January 4, 2016

The Rabbit Ear Reviews Guide to Can't-Miss Episodes of The X-Files

In previous posts, I've written about my appreciation for The X-Files and passed my X-Files binging tips on to you. Now, with new episodes of the show airing later this month, you're probably thinking it's too late to get in the game, right? Wrong! Ok, there may not be enough waking hours to watch every episode before January 24. But lucky for you, I've prepared this list of the dozen or so episodes that will get you in the spirit and leave you wanting to believe the truth is still out there.

Season 1 - Episode 1: "Pilot"

Mulder and Scully in the Pilot episode.
Source: x-files.wikia.com 
Agent Dana Scully, a medical doctor, is tasked with "debunking" the work of FBI Agent Fox Mulder. The two meet and travel to Oregon to investigate a series of deaths that Mulder attributes to alien abduction.

Why it's awesome: As pilots go, this is a great one. The characters and universe are immediately established, and viewers even get a glimpse of Mulder's all important family history. Plus, oh my goodness. There is so much 90s fashion and technology.

Why it matters: Foundation. The first episode sets the stage for all that is to come: the relationship between the two agents, the nature of their investigations, and what will become the ongoing alien mythology arc.

Season 1 - Episode 2: "Deep Throat"

Deep Throat confronts Agent Mulder.
Source: x-files.wikia.com
The agents investigate missing Air Force test pilots, and Mulder is contacted by an anonymous source advising him to drop the case.

Why it's awesome: In what has to be one of the most chilling scenes ever filmed in broad daylight, "Deep Throat" confronts Mulder to offer another word of warning in the final scene of the episode.

Why it matters: Plot. It develops the government conspiracy thread of the story and introduces Deep Throat, who will become a vital secondary character.

Season 1 - Episode 8: "Ice"

In this "Monster of the Week" bottle episode, Mulder and Scully visit an arctic research station to investigate the mysterious deaths of scientists working there.

Why it's awesome: Paranoia. A parasite begins to infect the crew at the station, and it leaves the characters and even the viewer wondering who's got the virus, who can be trusted, and who's about to fly into a fit of rage. Plus, there's an infected dog. It's very Cujo.

Why it matters: Guest stars! You'll see a 1993 Felicity Huffman and Steve Hytner (Seinfeld's Bania). Over the years, The X-Files featured an amazing collection of "before they were famous" guest stars, from Jack Black to Lucy Liu to Bryan Cranston. More impressive than the slate of actors who appear, though, is the way The X-Files utilizes auxiliary characters in a meaningful way. "Ice" is a great example of that.

Season 1 - Episode 20: "The Erlenmeyer Flask"

In the Season 1 finale,  the agents encounter a scientist working on the mapping of the human genome.

Why it's awesome: Dana Scully is our resident skeptic. But in this episode, her cynicism begins to break down. This episode turned a skeptic into a believer.

Why it matters: Establishment. By the end of the first season, The X-Files had secured its spot in the zeitgeist of the 1990s. "The Erlenmeyer Flask" was the most watched episode of Season 1, received an Edgar Award nomination, and scored a Neilson rating of 8.8 (according to Wikipedia). The first season of the show as a whole, and this episode in particular proved that The X-Files wasn't a one-season wonder. This episode turned viewers into fans.

Season 3 - Episode 20: "Jose Chung's From Outer Space"

Scully, looking characteristically skeptical.
Source: x-files.wikia.com
Scully sits down with science fiction writer Jose Chung to recount the story of an X-file investigation he's using as inspiration for his next book. Their conversation, interspersed with other interviews Chung conducted, unpacks the tale of one abduction.

Why it's awesome: Humor! And a cameo appearance by Alex Trebek.

Why it matters: Perspective. This episode is less about the story than it is about the nature of storytelling. An episode about the sheer lunacy of abduction stories could discredit the show's entire premise. Instead, this episode uses that lunacy to enhance the importance of seeking truth in a world of uncertainty.

Season 4 - Episode 2: "Home"

The agents investigate a reclusive small-town family of in-bred brothers. The result is akin to a horror film the likes of which I've never seen.

Why it's awesome: It isn't. It will give you nightmares. You should watch it anyway.

