“Duane Barry” (S2:E5)
Out of the many “mythology” episodes in the series, “Duane Barry” may perhaps be the most important. It features the titular character, a former FBI agent who resides in a mental institution and claims to have been abducted by aliens in the past. Barry then escapes the institution and holds several people in a travel agency, where Mulder is assigned to negotiate a hostage situation. Mulder, with the over-the-phone assistance from Scully, is able to free the hostages and subdue Barry. However, when the audience feels the story has concluded towards the end of the episode, events then take a shocking twist that leads to a sudden cliffhanger. “Duane Barry” went on to receive universal acclaim from various critics, and prevails as one of the most important episodes in the show’s run.
“Irresistible” is a “monster-of-the-week” tale that explores the ugly, gross, and downright disturbing side of the series. The episode follows Mulder and Scully’s pursuit of a killer who seems to have a particular, strange fetish and carries out his obsessions by murdering his victims, as well as taking their hair and fingernails. The case becomes so unnerving that Scully becomes deeply uncomfortable working on the investigation, to the point of experiencing hallucinations about the killer. Even more unfortunate for Scully, she is eventually kidnapped by the murderer and taken to an abandoned house. While many X-Files episodes focus on the strange and paranormal, “Irresistible” is just plain evil.
“Anasazi/The Blessing Way/Paper Clip” (S2:E25; S3:E1&2)
Alright, I’m cheating a little bit here by including three episodes in one entry. But the three-part saga that concludes the show’s second season and segues into the third is probably the show’s most impressive multi-part story. The three episodes are part of the series’ over-arching “mythology” story arc, and are possibly the best part of it. The story begins with the second season finale “Anasazi”, when a hacker breaks into the Department of Defense’s database and puts secret files of alien research onto a single tape. The hacker ultimately meets with Mulder, who receives the tape from the hacker. Mulder’s possession of the tape alerts the secret government society the Syndicate (which includes the infamous Smoking Man), who will stop at nothing to retrieve the tape from Mulder and hide its contents. After the ending, fans were left on a tense cliffhanger until the third season premiere, “The Blessing Way”. Rarely is a series able to handle a story arc spanning three episodes, but the X-Files executes it all with ease and thrilling tension.
“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (S3:E4)
Typically, if you were to ask an X-Files fan to list their favorite episodes, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” would probably be high on their list, if not their favorite. The story following the titular character (played by Peter Boyle) and his apparent psychic powers earned the show two Emmy wins; Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series for Darin Morgan, and Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for Boyle. The episode is noted for its more lighthearted and humorous tone (despite its dark ending), where Mulder and Scully investigate a series of murders, all involving the deaths of fortune tellers. Bruckman, initially reluctant about joining the investigation, eventually joins Mulder and Scully in their pursuit of the killer. A famous scene from the episode is when Scully asks Bruckman how she will die, to which he replies “You don’t.” This particular moment led to many fan theories that Scully is immortal, a topic fans still speculate about to this day.
“War of the Coprophages” (S3:E12)
Similar to the previously mentioned episode, “War of the Coprophages” reaches for the funny bone in another Darin Morgan-penned story. This time around, Mulder and Scully are assigned to investigate a small town who has been struck with a series of bizarre deaths, all of whom involve cockroaches swarming over the bodies. The deaths lead to extreme paranoia around the town, which, in turn, leads to mass hysteria. The town’s paranoia concerning cockroaches is hilarious, especially when Scully visits a convenience store, and based on the actions she sees the shop goers undertaking, she boldly declared “Mulder, this town is nuts.” And to top it all off, Mulder becomes fascinated with a local scientist nicknamed “Bambi” who assists the two on a case. Filled with undeniably hysterical dialogue and fantastic writing, “Coprophages” is the episode man fans loved, yet few could spell correctly.