Monday, December 25, 2017

The X-Files, part 2: seasons 6–9

The 1997 film already did a pretty good job of segregating the first five years of The X-Files into their own protected, rose-tinted bloc where they would always be praised over what came next, deservedly or not. The jarring move from Vancouver to Hollywood just made compartmentalising easier, and the steep decline in quality certainly boosted the position.

It's not all bad. Some of it's almost as good as the older stuff. But a disappointing amount of it is disappointing.

Part 2: The Hollywood years.

More Songs in the Key of X:

Mythology episode

The X-Files: Fight the Future

There seems to be disagreement about whether that's actually the subtitle of the film or not - maybe an interactive element on Carter and Spotnitz's part to involve the audience in conspiracy and misdirection. That must be it. And it makes it easier to know I'm writing about the 1998 film (released between seasons five and six) rather than just using 'The X-Files.'

I always rather liked this film, renting it on video and later buying the DVD if historians come across this post or something. It was the second DVD I bought after The Crow and we didn't even have a DVD player or console at that point, so I'd sometimes sit at the computer struggling to get it to play on PowerDVD or whatever temperamental software we had. What's that? Oh, the film. Right. Watching it after another ten years, I still rather like it.

Actually, this is probably the best X-Files film they could have come up with, unless they'd opted for a feature-length monster-of-the-week story up to the calibre of 'Pusher' or something. It doesn't patronise fans with drawn-out introductions to the characters and the situation and it advances the mythology considerably to transform the mysterious black oil into vicious alien creatures that are like a cross between H.R. Giger's design for Alien and a Velociraptor.

One of the film's failings may be that it replicates the format of the show too precisely at times, meaning there are long conversations about vague, apocalyptic-sounding subjects that could wash over you if you're not totally invested. But I do think they succeed in making it approachable to newcomers - to be honest, having just blasted through every previous episode it left me a little unconfident about how some elements of the mythology mesh together, but I guess this is something of a clean slate.

This isn't just a TV episode though, and it goes out of its way to prove it, most notably with a huge office block explosion near the beginning and a (SPOILER ALERT - I hope you skipped past that last image too) massive UFO near the end. Mulder and Scully almost share their first kiss, which is nicely subverted, and they get some uncharacteristic cheesy running gags to make them more like buddy cops. The series could actually be really funny when it tried, honestly.

The major thing that's present in the best mythology episodes and lacking here is any real character development or even great character moments. Scully considers resigning and later changes her mind, that's about it for her arc over two hours of screen time. A lot of familiar faces show up, mostly grey-haired old men who first-timers could conceivably mistake for being the same guy, who sometimes smokes, sometimes affects an English accent and is sometimes played by Martin Landau.

The final act (that's about the extent of my film terminology) stops trying to be so clever and becomes an improbably death-defying rescue mission for the captured Scully, which doesn't make a lot of sense but it doesn't matter. This film could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse. It doesn't really capture the spirit of the show I was so intrigued by when I was eight years old and my dad let me stay up past my bedtime, but it's a fair reflection of what it had become by this point, just past its prime.
"If we fail to anticipate the unforeseen or expect the unexpected in a universe of infinite possibilities we may find ourselves at the mercy of anyone or anything that cannot be programmed, categorised or easily referenced" - Fox Mulder

6X01 The Beginning

So we're back, and the first episode of the new season - and what I exaggeratedly view as the 'second era' as well as the ultimate decline of the series - has the unenviable task of following on from the film and the conclusion to the fifth season, which wasn't directly addressed in the film. Understandably it's a bit of a mess and a disappointment, one of the more forgettable instalments in the overall mythology.

As in the earlier 'Gethsemane'/'Redux' trilogy, the gimmick of an investigative tribunal offers a way for the characters to distil the overly complex storyline of the series for new viewers, and makes the plot developments of the film sound quite ridiculous, specifically the evolution of the black oil into alien beasties that gestate inside human hosts within a day. If you've seen any of the Alien films, it's basically that.

This alien beastie shows up here, making for a less intriguing episode than the usual conspiracy plots and justifying criticism that the series was dumbing down for its new audience. Elsewhere things are a little smarter, with the return of Gibson Praise and the discovery that we're all part-alien or something, an interesting development that will go on to form the basis of the series hereafter.

