Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The X-Files, part 1: seasons 1–5

I watched The X-Files right from the start when I was nine, thanks to my dad letting me stay up illegally late on a school night when my mum was at an evening class or something.

Five years ago, I watched the whole series again (some of those later episodes for the first time). This is what I thought about them. Supplemented by mythology updates when I watched selected episodes with the wifey more recently and felt the need to chronicle any minor changes of opinion.

Part one: The Vancouver Years (a.k.a. the classic years. Mostly. Often).

Songs in the Key of X:

Mythology episode

1X01 Pilot

Three things stood out to me when re-watching the debut episode of The X-Files two decades later. Firstly, it’s really good, which was a relief as I’ve committed to 201 more X-citing X-capades before the year is out (the X puns will end here, I promise).

Secondly, Scully is really beautiful, which probably won’t come as a surprise if you were pubic during the show’s original run, but as someone who started watching as a young child and had started to lose interest by the time that stuff started happening to his body, it’s quite a revelation.

That brings us to the third and most mind-bending phenomenon of all: Scully is really young. Gillian Anderson was 23 when they filmed this in 1992. TWENTY-THREE! I’m 28 now. I’M OLDER THAN SCULLY. How did this happen? I know Scully claims that time is a universal invariant, but this is just one of those things I never expected to happen.

I just checked and David Duchovny was 33 at the time, so that makes me feel a little better (for another five years anyway). He’s great in this too, setting the right tone with cheeky charm, cocky over-confidence, desperate gullibility, more than a touch of obsessive-compulsive geekiness and trademark drunken slurring. The show’s dearth of sexual tension is also well established when Scully disrobes in front of Mulder to show him her mysterious markings and he just looks uncomfortable. Yeah, nothing’s ever going to happen there.

The episode itself is just about the most by-the-numbers X-Files episode you could cobble together, which is understandable and fitting for a pilot, and also works a treat. There’s the nice contrast between dark, foreboding forests and dark, foreboding government offices (one of the non-descript background extras was smoking quite profusely, which made things a little hazy and was rather unprofessional, but hopefully this is the sort of detail that’ll be ironed out in the series proper).

It’s also got other tropes like circular arguments about the laws of physics, autopsies, mysterious implants, Mulder eating sunflower seeds, Scully walking through the dark with a torch in one hand and gun in the other enquiring as to Mulder’s whereabouts and a few dead and terrified teenagers.

As the first episode, this sets the tone perfectly and has a really well-written script too. These aren’t the sort of tedious details I’d normally bother commenting on, but it’s interesting that I would compulsively watch this show every Thursday night from the age of eight, even though I’m sure I wasn’t really following the twists and turns of the plots, and wouldn’t even have been that impressed when Scully got her bra out. There was something else that gripped me and kept me watching for at least a few more years, and I don’t think it was just the allure of being allowed to stay up illegally past nine o’clock. Maybe it was partly that, but I was never so much into Cracker.
"When convention and science offer us no answers, might we not finally turn to the fantastic as a plausibility?" - Fox Mulder

1X02 Deep Throat

The second episode (first proper episode) of The X-Files is another one that ticks a lot of the right boxes and introduces the link between shadowy military operations and extraterrestrials that would go on to form the basis of the show’s mythology. Oh sorry, I maybe should have added ‘spoiler alert’ there, in case you don't know what this show is. To be fair though, I think they tried to put us off the scent a few times with fake alien embryos and things, so from memory I can’t say for sure whether there ever were any aliens or not... oh no wait, there was that invicible shape-shifting guy with the melty face and the massive UFO buried in Antarctica. Yeah, aliens exist. But not necessarily at this early point, when all we’ve got to go on are the frustrating riddles of Mulder’s mysterious benefactor and the eyewitness accounts of a young, stoned Seth Green. Yeah, he got cast in the ‘young stoner’ role for a change.

After the scary woods and unseen UFO flyovers of the pilot episode, it’s nice to get some tense chase scenes and tangible craft here (albeit of human manufacture), and Mulder and Scully clock up more air miles and argue about physics again while beginning their new favourite hobbies of snooping around suburban homes and interrogating the distraught and/or bereaved. This will also doubtless be the first in a long line of episodes that make me want to set off an a USA road trip, stopping off at kooky cafes to listen to the UFO nuts and break the news that The X-Files was just a TV show. I want to believe.
"Just because I can't explain it doesn't mean I'm going to believe they're UFOs" - Dana Scully

1X03 Squeeze

Three classic episodes in a row. This trend had better stop soon or I'm going to be disappointed. I thought the early years of shows were supposed to be full of gaping plot holes that can be satisfyingly torn wide open and ridiculed, but instead we get two intriguing alien/conspiracy instalments in a row before shifting tone entirely with the first stand-alone monster-of-the-week show. Well, not exactly stand-alone, as Eugene Victor Tooms would return in a not-very-long-awaited sequel later this season, but as monsters go, he's pretty damn spooky. Oh, no, that's that other guy.

It's not just the fear quotient that's raised in this gory mystery, as there's a lot of humour as well, and it's a testament to the writers (Glen Morgan and James Wong - I don't know any of the writers yet, so I'll be looking out for more) that the prospect of a 100-year-old liver harvesting serial killer with 10-inch fingers and a squeezable body falls into the 'scary' side of the spectrum rather than ending up being as ridiculous as I've made it sound. Whoops, spoiler alert - though Mulder works this all out with impressive Jonathan Creek-esque speed as he notices the signs that less open-minded, more conventional, generally dumber investigators overlooked. Bloody norms.

The contrast between humdum FBI operations and Mulder's more spaced-out style is nicely explored too, and it's comforting, if a little tragic (with my limited foreknowledge of how screwed up things are going to get for her) to see Scully holding onto some semblance of normalcy even as she becomes increasingly associated with little green men, and makes moral choices that could jeopardise her career.

It's also fun to hear the first appearance of composer Mark Snow's stock 'weird stuff' theme amidst the standard early-90s bass synthesiser interludes that sound like incidental music from the Monkey Island games or something. For a show that threatened to be off-putting to newcomers as early as its second episode, there's nothing to stop virgins diving in here. You might want to ensure any ducts in your home are well sealed before going to bed though.
"Do you think I'm spooky?" - Fox Mulder

1X04 Conduit

Iiiiiit's the not-very-long-awaited return of alien abduction investigations, dark woods, troubled teens, world-weary regional police officers, hairy UFO groupies and distraught parents in this run-of-the-mill X-File, though there are a couple of stand-out points.

For one thing, Scully doesn't even get to draw her gun in this one. And it's good to find out a little more about the abduction of Mulder's sister, before that plot thread would be stretched too taut over the next seven years. So your sister floated out of the room in a beam of light while you were paralysed and had to grow up bereaved, get over it already.

There's the first in a long line of creepy kids with paranormal powers, and some nice scenery that's supposed to be Iowa but looks uncannily similar to the British Columbia filming locations of every other episode ever. That's all I have to say about this one, I can't help feeling it might have been more interesting if we'd got the lizard baby story instead.
"I want to believe" - Fox Mulder

1X05 The Jersey Devil

This episode opens with a family driving through the New Jersey countryside at night, singing happy songs and generally having an all-round swell time. I sure hope nothing bad happens.

So far, The X-Files has established two distinct types of episodes: the paranoid alien abduction/conspiracy type and the genetic mutant killing people and getting chased type. This one slots easily into the latter category, but it's not up to the same standard as 'Squeeze,' even if it has naked lady ass.

This is the first episode to show Mulder and Scully doing entirely separate things, as she visits a friend, goes on a date and tries to have a normal life outside of work while Mulder spends his weekend hanging out with hobos and almost getting it on with a feral neanderthal woman. After having a good think about where her life's going, Scully inexplicably chooses to stick around with Mulder and to be like him. Her life effectively ends here. Or does it begin? Either way, she had the chance to get out here and missed the last train. It's all misery and despair from here on, I can't wait.
"I heard the same story when I was a kid too. Funny thing is I believed it" - Fox Mulder

1X06 Shadows

A couple of minutes into the teaser, an object moves around on a desk and I was ready to switch channels (figuratively speaking. Like I've used a TV since about 2005). But for the sake of this pointless blog I stuck with the poltergeist plot, and it wasn't as painful as I feared, partly because it was written by Glen Morgan and James Wong who already scored points with the creepy 'Squeeze.'

In a show that runs the gamut of paranormal phenomena(e?), everyone can pick and choose their personal favourites, and even though I'm from England where we're supposed to be obsessed with ghosts, my capacity for being scared by filing cabinets ejaculating papers all over the floor probably died around age twelve.

So it's fortunate I first saw this episode when I was about nine, when I hungrily devoured anything spook-based whether it was in fictional X-Files form or quasi-documentary The Paranormal World of Paul McKenna form, where the 'investigation' part of paranormal investigation amounted to 'look at this weird thing that's happening. Some scientists reckon it can be explained, but let's not talk to them stuffy old sods - here's Wet Wet Wet to play us out.'

I got a bit side-tracked there and realise I haven't talked much about the episode. There's a poltergeist. Mulder believes in it, Scully doesn't. Mulder's the one in the room when the weird stuff happens, so the status quo remains nice and stable for syndication purposes. I've got 197 more of these to go.
"I would never lie. I willfully participated in a campaign of misinformation" - Fox Mulder

1X07 Ghost in the Machine

This one about a self-aware computer doesn't really count as an X-File. In fact, the investigation started out as a run-of-the-mill case by the norms upstairs until Mulder's annoying former partner drafts him in to help solve a curious murder. And, oh look, it turns out to be a bit sci-fi anyway - what are the chances?

You can tell it's not an X-File because Scully accepts Mulder's accusation that the computer did it without batting an eyelid. This computer is a disappointingly obvious homage to HAL from 2001, right down to the paraphrasing of dialogue and unnecessary voice for the benefit of the slower members of the audience. Any vintage nerds who were around in the Usenet era will either appreciate the trip down memory line brought about by the early 90s computer software and jargon, or be offended by it. From my inexperienced vantage point, it looks more convincing than most other early 90s TV computers.

Another below par episode from a series that found its feet impressively early and then tripped over. I hope next time there's some frozen alien parasites or something.
"Brad... whyyyyyy?" - COS

1X08 Ice

A decent episode at last, maybe the best so far, and another from the mostly-winning team of Glen Morgan and James Wong. I'll definitely forget to notice who wrote the episodes shortly, so I feel I should give credit where it'd due before laziness and dementia take me.

I'd probably write this episode off as a shameless rip-off if I'd ever seen The Thing, which it's supposedly entirely based on, but I don't think I have. I've got a vague childhood memory of seeing a film about paranoid scientists pulling guns on each other in a frosty research centre, but I'm probably just remembering this episode.

There's more that's great about this one than just the sight of Mulder and Scully pulling guns on each other, including some genuinely good science (it sounds convincing anyway, and I did biology up to basic GCSE level so I should know) and the first on-screen aliens. No one explicitly states the parasites are extraterrestrial in origin, but they come out of a meteor crater and are called 'impossible' a couple of times, so it doesn't take a Mulder to put the pieces together. They get conveniently torched of course, otherwise the series would be cut abruptly short and I'd have to find some other 20-years-out-of-date show to write about. Hey, remember Sliders?

The supporting characters are a lot of fun too, for a series that's so far mostly featured the three stock types of grumpy sheriff, sobbing widow and irritating former partner. They all had distinct personalities and relevant skills... well, apart from the woman one, I think she was just there because Scully's too macho to scream. And I don't remember any of their names apart from 'Bear,' but what's in a name?
"We are not who we are" - Bleeding guy

1X09 Space

Ghosts in space! The Face on Mars attacking people! This episode written by series creator Chris Carter seems to be both a celebration of humanity's (i.e. America's) boundless achievements encapsulated by the space program as well as a message for us to stay the hell out of space. We don't belong there. If it wasn't for the tagged-on spooky stuff it wouldn't be much of an X-File, but at least it's something different. If space isn't your thing, they're bound to get round to werewolves, vampires and spontaneous human combustion sooner or later.

There don't seem to be any copyright issues with the show using real NASA footage, which saves them the trouble of having to create their own space shuttle launch and spacewalk effects sequences but also has the tell-tale fuzzy look of stock footage, like the jolt from video to film when Basil Fawlty would go outside.

Aside from the aforementioned space ghost, this is a painstakingly realistic episode, though CC's apparent determination to depict an authentic mission control set-up does annoyingly require Mulder to translate the technobabble to the audience through the conduit of Scully, who otherwise doesn't do a lot here. Neither of them do really, though Mulder outs himself as a teenage space geek which might not be entirely unrelated to the fact that his sister floated out of her bedroom a few years earlier in a bright yellow light.

There's genuine Apollo 13 style peril here, but budget limitations make it a little annoying that we don't get to see inside the shuttle. I'm not sure if the families of the dead Challenger crew would be content to have that shuttle's failure revealed to be alien sabotage in an entertainment show, but watching this following last year's termination of the shuttle program, it's clear the conflict over budgets wasn't a recent phenomenon.
"Houston... we've got some spooky stuff up here" - Astronaut

1X10 Fallen Angel

Another really good episode helping to restore the curve, this probably also counts as part of the grand mytharc, back when things were still as easy to get your head around as 'there are some aliens' and 'the government lies.' Nothing you'd need a tedious 90-minute synopsis delivered in a tenuous courtroom set-up to understand.

Mulder sneaks around a quarantined UFO crash site, skilfully avoiding the conveniently red security lasers that I didn't think existed outside of The Crystal Maze, and is incarcerated with the series' best guest character so far, who's sort of like Garth from Wayne's World if his obsession had been shady conspiracies rather than glam metal. Actually, I think Garth liked UFOs too.

Although Max is a bit of a prototype for the Lone Gunmen (they haven't shown up yet), his conspiracy gang is very plausible and resourceful, using all the means available pre-internet to keep track of Mulder's adventures just as we've been doing. They play the ambiguity card again with Max's medications and susceptibility to suggestion, but this is blown slightly when we get our second visible aliens of the series, albeit in infra-red and wobbly Predator invisibility effect form, the teases.

I haven't given any praise to the show's directors so far, mostly because I don't really know what that job involves, but this episode looks really cinematic, mostly thanks to the nice use of shadows. Actually, I guess that's lighting, innit? The grumpy colonel is played by Frederick Coffin, and mainly merits mentioning thanks to his brilliant name.
"Trust no one" - Max Pfenig

1X11 Eve

This series feels firmly established as a weekly supernatural horror anthology by now, and this is another very weird and smart story that could have been adapted to/from similar formats, though this show's high production values and quality writing elevate it above a basic evil twins plot. This being The X-Files, they also throw in some cattle mutilation, public health scares and government cover-ups for good measure.

That said, Scully and Mulder feel a little interchangeable and generic in their armed chase roles, apart from one scene where they play good cop and wacky cop respectively. Guest star Harriet Harris is extremely sinister as the criminally insane Eve 6 and her sistren, and after bemoaning a lack of NASA funding a couple of weeks earlier, the series continues with its confusing political agendas. You'll probably think twice about arranging in-vitro fertilisation after watching this.
"I paid too much attention to a guard. Bit into his eyeball. I meant it as a sign of affection" - Eve 6

1X12 Fire

And things were going so well. Even before we get to the opening credits, we're treated to a racist depiction of English people and a Scooby Doo level mystery where it's literally the caretaker who did it. No spoiler alert needed, we know this all the way through in Columbo style, making Scully's forensic efforts frustrating and pointless.

There's more hoffensive Henglishness in the rest of the episode when one of Mulder's old flames (ouch!) shows up to rekindle (ooch!) a spark (ow! Stop it) and instantly becomes the most hated character on the series so far among desperate fanfic writers. This week's other guest characters aren't much better though, from the Enid Blyton era kids to the smarmy arsonist himself (who goes on to play a more endearingly cocky lawyer in Battlestar Galactica) and the worryingly pyromaniacal arson specialist who doesn't seem to know what show he's on.
"That's peculiar. People don't normally just catch on fire" - Arson specialist proves his credentials

1X13 Beyond the Sea

This is definitely the best episode so far, maybe one of the best overall, and the first one I remember clearly freaking me the hell out as a child, when I was technically too young to be allowed to watch this. That blue devil and the victims watching Boggs on his way to the gas chamber are sectioned in the same horrifying part of my memories as the woman in the window from that episode of Chiller and Lord Fear from Knightmare.

