Friday, January 22, 2016

My Top 10 Favorite "X-Files" Episodes

(images via Marteen de Boer)

Welp. Something I thought would never, ever happen is happening in only 2 days. Putting words to my excitement would only trivialize it, so I'll simply say that when Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny appear on screen this Sunday night on FOX, their home for 9 years, as Special Agent Dana Scully and Special Agent Fox Mulder (respectively, duh)... well, I'm gonna cry. Legit. I'm crying thinking about it, actually.

Over the many years that I've been an obsessive fan of "The X-Files" television show (and first film) and all of the messy, terrible, incredible, brilliant, sexy, important, and captivating stories it told, I could never have imagined stars Anderson and Duchovny ever embracing their television personas—on TV!—again. But it's happening, for 6 special episodes beginning January 24th, and as a result, an entire generation of people will get to see original airings for the very first time. "Catching up" on the show's first nine seasons was the country's most popular Winter 2015 activity (including me, as I make my boyfriend watch it so he'll finally understand), and for good reason: "The X-Files" is spectacular, and phenomenons need to be shared.

It also got me thinking, of course, about my very favorite episodes. The ones where, if it were up to me, I'd show all new fans first. My love leans more "Monster of the Week" vs. "Mythology," as you'll soon see, but that's where all the character development is anyways.

So without further ado... my Top 10 Favorite "X-Files" episodes (*SPOILERS*):
(perhaps one of the upcoming 6 can surpass these!)

Honorable Mention: 
"War of the Coprophages" (Season 3, ep. 12 — air date: 1/5/1996)

What a silly, dumb, gross episode. It was also the very first I ever saw, back when it first aired. I was nine years old hanging out at a friend's house, and her parents were watching it. We weren't supposed to be watching, but we were, peering around from the hallway. The events that followed—KILLER COCKROACHES—scarred me and terrified me into weeks of nightmares, and a vow to avoid the series for the rest of my life. Little did I know that it's one of the funniest episodes of the series.

Mulder is infatuated with a bug scientist named Bambi, Scully is a jealous know-it-all, and everything is perfect in the world. I may have avoided the show for 3 more years out of fear (it was #10 on the list that reeled me back in), it's this initial viewing that I'll remember forever. My first introduction to "The X-Files," and therefore, my honorable mention.

10. "Triangle" (Season 6, ep. 3 — air date: 11/22/1998)

The kiss between Duchovny and Anderson in this episode was so fiercely advertised by FOX leading up to the airing, it was enough to override my fear-sabbatical from the show (you know, the cockroach-induced one) and have me grappling for more, more, more! It also spurred an obsession that continues to this day, then prompting me in pre-DVR/Netflix days to track down every damn episode and devour them in feverish delight. No really, I had a checklist and everything.

"Triangle" was a dream come true for Scully/Mulder shippers everywhere, despite Carter keeping the entire "time travel" portion of the episode remarkably dark and difficult to see. Every beat is hit with perfection, and Mulder got to re-meet Scully with all that history looming over his head. It's got ghost ships, the Bermuda Triangle, NAZIS, and of course... oh so much sexual tension. And for the very first time ever, that tension got some much needed release.

9. "Pusher" (Season 3, ep. 17 — air date: 4/12/1996)

Unlike most of the episodes on this list, this episode's killer has his sights set not on Scully, but on Mulder. This episode would feel familiar to anybody who binge-watched Netflix' first season of Jessica Jones this past Fall, featuring a like-villain possessing the equally terrifying ability to control peoples' actions. Even more disturbing is his penchant for pushing people to suicide. Mulder is understandably fascinated by this phenomenon, desperate to engage with Robert Patrick Modell, the man known as Pusher, and hopeful to avoid the same fate as his other victims.

The episode is a troubling game of cat and mouse, and Robert Wisden as Modell brings plenty of personality to the part. The final sequence, as Modell forces Mulder to play a warped version of Russian Roulette (fun fact! the first time the death game was shown on television!), there is no moment more gut-wrenching than the pain in Mulder's eyes when he turns the gun on Scully. Season 3 brought audiences so much gold, so by this point in the season, this moment was an embarrassment of riches.

8. "Paper Clip" (Season 3, ep. 2 — air date: 9/29/1995)

The one—and only—mythology episode on this list. Up until this point in the series, the conspiracy never felt concrete. I mean, there was fleeting evidence, sure, but it's not until "Paper Clip" (and its two wonderful lead-in episodes, "Anasazi" and "The Blessing Way") that things get bananas. Mulder is presumed dead by the shadowy Syndicate, giving him unprecedented, undisturbed freedom to go in search of answers. Not only does he stumble upon evidence, he (and Scully) begin to understand motivations for the cover-up—and, at least temporarily, gain the upperhand.

This is also the first time we see the inner-workings of the Syndicate and just how unstable they are. We meet the Well-Manicured Man, my favorite of the ominous government group, in the episode before, and his confessions here set the agents on a season-long journey of non-stop revelations. I think The X-Files: Fight the Future took a lot of tonal inspiration from this episode.

