The Best and Worst Episodes of The X-Files
Earlier this year I rewatched the entire series of The X-Files on Blu-ray. This was my favourite show in high school(my fandom was embarrassing to look back on) and viewing it again many years later was an interesting experience. And as we went through the whole X-Files story, my categorical mind wasn’t able to rest and I decided to try to rank all 207 episodes in order of preference. And I did.
I was planning on making a series of posts where I gradually go through my entire list. However not only did that seem incredibly daunting, but I also realized that the majority of readers are really only going to care about the top 10 and bottom 10. So that is what I will showcase here: the ten best and ten worst episodes of The X-files according to me.
I do have the entire list in order as well, so if you do want to see it et me know and I can post it in some capacity or other.
The Top Ten Episodes
I didn’t really take notice of this episode when it aired. I just saw it as another stand-alone story and didn’t give it much thought aftewards. But rewatching it I found it to be a well-constructed, interesting, and surprisingly touching hour. The photographer who captures death on film seems to be one thing, but turns out to be something completely different; a character we sympathize with once we understand his story. And Suclly sympathizes as well, giving her a great in-episode arc. Tithonus has a lot to say about the nature of death and existence. Its a great episode and perhaps the best from the back half of the show’s run.
9. One Breath
One Breath is a really interesting episode in that it is entirely about Mulder and Scully with no case to tie them to a narrative. Scully is found after an absence of a few months (I think?) and is in a coma. Mulder struggles with ho to deal with it, including raging against the powers that be, fighting her family on living-will conditions, and facing the fear of losing her. On Scully’s end, we get some really interesting dream imagery, even though Scully herself is really just siting or lying down. This was an emotionally integral episode which would lay the foundation and stakes for these two characters for the rest of the series.
8. Redux II
You’ll find with this list that I am a big fan of the mythology arc episodes, and Redux II, the third part in the season 4/season 5 cliffhanger trilogy, is one of my favourites. I’m not even entirely sure why. I think it may have to do with how high the stakes are with Scully’s cancer taking full effect and the temptation of Mulder by the Cigarette Smoking Man. I found this an exiting episode which packed a lot of mythology elements into it.
Another conspiracy episode, but a damn exciting one. This is the second half to Nisei where Mulder jumps on a train he believes holds an actual alien. Thrills ensue when he finds himself locked in a train car with an NSA assassin which also has a bomb that’s been armed. Its thrilling stuff with a pretty cool conclusion.
Usually pilot episodes of TV shows are clunky messes when you look back on them, but not so with The X-Files. It did a great job of setting the groundwork for what this show was going to be and did an equally great job establishing these two characters which would end up becoming a part of the cultural lexicon. The story here is a simple premise (as far as x-files stories go) as kids in a small town are being abducted, but its told in such a way that it feels grounded and authentic. Still remains one of my favourites.
5. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose
Objectively, this might be The X-Files’ best episode. Its hilarious, thought-provoking, deep, well-written and well-acted. Its about a psychic who can see how people are going to die, but its really about much more than that. Its about fate, free will, and existence itself. Peter Boyle gives the best guest performance in the series’ run. I like Clyde Bruckman’s more each time I watch it.
This episode is where X-Files reached early greatness. It was a play on John Carpenter’s The Thing and it worked brilliantly. Mulder and Scully join a small expedition to research the murder suicide at an arctic research station, only to discover an alien parasite that makes you violent and unpredictable. It becomes a tense whodunnit/whogonnadoit which even pits Mulder and Scully against each other (“you may not be who you are”). A fantastic hour of television.
This season 2 finale marked part one of the show’s first three-parter which I consider the height of the series. In this episode, Mulder gets his hands on the fabled MJ-12 documents and suddenly finds himself under constant surveillance and attack. In this episode we get his father’s death scene, leading to that great showdown with Krycek (that really defines Mulder’s relationship with him for the whole series), and Mulder discovering the bunker of alien bodies in the New Mexico desert. But apart from just what happened, the tone and atmosphere of the episode is really what makes it stand out; this sense of dread and impending doom is felt throughout. More on this three-parter later…
2. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space
Darin Morgan only wrote 5 episodes of The X-Files but they are considered some of the best stuff from the show: Humbug, Clyde Bruckman, War of the Coprophage’s, and the recent Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster. But Jose Chung is still my favourite from him. It was just so wacky and out there that it can’t help but stand apart as a highlight of the entire catalogue of X-files episodes. The framing device of this author conducting interviews is excellent. The oddities of cigarette-smoking aliens, the two B-list celebrity Men in Black, and of course Lord Kimbo are just so intriguing and funny. And of course, as with most of Morgan’s writing, it is about much more than the surface; it is about how we perceive the truth and how can be uncomfortable even within our own reality.
1. Paper Clip
Like I said above, I love the mythology episodes of the series. And the Anasazi/Blessing Way/Paper Clip 3-parter is the best of the best. The stakes are very high, the intrigue and mystery behind the conspiracy is very thick, and this final episode is just jam-packed with great stuff. It has the adventure elements of Mulder and Scully finding the medical records in the abandoned warehouse and encountering a UFO. You have the historical elements that deepen the show’s myth arc, with the Nazi scientist and Mulder confronting his mom. You have great character moments like when Krycek realizes he is a hunted man, or when Skinner triumphs over CSM with an ancient tradition. And of course it has the emotional impact of Mulder and Scully both dealing with the deaths of family members and facing their own reasons why they are on this quest. For all those reasons, this is my favourite episode of The X-files.
