Sunday, October 11, 2015

The X-Files - Series Highlights (Part 1)

a.k.a. Classic X-Files

One of the things I had it in mind that I wanted to do when I started this marathon, was pick out the "essential" episodes one might view if they wanted a crash course in The X-Files (whether having seen the show before, or being a complete newcomer), in case, for example, they wanted a primer before launching into the new episodes airing this January, and didn't have the time to commit to watching the entire series, like I am. This was actually the impetus for my rating system which I developed after having finished the first season. But I quickly determined that ratings alone weren't going to suffice, particularly for the mythology episodes (which, I will admit, I have a tendency to over-rate, being biased towards them) - when you have a running story thread, it's really hard to pick and choose this and that episode and expect the viewer to be able to follow along.

So, I had resolved to simply leave it up to the ratings and the readers' judgment to decide which episodes they might want to watch, aside from my plan to make "best of mythology" and "best of freak-of-the-week" lists towards the end of my marathon (stay tuned for links to those, hopefully). At any rate, my rewards for best episodes in each season were at least a starting nod in that direction. But, then, my roommate expressed an interest in marathoning only the best episodes of the series (trusting fully in my choice of which episodes constitute "the best"), being a rather more casual fan (as opposed to an obsessed one like I am) with not nearly the kind of time I'm dedicating to my marathon. Therefore, I've been in the process of picking out a list of what I deem to be "essential viewing" episodes, after all. And I figure, if I'm making the list anyway, it would be a shame not to share it with you.

As a disclaimer - although this should go without saying - these choices are necessarily going to be subjective, even though I do pride myself on the decisions I ultimately arrive at. By all means, if you don't like my picks, feel free to find somebody else's list, or make your own. But at the very least, this is a place to start. Also, I think it warrants mention that, as this is just the highlights of the series, with an eye to keeping the total running time from getting too out of hand, there will be good episodes passed up. That's just inevitable. I say again, these are the highlights. However, in the interest of completionism (because, yes, I'm obsessive like that), I think I will list some optional episodes for those with the time or the inclination to delve a little deeper into the series, or looking for specific themes or characters of interest. Let us begin.

Warning: I don't intend the rest of this post to be particularly spoilerrish, but insofar as the appearance of certain characters (e.g., Krycek, X) in certain episodes, or the fact of their survival to a certain point in the series, can be considered a spoiler, you may want to be careful what you read. The fact is, this list is meant for people to pinpoint the episodes they want to watch, and if you want to be surprised by what happens in a given episode, or what an episode is generally about, then you really can't do that without watching the episodes at random (or in their entirety), which is not what this list is for. At the very least, though, you can simply browse the episode titles and skip the text passages, for a blind watch, if you trust my judgment as regards episode selection.

Season 1 (3 Episodes)

Beyond The Sea
The Erlenmeyer Flask

Curriculum: I made a point to cut season 1 down to just a few episodes, since the show is still primitive at this stage, and there will be much better episodes in later seasons that are more worth your time to watch. Nevertheless, the pilot is worth watching, as it is not only a solid episode, but really a perfect start to the series, and a perfect encapsulation of what this series is all about. Beyond The Sea is mandatory viewing as well, as it is the best freak-of-the-week episode in the whole season, with excellent acting by Brad Dourif, and an opportunity for Gillian Anderson to get really emotional. It rivals any of the best episodes of later seasons. Then we jump to the season finale, The Erlenmeyer Flask, which is probably the best mythology episode of the season, and also helps to set up developments that will factor in to later episodes on this list.

Extracurricular Episodes (Mythology): Those who enjoy the simplistic (and un-convoluted) nature of season 1's mythology and want to see more can't go wrong with watching Deep Throat, which introduces Mulder's first informant; Fallen Angel, which introduces Max Fenig and the concept of serial abductees; and E.B.E., which is really an excellent episode that not only introduces The Lone Gunmen, and explores Deep Throat's motivations, but plays wonderfully on the theme of doubt, which we will see more of later. Also, those interested in the back story of Mulder's sister's abduction will doubtless want to watch Conduit.

Extracurricular Episodes (Freak-of-the-week): Freak-of-the-week fans may want to give Squeeze and Tooms a watch, which feature one of fans' all-time favorite freaks (one of very few popular enough to return in a sequel). The former is the series' first ever freak-of-the-week episode, and the latter happens to introduce A.D. Skinner, and feature the Smoking Man's only spoken words in the first season. Ice is also another popular season 1 freak-of-the-week episode, conjuring the claustrophobic paranoia of John Carpenter's The Thing. Other fair choices are Eve (about genetic experiments that produce evil twins), Fire (featuring a maniacal pyrokinetic), Darkness Falls (killer bugs unleashed by lumberjacks), and Roland (a murderous autistic savant).