The status quo hasn't been completely restored as the reopened X-Files are now being handled by the increasingly irritating and manipulated Spender and Mulder and Scully have lost their ally in Skinner, now reporting to Kersh. The situation's looking bleak, but we're in California now so everything's a little sunnier.
"I'm a very special lab rat" - Gibson Praise

6X02 Drive

Season six was never my favourite, but it does have a lot of classic stand-alone episodes and this is one of the best. Notable these days for being the first collaboration between writer Vince Gilligan and guest star Bryan Cranston that would ultimately lead to Breaking Bad, it's a gripping episode that should appeal to fans and casual viewers equally in a way the film failed to achieve. Maybe they should have done this, though they would have faced criticism for the obvious Speed comparison, which is even noted by Mulder here.

It's a tight episode with an intriguing mystery that turns out to be linked to the government, Mulder and Scully are on top form in their respective roles and Cranston is great as the angry and paranoid 'villain' you end up rooting for. I'm not sure whether Fox specifically requested that episodes become more independent for random serialisation purposes, but there are still some scenes that contextualise this within the grand scheme, as Mulder's shown to be dissatisfied with carrying out humdrum duties away from the X-Files and Scully faces criticism for always sticking up for Spooky.
"It's Mister Mulder to you, you peanut-picking bastard" - Mister Mulder

6X03 Triangle

I'm a sucker for these episodes that try something different, and this might be the boldest of the lot. Filmed mostly in long, continuous takes, this serves to distract viewers by impressing them with elevator journeys and other tricky logistical sequences and inviting them to try to spot the joins (convenient darkness and fast pans) so they won't notice that the actual plot is completely whacko.

Not that that's a problem, and as annoying as it may be to some viewers to be told it was all a dream, I think that's the only real possibility. The series has gone to some bizarre extremes in the past and there are even more to come, but when familiar faces like Cancer Man, Skinner, Spender, Kersh and Scully show up to play characters from 1939, I can't reconcile that with the show's reality. The only evidence to the contrary is that Scully gets a funny feeling when passing by 'herself' in the ghost ship's corridors in one of the most masterful shots.

This really is style over substance, but if you're happy to accept the Wizard of Oz premise it's a very enjoyable ride, and Mulder and Scully even share their first kiss, despite it not actually being Scully. I'm also impressed they got to the sixth season before they dragged out the Bermuda Triangle, I think they've finally exhausted their paranormal encyclopaedia.
"Use your head Scully, it'll save your ass" - Walter Skinner

6X04 Dreamland

Look, it's not that I think two-parters need to be significant and connected to the whole mytharc. The earlier 'Tempus Fugit'/'Max' was tangential and really good. But 'Dreamland' is bloody terrible. It's not unwatchable, it even has some funny scenes, but I hate it. If you were to trace back the point where the show fell into decline it would probably be here, and if memory serves, the next few episodes bear that out.

The biggest problem is that this just doesn't feel like The X-Files, more like a generic body swap episode from any mediocre 90s sci-fi show set in the present day. Would it be cruel to pick on Sliders? It feels more like Sliders.

They have a little fun with the body swap itself, but the pseudoscience behind it is ridiculous, involving Star Trek-style technobabble about anti-grav units and tachyons. Sometimes your 'consciousness' swaps with someone else's and sometimes you end up with your head in a rock, it doesn't make any sense.

The guest characters are awful stereotypes too, from the over-the-top Fletcher household to the stereotypical military. Mark Snow bathes the whole thing in silly upbeat music to suit. Can't wait for part two!
"Does Scully sound like a woman's name to you?" - Fox Mulder

6X05 Dreamland II

There's no 'Redux'-style turnaround here, this story ends even worse than it started with literally the worst resolution possible, again full of inconsistencies. I felt like I was watching The Langoliers again, except this doesn't even have ravenous meatball monsters. I read that the creators were keen to ground the show in believable science in the early years, I guess they stopped caring by this point.

If it sounds like I'm taking a knockabout comedy episode too seriously, the double running length doesn't help things, and the problems I had with part one only get worse as Fletcher's shrieking wife thinks Mulder/Morris is having an affair with Scully. Ha ha! Actually, there is one decent scene where Scully takes Morris/Mulder to meet the Lone Gunmen and he reveals he was behind the disinformation on some of their biggest 'scoops,' however credible he may be.
"There is no Saddam Hussein!" - Morris Fletcher

Non-mythology Redux: Dreamland

I was planning to skip this one, but my wife enjoys the breaks from the darkness, and after 'The Beginning' I felt I could do with some more time away from hybrids, Syndicates and Fowleys, even if that does mean sitting through an overlong and misjudged caper.

I've always been pretty down on this two-parter, but this time around I thought it was alright. It's representative of a weird time in the series (after 'Drive' and before the next mythology installment) when its gravitational core shifted towards comedy.

This raised justified concern at the time, when there was a risk that this was what The X-Files was going to be now. But when you look at the big picture, this odd rom-com run where Mulder and Scully sneak around paranormal cases under the nose of their killjoy boss is pretty fun. At least until you get to 'The Rain King' and it implodes, but then fortunately a dishevelled Krychek shows up to drain away all the joviality and get us back on track (however tedious that may prove to be).

Sure, 'Dreamland' would have been better as a single episode and without all the caricatures. But would a two-part 'The Beginning' or 'S.R. 819' really have been the better way to go?

6X06 How the Ghosts Stole Christmas

'Dreamland' set a new tone for the series that I haven't warmed to, and this episode follows suit by being a little goofier and more incredulous than this show used to be, even when it was dealing with giant bug monsters and things. But it's a Christmas episode and a haunted house episode in one, so it's impossible not to like it.

The best thing about this episode is the eerie atmosphere, which is straight out of a theme park haunted house or The Addams Family films with excessive thunder and lightning, unnecessarily large bookcases and chandeliers that definitely would have been stolen at some point if this house was abandoned the other 364 days of the year. Mark Snow's music has a fairground quality too, I like it.

I probably would have found this genuinely scary as a child, but by the time this aired I was already about 14, so I could appreciate it as a loving pastiche. It's a lot of fun when Mulder and Scully uncover their own corpses and run through endlessly repeating rooms, but it gets less riveting when the ghosts show up (no need for inverted commas, there's no ambiguity) and reel off psychobabble. Still, it's the only time they ever really made an X-Files Christmas Special, so just enjoy it for what it is and don't think too much.
"I don't show my hole to just anyone" - Lyda

6X07 Terms of Endearment

We continue to walk the path of mediocrity with a story that probably would have made a good episode in any previous season, before the show lost its atmosphere and other intangible but certain qualities.

Bruce Campbell from the Evil Dead films guest stars as a devil, again with no ambiguity. We see him on fire, with horns and everything, in a sequence that could be interpreted as a dream if you're generous. Campbell does well in the part, making his demon who longs for a normal child slightly sympathetic before you remember the parts where he aborted a load of third trimester babies and tried to make the mothers believe it was their fault, though he turns out not to be the ultimate villain in a silly twist ending.

This show's become a parody of itself and they're not going to rectify that any time soon.
"This is a classic case of demon foetal harvest" - Fox Mulder

6X08 The Rain King

This is the most terrible episode of The X-Files so far, a statement that doesn't bode well for what's to come, though my memories of season seven are a lot more hazy and I wasn't watching any more by seasons eight and nine, I'm not insane.

Some episodes have been boring and pointless before ('Travelers') or downright stupid (the previous episode, for example), but this is the worst offender by a long way, and to top it all, it doesn't even bother with the obligatory scene of A.D. Kersh chastising the agents for investigating an X-File and them saying sorry.

The story deals with a man who claims he can make it rain in drought-stricken Midwestern towns, though in a twist that's revealed half-way through we learn it was really the girl doing it all along, then a further twist until they lose interest. There's a love triangle involving a reluctant Mulder. It's shit.
"How can a frog tell a swan that he loves her?" - Holman Hart

6X09 S.R. 819

This isn't exactly a return to form, but it's a damn sight better than the last couple of episodes at least, and with some pretty decent stuff on the horizon I won't be giving up on this show quite yet. Quite yet.

It's the third time they've dedicated an episode to Skinner and once again the Assistant Director spends a lot of the time incapacitated and victimised. It's better than that one where he killed the prostitute but not as good as that one where he burned the corpse.

I guess it's a mythology episode as Krychek makes an obligatory cameo and makes a vague reference to something going down in the future, but apart from that it sets Mulder and Scully in their typical race against time to find out what ails the A.D. and miraculously cure him before the end credits. The most worthwhile scenes are Skinner regretting not having helped these crazy kids more when he had the chance - let's see if he lives up to this or if it's another case of season six character resetting.
"I always played it safe" - Walter Skinner

6X10 Tithonus

I guess clumping the stinkers together earlier this year was kind of handy, as we're really back to the good stuff now. This episode could be seen as a cynical attempt to remake one of the most highly regarded instalments of the show's earlier years, 'Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose,' but it's different enough to provide a nice counterpoint, or some other pointlessly metaphorical way of saying they work well together.