Gillian Anderson is fantastic in this, as Scully goes through the grief cycle while a potentially psychic serial killer tries to broker a deal, and guest star Brad Dourif is reliably creepy. Don S Davis shows up for a short while too, before instantly dying. Mulder takes a bit of a back seat in this one as Scully deals with her family tragedy and shaken beliefs, and it's nice to see him taking the more sceptical role.

I think I prefer it when they make a bad one I can poke fun at. These excellent episodes are no fun at all.
"I'm afraid to believe" - Dana Scully

1X14 Gender Bender

This episode starts daft and has a ridiculous, unnecessary ending, but there's some creepy cult stuff in the middle that borrows from the British folk horror tradition and looks great. I love it when these guys get out of the city, though this feels sort of like a retread of 'The Jersey Devil' with a revolving-gender killer rather than a Neanderthal. 20-year-old spoiler alert for that one.

This being 20 years ago, gender and sexual stereotypes are still very much in force, and the shapeshifting killer's hair even changes when they switch gender. Men have short hair while women have long hair, you see. The Kindred are very clearly a stab at the Amish, which Chris Carter apparently wasn't concerned about because those people don't have televisions. That's like saying it's fine to take the piss out of deaf people on the radio. The difference being that the Amish arguably deserve it.

Scully has another bad week while Mulder coasts through seeming stoned as usual, until there's the glimmer of something extraterrestrial at the end when he reliably perks up. I thought they reverted to being one-note characters after the film, but he hasn't done anything interesting for a while now.
"The Addams Family finds religion" - Fox Mulder

1X15 Lazarus

This was a disappointing episode. We get a little more of Scully's backstory, reminding us that she used to have a life, but then she's abducted again and this becomes a standard hostage stakeout with a regular Bonny & Clyde couple. The difference being, one of them has body-swapped into an FBI agent because... actually, why did that happen? They focus on the body-hopping tattoo a few times, but a malevolent paranormal tattoo entity would be too ridiculous even for this show (see season four).

This episode does give a handy piece of advice for anyone who finds themselves getting resurrected in someone else's body. Check its medical history first.
"Two men died in that crash room, one man came back" - Fox Mulder

1X16 Young at Heart

Back on form with a good story for Mulder that gets gratuitously weirder as it goes along.

The son-of-a-bitch who Mulder sent down on his first case for the bureau is back to his old tricks and out for revenge, except now he's younger. That's weird. Unlike last week's unsatisfying "weird shit happens" phenomenon, this week's paranormal activity has its roots in the unsavoury de-ageing experiments of a Dr Mengele character. I like it when they're grounded in something tangible rather than just magic, and as Mulder points out, yesterday's science fiction can soon become tomorrow's normalcy. 20 years ago when this first aired, the idea of people going about their lives with salamander's hands grafted on seemed borderline wacky.

Scully's life is in danger again, after some of Mulder's more disposable friends we've never seen before are picked off first. Maybe this is why these two get so close in later years, everyone else around them ends up dead.
"I've got some dead man robbing jewellery stores and sending me haikus" - Fox Mulder

1X17 E.B.E.

The paranormal goes global in this fantastic episode, which is a real return to form and goes back to basics as Mulder brings out his abduction test kit, while pushing the Trust No One angle and leading Mulder to discover some truths about himself and how he's being used against himself. In short, this is too smart a show for me to attempt to do justice with an insightful review, so as usual here are some things I liked/felt/saw:

The Lone Gunmen get a great introduction. The first characters they've introduced that I'd like to see back, after Max Pfenig. Except he's basically Langly on medication.
More wacky UFO nuts too. Those guys make Langly look down-to-earth.
Deep Throat is relevant again. They probably shouldn't have inserted him into arbitrary episodes here and there (I think he was even in 'Fire?') and saved him for the big events instead.
When you see the Morgan & Wong writing credits, you know you're in for a treat.
Not for the first time, Scully questions Mulder's clouded judgement but ends up getting hoodwinked herself while he remains objectively lucid. It really seems they're feeding off each other - admittedly, Mulder's getting the better end of the deal - and this chemistry alone should be enough to convince anyone that this show could stay interesting for a long time, as long as they don't screw it up.
Mulder admits it's remotely plausible that Scully could be considered hot. Not exactly entering fan-fic territory yet, but planting seeds.
"A lie, Mr Mulder, is most convincingly hidden between two truths" - Deep Throat

1X18 Miracle Man

Back to episodic territory with a plot that essentially disregards the progress made in Mulder's developing rationality last time as he starts seeing his abducted sister all over the place courtesy of a supposed faith healer. Yes, they're doing faith healing this week - we're working through the list at a decent pace, I'm concerned there's eight more years of this to go.

Like the transparent Amish parallels a few weeks before, here we get an extremely transparent pop at Peter Popoff and his ilk, down to the Hicksville locale and 'testifah!' accents. They manage to get something original out of it as the healer himself starts to feel he's angered his God and is receiving just punishment, but in the end there's no more conclusive proof of God's handiwork than a swarm of grasshoppers in a courtroom, and that stuff happens all the time.

This might be the first mention of Scully's Catholic upbringing, unless I missed something. Her apparent acceptance of divine judgement is disappointing.
"99% of the people in this world are fools, and the rest of us are in great danger of contagion" - Sheriff Daniels

1X19 Shapes

'Ice,' 'Fire,' 'Space,' 'Shapes.' When do the weird episode titles like 'Schzexkrngy Abhorrem' come along?

This week we're doing werewolves. Sorry, I mean Manitou, as the series pays its first tributes to Native American culture that I remember getting more important in the future. Though it's still a Vancouver-based show doing Native Americans, which means Michael Horse is in it, and Morgan and Wong (the series' best writers, at least in the early days) tow a satisfying line between the sheriff's personal beliefs and law enforcement duties. There are even a few pot shots levelled at the FBI for their lax attitude in these types of disputes, which is bold of a show that hinges on being allowed to refer to the FBI by name.

The actual plot is another very run-of-the-mill one, with nice location shooting in the foggy mountains (one day they'll go somewhere sunny). This being a werew- sorry, I mean Manitou episode, we do get the obligatory transformation scene and it looks pretty good, but unfortunately the resulting guy-in-a-furry-suit monster looks less so.
"We're looking for anything that can create human tracks in one step and animal tracks in the next" - Fox Mulder

1X20 Darkness Falls

My memories of most X-Files episodes range from extremely vague to non-existent, especially for the early ones, but I was more aware of this one due to having the patronisingly-labelled Young Adult novelisation. A novelisation couldn't do Scully's horrible anorak justice though - it's as if they're actively trying to curb male infatuation with the character, if we've already made it through the autopsies.

Like last week's episode we get some slight preaching, this time about illegal tree logging and eco-terrorism, and there are some oddly educational scenes where we learn about the life cycle of trees. I was about eight when I first saw this, so probably the target age for that sort of edutainment.

As for the horror itself, this is spoiled by showing us the monster before the opening credits again - this time a swarm of bugs - and it doesn't look that impressive, just like someone went wild with the spray-paint tool on Deluxe Paint IV on the Commodore Amiga.

It's not a classic episode, but it's got Mulder and Scully wandering around in the woods and putting themselves in unnecessary jeopardy, and this is pretty much all I ask.
"Rugged, manly men in the full bloom of their manhood" - Fox Mulder

1X21 Tooms

The first direct sequel outside of the main UFO mythology, 'Tooms' picks up directly where 'Squeeze' left off. Well, there's a nine-month interval, but nothing that would stop 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment trying to edit them together as a single feature length story, which is how I was most familiar with it as a teenager. Changes to the show such as Scully's hairstyle and line delivery and the introduction of Mitch "I'm Mitch Pileggi" Pileggi make more sense when you watch them in the right order.

This doesn't feel like a gratuitous sequel as the justification for Tooms' release is credible - more credible than Mulder's honest prosecution assessment anyway - and they at least explore some new aspects of the character that most viewers were probably wondering about last time, specifically whether or not he can come up through your toilet to get you. Though Mulder liver-blocking Tooms at every opportunity does get a bit farcical.

This is elevated above a run-of-the-mill episode by some nice concessions to continuity, such as Scully's proud assessment that she and Mulder have achieved an impressive 75 per cent conviction or resolution rate on their cases (I won't bother double checking those figures, it sounds right), Mulder joking about the possibility of romantic entanglement and Skinner treating the agents with a bit more respect in their inevitable chastisements than his predecessors. Why the hell's he hanging out with the Smoking Man though?
"Maybe your mind has become too open" - Walter Skinner

1X22 Born Again

We're doing Carrie this week, mixing in some telekinesis to put a new spin on reincarnation as someone presumably just realised they'd already done that a few episodes ago. I guess they're starting to run out of fresh paranormal staples now. It was inevitable.

The mystery is executed well - I certainly didn't think they were going to bring in the past life angle until later - and it seems Scully's back to being more 'objective' despite everything they've seen. She's standing right there when all the weird blue light / fish tank stuff happens at the end, is she just going to write that off as a freak storm or something? Her scepticism becomes less credible the more weird stuff she's exposed to, I can't remember how long they stretch this out to but I'm pretty sure she's still in her default cynic mode even after the first film.
"She's not like other girls" - Michelle's mother understates

1X23 Roland

Another standard episode that was somehow more enjoyable than the last few, despite ultimately not having anything meaningful to say about autism and mental disability. This is the third or fourth possession story they've done so far (maybe more) and we're not even out of the first season yet, but being controlled by your twin brother's cryogenically preserved head is definitely a new take on it.

There are some creatively gruesome murders in this one too, though I know for a fact the death-by-fan scene had already been done in Alien 3 as I'd somehow seen that by this point in my life. I can only have been nine at most. What kind of parenting is that? (Actually, my dad made me promise not to tell my mum I watched The X-Files. It luckily fell on the night of her evening class or something).

Mulder's more down to earth this time, and doesn't even suspect supernatural involvement until more than half way through. Scully's sticking to her principle of keeping an open mind too, not discounting Mulder's wacky theory out of hand. They even bother with some plausible sounding chromosome pseudo-science. This should have been ridiculous, but it all works. Or maybe this series has stretched my tolerance for the far-fetched.
"You're the spaceship and your dreams are the controls" - Fox Mulder

1X24 The Erlenmeyer Flask

This season finale would have worked just fine as the end to the series if Fox didn't decide to recommission it. With the call-backs to the pilot and closing of the X-Files, It's almost like they expected to be cancelled, but this was a different and more tolerant time when even insane, borderline incomprehensible stuff like Twin Peaks was given two seasons (admittedly, a second season with massive corporate interference and eventual cancellation).

Taken as the end of this first chapter in the long-running show, this episode is very satisfying, though it's not up to the mind-messing level of 'E.B.E.' or even 'Fallen Angel.' Once again, Scully's assigned the sciencey tasks while Mulder runs around getting chased and phone hacked, but later she gets to play the hero as he becomes the damsel in distress, which is a welcome change.

There's a real sense of going all-out on this episode, not only for showing us our first definitive extraterrestrial (but is it?), but right from the onset when the episode opens with film-quality car chases and stunts. In terms of the overall mytharc, this can be considered one of the cornerstones, and I got shivers when Mulder picked up the jar labelled 'Purity Control.' Hopefully this long-running, wildly meandering plot will make more sense when watched over the course of a year rather than intermittently over nine. It's something about little green men, right?
"I may be understating the strangeness of this, Mulder" - Dana Scully

2X01 Little Green Men

Setting up a grandiose tradition, Mulder narrates a Cosmos-esque introductory lecture on the subject of radio astronomy and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence as a machine goes bleep. Chris Carter and co. are doing their bit to educate their audience in the wonders of science fact, and however many concessions to drama there may be in the clunky cassette recorders, booping oscilloscopes and the rest of this equipment, it helps to date the series in a satisfying way.

The flimsy plot serves mainly to remind viewers what the show's about and to introduce newcomers, as Mulder comes tantalisingly close to obtaining evidence of little green men only to find himself firmly entrenched in square one, which we learn is carrying out tedious audio surveillance for the FBI. Scully, meanwhile, is carving up cadavers as usual, but with a more philosophical air than previously.

Separating those characters was a smart move and really makes me long to see them back together, however long that will take. I'm both eager and worried that it might not be for a long time.
"Evidence is worthless if you're dead" - Dana Scully

2X02 The Host

This was the first episode I showed to my younger brother when he stayed up past the dystopian bedtime hour of 9 o'clock one night, and we were both disappointed not to see the aliens and shady conspiracies I'd doubtless been enthusiastically telling him about for a year. I'm not sure exactly how much I got out of the episodes back then, but I guess kids are smarter than you give them credit for, even yourself as a kid. I know I normally loved this series, but not today.

I like it a lot better these days when I can appreciate the sensitivity of dealing with the sci-fi implications of the Chernobyl disaster, but as good as this man-worm creature suit looks, it's a case of seeing too much of the monster. They even obtain actual proof by the end for a change, though not of anything extraterrestrial, admittedly.

More interestingly in the context of character development, Skinner seems to be increasingly on Mulder's side, and Scully's shown to be wistfully nostalgic for those past times when she was getting kidnapped all the time. But don't worry Dana - just because Gillian Anderson got pregnant and you have to spend most of your screen time sitting behind a desk or with your abdomen conveniently obscured by a corpse, the adventures are just beginning.
"It looks like I'm going to have to tell Skinner his suspect's a giant, blood-sucking worm after all" - Fox Mulder

2X03 Blood

It's a bit convenient that these characters stumble upon an X-File they weren't even looking for, but it's good to see them back to doing what they do best - Mulder coming up with a convincing criminal profile and Scully cutting up dead people. Though Mulder does blow this newfound credibility when he leaps to the insane conclusion that computer displays are instructing the killers with absolutely no evidence. Alright, so he turns out to be spot on, but that's not the point.

In the best X-Files tradition, the writers play off real-life horrors and speculations about subliminal messaging and chemicals like DDT, and the Lone Gunmen can make even an average episode into a classic. I have a bad feeling that statement will become increasingly untrue once we get to season seven.
"Frohike, it's men like you that give perversion a bad name" - Fox Mulder

2X04 Sleepless

This episode's most memorable for introducing Mulder's new partner and the pregnant Gillian Anderson's temporary substitute Alex Krychek, and there's no doubting we're in classic X-Files territory now (though I had that feeling as far back as the pilot). They don't waste any time in revealing where this apparent Mulder fanboy's true loyalties lie, revealing it to the audience anyway, and I'm interested to see just how long he hangs around. Not long I guess, since the very next episode starts the abduction plot.

As for the actual episode, it's pretty good, dealing with sleep disorders and experimental Vietnam drugs in the vein of Jacobs Ladder. The visions of dead people are suitably horrifying, I remember being scared of them as a child and might have ended up having a sleepless night of my own.
"It's almost as if his body believed that it was burning" - Dana Scully

2X05 Duane Barry

A surprising two-parter that introduces Scully's abduction just when you thought it was safe to go to bed without the prospect of nightmares, this is a fondly remembered episode that takes time out from gun-waving and car chases to deal with the realistic psychiatry of a hostage situation. I say 'realistic,' but what the hell do I know?

Duane Barry is an interesting character and his delusional nature is a great excuse to go all-out with flying saucer models and Grey costumes without these having to be taken too seriously and maintaining some semblance of ambiguity. Scully has doubts anyway, and she handled the alien foetus at the end of season one, which must have shaken her scepticism a little.

Mulder's at his best in this, selfishly feeding Duane Barry's delusions in the hope of finding out more about his sister's abduction. It's the return of gun-swinging and car chases in the follow-up, and that's even better.
"MULDER!" - Dana Scully

2X06 Ascension

Replaying Scully's answerphone message means there's no need for a fourth-wall-breaking 'Previously on The X-Files...' segment, though apart from the Duane Barry links, this feels like a completely different episode to its predecessor. This one has plenty of action, most memorably Mulder climbing over a cable car, and the best dramatic twist the series would ever come up with, as Scully the sceptic is herself victim of an abduction by the Syndicate. The fact that this was a convenient way to write out the character for a few episodes while Gillian Anderson gave birth makes it all the more remarkable.

The in-universe motive for Scully's abduction is more interesting when you watch the series in order, rather than packaged as a VHS 'TV movie' as I used to be familiar with it, as Krychek is assigned to deal with "the Scully problem." The disappearance of an agent and the possible involvement of the Ciagarette Smoking Son of a Bitch is also enough motivation for Skinner to come over to Mulder's side entirely and re-open the X-Files, so everything's back to normal.

Oh, except Scully's being experimented on somewhere by entities unknown. But apart from that, business as usual.
"That's the easiest explanation. Also the least plausible" - Fox Mulder

2X07 3

Mulder goes solo for an episode and it's nothing to write home about, nor to bother writing a review about if I'm honest. There are some sexy serial killers who might be vampires or just believe they're vampires and that's enough, it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things and they'd do more vampire episodes in the future.

