20 Essential “The X-Files” Episodes

“Pusher” (S3:E17)

Most people know Vince Gilligan for his work in the critically-acclaimed show Breaking Bad, or its spinoff, Better Call Saul. Before his work in those two fantastic shows, Gilligan was a regular writer for the X-Files, and “Pusher” is highly regarded among his best work in the series. The story follows a strange case in which a man, nicknamed “Pusher”, has the ability to coerce his victims into engaging in violent, even suicidal, activities. The most impressive part of the episode  is definitely the ending, where Mulder volunteers to confront Pusher in a suspenseful and climactic round of Russian Roulette, an idea the network initially felt apprehensive about. Despite this, “Pusher” remains one of The X-Files’ greatest chapters, and features some of Gilligan’s most remarkable writing.

“Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” (S3:E20)

Yet again, Darin Morgan comes through with another stellar, hilarious writing performance with “Jose Chung”. While other of Morgan’s humor-based episodes are easier to digest, this particular entry into the X-Files cannon is all the more frustrating. The episode features several unreliable narrators and absurd scenes, leading viewers to question whether some of these events even happened at all. “Jose Chung” begins with Scully being interviewed by the titular author for his upcoming novel, seeking inspiration for a raw account of alien encounters. Unfortunately for Chung, reaching the true stories his work needs becomes an uphill battle, when separate accounts of the same events start to contradict each other, even to surreal lengths. And even if the episode wasn’t nearly as good as it was, it would receive a mention for the great cameos; wrestling giant Jesse Ventura and Jeopardy host Alex Trebek appear as the amusing Men in Black.

“Home” (S4:E2)

When your network vows to never re-air an episode due to horrifying graphic content, you know it was pretty damn scary. That’s what The X-Files managed to (unintentionally) accomplish with “Home”, remembered by viewers and critics to be one of the, if not the greatest, “Monster-of-the-Week” story of the show’s run. The second episode of the show’s fourth season marked the return of both writers Glen Morgan and James Wong, who both left after the second season. Right from the start, the disturbing images start flooding the screen when a baby is buried alive shortly after being born. Later on, Mulder and Scully realize the baby was buried outside a house, which contains an inbred family with a history of incest and seclusion. The investigation progresses, which eventually leads to an intense and graphic confrontation between the two agents and the family. Despite the gruesome nature of the battle, the most scary part of the episode would surely be the very end, a scene that would be imprinted into the heads of viewers for years to come. (Side note: all scariness aside, the Babe reference was priceless.)

“Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” (S4:E7)

In most, if not all, of Mulder and Scully’s quests to seek the truth about alien lifeforms and the US government’s involvement with them, the Smoking Man (aka Cancer Man) usually is at the helm of efforts to stop them. This particular tale, written by Glen Morgan, follows the alleged past of the show’s most vile character, after a Lone Gunmen member is afraid he might be killed. The episode takes many shocking turns, such as the Smoking Man being the true assassin of JFK and Martin Luther King, being a part of a government conspiracy to have them both killed. The Smoking Man is revealed to be the part of many other significant US historical events (Miracle on Ice, Rodney King trial), all of which being conspiracies carried out by him and his colleagues at the FBI. While writers of the show have stressed that some of the events that take place within “Musings” aren’t canon, it clearly cements the Smoking Man as one of television’s most evil villains.

“Leonard Betts” (S4:E12)

“Leonard Betts” is a special episode for the X-Files, for many reasons. For starters, the show was set to air directly after Super Bowl XXXI; the episode “Never Again”, featuring a Scully-dominated plot, was seen as an unfit storyline to introduce new audiences to the show following the big game. Hence, that episode was swapped with “Betts” to have a more “traditional” X-Files story for new audiences to experience. In addition to the Super Bowl episode switch, the episode also introduces a major subject to the series’ overarching arc: the reveal that Scully has contracted cancer, a shocking discovery would become the focus later throughout the show’s “mythology” story arc. Don’t mistake the cancer reveal to be a gimmick, as the titular character (played by Paul McCrane) is legitimately terrifying, especially when he crawls out from his own skin.

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