Whether you are new to The X-Files or a die-hard fan who needs a refresher course on what makes The X-files so great, the following 25 episodes, selected by a hardcore fan, should fit the bill. The episodes are listed in the order of their original air-dates.
1- Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): Written by Chris Carter. Directed by Robert Mandel: One of the better pilots of great TV shows (pilots are notoriously hard to make, since at this early point the creator(s) are still experimenting and trying to find the show's voice). Chris Carter's writing is good, the dark, foreboding atmosphere is there from the get-go, and, of course, Mulder and Scully are compelling, likeable characters we want to see more of. The rest is history.
2- Squeeze (Season 1, Episode 3): Written by James Wong and Glen Morgan. Directed by Thomas Katleman: The first stand-alone/monster-of-the-week X-Files episode ever, is a great, scary tale that showed The X-Files was more than just a UFO conspiracy show. The X-files was also one of, if not the, greatest horror TV show ever made, and Squeeze was just a taste of what was to come.
3- Beyond The Sea (Season 1, Episode 13): Written by James Wong and Glen Morgan. Directed by David Nutter: Arguably the first episode that truly showed what The X-Files was capable of when it fired on all cylinders, Beyond The Sea is a masterpiece of style and substance. Part ghost story, part psychic thriller, this is a brilliantly conceived mini-movie, which showed the acting chops of all involved, especially a young Gillian Anderson and a scene-stealing Brad Dourif as the death-row inmate who claims to be a psychic.
4- The Erlenmeyer Flask (Season 1, Episode 24): Written by Chris Carter. Directed by R.W. Goodwin: The first truly paranoid X-Files episode, with conspiracies within conspiracies and double-dealings galore. It kicked off what would later be, for better or worse, the main driving force of the show: The alien conspiracy to colonize Earth and the US government's attempts to hide the truth from the public. It's one of the better “mythology” episodes, episodes that deal exclusively with the alien conspiracy storyline.
5- Aubrey (Season 2, Episode 12): Written by Sara B. Charno. Directed by Rob Bowman: A terrific horror tale about madness and undying evil, this is another one of those high-quality creepy tales that only The X-Files was able to pull of so well. Endlessly creepy with top-notch performances and direction. Also features the first appearance of Terry O'Quinn, who would appear numerous times on several Chris Carter productions (including Millennium and Harsh Realm).
6- Irresistible (Season 2, Episode 13): Written by Chris Carter. Directed by David Nutter: One of the all-time great stand-alone X-Files episodes (and the inspiration behind Carter's other great TV show Millennium), Irresistible is another milestone for the series in terms of quality and ambition. At first glance, the episode seems like another serial-killer tale. But as the story progresses, Carter and co. make it their own, with incredibly eerie visuals, hints of the supernatural, and great performances by all involved.
7- Revelations (Season 3, Episode 11): Written by Kim Newton. Directed by David Nutter: One of the first episodes where The X-Files attempted to create a scary religious thriller a la The Omen, Revelations is a frightening, thought-provoking episode with some disturbing visuals and an otherworldly feel that is unforgettable. Reportedly, it was a hard episode to produce, with numerous re-writes and post-production tweaks, but the end result is a haunting, wonderfully eerie episode.
8- Grotesque (Season 3, Episode 14): One of the high-points of the entire series, this psychological/Gothic thriller is The X-Files proving once again that nobody in the history of TV created scarier images and storylines than Chris Carter and co. The plot: While chasing a serial-killer obsessed with gargoyles, Mulder, overworked, and overwhelmed by the darkness of the crimes, begins to question his sanity. With assured performances by Duchovny and guest star Kurtwood Smith, and stylish direction by Kim Manners, this episode is a favorite of the cast and crew, and for good reason.
