Welcome, one and all, to the start of a project that is going to be ongoing here for a little while to come. You see, having stuck with it from the get-go, I absolutely love The X-Files. The show is one of the highest regarded science fiction series out there, and began running in the USA in September 1993. Over here in the UK, we got the first episode a year later. Anyway, for those that don’t know, the basic premise of the series is this:
FBI agent and forensic pathologist Dana Scully is assigned to work on the X-Files; a series of unsolved cases that feature unusual traits. Primarily, her role is to work alongside the current agent assigned to the cases and report on his behaviours to her superiors. The agent in question is Fox Mulder, a brilliant criminal psychologist that has been raising a few eyebrows of late. Mulder was once pegged for great things, but his obsession with proving that there is a Government conspiracy to hide the existence of alien life has both held him down and drawn the attention of the wrong people. And so, we have the clash of world views that would form the basis of the early season: Mulder, who wants to believe, and Scully, who is set on scientific evidence.
So, what is this project of which I speak? Well, I actually own the entire collection of episodes. So, while talking with my partner, we figured … why not re-watch the entire thing from start to finish? All being well, we’ll get through one season a month, so what I want to do is give my general thoughts on each season as we go. The idea is to keep my summary brief, give some pros and cons, and then give my list of top episodes. With that being out in the open, let’s get to it!
The series that started it all. Watching this as a teen, I was far less critical than I tend to be now as an adult. Back then, I simply loved the show, and didn’t really notice any of the faults that could be found. Looking at it now …
If we want to get picky about things, it would be fair to say that some of the special effects have not aged well. I remember an episode of the satirical puppet show ‘Spitting Image’ once doing a short X-Files skit with Mulder and Scully wandering around in the dark. Scully turns to Mulder and asks if they should turn the lights on, and he responds that they can’t or everyone will see how bad the special effects are. While the effects are not quite that bad, I do tend to prefer when they aren’t trying to be too over the top with it.
While I do believe that there aren’t any bad episodes in this season, I am happy to accept that they’re inconsistent at times. One or two maybe cross-over with similar plotlines, and whether you enjoy the different cases will depend on your own tolerance for things like UFOs, ghosts, reincarnation etc.
But, that all being said, the series does still stand up well. Mulder and Scully are household names these days, and seeing the start of their rise to iconic status is an absolute joy. The recurring themes and slow reveals of underlying plotlines seeping into the mix of monster-of-the-week and mythos episodes is well done, and when the episodes are on form, they’re immensely good. When you look at the tone of the show too, it’s easy to see how it influenced everything from Supernatural to Bones, and it can also be argued that Scully as a character was itself influential in changing how women were portrayed on TV. Also notable is the slew of guest appearances, though some of the best of these is yet to come.
Now, onto my top episodes. There are 24 in total, so I’m going to go with a top ten this time around. That may change as I go through the seasons, but we’ll see. Be warned though … there be spoilers ahead!
10) Shapes (Episode 19) – ‘Mulder and Scully head to an Indian reservation in North-Western Montana to investigate a manslaughter case which Mulder believes may relate to the very first X-File ever created at the FBI, and its main subject: lycanthropy.’
Of course the shapeshifting episode was going to make my top ten. What I like about this is that the story is half atypical werewolf, and half Native American Skinwalker lore. The culprit becomes quite clear early on, and the fun is found in watching as Scully’s inability to believe causes her to fail to see this in time. The episode is also notable for the line ‘See you in about eight years.’ Ish, an elder on the reservation, says these words to Mulder at the end of the episode. The plot point was not revisited.
09) E.B.E. (episode 17) – ‘Mulder and Scully receive information from Deep Throat about a UFO that was shot down over Iraq and has been secretly transported to the US. However, Deep Throat then intentionally misleads the agents to prevent them from discovering the truth.’
Up until this point, a trend had been set whereby Mulder would witness unusual activity, be it paranormal or extra-terrestrial, and Scully would just miss out on it. Here, Scully is finally witness to an unusual event she and Muder are trailing a truck believed to be carrying an extra-terrestrial entity. Interestingly, Mulder declares it to be a hoax quite quickly. Between this and his earlier acceptance that a photo supplied by the informant Deep Throat shows that he is capable of distinguishing reality from fiction. On top of this, we not only get to meet The Lone Gunmen for the first time, but also get some development with the aforementioned Deep Throat – his openly admitting to lying to Mulder throws up plenty of opportunity for future mistrust, and the final speech that he gives explains his motivations somewhat.
08) Fire (Episode 12) – ‘Mulder investigates the deaths of British dignitaries at the behest of an old girlfriend from Oxford. Cecil L’Ively is a pyrokinetic: he has the ability to start fires with his mind, and he wants Sir Malcolm Marsden’s wife.’
Giving a quick insight into Mulder’s past, the episode introduces his old girlfriend. This arc is perhaps the most blatant use of sexual tension between our two leads, and seeing it play out was rather satisfying. Mark Sheppard (who is brilliant in both Leverage and the Battlestar Galactica reimagining) is superb in his role as Cecil, and is my favourite guest appearance of the first season.