There are two things I liked about this episode - firstly, Mulder seems genuinely screwed up by the disappearance of Scully, seemingly getting off on hearing a woman talk about how she was beaten, and that's an interesting turn for the character. Second, the statement that there's no afterlife had a major impact when I watched this as a nine-year-old who'd been lazily brought up as a Christian, and I dwelled on it for a long time.
"There's no heaven, there's no soul. There's just rot and there's just decay" - The Son

2X08 One Breath

Another episode that haunted me from childhood (don't worry, I lost interest in the show after a few more years so you won't have to put up with these nostalgic memories all the way through), maybe just for counteracting my newfound atheism generated by the previous episode with its depictions of some sort of ambiguous Christian afterlife for Scully, this is a very moving episode in the vein of last year's 'Beyond the Sea,' but with an emphasis on Mulder's grief and vengeance. Scully doesn't do an awful lot except lie there and sit in a boat, but I'm sure it won't be long before she's pulling guns on people and yelling again now they're back on the X-Files.

This is sort of a third part to the Duane Barry trilogy, and the omnipresent men in black seem to refer back to that episode. Cancer Man gets his moniker for the first time, Mulder's new informant proves he's a bad mofo and we meet another doomed member of Scully's family, her psychic sister Melissa. I have the feeling she's unfairly killed off at some point through her tenuous link to Mulder's work, but I can't say for sure. I'm not psychic or anything.
"Don't try and threaten me, Mulder. I've watched presidents die" - Cancer Man

Mythology Redux: Abduction

Scully's actress'-undesirable-pregnancy-necessitating abduction trilogy is a cornerstone of the whole series, and one of the most memorable experiences of watching these at an irresponsibly young age. It's a story with diminishing returns though, and it seems to go down in my estimation every time I watch it.

The mythology didn't really know where it was going until the very end of season two, so even with the presence of Cancer Man and Krychek, this feels a little empty looking back. And much too comprehensible, which just won't do at all (even if they do handle the alien ambiguity nicely). As far as the 'TV movie' goes, this is one of those that works a lot better as individual installments (with a random episode in-between) than bundled together with the credits chopped off.

2X09 Firewalker

The fun's over and Mulder and Scully are back to business in quite a boring episode that tries to recapture the paranoia and horror of season one's 'Ice,' but in a volcano this time, so it could be 'Fire.' Except that was the title of an even worse episode in season one that we won't speak of again.

There's a very brief discussion about whether Scully's really ready to be back in the field, but that's the only concession to continuity here. Maybe I've been spoiled by 21st century serialised TV shows (that The X-Files can be largely credited for), but these monster-of-the-week shows don't hold the same enthusiasm for me as the more plot-heavy ones. I hope I'm going to eat those words soon, I'd love to be proved wrong.
"Mulder, that is science fiction. It's an elaborate construct from a delusional mind" - Dana Scully

2X10 Red Museum

It may not be one of the best stand-alone episodes they ever did, nor entirely removed from the ongoing conspiracy plot with the reappearance of Deep Throat's assassin, but this episode does a great job of proving that the individual episodes can be just as good as the mythology ones. It also seems that every other episode of this era has pop culture significance, I guess we were all watching back then.

There's a lot going on in this one, with grisly slaughterhouse imagery, a peeping tom slash paedophile, a vegetarian cult and typical anti-establishment messages about the dangers of growth hormones. There's a lot of background detail that makes this town feel very fleshed out in a way most of these backwater communities don't, and then they shoehorn in the Purity Control for no real reason other than to remind us there are bigger things going on that we'll probably have to endure many more enthralling seasons to find out. Is it just me, or is this show fantastic?
"It's kind of hard to tell the villains without a score card" - Dana Scully

2X11 Excelsis Dei

Ghost rape at an old folks' home, you couldn't accuse this show of lacking creativity even if it's not always in the best taste. The culprit is an experimental drug again, which we've already done a couple of times this season alone, and the stereotyped mystical Asian villain is a little insulting. I spent a few months in Malaysia, and they weren't all tripping on freaky fungus.

The old people actors should be familiar from other American dramas made in the nineties, as I guess there are only so many to go around, and some of the characters are pretty funny. But throw in an unnecessary rising water action sequence and this is a very confused instalment.
"You think that Michelle Charters was raped by an invisible 74-year-old schizophrenic?" - Fox Mulder

2X12 Aubrey

There's a lot to like in this episode, from the evolution of psychology as an investigative tool to the presence of Terry "Locke" O'Quinn more than a decade before his credentials would be fully realised on Lost. He also shows up in the first X-Files film, but I can't remember if it's the same character and it's not like I'm going to remember by the time I get round to watching that. I forgot his name already, but he sports the same moustache. That's what the internet's for.

Dream interpretation is an interesting angle that I don't think they've really explored before, though after 30 or so episodes I've started to lose track a little, which doesn't bode well for grasping the increasingly elaborate conspiracy plot in the seasons to come. That's what the internet's for.

The idea of passing on genetic memories to create a "spawn of evil" takes the pseudo-science too far, but in an entertaining way. It's also nice to see Scully using the similarly paranormal phenomenon of Woman's Intuition to determine infidelities that Mulder is oblivious to. Tsk - men, huh?
"What if I like sunflower seeds because I'm genetically predisposed to like them?" - Fox Mulder

2X13 Irresistible

This one isn't an X-File at all (Scully's angsty hallucinations aside), a point that's made in the episode itself when an investigator initially assumes there must be supernatural involvement rather than face the prospect that a person did this. That's where this episode succeeds, in presenting grisly human horror with a suitably creepy looking actor. That guy must get a lot of this type of work.

Even the normally rugged Scully can't deal with the reality of corpse desecration and fetish collecting, while Mulder cracks cruddy jokes as usual and gets them tickets to the ball game. This episode would be a good choice to show someone who was sceptical about The X-Files being a show entirely focused on aliens and genetic mutants, to prove them partially wrong. It's only about 97% that. Or direct them to Millennium instead, which is basically this.
"Our fear of the everyday, of the lurking stranger and the sound of footfalls on the stairs, the fear of violent death and the primitive impulse to survive, are as frightening as any X-File, as real as the acceptance that it could happen to you" - Fox Mulder

2X14 Die Hand Die Verletzt

Another seriously dark episode in a row, this one was even more impressive and with its creepy black magic teachers and emotionally distraught teenagers it ranks among the most classic X-Files.

Real-world horrors of child molestation and infant sacrifice are blended with demonic 'magic' like pillars of fire and raining frogs, though Mulder makes sure not to alienate the show's not inconsequential alternative fan base by clarifying some common misconceptions about followers of Satanism and pagan religions.

There's a great performance from an abused teen and plenty of creepy visuals including dismembered eyes and an animated pig carcass that's like something from Eraserhead. Top it off with a magic snake death and choral music and you've got a winner. I'm sure they'll get back to dealing with aliens soon if that's more your thing.
"Better hide your Megadeth albums" - Fox Mulder

2X15 Fresh Bones

A man goes mental in the suburbs and Mulder and Scully follow clues that point to voodoo black magic. Lucky for them, there are some Haitian refugees in the area to take the blame.

This is another episode that empathises with some of society's less fortunate members and takes jabs at the government, but like the 'mystical Asian' a few episodes previously, it's still not exactly progressive to cast these people as witch doctors, even if it transpires that the even more stereotyped military leader is in on the act.

Someone gets buried alive, which probably informed some of my childhood nightmares, and there's a magic dead boy who can turn into animals, which is a bit stupid.
"This is no more magic than a pair of fuzzy dice" - Dana Scully

2X16 Colony

A well-timed return to the mytharc, this two-parter isn't as classic as the abduction trilogy but it does inject some fresh ideas into the show's ongoing plot, some of which I'm happier with than others.

This is the first episode that really expects us to take extraterrestrials at face value, which is disappointingly transparent after the earlier ambiguity. But no, these guys can shape-shift and their green blood kills you. This might have been a deliberate decision, as I can see how the show's layers of lies would alienate the casual viewer, but for me it lost something today.

The actual story is great though, depicting the return of Mulder's sister at a surprisingly early point and giving Scully plenty of action hero stuff to do while he deals with the family stuff for a change. As a first half it takes its time setting everything up for the finale and gets very close to convincing you that you're watching an X-Files film.
- "Whatever happened to 'trust no one,' Mulder?"
- "I changed it to 'trust everyone.' Didn't I tell you?" - Scully and Mulder

2X17 End Game

This episode seems designed to address the criticisms I'm imagining the show was receiving from viewers deficient in attention and imagination by giving us plenty of running-around action, conclusive on-screen aliens and explanations delivered on a plate, though the reliability of 'Samantha's' account is called into question when she turns out not to be who she claims.

The clued-in viewer who's been trained to trust no one will already have been questioning her validity, considering the first part ended with two Mulders, but the story of Mulder's sister is left open and more intriguing than before.

It's always good to see Skinner getting involved (he's a lot more hands-on than I remembered), though it's a shame Scully reverts to the damsel-in-distress role. The weirdest thing about these episodes is that they don't really involve Mulder and Scully or any other humans at all - the alien refugees mess around with Mulder's feelings to get his support, but really we're just witnessing outer space politics that don't concern us. Thanks a lot, aliens.
"She's alive" - Bounty Hunter

Mythology Redux: Colony

After the ambiguity of Scully's abduction, I found the brazen shapeshifting alien in this story a letdown last time I watched through the series. This time I was okay with it. I also considered this two-parter a bit less good overall than the abduction arc last time, while this time I liked it a bit more. So there you go: this retrospective wasn't a complete waste of time. We've learned that opinions can mildly change.

It still doesn't feel like the mythology's there yet, with the focus being entirely on the plight of these green-blooded, melty "aliens" with no whiff of international intrigue or dark family secrets (even CSM doesn't show up). When you have advanced knowledge of where things are going later, this story is both retroactively improved (the clones are clearly the same sort of man-made hybrids we've seen before, not proper aliens, so "Samantha" is lying. It feels like we're supposed to have worked that out, if we were paying attention) and worse (yes, Mulder's parents kept their secret hidden from their son all his life, but there's nary a facial tick to suggest that incoming plot had been thought up yet).

But even if it's not so important in the grander scheme of things (Mulder and Scully make no impact whatsoever on the cosmic drama they've barged in on), it's a good two-parter that works even better as a TV movie with the Arctic wraparound. Even the lightest mythology episodes feel so much more substantial than even the best monster-of-the-weeks, though I won't be saying that after season five.

2X18 Fearful Symmetry

If I read a synopsis about an invisible elephant going on a rampage and aliens abducting pregnant zoo animals I would have assumed it was shark-jumping shenanigans from season seven or something, but being an early episode they just about get away with it. Though as is often the case, Mulder brings in the abduction theory based on next to nothing.

This would have been better if they'd accepted that it was a slightly ridiculous premise and pushed the comedy angle more, but all we get is Scully stretching her skills to perform an autopsy on an elephant and the Lone Gunmen showing up minus Langly with the flimsy excuse that he doesn't want his image to be broadcast over satellite (I guess Dean Haglund had a stand-up gig or something).

This is mostly played serious, with a script that's heavy on the animal rights angle. This series is a lot preachier than I remembered.
"It's all happening at the zoo, Scully" - Fox Mulder

2X19 Død Kalm

Mulder and Scully get really old, and then get better. It's a bit stupid and the ageing make-up is only partly convincing, but beyond that this is a very creepy episode with a haunting setting and spooky soundtrack as the agents are trapped with a pirate and an increasingly unhinged boat captain aboard a rusting hulk where time's accelerating at a rapid pace.

Based on the classic conspiracy of the Philadelphia Experiment and incorporating theories of wormholes, electromagnetism and weird chemical stuff I don't really understand, this is one of the more sci-fi episodes, which I prefer to falling back on magic. It gets very slow and depressing as it trundles along, so one to avoid if you're hoping for a daft monster of the week. But that's okay, because 'Humbug's' coming up next.
"First the moon and the stars will be lost in a dense white fog, then the rivers and the lakes and the sea will freeze over. Finally a wolf named Skoll will open his jaws and eat the sun, sending the world into an everlasting night. I think I hear the wolf at the door" - Dana Scully

2X20 Humbug

This was always one of my favourite episodes, mostly for being the first to take a more light-hearted approach than the series' usual serious tone. They'd try again many times, but I can only recall a few that get the balance right like this one.

A series of murders in a town that seems to be mostly populated by ex-sideshow performers draws Mulder and Scully into an often kooky mystery that leads them (and the audience) to question their preconceptions. It's not so easy to tell who the bad guy is when the good guys have unpleasant skin conditions.

They use a number of real-life... non-mainstream actors to portray these characters, which is a great touch, even if some of them are a little lacking in acting talent. You may have seen at least some of them before on TV shows or films that required a 'grotesque' (I believe this is the unflattering industry term), whether it's the dwarf from Twin Peaks or The Conundrum (played by The Enigma) on various 1990s documentaries called things like 'Top 10 Tattooed Weirdoes.'

My favourite moments are the subtle gags, like Scully and the conjoined twin catching each other looking beneath their bath robes and Scully surprising everyone by chomping a cricket. Doctor Blockhead is less subtle but the necessary voice of the underprivileged that season two really seems to be preoccupied by, and things wind up in a life-and-death chase through the Tabernacle of Terror fun house. Until Mulder and Scully accept that it's a bit stupid and take their pursuit outside.
"I could be mistaken, maybe it was another bald-headed, jigsaw-puzzle-tattooed naked guy I saw" - Fox Mulder

2X21 The Căluşari

Christopher isn't like other boys. He carries around the evil ghost of his dead twin brother that starts poltergeisting his other family members to death one by one, surprisingly beginning with his toddler brother. Somehow, I find this series more shocking as a twenty-eight-year-old in 2013 than I did as a nine-year-old in 1994. This is ruthlessly bleak stuff.

After stereotyping the spiritual beliefs of Haitians and Malaysians (I think they just meant the Asian world generally) in previous weeks, Romanians get the same treatment of exposure and slight demonisation this time, again seeming like untrustworthy foreigners with weird rituals at the beginning before becoming the saving grace in a scene straight out of The Exorcist at the end, albeit with less colourful language.

Mulder gets in on the act as usual and Scully's reliably more interesting in the sceptic role as she pursues the more rational investigation of child abuse. She's wrong of course, this is The X-Files and it's a devil child doing it, but you have to admire her for persevering. Not the most creative episode, but a decent horror instalment.
"Neither innocence nor vigilance may be protection against the howling heart of evil" - Fox Mulder

2X22 F. Emasculata

Taking another occasional break from paranormal activity, this one sees Mulder and Scully struggling to expose The Truth about an immoral corporation's unsanctioned drug trials on prisoners, with stabs at the pharmaceutical industry that even insane conspiracy theorist Alex Jones would be proud of.

Beyond the contagion-of-the-week plot, this episode is notable for both the guest appearance of Dean Norris, later of Breaking Bad fame, as an asshole police chief (that guy really doesn't have range), and for revealing that Skinner is still subject to the whims of Cancer Man, even after everything that's happened. That guy really deserves to be thrown down some stairs.

They did a pretty good job pretending British Colombia was Costa Rica too.
"We controlled the disease by controlling the information" - Cancer Man

2X23 Soft Light

Another episode grounded in science fiction rather than mysticism, which I normally welcome, though admittedly they rarely end up being all that good. This slightly silly story of a man's murderous shadow, explained pseudoscientifically as something to do with subatomic particles and dark matter, is at least better than that stupid one from the first season with the killer computer. Though at the line "his death will release the dark matter" I did wonder if I was watching Sliders or something (do I dare re-watch that in the future? To be honest, I think 200+ episodes of The X-Files will finish me off).

After some digs at pharmaceutical corporations last time it's tobacco companies that get some stick here, though the real enemy is The Government, whatever that means exactly. I was a bit annoyed to see Mulder's informant show up in an inconsequential episode as I prefer these ill-fated guys to be saved up for the big ones, but at least he acknowledges his over-use within the script. Scully is tangentially responsible for the death of her protogee too, a curse that will continue to pick off most of the people she's close to as the years drag on.

