In what’s sure to be an anticlimactic post, I’m going to list out a few of my favorite X-Files standalone monster-of-the-week episodes. Apologies for the lateness of this post, as my host apparently experienced some “hardware failures” over the weekend. All is well right now, though I had skipped the Sunday entry (first miss in years, so cut me some slack, Jack) and I even lost some Beer Blog stuff (though regular posting has resumed there as well). But I digress. Where was I? Ah yes, X-Files. A couple weeks ago, I revisited the series in general and listed out some of the most popular episodes. Today, I’m going to list some of my personal favorites, which may or may not be episodes that frequently show up in best-of lists. It will be earth-shattering to you all, I’m sure. Here goes:
- Bad Blood (Season 5, Episode 12) – This has always been one of my favorite episodes, but it’s also probably the one entry on this list that will also show up frequently in discussions of best episodes. It’s another Vince Gilligan penned episode, so once again, I feel like its stock has risen as Gilligan’s career has flourished. The story is all about vampires, and it’s actually the second episode to tackle that classic monster (I guess it’s worth noting that vamps weren’t quite as hot a commodity as they are today). The first episode, 3, did not fare to well. Overly morose, obtuse, and kinda boring. Bad Blood, on the other hand, captures that goofy spirit the X-Files strayed to rather often, ultimately resulting in a much more satisfying story. But it’s the Rashomon-like (update: according to Wikipedia, it’s an homage to a specific episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show) structure of the plot that makes this noteworthy, as much of the story is told in flashback, first from the perspective of Scully, then from Mulder’s perspective. Naturally, this yields two very different tales, further mining the chemistry of Mulder and Scully’s relationship (one of the shows big strengths and something sorely lacking in the previous vampire episode). The two stories then converge into one, with an unlikely, but satisfying conclusion. Also of note, a great multi-faceted guest performance from Luke Wilson as the town Sheriff (who, of course, appears completely differently in the two different accounts).
- Darkness Falls (Season 1, Episode 20) – Series creator Chris Carter wrote this episode about disappearing loggers in a remote Washington state forest. This one showed up towards the end of the first season, and I remember being enthralled by this story, cementing this as a show I would pay attention to… Unlike a lot of the episodes discussed thus far, this one is less of a goofy tale and more of a tension-filled, almost horror episode. Lots of great touches, from the nature of the threat (which came from chopping down a 500-1000 year old tree or something) to the dynamics between the agents, the logging company guy, the forest ranger, and a wacky environmentalist. There are these great scenes where the camera lingers on the power generator and the light bulb in the cabin they’re staying in (this is notable, as the tiny buglike creatures they’re facing are afraid of the light). Revisiting the episode recently, I’d say there are some aspects that don’t hold up entirely well, particularly the ending, but it all fits with the show’s themes and aesthetic. It’s not a direct reference, but I kinda like the government conspiracy angle in the final moments of the episode. Very Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’m surprised the dude didn’t use the exact words “Top Men”. Still, this is certainly an episode worth your time.
- Ice (Season 1, Episode 8) – Written by the duo of Glen Morgan and James Wong, this one is actually an entertaining retelling of the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, which is the same source material for the more well-known movie incarnations like The Thing. There are some small tweaks that keep things interesting, but this is clearly a derivitive episode, and you’ll recognize a lot of it, from the Arctic research station to the paranoia and so on. It’s a solid episode, and it actually shares a lot of traits with the aforementioned Darkness Falls, though the latter episode clearly had a more original feel to it. Despite its derivative origins, it’s still a great episode, well worth watching.
- Die Hand Die Verletzt (Season 2, Episode 14) – Another Glen Morgan and James Wong script, this one featuring one of the more terrifying monsters in the early seasons. I will not spoil who or why, but I like the show’s take on that old hoary satanist trope. If one were so inclined, the episode also has something to say about organized religion in general, and it does so in a clever way.
- Je Souhaite (Season 7, Episode 21) – Another of those goofy later season episodes written by Vince Gilligan, this one doesn’t seem to get as much attention, but I do love the episode, which is very funny and tightly plotted, with a surprisingly upbeat ending. It’s playing all the typical Genie tropes, and it’s kinda sad/goofy at first, but it builds steam as it goes, and I think it’s one of the unsung episodes of the series…
- Honorable Mentions: War of the Coprophages, Small Potatoes, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas, Monday, Arcadia, The Goldberg Variation, Hollywood A.D. (an average episode, but worth watching for the split screen bubble bath scene alone, and it’s nice to see Skinner used to comedic effect), and ok fine, this was a fool’s errand, there are tons of great X-Files episodes and most of these honorable mentions are just as good as any episode listed thus far.
So there you have it. I should note that I haven’t really delved into seasons 8 and 9 (aka the years when David Duchovny gradually left the show, leading to new partners for Scully, etc…) There’s actually some surprisingly good stuff in those seasons, but I don’t think I watched them on their initial run and thus am less familiar with them. Hey, perhaps I can milk a third post out of this…