The 10 Best 'X-Files' Episodes To Watch Before The Show's Inevitable Return
The X-Files might be coming back to television.
When an interview with Gillian Anderson sparked a fan movement to get the show back on the air with new episodes, Fox perked up its ears. Fans were soon excited to hear that David Duchovny was also in favor of the idea, and pledged to return alongside Anderson if Fox could make the show happen. Chris Carter's involvement is a little more iffy given his other commitments just now, but Fox is trying its best to work it out.
In the meantime, a generation or two has passed since The X-Files was in its heyday, so if you never had the pleasure but you're curious what all the fuss is about — or you were a fan but need a reminder of why you loved it — Tech Times is here to help.
In chronological order, here are ten of the series' very best episodes, each of which ranks among some of the finest hours (or two hours) ever to grace television screens. It wasn't easy narrowing down the show's 200+ episodes to just ten when the show is ridiculously blessed with fantastic entries. But here goes.
These days, broadcast TV shows are expected to require some time to find their footing. Not The X-Files, which entered the world confident and fully-formed, thanks to great writing by creator Chris Carter and strong performances by Duchovny and Anderson. And the chemistry between the pair is impeccable from the start.
If you've never watched The X-Files but you're interested in jumping in, "Pilot" really is the best place to start. It's got everything you need to know about the premise and the relationship between the two FBI agents that made the show so addictive.
1x13: "Beyond the Sea"
Fox Mulder's obsession with proving the paranormal was the driving force behind the vast majority of the show's episodes, but this Season One hour put the spotlight on Dana Scully, proving just what a powerhouse of talent Gillian Anderson is. After her father dies suddenly, Scully gets wrapped up in the case of a serial killer on death row who seems to be able to channel the spirits of the dead — including dear old dad. Poetic, beautiful, and full of unexpected turns, "Beyond the Sea" is just brilliant.
2x05: "Duane Barry"
Chris Carter's first time in the director's chair proved to be one of the most pivotal episodes of the entire series, thanks to the unforgettable title character. A former alien abductee who's now dangerous and unhinged, Barry takes hostages in a desperate bid to avoid being abducted again. Mulder is called in to negotiate with Barry and earn his trust, but things go wrong when he winds up kidnapping Scully. In the following episode, Barry offers Scully to the aliens in his place, and she is abducted.
"Duane Barry" was a nail-biting hour that kicked off a storyline which would have ramifications for years to come. It was written out of necessity to accommodate Anderson's real-life pregnancy, but it was the gift that kept on giving.
3x01 & 3x02: "The Blessing Way" & "Paper Clip"
Viewed together, this two-parter plays like a taut big-screen thriller, and it's one of the very best of the "alien mythology" episodes that wove through the show. Revelations about Mulder's parents lead to radical shifts in everything he thought he knew about the alien conspiracy and the childhood abduction of his sister. Both agents lose loved ones to the conspirators, raising the stakes higher than ever, and we finally get a definitive answer to just whose side Assistant Director Walter Skinner is on.
The scenes of Mulder and Scully infiltrate a mining facility — and what they find there — are some of the show's most memorable and iconic.
3x04: "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose"
Writer Darin Morgan contributed four ingenious scripts to The X-Files, each of which became classics thanks to their sublime mixture of supernatural thrills, clever banter between the two leads, and sly humor. "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" usually gets all the fan love, but "Clyde Bruckman" is Morgan's true magnum opus. It's the lovely story of a man who can see how any person will die who's drafted into helping Mulder and Scully find a serial killer. The material is already brilliant, but it's elevated even further by the guest appearance of Peter Boyle as the title character. Both he and Morgan won Emmys for their work on this episode.
Want more Darin Morgan? Don't miss the delightfully meta "Jose Chung" and the criminally underrated "War of the Coprophages," one of the show's wittiest and cleverest episodes ever (if you can get past the killer cockroaches). Both episodes are also in Season 3.
3x15 & 3x16: "Piper Maru" & "Apocrypha"
The X-Files was firing on all cylinders by Season 3, knocking one episode out of the park after another. This double-header was another stellar entry in the alien mythology story arc, and it was a crucial one as "Piper Maru" was the first introduction to the alien virus, aka the Black Oil. Another twisty-turny plot sent Mulder and Scully on a globetrotting adventure that began as an investigation into the Black Oil and ended with Scully getting some long-awaited emotional closure by capturing her sister's killer.
4x12: "Leonard Betts"
The X-Files may have regularly gone "way out there" with its storylines, but this was one of its most outlandish. And somehow, it worked as one of its creepiest and best. Paul McCrane guest stars as Betts, a bizarre mutant who subsists on (of all things) cancer and is able to detect it in others. Betts works as an EMT, where he frequently comes into contact with cancer patients nearing the ends of their lives. A side-effect of his absorbing their cancer is that he kills them. Betts also has the incredible ability to regenerate parts of his body, or his entire body, a fact that we witness as he literally sheds his entire body to reveal a brand new identical one.
"Leonard Betts" was the ultimate wolf-in-sheep's-clothing episode, masquerading as a monster-of-the-week tale that stunned viewers with a climactic twist for Agent Scully that would have major, long-lasting ramifications for the character.
5x12: "Bad Blood"
The closest The X-Files has ever come to a straight-up comedy episode is this hilarious tale of he-said/she-said, where the agents recount to each other their versions of what happened in a case gone wrong that's put them both in hot water. This fun twist on vampires had it all: a hick sheriff (played with gleeful aplomb by Luke Wilson), a lusty Scully and a giggly, hyperactive Mulder. And the theme song from Shaft. For reals.
There's a reason this one often tops fan-favorite lists: from the opening teaser to the final lines of dialogue, it's nonstop hysterical.
Historically speaking, this is the episode that gave birth to Breaking Bad. This is where X-Files producer and writer Vince Gilligan first took notice of the talents of Bryan Cranston, who turns in a tour-de-force guest performance in "Drive" as a racist-but-sympathetic victim of government experiments. When Gilligan created Breaking Bad years later, he championed Cranston as his star based on "Drive."
A riff on Speed finds Mulder driving Cranston's Patrick Crump on a nonstop road trip through the Western U.S. in a desperate attempt to keep Crump alive after he's exposed to low-frequency radio waves that raise the air pressure in his ears. Scully meanwhile races to find a way to mitigate the air pressure and save Crump's life. It's tense, it's smart, and it's surprisingly touching.
As The X-Files settled into its stride, Chris Carter flexed his creative muscles around once a season, crafting conceptual episodes that went well outside of the show's usual purview. In "The Post-Modern Prometheus," he filmed a black-and-white homage to Universal monster movies. In "Improbable," he cast Burt Reynolds as a music-loving man who was probably God.
But "Triangle" was his finest work, sending Mulder into a dream-induced flashback to a cruise ship boarded by Nazis during World War II — in the Bermuda Triangle. And the ship is filled with familiar faces like Scully, Skinner, and the Cigarette Smoking Man, who take on new roles, Wizard of Oz-style. Carter filmed the entire episode in breathtakingly long takes that found Mulder swept up in wartime adventure and Scully on a mad search for help in finding Mulder after he goes missing in the Triangle for real. It culminates in some dazzling side-by-side scenes that feature action crossing back and forth between Mulder's dream and Scully's real-world search thanks to the most skillful timing and editing the show ever pulled off.
Wildly entertaining and insanely ambitious, it's a crime that Carter's work on "Triangle" went unnoticed by Emmy voters.