Season 2 (6 episodes)

Duane Barry / Ascension
One Breath
Die Hand die Verletzt
F. Emasculata

Curriculum: Seasons 2 and 3 contain some really good mythology episodes, so I had to condense it down to the best of the best. Duane Barry/Ascension, which starts a story thread that is concluded in the fantastic One Breath, are simply essential viewing for their mythology content, but also because they are exciting and dramatic early series episodes. The season finale, Anasazi, also kicks off another of the series' all-time greatest mythology arcs, which is continued into the third season. The freak-of-the-week episodes are still improving, and so I didn't want to spend too much time on them in this season. Die Hand die Verletzt and F. Emasculata are two of my all-time favorites, however. The former is about a town run by a Satanic cult, and the latter is a conspiracy-laced pressure cooker involving the outbreak of a deadly disease.

Extracurricular Episodes (Mythology): While I didn't rate it as essential, the season premiere, Little Green Men, is really a good little episode, in which we get to view Samantha's abduction in flash back, and in which Mulder has a close encounter. Colony/End Game, while not being on the level of the other mythology episodes in this and the next season, is still pretty good, and features the mythology at a point where it still wasn't super complicated. If you like the Alien Bounty Hunter, or are following the Samantha plot thread, you'll probably want to give those episodes a watch.

Extracurricular Episodes (Freak-of-the-week): The Host, featuring upcoming comedy/parody writer Darin Morgan as the Flukeman, is a fun episode in the gross-out tradition. Sleepless may also be worth watching as much for the fact that it introduces Krycek and really sets up the betrayal that occurs in Ascension. Irresistible is another good episode, featuring a "death fetishist" (since the network wouldn't let them use the term "necrophiliac"), that predates Millenium, and gives Scully a chance to show her vulnerable side. I personally also like Død Kalm, about a ghost ship, which has a cloistering atmosphere. Darin Morgan fans will want to watch Humbug, the episode about sideshow freaks, although I didn't enjoy it that much. Soft Light is Vince Gilligan's first episode on the show, starring Tony Shalhoub as a quantum physicist with a deadly shadow, and is notable for its extended scenes with Mulder's informant X. Our Town is also a fun episode about suburban cannibals.

Season 3 (9 episodes)

The Blessing Way / Paper Clip
Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose
Nisei / 731
Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'

Curriculum: The Blessing Way/Paper Clip really come as a set including Anasazi, and are some of the best mythology episodes in the entire series. They also introduce the Syndicate, who are the men (along with the Smoking Man) pulling the strings behind the conspiracy. Nisei/731 is also an excellent set of mythology episodes that continues some of the story threads in the previous arc, while setting up important revelations that will come in the next season. The freak-of-the-week episodes are getting stronger in this season, and notably feature the majority of Darin Morgan's more humorous scripts. The highlights of those are Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose - which won an Emmy for writing, and for Peter Boyle's portrayal of a depressed psychic insurance salesman - and Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space' - a wacky deconstruction that explores the shifting nature of reality via a case of alleged alien abduction. My favorite dark and serious freak-of-the-week episode of this season, however, is Grotesque, about an artist obsessed with gargoyles. Written by Vince Gilligan, Pusher features one of the series' fan-favorite freaks (a man who can push his will onto others). And Quagmire is another fun episode that tackles a States-side analog to the Loch Ness Monster.

Extracurricular Episodes (Mythology): Although I don't rate them as highly as the essential episodes I picked out from this season, fans of either Alex Krycek or the Black Oil will want to watch Piper Maru/Apocrypha, while Skinner fans may be interested in the first Skinner-centric episode of the series, Avatar. Wetwired is also a rather underrated and overlooked mythology-ish episode, and may be notable to fans of the character X, for its foreshadowing of coming events. The season finale, Talitha Cumi (along with its conclusion in the next season's premiere, Herrenvolk), doesn't rise to the level of past seasons' finales, but more in-depth myth-watchers will want to watch it for its content involving the colonization plot, and the Smoking Man's connection to Mulder's family. It also features the Alien Bounty Hunter for the second time in the series.

Extracurricular Episodes (Freak-of-the-week): Darin Morgan fans will no doubt also want to catch his other episode, War of the Coprophages (the one with the killer cockroaches). Some fans like D.P.O., which stars Giovanni Ribisi as a human lightning rod (and Jack Black as his side kick). I personally enjoyed The List, about a death row inmate who exacts revenge from beyond the grave - it's hard to follow, but very moody and stylistic. Fans of the series' genetic mutants (or its gross-out episodes) might enjoy 2Shy, which is a pretty good episode about a fat-sucking vampire. Although I didn't personally like Oubliette much, fans who enjoy the one-off episodes that deal with the emotional ramifications of Mulder's sister complex may like it better than I did. Similarly, Revelations deals with Scully's faith, and may appeal primarily to those who are interested in that subject. Finally, Hell Money, about a Chinatown death lottery, features some nightmarish themes.


I think breaking this feature into three parts - three seasons each - seems like as good a way to break it down as any. That way, I don't have to wait until the last minute to post the whole thing, and if anybody out there decides to use this list, they'll be able to get started on watching some of these episodes now rather than later. So stay tuned for Part 2, coming probably sometime after I finish season 6, which should be before Thanksgiving!

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