SCULLY: Agent Mulder, I'm Dana Scully. I've been assigned to work with you.
MULDER: Oh really? I was under the impression you were sent here to spy on me.
And the rest, they say, is history.
Well, history—and conspiracies, and aliens, and mutants, and precognition, and ghosts, and…
It's still somewhat mind-boggling that The X-Files was a show that not only aired on basic cable, but thrived there. It was relegated to the Friday night dead-zone where almost every other show has consistently failed; yet from that vantage, it became a true juggernaut of pop culture.
It ran for nine seasons and spawned two feature films. All while having a main character literally named Fox.
This wasn't purely a cult show, as so many genre programs are destined to be. This was something watched by everyone, not just teenagers and antisocial geeks. It was must-see TV in a time before DVR, when the chat and fan sites were still in their infancy and people were manually recording their favorite episodes onto grainy VHS.
(They can pry my drawerful of home videos from my cold, dead hands.)
It was a show that set the supernatural bar for every series that followed, and it constantly pushed the boundaries for what was acceptable on primetime television. It was frightening, disgusting, depressing, exciting, beautiful, wonderful, and definitely strange.
The X-Files made you philosophical and caused you to feel the full gamut of emotions. And for all of its campy moments, occasionally wooden acting, dated special effects and costuming, its importance can't be denied.
Even if you've (somehow) never seen a single episode, you still know plenty about the cases and characters from sheer osmosis; there have been enough references, parodies, and jokes over the last twenty years.
Now, the set up feels trite and predictable, but only because The X-Files did it so well: a true believer in the paranormal, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) is partnered with a pragmatic woman of science, Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson).
They clash over their ideals and beliefs, challenge one another, and argue constantly, but ultimately, always have one another's backs. Their cases cover the full range of the supernatural—from faith healings and demonic possessions to alien abductions and killer computers.
The “monster of the week” formula keeps things interesting. If you aren't fond of devil dolls, the next week might deliver a werewolf. This show truly has something for everyone, so here's a rundown of my favorites—and the must-see moments—from Season One:
Dana Scully finds herself tasked with debunking the X-Files, but even from the beginning, it's hardly that simple. The duo's first case is a doozy, with a definitely inhuman corpse, alien implants, and a group of young mental patients drawn to the Oregon woods.
The rapport between our leads is instant and obvious. Mulder proves that he's terrible at hiding things from Scully by promptly sharing his tragic backstory their first night at a motel. Scully wears a particularly ill-fitting boxy suit, Mulder demonstrates his abiding love for slide projection presentations and vandalism, and there's a near-naked emotional hug following a mosquito bite examination. They sure came out of the chute swinging.
In this episode, we get the first appearance of mutant serial killer Eugene Tooms, a liver-eating Mr. Fantastic—and I bet you didn't know your day was going to include that phrase—and Donal Logue cameos as one of Dana's friends from the Academy. We're only three episodes in and already Scully's choosing Mulder and his mission over the advancement of her own career.
“THE JERSEY DEVIL” (1.05)
I'm mentioning this one for three reasons:
- Mulder is picked up by the Atlantic City police because they think he’s drunk after he spent most of the night huddled in an alley wrapped in a homeless man's blanket.
- He shows a detective the most ridiculous sketch as proof that he's seen the Jersey Devil.
- Gillian Anderson looks especially like a Pre-Raphaelite painting in this episode—the red suit, lipstick, and perfectly floofed hair were good choices on the part of the costuming department.
Every time I watch this episode, I laugh at how terrible Mulder is at being a functional human being and marvel that he's survived this long without Scully.
Following the death of her beloved boss, a young secretary finds herself surrounded by strange energy that hurls objects across rooms—and kills those who wish her harm. Is she a real life Carrie, as Scully initially suggests, or is she being protected by a poltergeist?
Scully and Mulder find themselves re-enacting John Carpenter's The Thing when alien parasites drive the scientific team of an Alaskan outpost to brutally murder one another. It's one of the more thrilling episodes of the season, featuring a fraught scene where our heroes have to check one another for parasites—which is way more sexy and romantic than it sounds.
The Internet jokes that Mark Sheppard is “King of the Nerds” for appearing in anything remotely genre, but it's just a solid fact. In this episode, he guests as a firebug with a vendetta against British nobs, and Scully gets to be jealous over one of Mulder's old flames (see what I did there?).
“BEYOND THE SEA” (1.13)
We finally meet some of Scully's family, and the tables are flipped as she plays the part of the true believer—with Mulder the Doubting Thomas—when a death row inmate (the ever-great-at-playing-creepy Brad Dourif, AKA Grima Wormtongue/Chucky) claims to have psychic premonitions.
This episode is worth watching for the intro of the Lone Gunman, everyone's favorite conspiracy theorists, and the deepening of the government alien cover-up. When Scully finds out about Deep Throat, she demands answers:
A lot of close-talking and passionate arguing follows as Mulder's beliefs are questioned—the most fraught episodes involve paranoia, crises of faith, and our hero almost getting shot by a platoon of soldiers.
That damn Eugene is at it again! *shakes fist angrily*
You know the criminal justice system is flawed when it lets a rubber-bodied liver eater back out on the streets. Of course, Mulder's crazy testimony doesn't help much, and the FBI is looking for any excuse to shut down the X-Files, but Scully proves she's ride-or-die at this point.
“Mulder, I wouldn't put myself on the line for anybody but you.”
Talk about romantic declarations; Mulder looks at her like he can hear the violins playing behind them.
“THE ERLENMEYER FLASK” (1.24)
The series-long conspiracy involving alien viruses, clones, and human/extraterrestrial hybrids is kicked into overdrive in this action-packed finale. You know you're watching The X-Files when there are people floating in tanks, doctors bleeding green goo, and shadowy men in black chasing Mulder down spooky alleys.
With the new miniseries upon us, there's no better time to dive head-first into one of the world's most enduring, most important sci-fi series—or to relive it if you're an X-Phile of old. Don't let its sheer size, or the scope of its mythology arc, daunt you: just take it one episode and one monster, at a time. You may be surprised by how quickly you start to question everything.
Or maybe you'll just be charmed by the bad suits and Mulder and Scully's co-dependent dynamic—either way, you're in for a helluva good time.
See also: X-Files: Rewatching the Pilot
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.