Thursday, November 26, 2015

Top 15 hours of mythology (or Top 10 mytharcs)

Please see Top 24 Hours of The X-Files for an introduction to this list.

Top 15 hours of mythology 
Top 10 mytharcs

Spoiler Warning: I'm going to try to keep the spoilers light in this section, so you won't have to skip it if you haven't seen all these episodes, but if you're especially sensitive to spoilers, beware that there may be some minor ones in the following list.

#1 Fight The Future
[between Seasons 5 and 6]

Premise: Mulder and Scully become embroiled in a conspiracy to cover up the government's involvement in an alien plot to colonize the Earth.

Comments: Fight The Future is not the beginning, nor the end, of The X-Files' mythology. It may not be its single best moment, either. But, on the whole, taking into account its accessibility, and the soaring heights to which it climbs - both in terms of exposition (which is rare for this show's mythology), as well as huge action set pieces (let's see, we've got prehistoric Ice Age alien predators, an exploding building, a helicopter chase through a desert corn field, and a harrowing escape from a thawing Antarctic spacecraft), thanks to the expanded potential of the big screen format - Fight The Future deserves to be the proverbial landing page for The X-Files, mythology or otherwise.

#2: One Breath
[Season 2, Episode 8]

Premise: Mulder struggles with his dedication to the quest for the truth, when, as a consequence, Scully lies in the hospital in critical condition, inching slowly towards death.

Comments: Pound for pound, I think One Breath is the best single mythology episode of the entire series. With Scully's very life hanging in the balance, and Mulder on the verge of giving up his lifelong quest, the emotional stakes are at a fever pitch. This episode features one of my favorite scenes with the informant X, showcasing his intensity and ambiguous loyalties, as well as one of the most satisfying confrontations between Mulder and the Smoking Man, at a point when the latter was still a threatening figure shrouded in mystery.

#3 Anasazi / The Blessing Way / Paper Clip
[Season 2, Episode 25; Season 3, Episodes 1-2]

Premise: Acquisition of a top secret document puts Mulder and Scully on the run as they try to decipher clues about a government project involving human experiments into hybridization.

Comments: What I like to refer to as "the merchandise trilogy", this is a tour de force, and easily the highlight of the entire series' mythology. Coming at the end of the second season, the mythology was at a point of peak ripeness, having matured out of its early stages, while still leaving lots of room for expansion. The Syndicate is introduced for the first time, granting new layers to the shadowy conspiracy, and, having been put on the defensive, they wreak havoc throughout these episodes. There is more than one critical execution, and Mulder himself journeys dangerously close to death. By its conclusion, many questions remain unanswered, but Mulder and Scully will have scratched the surface of the conspirators' sinister plans against the American public, and Skinner will have had his opportunity to stand up to the Smoking Man, revealing the true nature of his character and loyalties once and for all.

#4 Duane Barry / Ascension
[Season 2, Episodes 5-6]

Premise: Mulder attempts to defuse a hostage situation involving an alien abductee, then races to the top of a mountain to rescue Scully from a kidnapper en route to an otherworldly rendezvous.

Comments: I debated whether to include these episodes together with One Breath (as I often like to do), since that episode resolves a major plot thread left hanging by these two episodes. But they aren't strictly an unbroken series, and while I feel that One Breath deserves a higher position on this list, I didn't feel as though the three together were good enough to beat Anasazi/The Blessing Way/Paper Clip. Nevertheless, this is an essential part of the mythology, and the clearest the series ever presents its primary theme - alien abduction. Steve Railsback lends a tortured intensity to Duane Barry, a highly memorable character, and the episodes culminate in a harrowing tram ride up a tall mountain, during which Alex Krycek reveals his duplicitous nature, and after which Scully vanishes, leaving Mulder to face the greatest loss since the childhood disappearance of his sister. Neither of them will ever be the same after this encounter.

#5 Gethsemane / Redux / Redux II
[Season 4, Episode 24; Season 5, Episodes 1-2]

Premise: While investigating an elaborate hoax, Mulder infiltrates the Department of Defense only to face the possibility that everything he's believed in has been a lie, while Scully grapples with the long-term consequences of her abduction.