Unusually for season six, this is a Scully episode - was Duchovny busy or something? - and Gillian Anderson doesn't seem bored for the first time in a while, though at the same time I enjoyed seeing how bored Mulder was in his background checking assignment. Nice to see some actual continuity for a change, and teaming Scully up with a sceptical new guy gives another taste of things to come with Doggett, except I don't remember him being as much of an asshole.

This week's paranormal activity concerns a supposedly immortal man who's developed the ability to sense when someone's about to die. It's pretty creepy, and when I first watched this in my teens late at night, the shock reveal of doomed Scully was pretty frightening. Definitely one of the best of season six, which might not be saying a lot, but it's decent regardless.
"Agent Mulder's a lost cause, I'm taking the chance you're not" - Alvin Kersh

6X11 Two Fathers

Here we are then: the final episode The X Files, or at least it really tries to convince us of that. A direct sequel to the previous season's excellent 'Patient X'/'The Red and the Black,' 'Two Fathers'/'One Son' ignores most of what came later in the mythology across late season five, the film and early season six, with the exception of finally resolving Spender's arc and putting the X-Files themselves back where they belong.

It's undoubtedly one of the most significant two-parters in the series' run, possibly the most pivotal of them all, but it's far from the best. While the mythology stories from seasons three and four tended to feel dragged out with too many questions left unresolved, here the emphasis is on resolution at the expense of new developments, as Cancer Man provides a running commentary for absolutely everyone who's watched this series from the start or joined along the way and still didn't really know how the whole mess tied together.

The alien hybrid program we've seen since the second season comes to fruition in the form of Cassandra Spender, who arbitrarily becomes the most important human being to have ever lived and the key to everything. Didn't they say similar things about Gibson Praise last year? It's a little convenient, but it was probably a smart move to end this extremely long-running storyline before it got even more convoluted.

Mulder learns a little more about his father but as usual in these episodes he's simply a witness to events and unable to have much of an effect. Skinner lives up to his deathbed promise to help the agents more from now on - though that whole thing with Krychek from a few episodes earlier is completely ignored - and Spender finally becomes a character to sympathise with, rather than one you just want to punch in the face.
"This is the end" - Cancer Man

6X12 One Son

A better episode than its predecessor, this still isn't as good as I'd expected it to be, generally feeling more functional than entertaining. It's a good episode for Mulder, who has to practice the "trust no one" motto he preaches and face the prospect that someone he used to care about may have betrayed him, but this is primarily Cancer Man's episode, and he really shines - developing a conscience and questioning some of his decisions for the first time, but still resolutely believing he was acting in the greater good. This is as close as the series gets to casting C.J.B. Spender as the hero and Mulder as his meddling adversary, until Smokie shoots his own son and we remember he was the lead villain all along.

Like many mythology episodes, the relevance of some details may go over your head even if you've really been doing your homework, but it was at least nice to see the Purity Control alien embryo from back in season one, attempting to convince us there was ever really a grand plan. For the most part it works, I just still have trouble reconciling the Greys (the Colonists?) with the Shapeshifters. Are they the same race after all, and if so, why is the vulnerable back of their neck so much higher? Can they all shapeshift? Why does their green blood only suffocate humans sometimes?

For now, this is the closest thing we have to definitive answers. I'll have to see how concisely 'The Truth' holds up at the end of season nine - I'm not completely confident. More importantly, now the Syndicate's gone and colonisation's still years away, what have they got up their sleeves for future mythology episodes? The slate is slightly clean.
"The future is here, all bets are off" - Fox Mulder

Mythology Redux: One Son

The decision not to give a semi-conclusive, semi-satisfying end to the conspiracy in the film, only to postpone it a few months to the middle of the subsequent season, is a strange one. Though all the flashbacks and call-backs it would have necessitated doubtless would have been less appealing to casual cinemagoers than Mulder running to the ends of the Earth to rescue his beloved.

I'm glad they did semi-conclusively end things here, though it already feels a little on the late side. The slate is clear of smoke-filled meetings, hybrids, train cars and neck-stabbers, but the alien threat remains undefeated. Things may even be worse without those deceitful middle men stalling the clock, something that I wish these episodes had made more out of. 'One Son' almost convinces that C. G. B. Spender was the hero of the show all along, until he shoots his own son in the face.