I think the series was still some way from mainstream acceptance at the time, but it's become iconic enough that they can start making self-referential jokes about famous episodes, with a nice nod to Eugene Tooms. By season four or so, even my mum and nana were watching the creepy show I illicitly stayed up past my bedtime to watch. Who could see that coming?
"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you" - Fox Mulder

2X24 Our Town

Taking some cues from 'Humbug,' there are enough subtle comic touches in this otherwise really nasty episode about people eating each other that raise it above average fare and make it a lot of fun to watch, from Scully getting put off her ludicrously massive bucket of chicken by Mulder's cannibalism hypothesis to the final Scooby Doo-style unmasking.

Without these minor smatterings of humour, this would be a pretty basic episode falling back on a few of the show's established cliches: the community that shares a dark secret ('Die Hand Die Verletzt'), digs at the meat industry ('Red Museum'), allusions to vampirism ('3'), Mulder being set up to discredit his work ('E.B.E.') and Scully being saved from a messy end in the nick of time (every other episode). It also reminds me a lot of the 'special' meat plotline in the second series of The League of Gentlemen, which probably means this episode is partly based on an obscure Amicus horror anthology from the 70s or something.

Nice to see Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease getting a shout-out too, it makes you proud to be British.
"Good People, Good Food" - slogan of Chaco Chicken

2X25 Anasazi

Powerful, significant episodes like this one serve to make the agents' weekly run-ins with cannibals, ghosts and invisible elephants feel like superficial filler. While many of my favourite episodes are these stand-alone ones, I always look forward to the return to the main mythology, and after deviating a little off course in the 'Colony'/'Endgame' two-parter, the first of this trilogy is right back in the heart of the show. This is the point where things get complicated.

Like the abduction trilogy before it, this episode takes a very personal approach by bringing Mulder's family into it. We don't have any answers by the end of it, just a hell of a lot of questions, and the scene where Cancer Man shows up on Bill Mulder's doorstep is almost as big a shock as when Krychek silences him. It makes me wish I was watching these for the first time again, without foreknowledge of how most of this maps out (the bits I remember anyway), though I'd probably be too stupid to connect it all. The mythology is a masterclass in misdirection.

All the players are present in this episode, from the Syndicate to the Lone Gunmen and even a weird cameo from series creator Chris Carter. Albert Hosteen is a welcome addition to the recurring cast, as The X-Files finally manages to pay tribute to a minority culture without being demonising or patronising. I love the focus on Native American myths in this show, and it's probably true that what I didn't learn about this culture from The X-Files I learned from Preacher.
"Nothing vanishes without a trace" - Cancer Man

3X01 The Blessing Way

It can't have come as much of a surprise that Mulder didn't burn to death in a paradoxical train car buried in the desert, but his return to the land of the living is slow and accompanied by visitations, so it doesn't feel like an easy way out. Meanwhile, the stakes for Scully are driven higher as Krychek slips up and accidentally shoots her sister. How many more innocent people need to die through their association with Mulder and Scully? We're only on season three.

After dabbling in a little Navajo mysticism last time, that culture is explored in greater detail in this episode and the next, and the shadowy Syndicate becomes more tangible with the introduction of some of its other anonymous players. Scully's abduction isn't let lie either, as a chance encounter with a metal detector leads her to discover a microchip in her neck. This is a slow episode that isn't big on answers, I feel bad for anyone watching in 1995 who couldn't immediately skip to the conclusion.
"To the best of my knowledge, Agent Mulder is dead" - Dana Scully

3X02 Paper Clip

While the previous episode was slow and subtle, this one packs in more at a faster pace than even 'Anasazi,' and is a great ending to the trilogy, probably up there with the best episodes they ever made. No time's wasted in reuniting Mulder and Scully - I didn't realise how much the dynamic was missing last time - and Skinner's brought into the fold as a true confidante, even managing to save the day.

Seeing Cancer Man trying to weasel his way out of trouble with his colleagues, let down by his inept goons and eventually forced into a deal by Skinner's ingenuity and a little ancient Navajo wisdom is very satisfying, and helps to make the untouchable, omnipresent Syndicate that little bit more vulnerable.

Throw in a Nazi war criminal, a death in the family, a neat tie-in with the Roswell incident, confirmation of alien-human hybrid experiments, distrust of the government over the real-life Operation Paperclip, the Lone Gunmen and a flying saucer complete with scurrying occupants for a gratuitous, exciting cameo and this has everything you could ask from a mythology episode. I enjoyed first season episodes like 'Fallen Angel' and 'E.B.E.' for their relative simplicity compared to what was coming up later, but now I'm there I embrace the confusion.

The biggest reveal is the Sophie's Choice decision made by Mulder's father, as it finally becomes clear that Samantha's abduction wasn't a random occurrence. I'm surprised that these revelations come so early, they really didn't tread water for as long as I thought, but other mysteries, like the purpose of Scully's microchip, will have to wait for another day.
"This is where you pucker up and kiss my ass" - Walter Skinner

Mythology Redux: The Unopened File

Is this the high point of the whole X-Files mythology? It's certainly a candidate, I'll have to see whether I'm still as enthusiastic about some of the later digressions as I was the last time through (I remember being ecstatic about 'Patient X'/'The Red and the Black' and considering it one of the best stories they ever did, but can't remember why).

After this exhausting, exposition-heavy trilogy was through, my wife (who's currently learning The Truth along with the agents, like she's from the '90s or something) wondered if there's really anything left to uncover, since we've filled in the broad strokes of the conspiracy and what happened to Mulder's sister now (even if Scully doesn't buy it). I laughed at her underestimation of just how tight Carter, Spotnitz & co are going to stretch those threads in the years to come, but that also made me realise that we do basically have the outline of the backstory now. Now we just need to colour it in and, more importantly, to see what's happening today.

As a TV movie? The first 'Act' quite blatantly ends on a series finale cliffhanger, making Mulder's temporary disappearance and unlikely recovery seem like a waste of time rather than exciting peril. The next two parts were a good fit though; it works better with two-parters.

Last time I watched these, I was taken with the Navajo mythology. Maybe I've become less culturally tolerant in my old age, but this time Albert's dreary narration about "the FBI man" and "the FBI woman's sister" seemed more like he was reading a bizarre children's book.

3X03 D.P.O.

That was a bit of a jolt - not only the lightning (I'm so good at this writing thing), but the inevitable shift back to episodic territory after that devastating three-parter that saw both lead characters getting bereaved, one of them dying (he got better) and the other finding out she had a chip in her neck. But here they are back to their old antics, with Mulder formulating a crackpot theory that turns out to be the correct one and Scully being chastised for not opening her mind.

It may be harmed by its placement, but this is a very fun episode and one I remember clearly from childhood, which can't be said for many around this point. Maybe they changed the time slot or maybe my mum stopped taking evening classes so I couldn't stay up illegally past bedtime and watch it with my dad any more, who can say? These mysteries are lost in time. But how about I stop talking about D.P.W. and get back to D.P.O?

What could easily be a standard monster-of-the-week is made funny in places and slightly sinister with some vintage video game graphics and an obsessive teen love (tri)angle. Those Rayden lighting powers couldn't have happened to a bigger asshole.
"He is electricity" - Fox Mulder

3X04 Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose

Even better than revisiting an episode remembered fondly from childhood is seeing one I don't remember, maybe for the first time, and completely loving it. This might be up there in my all-time top ten, though there are still loads left that I haven't seen or can't remember and when I do finally complete this series by March next year I doubt I'll be in a position to rank all 202 episodes plus films. Let's just say, this bizarrely titled episode is an instant classic.

Clairvoyance has been dealt with on the show before, most notably with Scully's late sister (again not mentioned) and Boggs in 'Beyond the Sea,' which gets a self-referential nod here. This time they really sink their fangs into the grief-abusing psychic industry though, which is sadly in exactly the same state today as it was in the early 90s. Mulder and Scully's observations from their different viewpoints are all spot-on, and while the brief cameo from an obvious Uri Gellar parody is fun, it's even better to make the focal character someone who doesn't want or even understand the power he's been granted.

Clyde Bruckman makes a great addition to the team for one episode, mixing vague prophecies with morbidly clear omens and some jokes, unless we take his prediction of Mulder's death by auto-erotic asphyxiation as genuine. It's another very bleak episode in a series that's a lot more depressing than I remembered it being thanks to the wackier later years, but there are enough light touches to keep it re-watchable in the way something like 'Dod Kalm' isn't. I particularly like the fact that a man burdened by knowing how everyone dies sells life insurance for a living.

I always held this idea that season two was the peak of the series, probably because of the abduction stuff, but things just keep getting better.
"Sceptics like you make me sick" - The Stupendous Yappi

3X05 The List

Goddammit, things were going so well. I knew I'd cursed it. This is the lousiest episode they've done for a while, probably the worst since their last crappy 'magic prison inmates & nasty guards' episode.

On the plus side, this episode looks very eerie, with dingy green lighting and smoke conveying an exaggerated impression of what being on death row might feel like. There are also some very gruesome shots of decomposing bodies with and without heads being feasted on by maggots, if you're the sort of person who watches for that (possibly me when I was 12).

On the minus side, the guards and prisoners are all annoyingly generic, which is especially disappointing after the strong guest characters of the last few episodes. It's also not clear exactly what's going on for most of it, and when it turned out (Spoiler Alert) that there was a ghost all along, that felt more disappointing than if it had all been a dastardly conspiracy plot.

It also really stood out to me how disassociated the monster-of-the-week Mulder and Scully are from their mythology counterparts, as any character development that takes place in those pivotal story arc episodes (the recent 'Anasazi'/'The Blessing Way'/'Paper Clip' being prime examples) is ignored in the humdrum weekly stories. Seeing Mulder and Scully maintaining a professional distance and going about their duties as normal in spite of everything they've been through is harder to swallow than the paranormal stuff going on around them, and we're still early in season three! This is only going to get worse.
"A woman gets lonely, sometimes she can't wait around for a man to be reincarnated" - Dana Scully

3X06 2Shy

Another routinely bizarre case in a season that seems preoccupied with introducing Mulder and Scully to new viewers each week. This time, Scully even gets a few extra lines courtesy of a distracting B-plot where the local law enforcement guy has issues with her presence due to his "traditional" views on women or something equally trite. It's alright, he doesn't last for long.

Having learned nothing from 'Humbug,' this week's slightly mutated killer preys on slightly chubby women through personal ads and online chat rooms, which it's nice to know existed this far back. Proficient in the romance languages, this smooth-talking serial date-murderer covers his BBW prey in a gloopy liquid but it's alright, there's nothing obscene going on - it just dissolves their fatty tissue and liquefies their bodies.

Throw in Mulder leaping over scaffolding and a bereaved child and it's a by-the-numbers X-File. These episodes have carved out a distinctive groove now, I just hope they manage to keep things interesting for another six years.
"The dead are no longer lonely" - Virgil Incanto

3X07 The Walk

Another pretty sick episode from the onset and another one to criticise the military, which is always nice to see, though for once the asshole general doesn't turn out to be the villain. In what may be a bold move, that role belongs to a limbless war veteran who picks off his colleagues' families (kids gratuitously included) and prevents them from topping themselves so they can suffer like he is, or something similarly dastardly and half thought-out. This series already sympathised with the deformed in 'Humbug,' so it's free to do pretty much anything now.

As well as introducing astral projection - a latecomer for a series that seemed to be consciously working its way through the Encyclopedia of the Supernatural in its first season - we also get backmasking and Electronic Voice Phenomenon and a return for that reliable stalwart, psychokinesis.
"Sometimes the only sane response to an insane world is insanity" - Fox Mulder

3X08 Oubliette

This is a highly regarded episode, but I wasn't really into it. It starts out with an intriguing mystery as a teenage girl is kidnapped at the same time as a waitress across town starts to bleed the girl's blood type, but it descends into another criminal chasing thriller. I don't need them to be supernatural all the time, but we've seen plenty of these disturbed 'normal' human bad guys before.

Scully seems to pluck Mulder's association of the girl with his sister out of thin air, which I'm glad to see annoys him in a case of "I have done other things," but his empathy with the former kidnap victim creates some justified Mulder vs Scully/Everyone dramatic tension. Obviously Mulder's crackpot theory turns out to be right and Scully/Everyone looks stupid again because they never learn.
"Not everything I say and think and feel goes back to my sister" - Fox Mulder

3X09 Nisei

A nice little mythology treat in the middle of the season, 'Nisei'/'731' (packaged together on video as the similarly oblique '82517') feels like a slight re-tread of the Paper Clip trilogy, but with evil Japanese scientists rather than evil Nazi ones. But while its scope may be watered down, it goes all-out on action sequences and stunt work, performed by Duchovny himself, as Mulder leaps off boats, over roofs and onto the top of a moving train. It's been a while since we saw him this passionate.

It's a landmark episode for Scully too, as she's recognised by fellow abduction survivors and learns that the chip removed from her neck may inevitably lead to her developing cancer. It's incredibly nasty and continues last year's abduction thread in a very satisfying way
"I got tired of losing my gun" - Fox Mulder

3X10 731

The pay-off isn't as good as the set-up (this is The X-Files after all), but this is a vital episode for creating a real possibility of doubt in the whole alien thing as Scully learns she was abducted and experimented on by human beings after all. We'd later learn the full truth of the situation, but even when thinking about the series years later I'd have to question whether aliens were ever really established to exist. Then I'd remember all those times we saw aliens scurrying around or playing baseball, but there were a few seconds of doubt there. This is one of the show's greatest achievements.

The main plot of Mulder on the Orient Express isn't as satisfying and feels very drawn-out, but it's good to see Mulder remaining so resolute right to the end even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Because whatever he believes always turns out to be right, no matter how insane. Haven't you been paying attention?
"There is no such thing as alien abduction. It is just a smoke-screen happily created by our government to cover up the biggest lie of all" - Dana Scully

Mythology Redux: 82517

This is probably where the mythology starts to lose people, and they haven't even introduced black oil or bees yet, so that's saying something.

In direct contrast to how things will later be patronisingly tied up in the likes of 'One Son' and 'The Truth,' here we have characters spouting plausible-sounding explanations that we're supposed to use our own judgement and memories of the previous year-and-a-half to discern as lies. That's a big ask for your casual viewer, but fortunately they throw in plenty of gratuitous action sequences of Mulder jumping off boats and onto trains to satiate those people.

I was impressed by this boldness - and the cliffhanger to 'Nisei' left me wondering whether the entire thing was an elaborately-staged hoax for Mulder's benefit (why else wouldn't they block that window?) - but these human-alien hybrid plots are starting to get old, so I hope they're going to let that lie for a while.

One major reason this two-parter is less noteworthy and memorable than the Abduction and Unopened File trilogies is that there's considerably less personal grief for our characters to contend with. The only scene that comes close is also the most intriguing of all, as Scully meets fellow abductees and gets a hint of what may lie in store in her future.

3X11 Revelations

Kevin's not like other boys. He bleeds through vanishing stigmata wounds and can sometimes bilocate when the plot demands it.

Another re-tread of several X-Files tropes: the kid with reluctant magic powers, scheming Southern ministers, a kidnapping (they did that three episodes ago) and vague prophecies ambiguously coming true. What makes it worth watching is the shift in focus to Scully's Catholic beliefs, which have never been explored this fully before. While they make her a more complex character, I do find it annoying how she's universally sceptical of Mulder's wacky-but-always-true theories about "lights in the sky" and everything else they've come across, but is willing to believe unquestioningly in the specific stories she was brought up on.

It's also inconsistent, as in the very next episode she lays out a strictly Darwinian version of evolution with no mention of God's hand. The coda at least addresses this, as without Scully's minor scepticism the 'revelation' of "full circle" definitely refers to a recycling plant because the symbol is a circle would just be too tenuous. It's no blue devil or banana cream pie.

Twin Peaks' Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh) is reliably sinister as the villain and helpfully freakish actor Michael Berryman teaches us again that we should only partly judge by appearances (he was still a bit insane, to be fair), but overall I preferred last year's creepy kid instalment, 'The Calusari.'
"I believe in the idea that God's hand can be witnessed" - Dana Scully

3X12 War of the Coprophages

I'm so glad this series can continue to throw out surprises and break the usual formula that's started to get repetitive. This is a more lighthearted episode (still with the usual scary moments and body count, don't worry), back when they knew how to write comedy. It only crosses into wacky territory a couple of times, but it gets away with it for having plenty of funny lines and some very strange decisions that work really well.

My favourite running joke is Mulder calling Scully on her day off (she has a cat?) and having each nascent theory debunked by rational medical explanations, which he accepts and moves on. When things escalate and she heads to the cockroach-infested town to see the situation for herself, shippers can also delight in her slight jealousy about Mulder's potential love interest. Like last year's 'Humbug,' the guest characters are a lot of fun.