9- Jose Chung's “From Outer Space” (Season 3, Episode 20): Written by Darin Morgan. Directed by Rob Bowman: The X-Files' first dip into outright dark comedy is an unforgettable, witty dissection/spoof of The X-Files and its alien mythology. It occasionally veers into pretentious over-the-top antics, but, for the most part, this is a smart, funny, original episode, with everyone involved in top-form. It also proved that, at this stage, The X-Files was a show to be reckoned with in terms of writing quality and versatility.
10- Tempus Fugit (Season 4, Episode 17): Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz. Directed by Rob Bowman: One of the few highlights of the problematic fourth season (due to Carter spreading himself too thin by creating Millennium and working on the upcoming X-Files feature film), Tempus Fugit (and its continuation Max) is The X-Files at its most polished and bombastic, with stunning visuals, terrific EFX, and a complex, disturbing story of a very violent alien abduction. What this episode and its follow-up accomplish in terms of production values and overall quality, many big budget feature films fail to even come close to.
11- Max (Season 4, Episode 18): Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz. Directed by Kim Manners: The continuation of Tempus Fugit (see above).
12- Elegy (Season 4, Episode 22): Arguably the finest script written by the mostly underwhelming John Shiban, this is a touching, haunting, and very scary story of grief and premonition, which deals with Scully's cancer and fear of dying. One of the best ghost stories ever shown on television.
13- Kill Switch (Season 5, Episode 11): Written by William Gibson and Tom Maddox. Directed by Rob Bowman: One of the most ambitious and visually stylish X-Files episodes ever, Kill Switch, co-written by cyberpunk superstar author William Gibson, is The X-Files further expanding its scope and creating an episode that, again, rivals many a summer blockbuster in sheer originality and impact. Almost 20 years later, Kill Switch still stands the test of time as a masterpiece of sci-fi and suspense.
14- Bad Blood (Season 5, Episode 12): Written by Vince Gilligan. Directed by Cliff Bole: Reportedly a favorite of the cast and crew (especially Gillian Anderson), Bad Blood is a stunningly original vampire tale with several twists. It's funny, scary, unpredictable, and unforgettable. Think Salem's Lot meets Rashomon meets Mel Brooks!
15- Folie a Deux (Season 5, Episode 19): Written by Vince Gilligan. Directed by Kim Manners: Another highlight of Season five, arguably the last great season of The X-Files. This is an episode that works on many levels: as a ghost story, a psychological thriller, and an allegory about losing one's soul doing a thankless desk job. Kim Manners' direction is tight, the visuals super-creepy, and the writing intelligent.
16- The End (Season 5, Episode 20): Written by Chris Carter. Directed by R.W. Goodwin: Written as a potential finale to the series (with plans to continue the franchise as a series of feature films, starting with The X-Files: Fight The Future), The End is one of the best mythology episodes ever written by Carter. It has a clarity and an urgency missing from most episodes of its type, and the ending is effectively shocking, paving the way for an effective reboot/fresh start. Too bad the feature film and the rest of the series never fulfilled that promise.
17- The Beginning (Season 6, Episode 1): Written by Chris Carter. Directed by Kim Manners: Designed as a continuation of the 1998 feature film and as a reboot of the series, The Beginning is an entertaining, polished episode intended to show off the high production values and glossy veneer the series acquired after its problematic move from Vancouver to Los Angeles. Here, Carter and co. try to rewrite the alien mythology by introducing a new, scarier incarnation of the alien beings. And it works, for a while, at least. The rest of the season is uneven at best, with Duchovny, wanting out of the series to focus more on features, being too sardonic for his own good or sleepwalking through his lame dialogue.
18- Tithonus (Season 6, Episode 10): Written by Vince Gilligan. Directed by Michael Watkins: An excellent example of The X-Files mastery of “Quiet Horror”, stories that achieve the scares without overt violence or clearly visible monsters, but with suggestive, shadowy visuals and strong writing. The story, about an immortal night-beat photographer who is trying to capture “Death” with his camera, is endlessly eerie. The performances by guest-star Geoffrey Lewis and Gilligan Anderson are top-notch. The climax, where Scully literally faces “Death”, is beyond haunting.
19- One Son (Season 6, Episode 12): Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz. Directed by Rob Bowman: The highlight of the mythology episodes of season six, One Son answers a multitude of questions about Mulder, Agent Spender, and Cancer Man, while wrapping up the main alien conspiracy storyline that had at that point outstayed its welcome. It's riveting, shocking, and, like most mythology episodes, occasionally incomprehensible.
20- Orison (Season 7, Episode 7): Written by Chip Johannessen. Directed by Rob Bowman: Season 7 was mainly a bust, but it did include this terrific sequel to season 2's Irresistible, featuring Donnie Pfaster, one of the creepiest serial killers ever created. This time, the stakes are even higher, as there seems to be someone (or something) helping Pfaster kill. Faith and the nature of evil are some of the concepts dealt with here, in an episode that made us fans remember, after a number of mediocre episodes, why The X-Files is one of the greatest TV shows ever made.
21- Closure (Season 7, Episode 11): Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz. Directed by Kim Manners: Written as the final answer to the question “What happened to Scully's sister, Samantha?”, Closure is a compelling, frustrating, yet ultimately touching episode. It has numerous plot holes, and doesn't give a fully satisfying answer to the mystery that has been driving Mulder's character up to that point. But it does provide some answers. Add to that Duchovny's best performance in ages and Mark Snow's haunting score, and you got a must-see episode.
22- Requiem (Season 7, Episode 22): Written by Chris Carter. Directed by Kim Manners: Fearing that this might be the final episode of The X-Files (Duchovny wanted out, and Chris Carter was exhausted), Carter threw everything but the kitchen sink in this potential series finale. To my mind, had this really been the series finale, it would have ended The X-Files on an effectively shocking note. Instead, we got two more uneven seasons, and a series finale, The Truth, that left a lot to be desired.
23- Via Negativa (Season 8, Episode 7): Written by Frank Spotnitz. Directed by Tom Wharmby: Who would have thought that, after the show's reboot without Mulder, The X-Files was still capable of such an episode as Via Negativa? Dealing with dark spiritualism and the power of nightmares, this is one of the finest and most frightening stand-alone episodes in the entire run of the series, with terrifying visuals and a fine performance by Robert Patrick as Agent John Dogett. Arguably, the finest episode of the final two seasons of The X-Files.
24- Existence (Season 8, Episode 21): A mediocre episode that tries to bring the now tired mythology to life, Existence is included here mainly for the wonderful performances by all involved, and the final scene that brings Mulder and Scully together in a way fans had been clamoring for for eight years.
25- The Truth (Season 9, Episodes 19 and 20): Aired together as a TV movie event, The Truth is a 90 minute attempt by Chris Carter to bring together all the myriad strands he had been weaving for 9 seasons. Well, he doesn't exactly pull it off. But as far as series' finales go, this is an entertaining, ambitious, extravagant hour and a half, that does make some sense of the mythology. And the final scene is pitch-perfect.
|The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008)|
So that's it. A list of the 25 episodes to watch before The X-Files returns for its tenth season in January 2016. I highly recommend watching the feature film The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008), which is a nuanced, mature thriller, co-written and directed by Chris Carter. It's a stand-alone tale about faith, science, and perseverance, which gives Mulder and Scully plenty of moments to shine. Its only faults are its overly subdued tone, and being aimed at die-hard fans (if you haven't watched most of the series, or at least the 25 episodes listed here, you won't get the full effect of the story).
Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2015.
About The Author: Ahmed Khalifa is a filmmaker and writer. He is the author of Beware The Stranger, a horror novel, and Egyptian Gothic: Stories. Both books are available at Amazon here. He is also the writer/director of The Weapon, an action/supernatural Web Series, which centers on a vigilante called “The Hunter”. You can watch the complete first season, for free, here.