Believe the Lie: Looking Back at Season Five of The X-Files

MULDER: Well, maybe you don't know what you're looking for.

SCULLY: Like evidence of conjury or the black arts? Or shamanism, divination, Wicca, or any kind of pagan or neo-pagan practice? Charms, cards, familiars, bloodstones, or hex signs, or any kind of the ritual tableau associated with the occult; Santeria, Voudun, Macumba, or any high or low magic…

MULDER: Scully?

SCULLY: Yes?

MULDER: Marry me.

He kids, but he really doesn't.

Regardless of what Chris Carter said for years, it's obvious to anyone half-awake that Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny) are, to quote Clueless, “stupid butt-crazy in love.”

Sure, they have an unusual courtship that involves running from black ops bagmen, shape-shifting assassins, and clones that melt into green goo—but then every relationship has its ups and downs.

Yet even five seasons in, we still haven't tasted the sweet satisfaction of vindication. Ah well—we're halfway to the finish line by now, and we can take comfort in the knowledge that they'll lock lips eventually.

And Mulder calls Scully his “one in five billion,” which is basically a marriage vow.

This season features the end of the cancer arc and some mondo vital plot points—as well as the best episode of the entire run—so strap in and get started with:

“REDUX I” (5.01) / “REDUX II” (5.02)

Mulder rushes to clear his name and find a cure for Scully, who falls into a coma in the middle of her testimony before the FBI board. The Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) manages to sell Mulder on the snake oil that every alien “encounter” has only been a smokescreen to hide military experiments and weapons from the public—for the first time in five seasons, Mulder loses his faith in the extraterrestrial.

It's a dark moment for our hero, but there is some light to be had in this two-parter: Scully's cancer miraculously disappears following the recommended procedure, Cigarette Smoking Man gets a bullet as a reward for all of his past efforts, and a mole in the FBI is revealed.

For all of the agony the season finale—and “Redux I”—gave us, the last installment in this trilogy at least delivers some closure. Carter and Co. don't hand us all the answers; this is, after all, The X-Files, and things are never that easy. But the season's off to a good start.

“UNUSUAL SUSPECTS” (5.03)

This incredible flashback episode gives us not only the origins of The Lone Gunmen, and not only a scene where Mulder is naked and high as a kite, but also an interrogation featuring Richard Belzer as Detective John Munch—which proves that The X-Files is part of the same universe as Law & Order, 30 Rock, The Wire, Arrested Development, and Homicide: Life on the Streets.

Just let that sink in for a moment. That means Liz Lemon or Buster Bluth could find themselves abducted by aliens and Detective Olivia Benson could end up assisting Scully and Mulder in the investigation. Downright freakin' magical.

“DETOUR” (5.04)

Our heroes run around the woods screaming one another's names for thirty minutes, Scully sings “Joy to the World,” and Mulder namedrops my absolute favorite cryptid, the Mothman, so of course this episode gets an honorable mention.

“THE POST-MODERN PROMETHEUS” (5.05)

The X-Files tips its hats to the Universal and Hammer horror films of the thirties and forties with a black and white tale of a Frankenstein's monster desperate for love (and desperately in love with Cher). Definitely one of the more artistic episodes with a great soundtrack.

“CHRISTMAS CAROL” (5.06) / “EMILY” (5.07)

While celebrating Christmas with her family, Scully receives a chilling phone call—from a dead woman. Was it really her sister Melissa on the line? Could the little girl at the heart of a mystery involving several murders disguised as suicides and secret medical treatments actually be Scully's daughter?

Scully is pushed to her limits, Mulder is unceasingly supportive, and Gillian Anderson delivers a performance that makes me tear up as if a whole horde of onion-cutting ninjas are in the room.

“KITSUNEGARI” (5.08)

Robert Patrick Modell (Robert Wisden), the persuasive murderer of “Pusher,” returns. But is Mulder his target again—is he on another “fox hunt”? Or is something more personal unfolding?

“CHINGA” (5.10)

Stephen King lends his storytelling chops to this familiar tale of a devilish doll. Poor Scully has the worst vacation ever—not even the Maine lobster will make up for this.

“BAD BLOOD” (5.12)

There are two types of people in this world: people who put “Bad Blood” at the very top of their Best X-Files Episodes List, and people who haven't seen “Bad Blood.”

Oh my Godddd, this episode. In a case of he said/she said, Scully and Mulder each give their version of the events that unfolded in a small Texas town involving a vampire murderer and Luke Wilson as a big-toothed sheriff.

This cold open may be the best cold open in television history. Mulder sings the Shaft theme song. Scully has an incredible rant about light cream cheese. I cackle like a proverbial witch the entire time.

“PATIENT X” (5.13) / “THE RED AND THE BLACK” (5.14)

Faceless assassins are killing abductees, the alien colonization of the earth is nigh, and Mulder regains his faith. When things are at their bleakest, our heroes always prove their mettle.

“MIND'S EYE” (5.16)

A blind woman (Lili Taylor) can only see when it's through the eyes of a murderer. Which is kind of a major bummer, but does make for a gripping story and a powerful performance by the forever superb—and highly underrated—Taylor.

“ALL SOULS” (5.17)

The religious episodes that make Scully question her faith are always deliciously meaty ones. Still grieving for her daughter, Dana confronts the possibility that a demon—maybe even Satan himself—is killing handicapped girls who may actually be nephilim: the offspring of a human woman and an angel. With a great supporting cast and some really unsettling visuals, this one is a must-see.

“FOLIE A DEUX” (5.19)

A call office drone suffers a break from reality, holds his coworkers hostage, and claims that their boss is actually a soul-sucking monster reducing his victims to zombies. But when Mulder sees the truth with his own eyes, is he just experiencing a folie a deux—a madness shared by two? Or is Mr. Pincus actually a ginormous insect that can alter human perception?

With a giant bug, zombies, and a thrilling rescue by Scully, is it any wonder this one makes my list?

Season Five closes with an image that's both beautiful and discouraging: Scully giving Mulder a comforting hug as he stares at the charred, ashy remains of the X-Files. In one swoop, the Cigarette Smoking Man seems to have destroyed our hero's life's work and put the pair out of commission permanently.

But for investigators who have already risen from several pyres before, surely there will be a phoenix-like rebirth in Season Six…

See also: Apology Is Policy: Looking Back at Season Four of The X-Files

 


Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.

Comments

  1. Carola

    Angie, thank you for this!
    Season 5 is my second favorite, after Season 4, if only because Scully’s cancer arc is more important to me, so Leonard Betts and Memento Mori are big deals to me. And yes, while CC thinks on Mulder and Scully as more of a platonic type of love, we the fans know better.
    I remember, back in the day, the ending of season 5 was a HUGE deal. Not only because it was planned to fit with the movie, but because they were leaving Vancouver because of Duchovny (ok, I’m not sure if this is the real reason, but those were the rumors).
    And about Bad Blood. YES. That episode is perfection.

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