This is one of the few episodes where we don't really find out what's going on - were the killer cockroaches a natural mutation? A biological weapon gone awry? Robotic alien probes? Did they have anything to do with anything at all? I think this makes it better, but for other people it might just be annoying.
"This is no place for an entomologist" - Dana Scully

3X13 Syzygy

Surprisingly, this is another semi-comedy episode after the last one, though it takes a little longer for the jokes to become apparent and unfortunately they're not as funny this time around.

The premise of evil cheerleaders controlled by the motions of the planets in a town gripped by paranoia over devil cults hardly feels like new territory for this show even at this relatively early point, but what is new and striking is how Mulder and Scully interact with each other, especially Scully. She spends the whole episode in a foul mood, spouting scepticism with a complete lack of sympathy, while Mulder's bad jokes have become even more flippant than usual. They feel more like parodies of their characters, and since when has "whatever" been Scully's catchphrase?

Watching these in sequence, I'm often disappointed at the lack of consistency from one episode to the next and I'm starting to think I should have focused solely on the mythology episodes for a smoother ride, but then I would have missed all those classic one-shots. If you're similarly daunted by the prospect of taking on this mammoth series, console yourself that there are some that can be happily skipped for the better.
"Why do you always have to drive?" - Dana Scully

3X14 Grotesque

For whatever reason, I apparently stopped watching this show for a while during the third season as I have no memory of seeing anything past 'D.P.O.' and don't recall much else before the fourth season, with the exception of the mythology ones I caught up with on VHS years later.

That means I'm currently enjoying the opportunity to be a 90s viewer watching these episodes for the first time, and for every disappointing tale of high school hi-jinks there's a great instalment like this that can finally be added to the overall picture. Maybe by the time I get to 'The Truth' I'll actually have some idea of how this whole series ties together, though even with Mulder's patronising testimony attempting to link all the disparate elements I doubt it.

This feels like an archetypal X-File, but not in a run-of-the-mill way. The characters are spot-on, it's gruesome and a little bit scary, and Mark Snow's music combines brilliantly with the dingy lighting to make it look and sound great. The story's not bad either, even if it's impossible to suspend your disbelief that Kurtwood Smith's FBI character will turn out to be the bad guy if you've ever seen him play any character in anything.

Mulder and Scully aren't acting stupid any more, though Scully still has to be advised to let her partner do his thing if she wants to get results, which she should have learned by now. Mulder goes borderline whacko as he gets into the mind of a killer, and there's another ambiguous ending leaving us to question whether there was ever any malevolent possessing entity or just damaged minds. If they can keep this level of quality up for the rest of the year, I have a lot to look forward to.
"The level of violence and overkill here would suggest the work of a very angry individual" - Scully

3X15 Piper Maru

All signs point to a mythology episode as we're treated to an extended, big-budget opening featuring a French diving team placing the unreasonable demand of subtitles on casual viewers to weed out the ones who don't belong here. I wasn't expecting another pivotal two-parter this soon after the last, but they're always very welcome, and this may be one of the most pivotal of the lot for introducing the black oil.

I was never too sure exactly what the deal was with the oil when I repeatedly watched the X-Files movie as a teenager, but whatever your patience threshold for re-watching these mythology episodes or skimming through a Wikipedia summary, the oil's nature as a silent, faceless, nameless, ancient evil that's completely alien is very effective, and a damn sight creepier than dressing up some child actors as Greys.

Being a mythology episode, this one's also big on character, reminding us about the murder of Scully's sister that's otherwise been completely ignored thus far and seeing both Mulder and Sculy doing what they do best as they each chases up their respective leads. It gets a bit overblown towards the end, with an unnecessary detour to Hong Kong, some flashy alien effects, the reappearance of Krychek for the sake of it and reminders of the documents and files from the 'Paper Clip' trilogy that already feels too long ago to remember. Jesus, there are over six years of this to go and already the story arcs are starting to make my brain ache.
"They could drop you in the middle of the desert and tell you the truth is out there and you'd ask them for a shovel" - Dana Scully

3X16 Apocrypha

In what may be the best opening teaser of the series, the question of whether the Syndicate knows about the black oil is put to rest as they're shown to always be at least 50 years ahead of Mulder and Scully. But this shadowy organisation of old men is developing some serious holes, from those who still have a conscience and assist the agents in their crusade to the wild card of Krychek, who's gone freelance selling their secrets.

Mulder and Skinner end up in the same hospital and it's up to Scully to go on a personal manhunt without succumbing to anger or revenge. They haven't treated her character too well in the stand-alone episodes this year, with inconsistent jealousy, irritability and religious convictions when the script required it, but she's always damn good in these heavy mythology ones. Like 'Paper Clip' before it, those who are primarily watching to see UFOs are in for a treat as the final act sees the disparate teams heading to abandoned missile silos in the desert.

I think they might have released a DVD pack containing just the mythology episodes from across all nine seasons, or maybe I just dreamed it, but that would be a very worthwhile purchase. Even if you have to buy the whole thing, at least consider looking up a recommended viewing order online so you can skip the so-so ones and enjoy this series at its very best. It's been in the golden age for a while now, it's just easy to forget that when they churn out stuff like 'Syzygy' and 'The List.'
"The dead speak to us from beyond the grave. That's what conscience is" - Dana Scully

Mythology Redux: Piper Maru

The mythology takes another detour that's very welcome. The Black Oil is as iconic as it is infamous, representing one of the more confusing and less consistent strands of the alien/conspiracy arcs, but compared to dressing children up as scurring Greys it's more insidious and presumably cheaper.

It's not like this a fresh start or anything, directly referencing multiple events of The Unopened File in a way that makes sense when you watch only these stories, but is really weird when Scully seems considerably less devastated during the random cases in-between.

There are still plenty of sickly innocents being massacred to cover up inconvenient truths, the alternating game of musical hospital beds continues (Mulder this time), and a cynic could say that the black goop isn't such a departure from the green acid blood. It may not be groundbreaking, but this is about as good as a mid-season mythology double-bill could hope to be.

3X17 Pusher

Oh season three, you really are spoiling us. After some significant mythology episodes comes one of the best stand-alone stories they ever did, as the mischievous Modell instantly takes his place alongside Tooms and the Flukeman as one of the series' stand-out villains.

But while those earlier guys were basically horrifying beasts, Modell is actually quite a pathetic man once you get to know him, though I do love his sick sense of humour as he deliberately gets caught only to worm his way out and rub it in authority's face. This is one of the first and best episodes written by occasional writer Vince Gilligan, who would go on to write further ingenious escapes from hopeless situations in his masterpiece Breaking Bad.

Mulder becomes his primary antagonist towards the end, and it's very sinister seeing him unable to resist the Pusher's magnetism. The Russian roulette scene is unbearably tense and surprising for 90s TV. This is a show that was heavily criticised a few weeks previously for over-use of the word "crap," after all.

This episode would probably be on my top 10 list, but I'm worried the mythology will keep throwing out great episodes and end up Pushing out the one-shots. Can I have a separate list for those?
"Please explain to me the scientific nature of the whammy" - Dana Scully

3X18 Teso Dos Bichos

Did you ever see The Uncanny? It was a late Amicus horror anthology featuring three tales of milk-curdling terror tenuously linked by Peter Cushing that completely failed to make the domestic cat scary. The final scenes of this episode are similarly laughable, and are the only reason to consider watching this pretty goddamn terrible instalment.

This feels a lot like a bad season one episode, which is more disappointing now the show's found its feet, especially coming after a run of great episodes. I can forgive the odd weak episode, but this one's just so boring, with no characters to root for, no interesting mystery and a portrayal of 'backwards' superstitions that harks back to the borderline racism of some of season two's lower points. I wonder if they even bothered to do the research this time.

Still, there's some nice snowy scenery at the start. And seeing Scully attacked by cats at the end is pretty funny. Just avoid the 41 minutes in the middle.
"Some things are better left buried" - Fox Mulder (in complete contrast to his "You can't bury the truth" two episodes previously)

3X19 Hell Money

There's nothing paranormal going on around here, but dark deeds are afoot in Chinatown.

Before you prepare to cringe, the show actually treats foreigners pretty respectfully this time around, after the previous episode reminded us that Venezuelans are superstitious and smoke hallucinogens. Okay, so the gang warfare, vicious games and gambling obsession don't paint the brightest picture of Chinatown, but at least they have a Chinese-American cop in a prominent role for balance, and you might actually learn a thing or two about the culture.

If anything, it's Mulder and Scully who come off badly here as the interfering white people. Well, and the guy staging the high stakes game of live organ transplants, I guess he isn't the most sympathetic character either. I'm also not sure it was totally necessary for Mark Snow to go all Vangelis and Chinese-up his atmospheric keyboards.
"There's no long-term business sense to dying" - Fox Mulder

3X20 José Chung's From Outer Space

This is a fan favourite, but as much as I enjoyed the more subtle comedy, at times it got a bit wacky for me. I guess that's part of its charm - by going over and over the same reputed alien abduction event from multiple perspectives, everyone involved in making this show has an excuse to stop being so serious for one week and basically go nuts. They really don't hold back, as the parts involving the claymation Cyclops from the inner Earth, Lord Kinbote, are possibly the most WTF in the entire series (I can't say for certain, as there's a long road ahead yet).

It's actually my memories of some of the show's later comedic failures that makes me cringe at some points in this one, which is clearly the template for that aspect of the show in the future. The guy playing fictional thriller author José Chung is too 'funny uncle' for me, and while Mulder and Scully are intentionally presented out of character in the more divergent accounts (Mulder's squeak of horror is a high point), even their 'real' scenes don't feel right. Would Scully really begin an autopsy without checking that the 'alien' isn't a guy in a rubber suit?

I don't know why I'm spending so long criticising this episode, I actually really enjoyed it, but having seen it mentioned repeatedly as one of the best things the show ever did I was expecting something more. At its best, the false memories, exaggerations and outright lies of this episode work as a sarcastic parody of The X-Files in general that's good natured enough so as not to detract from the series itself. But overall, I thought 'War of the Coprophages' was funnier.
"You bet your blankety blank bleep I am" - Detective Manners

3X21 Avatar

If that title had you anticipating some sort of kooky virtual reality, Mulder-in-the-mainframe episode like I might have been expecting, just be patient - you only have to wait another four seasons for that particular nadir. Instead, this is a deeply personal story centred on Skinner, who's been a vital character for a long time and finally gets more backstory than cliched Vietnam memories. Though some of this new backstory concerns cliched Vietnam memories too.

It's definitely a more humdrum episode for the agents as they work to prove Skinner's innocence against the overwhelming evidence that he killed a prostitute, and there's even some morbid humour that was probably unintentional as the Assistant Director is once again sh*t on. Not content with being beaten up by goons, shot in the stomach and then kicked repeatedly in the same stomach, here his personal life and psychological issues are laid bare and he's set up to look like a murderous pervert.

There's still a little paranormal woo-woo and some shady conspiracy stuff to satiate the fans, though the succubus plot feels a little half-hearted. This was a nice deviation for one episode only - what's next, a Cancer Man biopic? Coming next season.
"He doesn't know he didn't do it" - Fox Mulder

3X22 Quagmire

I criticised that daft cat episode for feeling like a throwback to the first season, but this one feels similarly retro - just in a more fun and nostalgic way, as the writers presumably realised one day they'd forgotten to cross sea monsters off their list of supernatural cliches and had to make amends.

What could be a terrible episode is elevated by great character moments, particularly Mulder and Scully getting shipwrecked and whiling away the night discussing topics from cannibalism to Moby Dick, as Scully presciently realises Mulder's similarity to Ahab for taking everyone down with him in his zealous quest. That includes Scully's dog Queequeg, who was brought back just to be slaughtered as she loses another beloved family member after her father and sister.

Having lived in Scotland for a few years, the sea monster tourist tat is a sadly realistic touch, and the British Columbia I mean Georgia scenery is beautiful. It's a shame they resisted leaving the existence of Big Blue ambiguous with that final shot, but in general this is an enjoyable episode that proves the show hasn't lost that early charm even now the mythology's become irreversibly complex.
"Scully, do you think you could ever cannibalise someone?" - Fox Mulder

3X23 Wetwired

Another great episode (season three has been really good) dealing with one of the show's favourite topics, paranoia. The notion of technology making people whacko has been done before in episodes like 'Blood,' but here it's a lot more effective for targeting TV specifically, and for bringing in Mulder's informant and Cancer Man to give the plot some exaggerated relevance in the grand scheme of things. It turns out I have little to no memory of this era of the show, so I'm enjoying the chance to speculate on 15-year-old plot developments. Their informant can't be long for this Earth.

As in the earlier 'Pusher,' the situation gets tenser as the paranormal activity starts to affect our guys. This time it's Scully's turn, whose distrust of Mulder sees her return the favour of nearly shooting him several times. The Lone Gunmen make a not-so-long-awaited return and are actually useful this time, really feeling at home in the area of subliminal messaging. And it's fun when a series as regularly condemned as The X-Files has a pop at television standards and practices.
"Television does not make a previously sane man go out and kill five people thinking they're all the same guy" - Fox Mulder

3X24 Talitha Cumi

It's season finale time, but after some heavy duty two-parters this year, this instalment doesn't feel quite as intense. With the miracle healing stuff at the start it doesn't even feel like a significant episode until Mulder's mother and Cancer Man show up, but then it doesn't waste any time planting seeds in the increasingly incestuous mytharc. You'd have to be a pretty oblivious viewer to not pick up on what's being suggested there, and if that is the case, you'd be better off skipping these episodes entirely and just watching the ones where they chase after beasties - no offence to the beastie episodes, they're just a lot less taxing.

Actually, this one does require more background reading than most, and if you didn't see season two's 'Colony'/'End Game' two-parter you might be pretty lost. The shape-shifting, acid-bleeding aliens are back, which were never my favourites, and Mulder's sister is mentioned for the first time in surprisingly long.

There's a lot of very smart dialogue that requires serious concentration, and could be a bit of a problem if you're watching these before going to sleep, though that's always inadvisable. But for all the intriguing mentions of the colonisation date being set, the importance of the work and *yawn* whatever, these conspirators make some pretty stupid decisions. If you were going to plant aliens in the government, would you really give them the same face, the same name and the same job?

All of these episodes are important pieces of the jumbled jigsaw, but this one isn't as engaging, with a cliffhanger that's doesn't reach the heights of Scully having to choose between Mulders. Fortunately, the follow-up is much, much better.
"Men can never be free because they're weak, corrupt, worthless and restless" - Cancer Man

4X01 Herrenvolk

It's hard to say whether I really understood this overarching story when I was younger, watching The X-Files on a weekly basis (seemingly with a big gap in the third season, but I was back on board by this point), but however much I got, I always seemed to enjoy it before happily forgetting all the details in later years so I can relive the confusion and revelation again.

After a brief diversion with a killer bee and some identical Aryan kids, this continues directly on from 'Talitha Cumi' but is more than just a sequel, injecting a number of new ideas that really advance the mythology without giving too much away. They may just be laying groundwork for the film (not released for nearly two years), but adding clone worker drones, mysterious pollen and a sinister smallpox inventory to the tapestry makes for a landmark episode.

Jeremiah Smith promises answers as he and Mulder set off on their journey, and while he's dispatched before he can reveal the whole picture, what we do get feels satisfying. Come on, they've got to stretch this out for a few years yet before finally calling it quits and moving on to super soldiers and whatever those last few years were about. I'm really appreciating being in the heart of the show's glory years right now, there's a lot of mediocrity to come in later months.
"The fiercest enemy is the man who has nothing left to lose" - Cancer Man

Mythology Redux: Master Plan

This is where the mythology gets unreasonably complicated. In the second half, anyway - 'Talitha Cumi' is more a crystallising of the drips and drabs we'd been fed up this point that notably announces there is a date for colonisation. Exactly how that is to be achieved, and where hybrid clones, GM pollen and smallpox vaccination cataloguing fit in waits to be revealed (and the Black Oil's still a Monster-of-the-Fortnight at this point, things aren't going to get any simpler).

It's interesting (I use the word in its loosest sense) to see that my opinions have completely reversed from when I watched these episodes in my last run through the series a few years back. I was indifferent to the slightly low-key season finale, which for all its eloquence feels more or less like a mash-up of The Unopened File and Colony, but it seems I was blown away by the follow-up's arrogant water-treading, praising it for:
"injecting a number of new ideas that really advance the mythology without giving too much away" - Me
I've always preferred a mysterious build-up to answers, but I guess I've also come to appreciate consistency a little more. 'Herrenvolk' is a mess, although my judgement might be influenced by knowing more about what was going on behind-the-scenes now. When you remember that a film's in the works and Chris Carter's preoccupied with Millennium, you can't un-see the lack of focus in season four's mythology, even while the stand-alone episodes are probably the best they'd ever be.

