Top 7 X-Files episodes and what the new version should learn from them

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Mar 25, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT

We love The X-Files. Among other things, it's about a man who believes in aliens. Who works for the FBI. Who don't like him. So they keep him in the basement. Full of tension and opaque conspiracies that took years to unravel, fans of The X-Files learned they weren't paranoid: The government really was out to get us.

The series ended in 2002 after nine years, followed by an altogether disappointing movie and a better season 10 in comic book form. But fans have long clamored for more.

In the best news we've heard in a long time, we now know that The X-Files will be getting a six-episode miniseries, starring the characters we know and love, the all-too-open-minded Fox Mulder (David Duchovy) and his cynical, no-nonsense partner, Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson).

We don't know what the miniseries will hold. But we know what we want to see. Here's hoping showrunner Chris Carter will dish out what X-Files fans have been craving after a "thirteen-year commercial break," as he put it. Points like:


Stand-out episode: "all things"

Scully and Mulder: Their romance was the 'ship that launched a thousand fanfiction stories.

Even though we saw their relationship develop over the seasons, it was heavily implied that the two partners were romantically involved, but never outrightly shown — until suddenly they were together. A hat-tip to episode "all things," where we see Scully exit a bedroom with Mulder still asleep in bed (written by Scully herself, Gillian Anderson).

We know from the movie X-Files: I Want to Believe that Mulder and Scully still live together. But it doesn't mean we won't see romantic tension. Mulder is always a believer, and Scully is always a skeptic, and that can make for some serious push and pull. Duchovny and Anderson, if bring you the fireworks, we'll bring the popcorn.


Stand-out episode: "The Host"

Holy crap, there were some scary episodes of The X-Files. "Home," from season 4, was so disturbing that Fox no longer airs it (although it can be found in syndication on other channels). 

Although "Home" is frightening, it's also stomach turning. When it comes to creepy goodness, your mileage may vary, but my odometer is set to "The Host." But villain of that particular week is a man turned into a fluke by Chernobyl's radiation. He creeps me out--and I'm not the only one. In the (fabulous) season 4 episode, "The Field Where I Died," Mulder and Scully remember him all too well:

Mulder: "Early in the four years we've been working together ... somebody told you that ... we'd been friends together in other lifetimes ... wouldn't it have changed some of the ways we looked at one another?"

Scully: "Even if I knew for certain, I wouldn't change a day. Well, maybe that Flukeman thing. I could've lived without that just fine."


Stand-out episode: "X-Cops"

The X-Files was a dark show, full of suspense, paranoia, and a heed (and a password) to trust no one. But no thriller could do comedy like The X-Files.

Episodes like "Bad Blood" were outright hilarious, and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" and "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" poked fun at itself in a way that few dramas would dare. It's not every show that can change its tone, repeatedly, and manage to stay true to itself. The X-Files did and did it spectacularly. 

Although it's hard to choose from one of several hilarious episodes, "X-Cops," where reality TV show Cops collides with Mulder and Scully on duty, stands out just a little farther than the others because it manages to play with the tropes of not one show but two.

References to Mulder's porn collection

Stand-out episode: "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose"

If you paid close attention, there were many sly references to Mulder's porn collection throughout the seasons, from season 1's "Jersey Devil" (where Scully catches Mulder looking at a skin mag)  to season 7's "Hollywood A.D." (where a sound expert describes ambient sound as "the hum of my hardware, Mulder's porn tapes on pause, the sound from the street").

But the funniest moment comes from one of the show's best — if not the best — episodes: "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose." In it, Clyde Bruckman is an average man with the ability to see the details of a person's death. Although we never learn if his prediction comes true, he tells Mulder, "There are worse ways to go, but I can't think of a more undignified way than autoerotic asphyxiation."

It would tickle me down to my fangirl toes to see a reference to this in the new show.


Overarching plot

Stand-out episode: "Sein und Zeit/Closure"

Between monster-of-the-week episodes and the occasional character-developing ones, The X-Files tells a story about aliens, the government's knowledge of their existence, and their plan to take over the Earth in the near future. But there's another storyline that is as essential to the show: What happened to Samantha Mulder?

Fox Mulder became the man Who Wants to Believe after he witnessed his young sister Samantha's abduction. This story arc is what drives Mulder, and his need to know The Truth is what makes him--and the show--so compelling. The new X-Files would benefit from this kind of purpose.

On a personal note: When we learn about Samantha's fate in "Closure," the song "My Weakness" by Moby plays in the background. The scene was so devastating to me, I've never been able to hear that song again.

Solid talent

Stand-out episode: "Duane Barry/Ascension"

As with another fabulous television show where a conspiracy may or may not be happening — The Twilight Zone — The X-Files turned out to be a proving ground for many actors; the video below has a sample of some of them. We might not have known their names then, but we certainly know them now.

But to me, the standout guest actor wasn't a new kid on the block: Steve Railsback had previously starred in The Stuntman and Lifeforce. You can see him in the two-parter "Duane Barry" and "Ascension."

We hope the new casting directors are as canny as the previous ones.

Science vs. urban legend

Stand-out episode: "War of the Coprophages"

The book Film, Folklore, and Urban Legends by Mikel J. Koven refers to The X-Files as "folklore files." That's because many episodes deal with everyday myths and urban legends and brings them to life (where Mulder can believe it in and Scully can debunk it). The Jersey Devil. The chupacabra. The golem. The soul eater. Plus, several episodes have enough science to make science fiction fans proud: A tattoo that causes hallucinations is actually ergot poisoning; an alien spaceship is actually a swarm of cockroaches.

The X-Files was a very smart show. Please, Chris Carter, let it stay that way.

For more on this, read The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites, and Mutants by Anne Simon.)


Other stand-out episodes, in no particular order:

  • Ice 
  • Duane Barry
  • One Breath
  • Small Potatoes
  • Paper Clip
  • Beyond the Sea
  • Monday
  • Pusher