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The Ten Best X-Files Episodes

Updated on January 23, 2016

The return is out there! That’s right guys, in a little less than twenty four hours; The X-Files makes its return to TV for the first time since 2002, hopefully to finally conclude one of the most epic quests in the history of entertainment. Naturally, with us on the verge of something I’ve been waiting for the last several years, I thought it was only appropriate I’d do some sort of X-Files column. Thus, here we are with what I consider the top ten X-Files episodes of all time. Get it? Got it? Swell. So let’s not waste any time. Let’s kick this off with some honorable mentions. ON WITH THE SHOW!

Honorable Mentions

E.B.E. (season one, episode seventeen)

The most Deep Throat centric episode of season one and that includes the episode Deep Throat. Highlights include the introduction of everyone’s favorite paranoid three stooges The Lone Gunmen, Scully actually using fog gas as a way to explain away usual UFO phenomena and Deep Throat delivering his best line of the entire series. “Mr. Mulder, if a shark stops swimming it’ll die. Don’t stop swimming.” Great stuff.

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (season three, episode four)

Darin Morgan’s masterpiece sees Mulder and Scully trying to solve the murders of several psychics, with Peter Boyle’s Bruckman (a man who can foresee how everyone can die) stealing the show one scene at the time. It might be the second funniest episode of the series.

Squeeze (season one, episode three)

The first ever Monster-of-the-Week episode in X-Files history remains one of the strongest, featuring Donald Logue doing Donald Logue things and Doug Hutchinson giving one of the creepiest performances ever as Eugene Tooms, a dude who totally flunked out of Professor X’s school for mutants

Tooms (season one, episode twenty one)

Hutchinson returned as Tooms for this sequel to Squeeze, and somehow manages to be creepier and even more offsetting than before. Walter Skinner also makes his first X-Files appearance in this episode, beginning his quest to be the greatest supporting character to ever live.

Fire (season one, episode twelve)

This would be in the top ten if not for the character of Phoebe Green, who was so Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III that the writers ended up scrapping plans for her to appear later in the show. Besides that, it’s an excellent episode that explores Mulder’s fear of fire and features veteran TV villain Mark Sheppard playing a psychotic madman as only he can.

The Top Ten

10. Triangle (season six, episode three)

The best thing Chris Carter ever directed, Triangle is mostly remembered for being the episode with all the very long takes. It’s pretty much Carter trying to out Hitchcock Hitchcock from a technical standpoint. What’s forgotten is that the plot is pretty trippy; stuck in 1938 aboard a ship that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle, Mulder searches for a way home while encountering a Nazi Skinner, a Nazi Smoking Man, a Nazi Spender and a Dana Scully that I can only describe as a flapper. That seems like a lock for the weirdest thing, until you see Scully kiss Skinner in the present day. Like I said, trippy.

Mulder, Nazi Smoking Man and Nazi Spender
Mulder, Nazi Smoking Man and Nazi Spender

9. Closure (season seven, episode eleven)

Two episodes from the season six and beyond? Somewhere, Robert Patrick is getting really excited about possibly finding himself on this list (spoiler alert; he shouldn’t). The conclusion of a two story arc that resolved the legendary “search for Mulder’s sister” storyline, Closure is a powerful and emotional throwback to the early seasons of the show. It also, well, serves closure to a story that fans had gotten sick of. Although let’s be honest; did it really? I’d be willing to bet my Batman bobblehead that there will be something in the revival about Samantha Mulder possibly being alive. I don’t care what Mulder saw in this episode, the man is never going to stop looking until he finds a grave and DNA of his sister in the grave that proves it’s her. The man gets over his obsessions like I get over gorgeous female wrestlers; he doesn’t. What makes the quest to find his sister any different?

8. The Erlenmeyer Flask (season one, episode twenty four)

The best season finale in the history of The X-Files, including the eventual series finale The Truth (which gets a bum rap by the way). Mulder finally, FINALLY, looks like he’s going to get the proof to bust the UFO Conspiracy wide open. Scully, much like Neo towards the latter half of The Matrix is beginning to believe. Then just like that it falls apart in the final five minutes when a main character is killed, Mulder’s evidence disappears and the FBI goes all Public Enemy on the X-Files and shuts it down. In away, The Erlenmeyer Flask pretty much sums up the whole show; Mulder and Scully get so close and then shit gets dark. Like Darkest Timeline dark.

7. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space (season three, episode twenty)

Being interviewed by author Jose Chung for his book on alien abductions, Dana Scully describes a series of events that would lead to the funniest episode in X-Files history. I mean it’s got everything; cigarette smoking aliens, cops with poor language, the worst teenage love affair in the history of the western hemisphere, a dude who believes he encountered an alien from the center of the earth, men in black and (of course) Mulder watching a video of Big Foot in his spare time. Because OF COURSE Mulder does that when he’s not trying to solve the UFO conspiracy. Special regards must be given out to Gillian Anderson for selling the whole thing with her narration and two show stopping cameos by Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebeck as the Men in Black. Did you know that people claiming to see UFOs are in fact seeing the planet Venus? True story.

6. The Field Where I Died (season four, episode five)

Opening with lines from Robert Browning’s poem Paracelsus, The Field Where I Died features commentary on the rising number of religious cults during the 90s and features Mulder, Scully and Skinner trying to prevent another Jonestown esq incident. Some found the episode heavy handed; I personally think it might be one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen, with David Duchovny knocking it out of the park and Kristen Cloke showing tons of vulnerability as a woman who’s connected to Mulder from a past life.

5. Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man (season four, episode seven)

Let’s be real here; The X-Files is Mulder and Scully. Take one or both away (as seen from the latter seasons when Mulder disappeared) and the show pretty much loses what makes it special. It’s like Guns N Roses without Axel or Slash, pizza without sauce, Lucha Underground without Pentagon Jr. breaking people’s arms.

A world without Pentagon Jr. is chaos
A world without Pentagon Jr. is chaos

And yet, Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, Glenn Morgan and James Wong’s unreliable origin story on Mulder and Scully’s arch nemesis, features almost no involvement from our main characters and manages to be a classic. Credit Morgan and Wong for their clever writing, credit Chris Owens for making a young Smoking Man sympathetic (Owens would by the way parlay this performance into the role of Jeffery Spender) and most of all, credit that scene where the Smoking Man reveals he fixed both the “Miracle on Ice” and every Super Bowl the Bills lost. All that was missing was scenes of him drugging Bill Buckner and taking a Billy Goat to Wrigley Field.

4. Beyond the Sea (season one, episode thirteen)

Beyond the Sea featured the first instance of The X-Files flipping the script, with Scully, mourning the death of her father, taking on the role of the believer and Mulder becoming the skeptic. It works to perfection, largely because Gillian Anderson is a boss and because the supporting turns from the late Don S. Davis and Brad Dourif (as Scully’s father and a death row inmate) are out of this world. Can we give props to Chris Carter for finding guys like Dourif and Hutchinson for big time villain roles in the first season? It’s hard to get casting right; that The X-Files got two first ballot members of the creepers Hall of Fame is amazing.

3. One Breath (season two, episode eight)

Remember how I said The Erlenmeyer Flask summed up The X-Files in one episode? One Breath does the opposite. The first thirty five to forty minutes are as bleak as can be; with Scully (having recently been returned after being abducted) fighting for her life while Mulder sinks into a state that even Bruce Wayne would say is too far. In the end, the episode ends with a sign of hope, which wouldn’t be so surprising if The X-Files wasn’t always trying to leave us feeling like we were so close. The biggest question I have; who was Nurse Owens? An angel? An alien? These are the things I think about.

2. The Post Modern Prometheus (season five, episode five)

Filmed in black and white and sporting the least serious Frankenstein inspired story ever, The Post Modern Prometheus might just be the most fun episode X-Files ever produced. Yes, even more so than Jose Chung’s From Outer Space. It doesn’t pack the emotional punch of the number one spot, but the Cher inspired soundtrack, the tongue and cheek nature and perhaps the best ending to an X-Files episode ever make it my favorite. Oh and how can I forget Chris Owens? This time playing the monster with a heart known as The Great Mutato, Owens once again steals the show, and proves to be the X-Files’ secret weapon. How did this guy not get more work afterwards?!

1. Duane Barry (season two, episode five)

Can you believe the number one X-Files episode is the only one to feature Alex Krychek? And hell, he’s not even Krychek in this episode; he’s still pretty much following Mulder like he’s the Buff Bagwell to Fox’s Scott Steiner. That aside, Duane Barry can’t be anything else but the best X-Files episode. When the aforementioned Barry (played by veteran Steve Railsback), a former FBI agent who was abducted by aliens, kidnaps a group of hostages at a travel agency, Mulder is sent in as the negotiator to talk him down. The tension never lets up, Mulder’s belief in Barry’s story (which flips like a seesaw) keeps the viewer on edge and Railsback, simultaneous sympathetic and crazily intense as Barry, gives the best performance for a guest in the history of the show. Most importantly, Duane Barry set up Scully’s abduction in the next episode, thus arguably making this episode one of the first to definitively establish the show’s mythology.

And it’s time for bed. Hope you enjoyed this one dudes and dudettes. I’ll be back tomorrow with some more lucha libre stuff. Till then, how about one more DUCHOVNY meme for the road?

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