4X02 Home

Long-missed writers Morgan and Wong return to the show with either something to prove or nothing to lose, delivering what has to be one of the most disturbing, definitive and downright messed-up episodes of the series. This is one of relatively few episodes I've always known by name (the fact that most episodes are called things like 'Ex Sangum Hzhymyny' doesn't help) and it's not an episode you're going to forget for a long time after seeing it, however much you might want to.

The idyll of small town life is destroyed not by the encroachment of modernity, but from within by the town's oldest residents, who like to "raise their own stock" if you get the doomed sheriff's drift. It's just horrible. There's no going back from that horrific opening scene where a newborn baby is buried alive, and through the reveal of the limbless mother stowed under the bed to the showdown in a house filled with booby traps it's an extremely creepy episode where for once I wished the 'monsters' would stay out of sight more. You could reasonably criticise this episode for going over the top, and at times it almost becomes laughably dark, but the tension keeps things grounded.

I'd rank this among the best stand-alone episodes and it's one to consider watching if you're trying to get into the series, though you may be disappointed that the rest doesn't live up to this level of dinginess. But be warned - you can't un-see it.
"Mulder, if you had to do without a cell phone for two minutes you'd lapse into catatonic schizophrenia" - Dana Scully

4X03 Teliko

Oh dear. The X-Files is often rightly credited with being a progressive show, but episodes like this one feel like a real throwback to times when it was fine to portray African culture as inherently scary and dangerous. It's not exactly racist, but it does feel needlessly dodgy, especially since they killed off Mulder's informant a few episodes previously meaning there are no prominent black characters left. Unlike 'Hell Money' though, Mulder and Scully aren't subtly criticised as interfering white people.

Ill-fated social worker Marcus Duff provides some balance and tries to explain why immigration might actually be a good thing for giving someone a chance to improve their quality of life (what a novel perspective), but then they twist an African folk tale into a dark parable to undo all that. This ends up basically being a retread of early classic 'Squeeze' with an unnecessary race angle and is an early disappointment in what I might have falsely remembered to be the best year of the series. I'm hoping it's just an anomaly and the inevitable decline doesn't start this early.
"Not everything is a labyrinth of dark conspiracy and not everybody is plotting to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate" - Dana Scully

4X04 Unruhe

Breaking Bad's Vince Gilligan's second entry for the series is less classic than his earlier 'Pusher,' but it still has a memorable psycho performing amateur lobotomies and an intriguing paranormal gimmick in the form of thought photography.

Mulder's analysis of these creepy predictive photos is my favourite aspect of the episode, but it does annoy me a little just how damning they are as evidence of the paranormal but are never heard from again. Like when they pulled that thing out of the sewers in 'The Host' for all the world to see, Mulder and Scully's work remains shelved and ridiculed. Maybe that's because They want it that way? That's a convenient excuse, I guess (not everything in this series makes sense).

While he's doing that, Scully gets to be a damsel in distress yet again. I think this was just before the Spice Girls empowered women.
"To pursue monsters we must understand them" - Dana Scully

4X05 The Field Where I Died

This is quite a memorable and moving episode, but there are a few things about it that annoy me. Partly the fact that this week's paranormal activity is completely unrelated to the action - past life regression and bringing a suicide cult leader to justice, respectively - but also the completely unscientific way in which Mulder is regressed into his 'past lives' having already fed this delusion, which even Scully gives more credence than she ought to based on the similarity of a name. After all the things she's seen and stubbornly refuted, this is the one that pushes her into acceptance?

That might not necessarily be an inconsistency, as the regressive Melissa notes how comforting such thoughts are. Though personally the idea of being stuck with the same group of people in various incarnations for eternity isn't so appealing - why not give other souls a chance?

The plot with the suicide cult feels overdue for the series, though it's understandable that they might not have got away with it earlier following the WACO event (which Skinner specifically mentions). With the Heaven's Gate suicides coming not long after, I guess it's fortunate they made this episode when they did, not that it did any good.
"You saw it, you heard it, why can't you feel it?" - Fox Mulder

4X06 Sanguinarium

Another pretty bad episode not long after the one with the albino Africans (like I'm going to remember these obscure titles without looking them up), I guess this is what happens when you let outside writers make a pitch. It feels a lot more like a licensed paperback or comic strip written by a fan than someone who knows how to write TV, and that's apparently exactly what happened.

Duchovny and Anderson are both visibly bored in this, and the guest actors don't inject much life either. There's some gore which is nice for shock value, but casting emotionally vulnerable cosmetic surgery patients in the role of victims feels needlessly cruel. With some pentagrams on the floor (that could easily have just been pentagons, Mulder) and witch's Sabbath dates, the paranormal angle is utterly uncompelling. I thought this was supposed to be the best season? They've got a lot to make up for.
"You've got to be pushing pretty hard to mistake a beer belly for a bald head" - Fox Mulder

4X07 Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man

Frohike promises a lot to the unseen Mulder and Scully at the start of this episode, and if you haven't adjusted to the show's slightly odd sense of humour by now, you're probably going to be disappointed. Admittedly, I'm saying this as someone who's working through this series rapidly and has the comfort of knowing how long it lasts for and that answers ultimately will come, so my perspective may be a little different to the me who watched this every Saturday evening back in '97. I still enjoyed it.

Cancer Man, as I stubbornly insist on calling him because the characters do, has always been the show's most intriguing villain, and has only become more fascinating as his ties to the Mulder family become more apparent. This episode sets out to provide his comprehensive back story, and I like to think it's at least 50% genuine. But which 50%? It doesn't really matter.

It's a little overly cute in places with its portrayal of Cancer Man as a struggling author who initially detests smoking and has qualms about the work he's doing (something that's completely absent elsewhere in the series). Featuring both the JFK and MLK assassinations is really going overboard in the way The Lone Gunmen have been characterised as doing, so it fits the fable perfectly. And they even throw in a Christmas scene and a Forrest Gump parody, plus throwaway gags like putting Saddam Hussein on hold. This is funny stuff.

I actually really liked this episode, and the absence of Mulder and Scully for a week was a refreshing change, something I know they'll do again at least once before the later seasons where the main characters are more or less replaced anyway. As much as I love their dynamic at its best, in the weaker instalments I do start longing for an ensemble.
"Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So you're stuck with this undefinable whipped mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there's nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while there's a peanut butter cup or an English toffee. But they're gone too fast and the taste is... fleeting. So, you end up with nothing but broken bits filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts. And if you're desperate enough to eat those, all you got left is an empty box filled with useless brown paper wrappers" - Cancer Man

4X08 Tunguska

I remembered this being among the better mytharc two-parters, but compared to the likes of last season's 'The Blessing Way'/'Paper Clip,' 'Piper Maru'/'Apocrypha' and even 'Nisei'/'731' it lacks intrigue and that all-important ingredient of character development, which I guess wasn't as high a priority as prison breaks and explosions when I was 12.

The X-Files was probably at its peak of mainstream popularity by this point, and this two-parter does feel more consciously like a TV movie than the usual subtle conspiracy fare. Hooking us in with Scully's contempt of Congress as she refuses to divulge Mulder's whereabouts and the release of the black oil at an airport, the scene is set for an action-packed tale that's light on answers.

Krychek is back, and after necessary humiliation and pummelling by Skinner he teams up with Mulder as an ill-fated odd couple, supposedly sharing the same goal of exposing the conspiracy. Their adventures take them to non-Soviet Russia that's apparently still just as dangerous and in a shocking finale that will have no consequences whatsoever, Mulder is exposed to the black oil! He got better.
"You're an invertebrate scum-sucker whose moral dipstick is about two inches short of bone dry" - Mulder to Krychek

4X09 Terma

Krychek betrays Mulder in the first of several unsurprising plot developments taking us through to the end when the minimal evidence Scully puts forward is thrown in the bin. What did she expect?

Like the previous episode, this is more of an action spectacle than the customary finely-crafted mythology instalment, with such set pieces as Mulder racing through the forest in a jeep pursued by angry men on horseback and a massive oil explosion. Meanwhile, Scully puts her career on the line and spends some time in prison and the Syndicate makes a couple of compulsory appearances to inform us through clunky expository dialogue that the Soviets were developing their own immunity to the alien pathogen.

That Cold War angle is the most interesting aspect of the episode, though it doesn't come as a surprise after last year's reveal that Japanese scientists were working on their own alien-human hybrid. Wait a minute, are these hybrids connected to the immunity? Was that "Bill Mulder's project?" Is Purity Control the same thing as the immunity? Is this black cancer the same black oil we saw in 'Piper Maru?' It looks wormier here. Do the bees, clone drones and shapeshifters from 'Herrenvolk' fit into all this, or is that completely separate?

I've been watching the whole thing in order and already I'm lost. A complex mythology isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you shouldn't need to rely on fan sites and Wikipedia summaries to wrap your head around it, which is where I'll be heading when this is all over.
"They're all honourable, these honourable men" - The Well Manicured Man

Mythology Redux: Tunguska

I've never been into this two-parter, which is probably the low point of the mythology so far. There's nothing offensively terrible about it, as would start to happen the following year, but it's the first time that the nagging thought from my childhood that we could have go two extra "good" (i.e. MOTW) episodes rears its head.

The Black Cancer is effectively chilling in its Lovecraftian unknowableness, even if it opens a meteorite of continuity worms (it's completely different from the last time we saw it, and the film will make more drastic changes. Plus, Mulder gets infected and he's just fine). But that's about the only aspect of the story that really works for me.

The ongoing Cold War between the Syndicate and their Russian counterparts over developing alien immunity merely continues the international intrigue set up last season with the Japanese, and Mulder's eventful trip to Russia - leaving Scully behind to do the science bit again - feels extremely formulaic now.

These mythology TV movie releases skipped over 'Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man' and 'Memento Mori' on either side of this, both of which are much more satisfying in their determination to break the format.

4X10 Paper Hearts

After a couple of years where even the best monster-of-the-week episodes would be dwarfed by story arc epics, it looks like the mythology's time has passed and it's the great stand-alone stories that make the show worth watching. This is another one from Vince Gilligan, who's firmly established as one of the series' best writers. He does these human monsters so well.

As with Gilligan's previous episodes 'Pusher' and 'Unruhe,' the paranormal element is psychological in nature, rather than a beastie charging around and eating people. Not that those episodes are always bad, but it's more incisive stuff like this that gained the show critical traction. Mulder has nightmares that help him resolve an old, pre-X-Files case, which would be a good enough episode already. But casting doubt on whether his sister really was abducted or may have been another of this serial killer's victims elevates it to a classic.

This is where I get confused though, and if I was dipping into these episodes randomly rather than watching them in strict order I wouldn't have a problem. But it should be clear to the agents by now what happened to Samantha - Mulder's father confessed to sacrificing her to the Project for the greater good and we've seen countless clones indicating that she was taken by the Syndicate. There are still a few missing details, most importantly whether the real Samantha is still alive, but why would there be any doubt about this version of events now?

I'm confused when they over-complicate things and I'm even more confused when they go back to basics and disregard plot developments. Maybe that's what those companion books are for.
"Mom and dad said I could watch the movie, buttmunch" - Samantha Mulder

4X11 El Mundo Gira

Another slightly weird episode featuring unreliable accounts and a smattering of humour, but sadly this is no 'Musings' or 'Jose Chung.' For the most part it's a borderline racist, borderline boring tale that mixes a deliberately cliched Mexican love triangle with a race to stop one of the men spreading a biological contaminant, but it comes together at the end, making a few sensitive points about how migrant workers are treated and actually managing to be respectful to a foreign culture, which isn't always a given with this series.

There's also just a little bit of space stuff just in case it wasn't X-Files enough for you.
"I've been thinking. I know that's dangerous, but just bear with me..." - Fox Mulder

4X12 Leonard Betts

It might be a bloodier, funnier remake of 'Squeeze,' the early classic that spawned a thousand monsters-of-the-week, but this episode perfects the style. It's one of the most archetypal X-Files, with Mulder stubbornly insisting on his spaced-out theories and Scully stubbornly refuting them all the way, and the script strikes a perfect balance between horror, believable-sounding pseudo-science and dark humour. It's got to be one of the best. I know I keep saying that, because they keep getting better.

The stand-alone story would be memorable enough with its gruesome villain who gets decapitated and gets better, but then just when you think you're safe they twist the knife of Scully's cancer, foreboded last season and now very real. I was worried by a couple of poor episodes recently that let the side down, but now I'm sure we're in the very best era of the show. I'm a little sad it's half over (let's not recognise the existence of those later seasons until I have to).
"You're not suggesting that a headless body kicked his way out of a latched morgue freezer are you? ...Are you?" - Dana Scully

4X13 Never Again

I really like this episode. Dana Scully's Day Off has been a long time coming, and it's great to see her letting her hair down and being deliberately impulsive, though there's some dark humour on the part of the universe as she ends up getting involved in an X-File regardless. The switch in broadcast order with 'Leonard Betts' might have been fortuitous, as it gives an edge to Scully's reckless behaviour if we believe she knows about the cancer at this point. I think it works better this way.

The last outing from veteran writers Morgan and Wong, the paranormal activity is secondary to Scully's wild weekend in Philadelphia, but it's still integrated well and again it's pretty funny. A mocking tattoo that makes you kill women could easily have been a disaster, but it's handled with the right mix of creepiness and humour and bringing in Jodie Foster to do the voice-over adds some unnecessary A-list charm.

I'm not sure what the immediate future holds for Scully now she knows she's dying, but I get the feeling this episode is a strictly one-off event that should be cherished. Mulder's activities meanwhile are ridiculous and his character comes off like a needy, whining child throughout, which is a shame. Hopefully he'll get his own 'Never Again' some day. '3' didn't count.
"Your contact, while interesting in the context of science fiction, was, at least in my memory, recounting a poorly veiled synopsis of an episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle" - Dana Scully

4X14 Memento Mori

Almost like a response to the overlong, character-lite 'Tunguska'/'Terma' two-parter, this is an excellent mythology installment that manages to fit into a single episode, though despite some false promise from an untrustworthy doc, the saga of Scully's cancer will be ongoing for some time yet.

After a couple of fun episodes in a row (maybe you need to be hardened by four seasons of this nightmarish stuff to find 'Leonard Betts' "fun," but I did), this is a completely serious, sombre and sad story, and a second significant character episode for Scully in a row. The presentation of cancer treatments and their psychological impact feels very credible rather than just for drama's sake, and Scully's letter to Mulder and their moments of intimacy are just plain nice.

Even if you don't have a heart and aren't drawn to the emotional stuff, we start to get some solid answers to several intertwining plot threads, with the promise of more to come as Skinner strikes an unseen deal with "the Cigarette Man" (Mulder realises calling him "Cancer Man" now would be a little insensitive) to save Scully's life. At first the return of the hybrid clones feels unnecessary, until they're revealed to play a major role in the abductions after all.

Though that does make me confused about their relation to the Greys, who I thought were the aliens the Syndicate was working with. And how are any of them related to the black oil? I guess that's why this is only season four of nine.
"The truth will save you, Scully. I think it'll save both of us" - Fox Mulder

4X15 Kaddish

An episode focusing on a Hasidic Jewish community this time, so obviously it's about a Golem - why not be stereotypical?

It rises above a humdrum season one standard episode though, thanks to some impressive guest performances, a nice score and a realistic presentation of anti-Semitism, to the extent that I misremembered some scenes and characters as coming from Louis Theroux documentaries. But this all just makes it feel like a better executed reimagining of that daft Mexican episode with a different minority group.
"The right to freedom of expression doesn't include murder" - Dana Scully

4X16 Unrequited

Had they seriously not done invisibility before this? I guess there's still a wealth of paranormal phenomena(e?) to exhaust as the series grows older. This (pseudo)scientifically rationalised invisibility is more interesting than your standard magic cloak, as a Vietnam veteran with a vengeance hides in plain sight by taking advantage of people's blind spots. I love the idea.

The story itself doesn't quite live up to the idea sadly, but at least it's a break from some of the more personal stuff and a chance to see Mulder, Scully and Skinner doing the sort of things this job would normally require of them, as opposed to chasing down headless serial killers and golems. The government conspiracy angle is comfortingly familiar too, though Mulder's new informant is too forthcoming for my liking. I liked the dead ones better.
"I found his story compelling personally, but then again I believe the Warren Commission" - Fox Mulder

4X17 Tempus Fugit

With the mythology now being long past the point of coherence for casual viewers and even those who've been watching an episode a day for the past three months, it's refreshing to get a two-parter quite this uncomplicated, which takes its cues from all the way back to the first season, and not only in the reappearance of memorable abductee Max Pfenig before he's cruelly dispatched. There are traces of the pilot and 'Deep Throat' in this story of missing time and UFOs, and it's been a while since we saw one of those.