7. "Bad Blood" (Season 5, ep. 12 — air date: 2/22/1998)

Gillian Anderson's favorite episode, and one of mine because I can tell how much fun she's having in it. There's no episode of the series that runs the gamut of Scully's facial expressions like this one, not even "Arcadia" (Season 6) or "Hollywood, A.D" (Season 7). A he said/she said/they said recount of a vampire hunt gone wrong when Mulder is accused of staking dead a man only pretending to be a vampire. It's playful and over-the-top, with more eye-rolling from Scully than any other episode.

Written brilliantly by Breaking Bad creator, Vince Gilligan, it guest stars Luke Wilson and that ginger-kid from The Sandlot. It may be the least scary ep of the series, but Season 5 needed this exact level of humor injection mid-way through.

6. "Squeeze" (Season 1, ep. 3 — air date: 9/24/1993)

The first "Monster of the Week" episode and the only one to generate a "sequel" week (Season 1, episode 21, "Tooms") about a liver-eating serial killer living in a newspaper and bile cocoon. Yup, it's as disgusting as it sounds. This set the tone for a series that really is more monsters than aliens, not to mention establishing Scully as a prime target for serial killer affections. That Scully, she just can't catch a break. Only three episodes in, and these characters are already finding their stride.

Co-written by future, long-time series writers, Glen Morgan and James Wong, Chris Carter handed over the story reigns and proved his discerning taste for talent. The show is what it is today because of the consistency of its writers, and this is where it all started.

5. "Irresistible" (Season 2, ep. 13 — air date: 1/13/1995)

The least X-File-y X-File of all. An episode devoid (almost) completely of supernatural elements, this is a down and dirty hunt for a serial killer that's primed to give any woman out there nightmares. Mulder's experience profiling fetishists and killers has numbed him to the trauma of this case, a man who is murdering women, removing their hair and fingernails, but Scully isn't so desensitized. Unnerved and shaken, she chooses to step away... too bad the killer has set his sights on her already.

This is an episode that "Criminal Minds" would hold in esteem. It's frightening for no other reason than it's completely believable. Scully's vulnerability is rare, and while one could get irritated with how frequently Mulder has to come to her rescue, it never hurts to remind us how much he cares for her. A complete standalone that I've never forgotten.

4. "The Unnatural" (Season 6, ep. 19 — air date: 4/25/1999)

The directorial (and writing) debut of David Duchovny in the series, this is an episode so expertly balanced with history, conspiracy, and heart, I'm tempted to scratch my #1 and put this in its place. Both Scully and Mulder take a bit of a backseat in this one as Duchovny Mulder dives into baseball history. A story about a player back in the 1940s who played for the Roswell Grays, who may or may not have been an alien (spoiler: he was). It's a beautifully directed episode, poetic in a way that most in the series never achieved.

In between storied flashbacks, Mulder and Scully playfully exchange cliches and she cutely eats ice cream, and does all those totally uncharacteristic things that make her character so damn lovable. In what I consider my very favorite sequence in the enter series, the episode closes out with Mulder teaching Scully how to hit a baseball, prompting what can only be described as true and honest Gillian Anderson giggles. I re-watched this scene on my taped VHS over a million times.

3. "Leonard Betts" (Season 4, ep. 12 — air date: 1/26/1997)

I've seen this creepy, important episode excluded from more "Essentials" lists more times than I can comprehend, and I could agree with nothing less. Maybe I just like when monsters get infatuated with Scully, because it's an emotion I can relate to, but no killer obsession has ever been more important than it is here. A mutant murderer who eats cancer and can regrow parts of his own body, mainly because he's made of cancer. Blegh! Paul McCrane of ER fame stars as Betts, and he manages to elicit fear and sympathy simultaneously. In a series-defining moment, Betts' pursuit of Scully takes on added meaning when he reveals (SPOILER ALERT!) that she has cancer—and he wants to take it it from her.

Unnerving in more ways than one, it's a rare Monster of the Week episode that informs a significant plot line in the future of the show. And besides all that, the effects are pretty awesome.

2. "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" (Season 3, ep. 4 — air date: 10/13/1995)

The late Peter Boyle's guest appearance in this ground-breaking episode was the first time a guest star took on the lead role. Playing the cursed Clyde Bruckman, a psychic whose only powers consist of being able to predict when and how people will die, Boyle brings humor and melancholy to a tragic story. The investigation elements really stand out here, and Scully's initial skepticism of Bruckman—but eventual adoration—is a key theme and significant indicator of her character growth.

The structure of the episode is wonderful, likely the best storytelling from the series, and even with all the touching life and death talk, it doesn't forget to be a tad gross. And when someone tells Scully that she's never going to die, you cross your fingers and hope that Chris Carter is listening.

1. "The Post-Modern Prometheus" (Season 5, ep. 6 — air date: 11/20/1997)

This one is everyone's favorite, and for good reason. It's the most unique episode of the series, and certainly the most standalone as a result. Shot entirely in stark black and white, the agents encounter a Frankenstein's Monster-like man known as The Great Mutato, straight out of the pages of a comic book. This deformed creature is obsessed with Cher and her movie Mask, and in reality, he just wants to be loved. Duchovny and Anderson are in top-form dealing with the kooky townsfolk, and it has the makings of a near-perfect spoof. I love everything about it.

And hey, this masterpiece made me love Cher's "Walking in Memphis" with the fire of a thousand suns. That's a pretty astounding accomplishment.

There they are, my very favorite episodes of "The X-Files" — now it's your turn! Share your favorites in the comments!

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