Comments: The concept put forth by this series of episodes alone earns it a memorable reputation. By the end of the fourth season, the mythology had toyed extensively with the possibility that extraterrestrial phenomena might not be as out of this world as they seem. This is the culmination of that story thread, in which Mulder faces the possibility that everything he's seen and believed in for years has been an elaborate hoax, constructed to exploit a gullible public in service of obscuring the actions of a bloated military-industrial war machine. Although this twists The X-Files' regular mythology (that the government is hiding the existence of extraterrestrial life) utterly upside-down, it is perhaps the most plausible real-world explanation, and represents this series' mythology at its most cynically clever.

#6: Nisei / 731
[Season 3, Episodes 9-10]

Premise: An alien autopsy video leads Mulder to a train carrying what he believes to be a successful alien-human hybrid, while Scully learns the sobering details behind the government's secret involvement in alien abductions.

Comments: This is a thrilling pair of episodes from start to finish, with much to recommend it. Mark Snow's score is at its best. Stephen McHattie puts in a memorable guest turn as a stone-faced government assassin. X marches in unexpectedly at just the right moments to act like a badass. And the revelations - building on what has been learned in previous episodes about human testing to create hybrids, and the purpose and logistics of the government's involvement in alleged alien abductions - are damning. It's also one of those great sets of episodes where Mulder and Scully are at their best working apart, each heavily invested in their own part of the quest.

#7: Patient X / The Red and the Black
[Season 5, Episodes 13-14]

Premise: A new and unforeseen alien faction threatens to destroy the Syndicate's tenuous alliance with the alien colonists, while Mulder struggles with disbelief, and Scully finds herself a powerless pawn in the aliens' machinations.

Comments: Coming at a time in the series when Mulder was disillusioned by evidence that the alien conspiracy could all be a hoax, this episode not only marks the beginning of his turnaround, but also a point in the series when various stray threads of the mythology were finally starting to come together. The ultimate conclusion to the series' mythology may have been disappointing, but in these episodes, a satisfying resolution feels within the show's grasp - and that's exciting! This also marks the point where Krycek returns to the fore of the show's mythology, and features one of Marita Covarrubias' most memorable developments. One of the highlights of these episodes, and of the show's entire mythology, is the hypnosis scene where Scully describes with terrified wonder her close encounter with a UFO.

#8: The Erlenmeyer Flask
[Season 1, Episode 24]

Premise: Mulder risks both his life, and the cover of his informant, when he stumbles upon a secret government program designed to test the effects of extraterrestrial gene therapy on humans.

Comments: This is probably the best of Deep Throat's episodes, and the culmination of the first season's mythology. The mythology would grow and expand in later seasons, but there was a simplicity in that first season when all you got was hints that the government had had contact with aliens for years, and were involved in secret projects to salvage their technology and study their biology. As a season finale, The Erlenmeyer Flask is a thrilling episode imbued with the spirit of consequence, as demonstrated by the events of its game-changing conclusion - to an extent rarely duplicated in the series' run.

#9: Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man
[Season 4, Episode 7]

Premise: The Lone Gunmen discover a lead that promises to blow the cover off of the Smoking Man's sordid history once and for all.

Comments: I had some trouble deciding whether to count this as a mythology episode or a freak-of-the-week episode, but while the events depicted in it are probably not canon, it really works best in terms of how it fits into the series' mythology - especially the segments involving Deep Throat, and the behind-the-scenes look we get at the events of the pilot episode. Dramatized or not, this episode paints an effective portrait of the series' main villain, making him out to be a larger-than-life character, that manages to humanize him while at the same time not completely removing his fangs.

#10: Colony / End Game
[Season 2, Episodes 16-17]

Premise: A shape-shifting Alien Bounty Hunter comes to Earth to put a stop to unsanctioned cloning experiments ostensibly designed to create an alien-human hybrid.

Comments: Colony/End Game has the misfortune of being sandwiched between two of the greatest mytharcs in the series - Duane Barry/Ascension/One Breath, and Anasazi/The Blessing Way/Paper Clip. It can't help but pale in direct comparison. Plus, the fact that it appears to resolve the mystery of Samantha's disappearance so early in the series, only to snatch that answer back away from you before the episodes' end, is bound to leave you feeling a little disappointed. However, this is one mytharc that improves considerably upon multiple rewatches. It features the Alien Bounty Hunter (for the first time in the series) at his most purest - as an indestructible, shape-shifting assassin with Terminator-like determination - not marred by a complicated affiliation with various alien or human factions, as he is in later appearances. The entire feature is underscored by a plodding bass line, and builds to a thrilling climax aboard a submarine lodged in the Arctic ice.

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