Die hard fans might be annoyed at this retro simplicity, but I found it a welcome change of pace. Even Cancer Man and his cohorts are absent, replaced by some generic military officers who we get to see covering things up as they go, and there isn't any black oil or neck stabber in sight. This episode could have conceivably come from any point in the last four years and for once that isn't a criticism. It's a good 'un.
"Claimed steadfastly, ignorance becomes as acceptable as the truth" - Fox Mulder

4X18 Max

The follow-up to 'Tempus Fugit' is as good as its predecessor, but does feel a little stretched and repetitive as we get past the half-way point, Mulder gives his reconstruction of what happened aboard the flight and we see the same thing happen aboard another plane. It didn't really need to be a two-parter, but that gives us more time to spend with the guest characters and to throw in some more ruthless murders of nice guys with the death of Agent Pendrell.

After not even being given any lines before winding up as a corpse in the previous episode, the eponymous Max gets some posthumous screen time as we're treated to a creepy abduction sequence at 30,000 feet followed by an exciting plane crash on a custom made set. If I have one major criticism of this two-parter it's that Scully gets practically nothing to do beyond being a bodyguard, as Mulder dives to the bottom of a lake and takes flight with a mysterious alien artefact. Did he learn nothing from 'Never Again?' Give the girl one something to do.
"What are these people dying for? Is it for the truth or for the lies?" - Dana Scully

Mythology Redux: Tempus Fugit

How was this two-parter received back in the day? As a young adolescent who didn't appreciate the average verbose mythology installment as much as the average beastie or spook caper, I probably liked it a lot better than Tunguska. Twenty years later, my current relationship with the mythology is as complicated as the mythology itself... and I still like it better than Tunguska.

I don't have the anecdotal evidence to back it up, but I'm going to make a wild guess that Tempus Fugit has improved with age, at least as far as repeat viewers being able to appreciate its nostalgic simplicity. Netflix newbies might still be pissed off that it doesn't "reveal" anything, but it's not like the other recent mythology episodes have much forward momentum as they tread water in symbolic bee and oil imagery in eager anticipation of the film.

I skipped most of season one on this current re-watch, and I'll have to amend that. This reminded me of how enjoyable those pre-Syndicate UFO stories were, back when the absence of Cancer Man felt natural and not weird (it's "the Cigarette Man" these days, granddad; Mulder changed his preferred nickname in 'Memento Mori,' deciding it was no longer appropriate for some reason. Not that British viewers following along with these sparse video releases have seen that episode yet. Why did Scully's nose just bleed? Is she stressed or something?)

Then again, going back to basics and avoiding hybrid clones and inconsistent oil doesn't mean this is necessarily less confusing. What does it mean that these aliens (seemingly proper, independently operating ones this time) wanted to retrieve their technology from the military? Was that private company pursuing an unauthorised agenda? Why did they have to wait until the objects were in-flight to retrieve them? How can Mulder possibly reconcile these events with his forthcoming scepticism, not to mention unwise developments in future decades? Shut up and try to just enjoy this retro classic, you're not getting another two-parter this low-key until 'Dreamland' and you know how that turned out.

4X19 Synchrony

I continue to be surprised by just how many stock paranormal tropes haven't been plucked from the bag by the writers by this point, and this is the first time that time travel makes an appearance, though certainly not the last. It's the sort of concept that initially seems a little unrealistic, until you think about the sort of things that happen in any other episode ever.

The time travel itself is played suitably low-key, with the reveal that the old man going around murdering scientists is the same guy currently under suspicion as a young man. There are no whirling time portals or cameos from historical figures. Still, once you've got over that reveal they don't make the most of the format - I would have loved something really twisty and incestuous along the lines of Robert A. Heinlein stories.

Beyond the time travel, there are also some gruesome deaths by freezing (and in one case, death by freezing then getting set on fire) and some very slight hints about student Scully, who evidently had some nascent interest in science fiction despite her protests.
"If your sister's your aunt and your mother marries your uncle you'd be your own grandpa" - Dana Scully

4X20 Small Potatoes

This episode pretty much seals the deal on season four being my favourite of the series' run, unless season five holds some major surprises. One of the best comedy episodes they ever did, it even pokes its nose into Mulder and Scully's lack of relationship and offers some insight into Mulder's slightly pathetic personal life, something I'd been craving since Scully had her chance in 'Never Again.'

This isn't the first time the series has dealt with shape-shifting, nor even the first time Scully's had to choose between Mulders, but it's different enough in its light-hearted approach to avoid feeling repetitive - the repetition will come when pretty much the same thing happens again in season six. It's a credit to Vince Gilligan that he could twist an episode about a rapist into a fun character piece.
"May the force be with you" - Amanda Nelligan

4X21 Zero Sum

Another surprise, single-part, mythology-expanding episode after the Scully-heavy 'Memento Mori,' this time she isn't around at all, the ever-beaten-down Skinner taking her place for his second feature episode in as many years and being degraded to the point of actually scrubbing bathroom floors. Poor lad.

This is part of Skinner's ongoing bargain with Cancer Man in exchange for Scully's health, but the deeper he gets into the conspiracy, the more he questions the ethics and scope of his actions (and presumably finally learns what it's like to be Mulder). The bees are back, as is smallpox and Mulder's latest informant who's apparently a double agent, but aren't they all?

It's not one of the best mytharc episodes, feeling like it was written out of necessity to accommodate Gillian Anderson's absence with less ingenuity than season two's abduction arc, but it's brilliantly tense as Mulder enlists Skinner to help him track down himself. I also like to imagine that the Assistant Director's been tidying things up for a while behind-the-scenes before this final outing pushed him too far.
"A man digs a hole, he risks falling into it" - Cancer Man

4X22 Elegy

The only episode in this final stretch of the season to truly stand independent from the ongoing story, this one feels like a bit of a retread with a magic mental patient ('Roland') and prophetic ghosties (multiple episodes). It's the few scenes where Scully faces up to her doubts and reveals to a counsellor why she's determined to continue working that really sell it, though some of those apparitions are pretty creepy too.
"17, 30, 37, 45, 53..." - Harold Spuller

4X23 Demons

With its title and penultimate placement in the season, I was expecting a generic monster-of-the-week story but instead we delve deeper into Mulder's past and the defining moment of his life, the abduction of his sister. Again.

The mystery angle works very well in the first 15 minutes of the episode as we're led to question whether the amnesiac Mulder killed someone, before doubt is cast on his guilt and the ambiguity starts to break down.

I'm not sure we actually learn anything new from his flashbacks. Mulder questions his mother about his parentage and we see that Cancer Man was no stranger to the Mulders' summer home in those days, all of which was suggested in last season's finale. But it's evidently important enough to Mulder that he visits a mad scientist to have his head drilled open on two separate occasions.
"The truth is in there" - Fox Mulder

4X24 Gethsemane

I was a little disappointed by this season finale in comparison to previous ones, despite it containing some really great ideas. Scully's cancer continues to be a successful emotional driver, both for her character and for making Mulder's selfishness and obsessions more transparent, but the framing structure of her testimony apparently condemning Mulder's work and completing her original 'assignment' feels patronising and even downright dumb if you've watched more than one episode of the series before, in which she faces down shapeshifters, mutant serial killers, ghosties, you name it. Obviously there's going to be some degree of misdirection on her part, as we already know it won't be Mulder's body under that sheet.

There's some fantastic mountain scenery and studio interiors that feel genuinely cold, which is a credit to whoever's responsible for that stuff. The alien corpse found in the rock is an effective red herring too, though it might have been wiser to keep its identity secret until after the cliffhanger, as there's too much pointing to it being a hoax. If I was watching these back in the 90s again, there'd be very little keeping me in suspense for the fifth season. It's no 'Out of Time.'
"The lies are so deep, the only way to cover them is to create something even more incredible" - Michael Kritschgau

5X01 Redux

The sagging middle of a mediocre trilogy, this season opener doesn't pack any punches, instead relying extensively on voice-overs and montages to explain what's going on in patronising detail. I admit that I need a reference book or website handy to get my head around some of the mythology, but here it's stripped down and really not that complicated - aliens don't exist, they were a smokescreen all along to cover up what shady elements of the government are really up to.

Despite not being credible in light of everything we've seen (that Predator-type thing in 'Fallen Angel' and the scurrying Greys in 'Paper Clip' spring to mind, not to mention countless beasties-of-the-week), it's a great twist that at least causes momentary doubt and inaugurates a memorable period of the show when Mulder would lose his faith. Unfortunately, as an episode this is weak and is entirely set-up for the much better finale. I used to have it on video packaged as a 135-minute feature, it worked a lot better like that.
"I created Mulder" - Cancer Man

5X02 Redux II

Making up for the humdrum earlier instalments, this is one of the defining episodes of the mythology, even as it suffers from strange inconsistency and red herring deaths. The Smoking Man will be back. The fractured Syndicate is one of the more interesting aspects now I'm old enough to appreciate the wheeling and dealing, and it'll be interesting to see how old Cancer Man worms his way back in through negotiation or coup.

Speaking of cancer, Scully's fine now. That arc didn't drag on for as long as it felt the first time around, only being revealed in last season's 'Leonard Betts' with hints stretching back to the third season and her abduction in the second, but it doesn't feel like a cop-out: both of these lead characters need to be alive and well in time for the impending film, and the engineering of her illness and the withholding of the 'cure' until the last minute (you know, unless God did it) makes it easier to care about shutting down this conspiracy, if abducting children wasn't enough motivation already.

It's a significant and well-executed episode, but there are a couple of things I didn't like. Firstly, bringing back Blevins after nearly four years of absence to expose him as a conspirator doesn't have the impact it could have done with a little more seed-sowing. Secondly, why does Mulder believe this is really his sister this time after he's already seen multiple clones of various ages scurrying around? This is one ongoing plot thread I could do with being tied soon.
"Live the lie, you have to believe it" - Fox Mulder

Mythology Redux: Redux

I've felt ambivalent about this trilogy in the past, but this time around I enjoyed it a lot more (monologue-heavy sagging middle excepted).

It's not a story that bears scrutiny, and like Tempus Fugit it's possibly more successful with newcomers who were joining the series as its pop culture cache soared, rather than long-time fans who'll be frustrated at Mulder's convenient and immediate lapse in faith in light of everything he's seen. This part of the mythology isn't only isolated from the disposable stand-alone stories; it's like Colony and Master Plan never happened either.

But there's a lot of inconsistency in The X-Files anyway, and I can forgive it when it's required to tell a different type of story, even if it's a year or so too late. Nowhere near as weird as when they pulled exactly the same twist in the 2016 series.

5X03 Unusual Suspects

I remember feeling quite annoyed and cheated by this episode when it first aired, but now I quite like it. Only quite though, as the complete lack of Scully again and minor appearances from Mulder make it clear that the Lone Gunmen's feature episode was born out of necessity rather than a deliberate decision to piss off casual viewers.

Byers takes on the lead role in this formerly amorphous group, as he's the least unnormal in the way Mike was the least strange of The Young Ones, though he's a little dull and flat, which doesn't bode well for the Gunmens' spin-off series that would come later. These characters have always been on the wacky side, and seeing them turn from a clean-cut government employee and well-meaning hackers into anti-establishment journalists convinced of the government's nefarious actions by a single encounter with an unreliable woman isn't the most believable story, so you could choose to take this presentation liberally like last season's 'Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man.' It's framed as Byers' testimony after all, and we don't know how honest he's being.

It's a fun distraction and I always like it when they try something different, but I probably would have preferred a run-of-the-mill episode.
"Daddy needs a new sword of wounding" - Richard Langly

5X04 Detour

The X-Files goes back to basics with a classic episode of Mulder and Scully running around British Columbia woods waving guns and shouting each others' names. The monster-of-this-week has the ability to camouflage itself and may or may not also be a 400-year-old conquistador depending on whether Mulder needs to expand on this X-File to claim back his motel expenses.

It's a tense and funny show, where a typically sarcastic Mulder and rejuvenated Scully find an excuse to call off a gruelling team-building conference in favour of cryptozoology, and end up swapping stories through the night again like season three's 'Quagmire.' Season five is a slightly shorter year than most, but so far it's looking good.
"Civilisation is pushing very hard into these woods. Maybe something in these woods is pushing back" - Fox Mulder

5X05 The Post-Modern Prometheus

Sensational! I was looking forward to this post-modern retelling of the Frankenstein tale as I had a vague memory of a deformed monster dancing to the music of Cher, but I didn't expect it to be this good. The X-Files has done comedy several times before, but never this successfully, going all-out with the classic horror movie parody by filming in black and white with different lenses and Mark Snow's loving pastiche of 1930s dramatic scores.

This (along with the upcoming 'Bad Blood' which I also remember being brilliant) is the perfect antidote to an otherwise serious and largely depressing season, even featuring guest appearances from Jerry Springer and 'Cher' (not actually Cher), who contributes several songs to the soundtrack that help to set it apart from a normal episode. This is about as outlandish as they get, but like season three's 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space' and season four's 'Small Potatoes' (another comedy episode about monster rape), it would regrettably have a lasting influence on 'comedy' episodes from later seasons as they tried to recapture the magic but really didn't get it right.

I must have listed about 30 episodes in my top ten since I started. This one's a sure thing though, and it may even be number one.
"I think what we're seeing here is an example of a culture for whom daytime talk shows and tabloid headlines have become a reality against which they measure their lives" - Dana Scully

5X06 Christmas Carol

The series' first 'Christmas special,' some effort is made to make this two-parter feel seasonal, in the first instalment at least. Dead kids are a little less festive.

This is one of the more memorable two-parters from the series, but it isn't quite as significant as I remembered it being, with the developments to Scully's character being over and done with after the 90 minutes is up. It's a great episode for Scully's character, and for Gillian Anderson, but for giving her a daughter and taking her away again it feels like a cruel contrivance.
"She's been dead at least three hours. You got a call from her, she must have dialled 1800-THE-GREAT-BEYOND" - Detective Kresge

5X07 Emily

Compared to the emotional first part, this one gets more plot-driven when Mulder finally shows up and becomes a repetitive mythology conspiracy project neck-stabby... thing. The shapeshifters are really getting old now, as is repeatedly casting Scully as the victim as the legacy of her abduction stretches beyond breaking point. Why are Mulder and Scully still so easily fooled by the shapeshifters, even after they know what they're dealing with? This might be the weakest entry in the mythology so far.
"This child was not meant to be" - Dana Scully

Mythology Redux: Emily

This is the point where my over-simplified, rose-tinted view of the pre-movie mythology breaks down. 'Christmas Carol' works well as an X-Files Christmas story (albeit a typically twisted one), but by 'Emily' it becomes tediously repetitive and needlessly cruel. For a character who's supposed to be up there with Buffy and Xena as a '90s strong female role model, Scully isn't half shat on and victimised by the misogynist conspiracy and the men writing it.

The series was still a pop culture phenomenon at this point, and the approachable tragedy of Scully's cancer is immediately replaced (there were a couple of lightweight episodes in-between) with the relatable tragedy of infant mortality and a bizarre abortion allegory. It feels designed to appeal to a mainstream that might not have been so taken with the previous week's black-and-white Frankenstein piss-take; but at the same time, what are those casual noobs supposed to make of the shape-shifters bleeding green acid? The video guys missed a trick if they didn't advise customers to 'Buy File 4: Colony for partial answers.'

I'll still probably be more annoyed by Closure when that comes around, but this is the nadir of the mythology so far. On the bright side, I don't know if these events will ever be discussed again, so it's easy to skip.

5X08 Kitsunegari

A sequel to one of the most popular stand-alone episodes and villains, like 'Squeeze'/'Tooms' before it, this doesn't come close to the level of 'Pusher.' It's good to see Modell again, but he doesn't do anything particularly interesting and his reform is a lot less entertaining to watch than his sociopathic psychological killing sprees of yesteryear.