So there’s the best the show has to offer but what about the worst? The X-Files ran for 9 years, which is a long time for a television show. It definitely had a weak last couple of years, after Duchovney noncommittally left the show, but even earlier with a 24 episode order each year, there were bound to be some rotten apples. And sometimes its good for fans to recognize this; by analyzing the bad we can further appreciate the good. So here we go.
The Bottom Ten Episodes
They actually made an episode about a man with x-ray eyes. I guess in theory they could make a story work with that concept, but this was not that story. Instead we get some lame plot where some guy who reminds you of Lenny from Mice and Men is killing people for his brother and some girl he has a thing for. He shoots them through walls, even though he could probably must shoot them normally, nothing requires him to actually use his x-ray vision. Its not very good.
9. Excelsius Dei
As season two strengthened the quality and reputation of the show, it still had some lame episodes and Excelsius Dei was the worst of them. This is the ghost rape episode, if that rings a bell. At least I think its ghosts, either that or senior citizens who can leave their body using magical mushrooms. The writing is never clear on which is happening when. Oh, there is also a scene where water floods out a room which contains Mulder, for some reason.
Season 9 wasn’t the strongest season, but some episodes I really disliked. Including this one where there is an uncomfortabley long vomit scene in a jail cell. I hate gross out stuff like that.
7. The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati
As you can tell from the previous list, I like the mythology episodes a lot. I was lways very excited when one of them was airing and I followed the arc and its players closely. Not so with Amor Fati. This is the third in a trilogy which began with the season 6 finale and extended across the first two season 7 episodes, in which Mulder is driven crazy by some sort of ancient writings found in Africa.
Why are they affecting him so much, and why only him? After a summer of wondering we…. don’t get an answer. It remains nonsensical. They will later use this incident to drive his storyline later when he is abducted and reutrned from a death like state in season 8, but the leap to this point is completely contrived. Its very disappointing.
Not to mention that most of the episode is Mulder once again being tempted by CSM, but this time in some sort of weird dream state. We see Deep Throat again, which normally I would have been psyched about but not in this context. Its all really dumb. And the Christianity metaphors they make are uncomfortable.
I love almost every mythology episode of the X-Files. This is the only one that I actively dislike.
6. Audrey Pauley
Oh yay, a whole episode about Agent Reyes. She was fine as a recurring character, but I dont know that they should have made her a regular. Either way, this episode where she is stuck in some weird coma world doesn’t work. Its quite boring, and it has a returning guest actress that I am not a fan off (you will read more below). Season 9 isn’t a great season in the first place, but this one is just bad.
This will seem an odd choice, as I don’t think many other fans dislike this episode as much as I do. The X-Files Files podcast actually praised it for being a strong story which focused on the victims rather than the kidnapper, and I agree that that idea is rare and commendable. But I really don’t like this episode, and most of it comes down to how grating i find the performance of the actress who plays Tracy is. Again, I know I’m in the minority with this, but I found her acting transparent and rather annoying, and I felt like Mulder’s emotional connection to her was unearned, which wouldn’t have been that big a problem if they didn’t play it up tot he levels that they do here.
4. The Field Where I Died
Back in the day, I used to love this episode. But after my current series rewatch, I have done a complete 180 and I sort of hate it now. First, it invokes themes of suicide cults in a rather uncomfortable way. Second, it deals with multiple personalities and past lives, which simply don’t play well on screen. Watching the main guest actress here go through all her “roles” is sort of eye rolling as it just screams “look at me, I’m acting!”. I don’t think I’m ever seen multiple personalities played well. It always seems juvenile. Add to that the awful scene where Mulder goes through regression therapy, and this is one cringe-worthy episode.
It is commonly agreed upon that Space is the worst episode of the early years. Even the people involved with the show have admitted that it simply doesn’t work. The premise is that a space ghost inhabits a NASA employee and sabotages a space mission. Its a stupid premise and its poorly executed. Its pretty boring, Mulder and Scully don’t have much to do, and the visuals are lame.
Now we move into some truly awful episodes…
2. First Person Shooter
The X-Files was usually pretty good at branching out with odd episodes now and then, but First Person Shooter was not an example of that. It was a plain dumb idea from the start, and even dumber when put into action. Mulder and Scully enter a virtual reality video game where a rogue program is killing people. Yes, really. It is completely illogical. There is a scene where Mulder uses a sword and fights bikini-clad gunslingers. At one point he disappears into the program itself, which is so far outside the realm of possibility even for X-Files. This one is dumb, dumb, dumb.
But its still not the worst.
1. Fight Club
This episode is terrible in pretty much every aspect. The story is about two twins (or dopplegangers or… something) who don’t know about each other but cause chaos when they come near each other. Not really an interesting idea and certainly not something you’d expect Mulder and Scully to bother with. The music in this episode is atrocious. The directing is equally atrocious. The climax in the wrestling ring is beyond awful. And it guest stars Kathy Griffin, perhaps the most annoying comedy personality of the 90s. And the humour is so off-base that you stare at the screen and wonder how they thought this would be funny. The X-Files can do funny; Bad Blood, Small Potatoes, etc prove that. But when they try funny and fail miserably, you shake your head and wonder how this episode made it through.
And there you have it: the top and bottom ten as ranked by me after a full series rewatch. If you want the full list, let me know and I can display it (sans commentary). I am planning to do this with a couple other series; Game of Thrones and The Simpsons currently in the works right now. Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment!