20 Essential “The X-Files” Episodes

By Jeremy Nifras

This Monday, The X-Files will draw to a close once again. The prolific science fiction show has preached to viewers that “The Truth Is Out There” for over 20 years, across 10 seasons and even two feature films. Over the show’s run, FBI special agents Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson) have delivered some of the most spooky and memorable stories in television history, cementing the show’s place among the greatest shows to ever grace the small screen. In commemoration of the 6-part event’s conclusion, let us reflect on some of the show’s best episodes.

And of course, spoilers ahead.

“Pilot” (S1:E1)

All great things usually have strong beginnings, and The X-Files was no different, as viewers are initially introduced to the series with a series of chilling images of a teen running through the forest and a bright flash. The show’s main characters meet ironically, as FBI special agent Dana Scully is assigned to work with fellow special agent Fox “Spooky” Mulder to debunk his work on the mysterious “X-Files”, discarded cases labeled “unexplained” by the Bureau. Although their relationship begins out of skepticism, the many adventures the agents would embark on in the future makes their unlikely pairing worth it. “Pilot” may not be the greatest story in the X-Files cannon, but it surely kicks the show off to a fantastic, and eerie, start. And most importantly, the episode introduces Mulder’s search for his abducted sister, a motif that would become the heart of the “mythology” story arc.

“Squeeze” (S1:E3)

Out of the many monsters Mulder and Scully encounter during their work on the X-Files, one of the most memorable is the topic of the show’s third episode, “Squeeze”, written by Glen Morgan and James Wong. Eugene Tooms, a man who can stretch his body to extremely long and inhumane lengths, is an immensely terrifying character within The X-Files realm, as well as being the first “monster-of-the-week” creature. In the episode, Mulder compares a recent murder to those from decades prior, about a killer who can elongate his body to murder his victims. Tooms is captured but later released due to skepticism, but Mulder later is able to trace Tooms to the crime. Aside from brilliant acting from David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, the episode contains some of the most disturbing imagery in the show’s run, such as Tooms’ newspaper-wrapped “nest”.

“Ice” (S1:E8)

In perhaps one of the most claustrophobic X-Files episodes, “Ice” is a chilling (no pun intended) monster-of-the-week story where Mulder and Scully investigate the mysterious deaths of a research crew in northern Alaska. The show’s creator Chris Carter sought to make a “bottle episode” shot in a singular location to save money, but ironically, production ended up going over budget. Despite the attempt to spend as little money as possible, the end result appears anything but cheap. “Ice” is notable for its emphasis on displaying Scully’s trust in Mulder, and her trust is put to the test when Mulder shows signs of possibly carrying a fatal pathogen that caused the deaths they came to investigate. It’s an exceptionally terrifying episode, sure to force viewers’ paranoia levels to uncomfortable heights.

“Beyond the Sea” (S1: E13)

Although The X-Files usually maintain an equal spotlight on both agents Mulder and Scully, the main focus of “Beyond the Sea” is directed at Scully. Gillian Anderson delivers a wonderfully emotive performance in one of the most personal stories of the series, which involves the sudden death of Scully’s father, a kidnapped couple, and a self-described psychic who has links to both. Anderson’s acting in this episode, especially during the interrogation scenes, are some of her most impressive in the series, and it also marks a rare occurrence where Scully, the usual skeptic, turns into a believer. (Side note: The episode namer “Beyond the Sea” is a perfect song for both somber and terrifying moments.)

“Young at Heart” (S1: E16)

“Young at Heart” is a bit of an unusual X-Files episode, because it includes many of the elements and characters seen in the  “mythology” story arc (The Smoking Man, Deep Throat) without it actually being one. Instead, “Young at Heart” is a “monster-of-the-week” story which involves Mulder’s past within the FBI, before his work on the X-Files. In the episode, Mulder and Scully investigate a serial robber who turns out to be a presumed dead prisoner, whom Mulder injured during a past standoff. The robber’s pursuit of, and vendetta towards Mulder is surely an intriguing experience, culminating in possibly one of the most cinematic finishes to an X-Files episode. Despite it receiving negative reviews from critics, it remains a personal favorite of mine.

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