07) The Erlenmeyer Flask (Episode 24) – ‘A seemingly unrelated car chase leads Mulder and Scully to a scientific lab encompassing a secret which could provide proof of a government conspiracy.’
The season finale was the most viewed episode of the first season. With things in full swing, the episode sets out to end things with a flourish, and succeeds with ease. Deep Throat’s death is a poignant reminder that Mulder and Scully were far from safe when they go digging, and Scully outright seeing an alien fetus is a world shattering moment. The titular flask itself is something that would be revisited in seasons to come, and helped set up a lot of lore that would drive the main plot forward as things progressed. The Smoking Man storing the fetus in an evidence facility in the Pentagon was a nice touch that mirrored the pilot episode. The other clever thing was that the ending, with Mulder and Scully being removed from the X-Files, gave the story a conclusion if it wasn’t renewed, while still validating Deep Throat’s last words, ‘Trust no one’.
06) Beyond The Sea (Episode 13) – ‘A death row inmate named Luther Lee Boggs claims that he is psychic and can lead Mulder to a serial killer in exchange for a lesser sentence of life in prison. The agents’ roles are reversed in this episode, with Mulder doubting Boggs’s claim and Scully believing him after she is told that she can communicate through him with her recently deceased father.’
This was a nice little change of pace as, as per the synopsis, Mulder and Scully’s roles are reversed. In this case, Mulder cannot look past his prior connection with Boggs and apply his normal open-minded thinking. On the other hand, Scully’s normal purely scientific approach is swept under the carpet while she deals with the death of her father. Seeing the two agents switch their roles up like this was a nice touch that showed something important: both Mulder and Scully had the potential to look at things from the other’s viewpoint, and so had the chance to find a balance in their approach.
05) Darkness Falls (Episode 20) – ‘Mulder and Scully travel to a remote area of Washington State National Forest after an entire group of thirty loggers goes missing. They soon discover that an unseen force that was lying dormant has been awakened.’
Skittery, spider-y things. Scares me, it does. This was a really well-done piece. The bugs lying dormant in the trees, only to be awoken when a logger tears down a tree that he shouldn’t have, was a nice touch, and a subtle nod to understanding the consequences of your actions. That the glowing beasties were everywhere, even on the agent’s skin, left a real feeling that this was not going to end well, and that our heroes may well be done for. That sort of hopelessness always sits well with me.
04) Lazarus (Episode 15) – ‘When FBI Agent Jack Willis and bank robber Warren Dupre are both shot at the same time during a robbery attempt, Dupre dies and Willis is resuscitated. When Willis rushes out of the hospital and begins acting strangely, Mulder concludes that Dupre’s consciousness has been transferred to Willis’ body.’
What I love about this episode is that it creates such a wonderful balance between the validity of both Mulder and Scully’s outlook on cases. On the one hand, the knowledge that Willis displays after his resuscitation could well point to transferred consciousness, with the moment that his body starts to suffer from the effects of diabetes being a poignant indicator that this is a person unfamiliar with their body. On the other hand, you could also reasonably argue that Willis was simply so ingrained in Dupre’s life during the course of the case that the whole thing is a delusional repercussion of his injuries and resuscitation. When he starts getting flashes of his life as Willis towards the end, it certainly confirms that Willis’ memories are locked in his head somewhere, regardless of the truth though. In all, a superb episode.
03) & 02) Squeeze (Episode 3) – ‘Mulder and Scully investigate a series of murders where there appears to be no tangible method for the murderer’s entrance and escape. Eugene Victor Tooms, a seemingly normal janitor, is suspected by Mulder to be a mutant who kills his victims and extracts their livers in order to prolong his existence.’ & Tooms (Epsiode 21) – ‘Tooms is released from the psychiatric sanitarium in which he was incarcerated for assaulting Scully – and he needs to kill once more to get the final liver which will allow him to hibernate for another thirty years. Mulder and Scully race against time to find evidence of his involvement in the past string of murders before Tooms disappears again. Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) appears for a first time.’
I picked these two as a double because, while at opposite ends of the season, they tie into the same case. I remember back when the series first aired that Squeeze was actually the first episode that got us all talking in high school, and the follow-up in Tooms kick started the whole discussion all over again. The general feeling has always been that Tooms is a scary antagonist because it doesn’t matter where you are, he can find a way in. Looking on it with adult eyes, that still holds true. Tooms was also important because it featured the debut of Walter Skinner, who would go on to become not only a fan favourite character, but a hugely important part of the franchise.
01) Ice (Episode 8) – ‘When an Arctic research team mysteriously kill each other and themselves only days after drilling deeper into the ice than ever before, Mulder and Scully accompany a team of doctors and scientists to investigate. They discover an organism which infects living creatures and amplifies the host’s feeling of anger and paranoia, and the new team starts to deteriorate as they wonder who among them are killers.’
Whether the organism that the researchers found is extra-terrestrial in origin, or an improbable naturally evolved Earth specimen doesn’t matter here. The episode serves up a delicious platter of paranoia as tempers flare and the team slowly begins to fall apart. The ending, where Mulder is informed that the research has all been destroyed, is also satisfying as it provides a clear indicator of how much those in control are willing to destroy to prevent the truth from being revealed.