Mulder initially avoids what he perceives to be Modell's traps before succumbing after all, and only avoids shooting Scully when she gets in a fortuitous shot first. Why didn't they issue earplugs or something? I guess it's supposed to be ambiguous for a while whether Mulder really is under the influence, but if you've ever seen this series before you should be confident that he's always right.
"I'm going to take a wild stab here and guess: this is a clue" - Fox Mulder

5X09 Schizogeny

This a pretty dumb episode, but I liked it. The first angry teenagers story there's been for a long while (though it's strange to be back in the woods soon after 'Detour'), its concept of psychically-controlled foliage administering lethal justice to abusive parents isn't exactly first-rate, but it must have made some impact as it's one of the episodes I remember most vividly from this season the first time around when I was thirteen. Fifteen years later, it's still kind of fun, just lower your expectations before diving in.
"Hey Scully, is this demonstration of boyish agility turning you on at all?" - Fox Mulder

Inside The X-Files

With the series escalating to ever-increasing heights, what better time to awkwardly disturb the flow by shoehorning in a reflective look back at how it's been getting on up to this point? I chanced across this documentary on YouTube recently, and rather than being produced specifically as some sort of VHS extra it was evidently broadcast in the show's regular time slot between these two season five episodes the first time around, where it served the dual purposes of schedule filler and promotional tool for the forthcoming feature film.

This doesn't make it any more integral to the canon than all those similar clip shows interspersed with talking heads they would later do on Lost a couple of times per season, and it could rightfully be binned as a pointless relic, but it's worth checking out as a revealing insight into how Chris Carter and the actors felt the series and the mythology were progressing up to this point. It fortuitously catches the series when it was precisely at its best, which couldn't be said for any retrospective documentaries they would make almost any time after this when the downslide would start to begin and it would mainly serve to make me resent the show for not being as good any more. I won't waste time with those.

It seems I have more to say about this throwaway extra than the actual episodes. It is very enjoyable. Chris Carter, David Duchovny and William B. Davis muse thoughtfully about various aspects of the ongoing storyline, and are clearly the ones paying the most attention. I particularly enjoyed Duchovny's take on Mulder as an orally fixated porn addict, traits of his character that might have passed by the casual viewers. Davis' 'controversial' theory on Cancer Man being the real hero of the show is something he would apparently spout at conventions all the time, so it's nice to get the definitive account here. And Carter is very resolute on the point of Mulder and Scully's relationship never becoming romantic, let's see how that pans out...

Beyond the deep stuff, they throw in some non-sweary bloopers, highlight some of the needlessly elaborate practical effects work they've accomplished over the years that I now feel guilty for not appreciating as much as I should have, and there are some fun pre-YouTube montages of the characters being repetitive. Have you ever noticed Gillian Anderson is beautiful?
"He's up to whatever is wrong whenever we need him, and you never know what that is" - David Duchovny on Cancer Man

5X10 Chinga

Some of these episodes have been really dumb recently, but they're so firmly part of my childhood memories of this show that I can't help but view them as classics. This episode's most notable for being written by Stephen King, though apparently not a lot of his story made it into the finished version. For me, it will always be the episode that coined the catch-phrases "I want to play" (spoken in a muffled voice) and "I want popcorn" (spoken in an irritating spoiled American brat voice), which would often echo around our household for the next year or so. Strange, the things kids latch on to. Now I just need to see the one where the creepy paedophile father says "daddy wants his honey" - was that even The X-Files or just some bad movie?

The story of a creepy doll that makes people kill themselves using the nearest available kitchen appliance shouldn't be taken too seriously, and once again this borders on being a comedy episode while simultaneously trying to be scary, not doing either very well. Scully has another weekend break and immediately gets entangled in paranormal activity again (I guess 'Never Again' wasn't such a prophetic title) and swaps Mulder for the local sheriff ('Christmas Carol') while he messes around in the office. I don't know if David Duchovny was busy again or they just left Mulder out on purpose - if it's the latter, that's a strange decision.

It's also strange that in an episode concerned with witchcraft and an evil juju doll, I find it harder to accept that household record players would all be able to play the Hokey Pokey on the doll's cue if they don't have that LP available, and that the doll develops a few new phrases towards the end that presumably weren't included by the manufacturer. I need at least some grounding in reality if you expect me to take the weirder elements seriously. Maybe I just shouldn't worry about that.
"Classic X-File, classic" - Fox Mulder

5X11 Kill Switch

Hot on the heels of Stephen King's disappointing guest spot, cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson teams up with the lesser-known Tom Maddox to pen a much better episode that doesn't really feel like The X-Files at all. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as recent episodes that have been traditional X-Files through and through have felt pretty stale.

It's odd that Scully lets loose with even more passionate cynicism for the scientifically viable concept of artificial intelligence than she normally reserves for little green men, fairies and other nonsense, while Mulder's willing to believe in anything as usual. After messing around with some real-world cybercrime for a while the episode gets bolder and launches into virtual reality, which is always a huge risk especially when you're doing it in the 90s. But the jargon sounds convincing and they don't rely on too many gimmicky effects, the stand-out being some pre-Matrix kung fu from a digital Scully. There are also some hot nurses and Mulder becomes increasingly limbless, it's an episode that's worth watching.

Yes, it's a bit of a daft sci-fi episode that might not appeal to casual viewers, but when the more serious instalments of the season deal with heavy subjects like cancer and child death, daft isn't a problem when it's executed this well.
"It's not a program any more, it's wildlife loose on the net" - Invisigoth

5X12 Bad Blood

One of my all-time favourites, this one still stands up and continues an unexpected trend of the series' most overt comedy episodes generally being the best ('Small Potatoes,' 'The Post-Modern Prometheus'), a trend that unfortunately wouldn't last much longer. It's also no surprise that it's another from Breaking Bad's Vince Gilligan, who I never realised had such a major role in writing this series, but was non-coincidentally there all through its finest era.

Most of the story is presented as Scully and Mulder's differing subjective versions of events, which makes for some revealing insights into how they view themselves and each other. In Mulder's eyes, Scully is sarcastic and belittling to the point of annoyance while he's the more rational and open-minded one, lacking the yee-haw exuberance of Scully's account. They even edit the captions as they go, it's brilliant fourth wall breaking that totally gets away with it.

I always read about this technique owing to the Japanese film Rashomon, but for me it's always been the 'Bad Blood' approach, also utilised in Star Trek's 'A Matter of Perspective' and Farscape's 'The Ugly Truth' among, I'm sure, plenty of others. But here it's more than just a gimmick, as our intimate familiarity with these two characters makes it easy to smooth out the excesses and cobble together a more trustworthy version of events. Remember, Mulder is always right.

Except for the part about the buck teeth.
"Oh sh..." - Fox Mulder

5X13 Patient X

That was a very special episode. I haven't watched the second part yet, but if it lives up to the first, this could be my favourite entry in the entire mythology, which, cancer aside, has been diluted and boring for a long time. I watched most of the series through the first time around, from childhood to my early teens, so understandably there are large sections of the mythology I never quite understood, and this is one of the key ingredients.

If you felt lost and confused during the third and fourth seasons by the black oil and cryptic conversations between old men in dark suits, you're not alone. This won't clear everything up, but it goes a long way towards making it feel like there has been a grand plan all along, explaining the purpose of the chips in the necks of abduction victims and sneakily disclosing the date for colonisation years ahead of the series finale. For the first time in years, it feels like the series is really on track, presumably as they set the stage for the film. I hope it's as good as this.

I haven't even talked about Mulder and Scully yet, whose turnaround in beliefs is the peak of the series' character development, before it was all shot to pieces in season six and they reverted to stereotypes. Mulder's newfound doubt over the existence of extraterrestrials goes too far, perhaps through anger and shame as he feels he has a lot of work to undo, and Scully's acceptance based on her personal experiences completes the exchange. It's full of holes, but it's great drama. Season five might be the best after all.
"You try to reveal what's hidden, you try to incite people with the facts, but they'd rather believe some insane nonsense, refusing to believe what our government is capable of" - Fox Mulder

5X14 The Red and the Black

Mulder and Scully aren't exactly reset to their factory settings in this one, but it's safe to say they're starting to get over their doubts. That's a shame, as I enjoyed that brief switcheroo, but I suppose they need to be on track ready for the imminent feature film.

After seeming to take the easy way out by giving Scully amnesia again (does she have to end up in hospital every time too?), they regress her back to the arrival of the colonists and the self-mutilated rebels, now clearly defined as such by the Syndicate which also achieves success with a vaccine against the black oil. That shady group feels lacking without a strong, duplicitous leader, but Cancer Man shows up by the end, in case even one viewer thought the writers might have been doing a double-bluff with his obviously non-terminal death. It wouldn't be the same without him.

Speaking of Smokey, Jeffrey Spender sure looks familiar. I'd expect Mulder to recognise that face, but then he seems to have forgotten all the times he's seen shapeshifting aliens with toxic green goo spurting from their necks during this doubting phase.
"Extraterrestrial phenomena is frankly the more plausible explanation" - Walter Skinner

Mythology Redux: Patient X

That's one question answered, then: The Unopened File (aka 'Anasazi'/'The Blessing Way'/'Paper Clip') is the high point of the mythology after all, and 'Patient X'/'The Red and the Black' isn't all the revelation I touted it to be on my last run through the series, when I raved with the euphoric afterglow of a hypnotised Scully and deemed it to be the absolute peak of the entire series. Nostalgic binge watching screws with your mind, man.

In fact, what I loved most about it last time - the reversal of the Mulder/Scully paradigm, before its gradual resetting - now feels overly rapid and convenient. Especially since the immediately preceding 'Bad Blood' relied entirely on the duo being as Mulder and Scully as Mulder and Scully can be. They could have done so much more with Mulder's sceptical arc, but when they did try again in the revived series it was even more disappointing and nonsensical.

On the plus side, something actually happens for the first time in a long while. We didn't just poke around to uncover bits of the grand plan; a new complication put a spanner in the works and caused the dwindling Syndicate to sweat. It's quite the unexpected gamble, what with the film looming precariously on the horizon and needing the status quo to be at roughly a season four level (which was when they wrote and filmed it, before forgetting not to be creative in the interim).

Don't worry, they won't mention any of these new characters or developments on the big screen. Or the Gibson Praise stuff. I'm starting to think that pedestrian UK viewers who saw season five after we saw Fight the Future might have ended up with a slightly less puzzled internal continuity overall.

5X15 Travelers

I knew things were going too smoothly. After three of the best episodes the show ever produced comes possibly one of its worst, or at least its most forgettable. Stepping back in time to the Red Scare and McCarthyism of the 1950s via a 1990 framing narrative with a pre-X-Files Fox Mulder, this episode seems to have been conceived entirely out of the necessity to free up David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson for filming the upcoming movie. But unlike the earlier 'Unusual Suspects' it doesn't feel like a refreshing change of pace, just an irritating and unnecessary diversion.

Stepping back into the past offers a huge number of opportunities to dip into the early years of the Syndicate and various other conspiracies, but it's wasted on a monster-of-the-week plot that just happens to feature Mulder's late father, albeit in a supporting capacity only. The bulk of the episode is led by Arthur Dales, Mulder's predecessor on the X-Files who we've never met before and have no interest in.

There are a few episodes of the series that stand out for being remarkably awful, but ones like this are just forgettable wastes of time. This might be my least favourite so far, though I accept I may have placed mental blocks over some truly horrendous previous episodes. I doubt I'll even remember this one by the time I reach season nine.
"You keep digging through the X-Files and they'll bury you too" - Arthur Dales

5X16 Mind's Eye

A great guest performance from Lili Taylor makes this average episode a little better, and it's nice to see a blind character being portrayed as strong without it seeming patronising - she can be a real bitch too. This week's paranormal activity is a little more down-to-earth, apparently plausible enough that the detective-of-the-week is the one who suggests a sixth sense as a possibility and no one mocks Mulder's obviously correct theory.

Except Scully, of course, who never learns.
"Even if the gloves do fit, you can still acquit" - Fox Mulder

5X17 All Souls

One of the most memorable episodes from the fifth season that again separates Mulder and Scully for the most part and casts Scully in the role of the believer because we're dealing with the specific tropes of the religion she happened to be born into. It's a better take on this than 'Revelations,' but this double standard still annoys me about her character. At least they did a Jewish episode last year for some balance.

It's also good to see Emily referenced again, so that two-parter and the significant impact it presumably had on Scully haven't just been swept under the carpet. But mostly this is a very creepy episode with dead teenagers, vestigial angel wings and eyes burnt by hellfire. It's a classic X-File.
"Religion has masqueraded as the paranormal since the dawn of time to justify some of the most horrible acts in history" - Fox Mulder

5X18 The Pine Bluff Variant

After 'Travelers,' this is another unwelcome break from the usual format, though at least Mulder and Scully are in it and it's set in the present day. Scully fears that Mulder may be working with terrorists, but because that's not convincing anyone else, we find out shortly that he isn't. Mulder is instead working as a double agent in an episode that has nothing paranormal about it, apart from an appearance by a horde of Universal horror monsters in the form of masks.

It's tense, there's double-crossing and a government conspiracy, but this doesn't feel like an episode of The X-Files at all. That's a shame, as there are only two episodes left of the classic era before things take a turn for the worse. Maybe that turn's already begun.
"Our government is not in the business of killing innocent civilians" - Leamus

5X19 Folie à Deux

After a very humdrum final stretch of the season, the penultimate episode is a corker. Setting it in a call centre would be horror enough, based on my own nightmarish experiences, but then they add zombies and a massive insect thing and it somehow doesn't even seem ridiculous.

There's some nice continuity in this monster-of-the-week instalment, from the subtle visuals of Mulder's broken fingers to his disillusionment with the paranormal and the reputation he's earned as "Monster Boy," but his beliefs are probably back on track after he wrestles with a giant bug. I always like it when we see the more serious side of his work too, as he builds a profile of the loony employee based only on a tape recording, just in case you forget that this guy is actually really good.

Scully witnesses the same spectacular sights, but she's able to justify it as a shared delusion, thereby preserving the status quo in time for the film. We're almost there, honest.
"I just shot a zombie" - Gary Lambert

5X20 The End

The X-Files would have gone down in history as a more consistent, (slightly) less frustrating series if the creators had been allowed to follow their original plan of five seasons and some movies, rather than flogging it for four further, increasingly less rewarding years. We doubtless would have had a very different season/series finale to this one, which effectively draws a line under the first 'era' of the show while setting up plenty to work with in the future. Personally, I'm happy to take the five seasons and 1998 film as the definitive package with the rest available to dip into if I really need to.

As the final episode filmed in Vancouver, it's nice that they actually admit that and set the opening chess match there, introducing the mind-reading child Gibson Praise whose testable paranormal abilities get all the believers in a stir, even Scully who comes around in the face of evidence. It's a plot contrivance that doesn't really hold up if you've already seen multiple "quantifiable" phenomena in previous episodes, but I'll let them off as it's handled well and Gibson might be one of my favourite guest characters they've ever had.

All the major and minor players show up in this one, from the reformed Syndicate that's forgiven Cancer Man and welcomed Krychek back into the family to the Lone Gunmen who put in some face time for no real reason. Mulder's former partner (in both senses) Diana Fowley shakes up the Mulder/Scully sexual tension that they've been trying to convince us for five years doesn't exist and Spender's commendably hateable as an antagonist for Mulder and possible pawn of their shared father. Come on, do you need that stuff spelled out?

This is a key episode for the mythology, but on its own merits it doesn't come close to the alien extravaganza of 'Patient X'/'The Red and the Black' earlier this season. I did like how it was kept low-key though, focusing entirely on Gibson at the expense of everything else, so newcomers prepping themselves for the film don't have to do too much background reading to get it.

The X-Files have been closed before, but burning Mulder's office to the ground feels more dramatic and permanent, until the imminent sixth season opener anyway. He really should have backed that stuff up.
"You've got a dirty mind" - Gibson Praise

Mythology Redux: The End

In any other year, this VHS would have bundled the season finale with its thematic sequel and almost-immediate successor 'The Beginning.' But the film got in the way, and - more importantly - British TV scheduling was half a year behind, so this was rushed out as a quick way for us foreigners to catch up with what we supposedly needed to know before going to the cinema (the running time was padded out with a behind-the-scenes documentary instead).

It made sense in theory, just not in reality. Apart from the closure of the X-Files and the agents' impending reassignment (fortuitously still together, it would turn out), 'The End' has no impact on Fight the Future at all, which is more concerned with season four-era themes of bees, oil and UFOs.

There's also the "building" tension between Mulder and Scully I suppose (if you can pretend there's any sense of momentum there), but as popular as that strand of the series is with general audiences, Scully's immature jealousy is what spoiled this otherwise decent finale for me. Fowley's introduction makes me feel uneasy for non-shippy reasons, a signal that we've reached The End of the "classic" series and The Beginning of The End for the mythology.

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