Welcome, one and all, to the latest step in my ongoing X-Files re-watch. After viewing my favourite season last month, can season 4 continue the quality?
Running from October 1996 to May 1997. Season four of The X-Files places the focus squarely on Mulder and Scully’s continued investigation into the Syndicate protected alien conspiracy. Building on the success of season three, it saw an average viewership of 20 million per episode, with the Super Bowl XXXI lead-out episode ‘Leonard Betts’ scoring a new franchise high of 29.1 million viewers.
There were, of course, plenty of appearances by series regulars here, including Alex Krycek, Cigarette Smoking Man, and The Lone Gunmen, but the main points to note were Scully’s cancer diagnosis and Mulder’s faltering of belief with regards to extra-terrestrials. Both these points would carry over to future seasons and help drive the main story arc on.
What is interesting here is that the series received a far more consistently positive reception from critics than prior seasons, yet they all agreed on one thing: the quality was not as high. That plays out about right for me personally. Season three of the X-Files was my favourite, and if I’m being honest, season four didn’t sit as well with me the first time around. It was that that led to my changing from viewing the show as compulsive, must-see TV to something that I dipped in and out of when I had the time.
Despite this though – or maybe it was aided by the lowered expectations for the re-watch – I thoroughly enjoyed running through it all again. Yes, some episodes did kinda feel like clangers to me, but the majority of the run was actually really great. The episode numbers dropped to twenty-four, but that’ still more than enough to do a top ten …
10) Memento Mori (Episode 14) – ‘Fear for Scully’s health sends Mulder to investigate the bizarre circumstances that may explain her mysterious abduction two years ago, while Scully takes a more practical course to quell her illness.’
The episode where Scully starts to face the possibility of death. Aside from the continuation of Mulder and Scully’s primary story arcs for the season, this episode did plenty for the overall tale, bringing together some previously touched upon points to start tying things together.
09) Zero Sum (episode 21) – ‘Agent Mulder launches a criminal investigation into a bizarre death which he finds has connections to A.D. Skinner. Meanwhile, Skinner makes his own deal with the devil in a desperate attempt to save Scully from the cancer that is taking over her body.’
This one had a mixed reception from critics, but I really enjoyed it. Skinner took centre stage here, and seeing him trying to juggle his loyalty to Mulder and Scully with his dealings with Cigarette Smoking Man was a real joy.
08) & 07) Tempus Fugit (Episode 17) – ‘While celebrating Scully’s birthday, Mulder learns of Max Fenig’s death in a plane crash. What the agents soon discover is that the circumstances surrounding the crash may have been alien.’ & Max (Episode 18) – ‘The investigation continues for agents Mulder and Scully of the apparent downing of Flight 549 by a UFO. They encounter deadly opposition from the military, which continues to cover up the truth of incident.’
The X-Files once again served up a memorable double header here, this time bringing the agents together to investigate the death of Max Fenig, who had appeared previously in the season one episode Fallen Angel.
06) Demons (Episode 23) – ‘Scully is concerned for Mulder’s well-being when he suffers from a memory loss while investigating a case — and is the only suspect in a brutal double murder.’
This was another episode where we begin to learn more about Mulder and Cigarette Smoking Man’s past links. The whole thing was really well executed, and left us guessing until the end whether Mulder truly had committed murder.
05) Paper Hearts (Episode 10) – ‘Agent Mulder is haunted by an old case in which young girls were killed and hearts cut from their nightgowns. Soon Mulder becomes suspicious when the killer taunts him with the idea that one of his victims may have been Samantha.’
What I loved about this episode was that we got to see Mulder in a really driven mode. In a way, it was a redemption case for him too, as it meant revisiting a criminal that he thought that he’d bested already.
04) Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man (Episode 7) – ‘Mulder, Scully and Byers meet with Frohike, where he details what may have been Cigarette Smoking Man’s real life.’
You kinda feel for Cigarette Smoking Man here. He was brutally efficient, and clearly very good at his job but all he really wanted was to be a published author. The episode essentially humanises the antagonist, which is no bad thing, and fills in a few gaps as to how he managed to get to his current position. Very good stuff.
03) & 02) Tunguska (Episode 8) – ‘A diplomatic courier carrying deadly cargo involves Agents Mulder and Scully in a dangerous web of intrigue, which leads Mulder on a trip to Russia.’ & Terma (Episode 9) – ‘Scully and Skinner attend a suspicious Senate hearing, while Mulder and Krycek face off in a Russian gulag.’
The return of both Alex Krycek and the Black Oil forced the main conspiracy storyline forward a few steps. As seems to be the case with Krycek episodes, the quality was high, and we were eld on a merry little twisty path. You do have to wonder if things would have turned out differently had Mulder tried to get along with the double-agent though.
01) Gethsemane (Episode 24) – ‘Researchers in northern Canada discover what may finally be irrefutable proof of alien existence, but even Mulder is skeptical until sinister agents begin to kill to prevent its revelation, leading to a shocking conclusion.’
The season closer was a great one, and really set things up for the beginning of season five. From the ongoing conspiracy to the shaking of Mulder’s beliefs, it was a real tour de force in storytelling. The conclusion was a real cliff-hangar too that threatened to send shockwaves through the franchise.