Why it matters: Controversy. The episode is so unsettling that after its first airing, Fox reportedly chose not to air the episode in reruns. It'll also ruin the song "Wonderful, Wonderful" for you.

Season 5 - Episode 5: "The Post-Modern Prometheus"

Scully and Mulder share a dance.
Source: x-files.wikia.com
This is the 'Frankenstein' episode of the show. It's got a monster, a mad scientist, perfectly timed lightning strikes, and townspeople with torches and everything. 

Why it's awesome: The episode was filmed in black and white. Your response to the episode will be similar - You will love it or hate it. But the most interesting (and best) part is that the music of Cher serves as soundtrack.

Why it matters: Beauty. The episode won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Art Direction. Personally, I love the way the episode combines classic storytelling tropes from film, television, and comic books.

Season 5 - Episode 12: "Bad Blood"

Mulder and Scully offer hilariously disparate accounts of an investigation into "vampiric activity" in a small Texas town.

Why it's awesome: Where do I start? The hilarious juxtaposition of Mulder and Scully's recollections of the investigation? The cameo appearance by a young Luke Wilson? This moment that so perfectly encapsulates Scully and Mulder's relationship? There is nothing wrong and everything right with this episode. It's also the episode I've rewatched the most times.

Why it matters: Popularity. It's the highest rated episode in the show, according to IMDb users, and that's a distinction it well deserves. It is also probably the best example of the comedic capabilities of the cast and crew.

Season 6 - Episode 3: "Triangle"

This split screen of Scully and her parallel was supposedly
inspired by the music video for the song "Closing Time."
Image source: avclub.com
While investigating the mysterious appearance of an ocean liner on the edge of the Bermuda Triangle, Mulder stumbles back in time to WWII. He and a parallel-universe-Agent-Scully-lookalike take on Nazis. It's not as weird as it sounds.

Why it's awesome: Time travel, obviously! Or, space-time-continuum travel. Whatever. And a fantastic closing line. Also, Skinner got there first (spoiler here).

Why it matters: Originality. Both in the way it was filmed, and in its content. The A.V. Club's Todd VanDerWerff writes, "The episode is a triumph of production values and sheer technical craft." He goes on to praise the episode for being unlike anything else the show had ever done saying, "this is an excuse to abandon the show’s usual formula and take it into another genre altogether."

Season 8 - Episode 14: "This is Not Happening"

The episode title seems to be an allusion to a recurring line from "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," and it is also the closing line of the episode. In it, Scully and her new partner John Doggett continue the search into the disappearance of Agent Mulder after other abductees mysteriously return.

Why it's awesome: Gillian Anderson gives an honest, emotive performance. Through seven and a half seasons, the actress has skillfully maintained the same authentic character, all the while growing from skeptic to reluctant believer in extraterrestrial phenomena. There are few better examples of that growth than this episode.

Why it matters: Mulder. Ok, let's be honest. The show goes suffered with the departure of David Duchovny in Season 8. His appearance in the 14th episode is significant. Viewers noticed. With a Neilson rating of 9.7, it was the most-watched episode of Season 8.

Season 9 - Episodes 19 and 20: "The Truth" 

Mulder, looking pensive.
Source: x-files.wikia.com
In the series finale, Mulder returns again (Duchovny was absent for much of the final season as well.) The episode centers on a military tribunal in which Mulder is put on trial for murder, and Mulder "puts the truth on trial."

Why it's awesome: Watch this episode when you are in the mood for a lot of explanation and when you're not itching for a happy ending, because exposition and explosions are this episode's strengths. Duchovny is the champion of the episode, because he's a phenomenal actor, but also because all the best lines are his.

Why it matters: Conclusion. As finales go, this is not the most highly regarded. The A.V. Club gave the episode a C-, and at 8.5/10 stars, it's the lowest rated of all the series' season finales on IMDb.  Nonetheless, this was to be the show's final curtain, and for that reason alone, it's worth watching.

This list is markedly incomplete. There are so many other great episodes that could or should be on this or any other list of highlights. (Notable also-rans: "EVE," "Paper Clip," "One Breath," "Requiem," "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man," "Small Potatoes"... I have to stop!) Have a favorite episode you'd like to add to my list? Tell me in the comments!

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