulder*
— Arielle Stout
“The Unnatural” — Season Six, Episode Nineteen
The Unnatural marked David Duchovny’s directorial and sole writing credit debut and featured little Mulder and Scully throughout the 1940’s flashback-centric episode, focusing on a reminiscing ex-cop Arthur Dales (Frederic Lehne as the young Dales, M. Emmett Walsh as the old) and a baseball-loving alien Josh Exley (Jesse L. Martin). The episode carries a thoughtful aura throughout, ultimately making me forget that at face value, it is pretty cheesy. While it holds it’s own comedically, the poignant mournfulness of The Unnatural is balanced beautifully with a sincerely sweet plot. The episode is bookended with scenes featuring Mulder and Scully goofing off that feel earnestly natural, which I feel is a testament to Duchovny’s whimsical direction throughout. Had those scenes been featured in any other episode, it would feel like unapologetic fan service, and even that’s what the scenes are in this episode, it wholeheartedly succeeds at masking it. — Bernadette Manaois
When you’ve got 9 seasons worth to pick from there are A LOT of episodes that didn’t make our hefty list, but here are some honourable mentions:-
“Squeeze” and “Tooms” – Season One, Episode Two and Season One, Episode Twenty
“Humbug” – Season Two, Episode Twenty
“Colony” and “End Game” – Season Two Episode Sixteen and Season Two Episode Seventeen
“Home” – Season Four, Episode Two
“How The Ghosts Stole Christmas” – Season Six, Episode Six
“X-Cops” – Season Seven, Episode Twelve
“Via Negativa” – Season Eight, Episode Seven
“John Doe” – Season Nine, Episode Seven