Pay-offs always have a hard time living up to set-ups, especially when you've committed so much time, so although this two-parter has always left me feeling cold, it's about as good as it could have been. Here's hoping for some more entertaining set-up in the volumes to come, because I know it's not going to end well.

6X13 Agua Mala

The apocalyptic fun's over, now back to the daft comedy and impossible monsters-of-the-week. I remembered this episode being extremely boring, but its hurricane setting was actually pretty tense throughout and there's a highly visible sea monster of sorts strangling and liquefying people to keep you from changing channels. It looks pretty high budget too and Mulder and Scully are on top form, even if it's slightly annoyingly that they tend to reset to their archetypes as if nothing's happened in the last six years.

Where this episode falls down is the unnecessary over-the-top characters. Mulder and Scully are trapped in a condo complex with a gun-toting, paranoid maniac, a criminal, an argumentative wife and her pecked husband, and Arthur Dales has completely changed since his stoic introduction in 'Travelers' to become an eccentric wiseguy. By the time the pregnant woman goes into labour and Scully delivers a baby at gunpoint while tentacles fly all around her, we lament the passing of a once-great show.
"I don't hear a story about a sea monster and automatically assume it's the Lord's Gospel truth" - Dana Scully

6X14 Monday

The time loop is an overused gimmick in sci-fi, but The X-Files' stab at this sub-genre is at least memorable, with a nice mix of humour and despair that Star Trek's 'Cause and Effect' and Stargate's 'Window of Opportunity' didn't succeed in quite so well. Though admittedly I loved that latter episode at the time, it'll be a few more years before I'm prepared to sit through the entirety of SG-1's ten seasons.

The weird season six atmosphere works well for a change, as Mulder and Scully get entangled by fate in an attempted bank robbery that culminates in a suicide bombing again and again and again. Like the conflicting narratives in 'Bad Blood' before it, there are enough basic set pieces to craft five or so minutes of action before sticking it on repeat, with dialogue that's distinctive enough for subtle changes to be noticed.

That's what I like about this episode, and what makes it more than an attempt to do Groundhog Day - the debates over free will and whether certain events are necessary in the grand continuity. Some of it doesn't make a lot of sense, but since when has this series made all that much sense anyway?
"We're all in hell. I'm the only one that knows it" - Pam

6X15 Arcadia

I've been critical of the series' different style and atmosphere post-movie and since relocating to Los Angeles, but the lighter comedy premises work really well when they try, and 'Arcadia' is a decent example. Mulder and Scully go undercover posing as a married couple in a wholesome suburban community that's a little too neat and tidy. Clearly something is awry, and that something is a rampaging, fastidious landfill beast that murders anyone who doesn't conform. It's not an X-Files comedy classic like 'Small Potatoes' or 'Bad Blood,' but it's a fun episode done well.
"Woman, get back in here and make me a sandwich" - Bob Petrie

6X16 Alpha

Now the more comedy-infused episodes of this season have started to win me over, they disappoint with a daft story that takes itself too seriously. If any episode is crying out for sarcastic facial expressions and a jaunty musical score, it's this tale of a shapeshifting demon dog thing that spends most of the episode looking like a completely normal dog, albeit with glowing red eyes to make it terrifying. Woooooo!

There are a few nice touches that elevate it above complete garbage though, particularly Mulder's online chat buddy who obviously isn't going to come out of the episode alive but creates some enjoyable tension between the agents. Andrew "Deep Space Nine/Hellraiser" Robinson's in it too, so it's worth watching for his voice alone.
"You get a biscuit, Scully" - Fox Mulder

6X17 Trevor

Mulder and Scully tracking down an escaped prisoner who can walk through walls has all the makings of a generic third season episode, but that's not really a bad thing, and there's enough about this unremarkable offering to enjoy. I shared Mulder's surprised delight when Scully raised the possibility of spontaneous human combustion as the least unlikely possibility, but as usual Mulder has an even wackier theory that bears out.

I especially liked the attention to detail of Pinker's clothing not being able to make the trip with him, and I liked the extremely dubious pseudoscience they desperately tried to explain his powers away with. While they didn't feel the need to explain the physics of human lightning conductor D.P.O. in that earlier episode, here we get a mini-lecture on electrical current and insulation, though the pay-off of Pinker not being able to walk through glass is worth the technobabble.

They notably don't make a similar effort to explain how he got this X-Men-style power in the first place. Something about a tornado.
- "Should we arrest David Copperfield?"
- "Yes we should. But not for this" - Scully and Mulder

6X18 Milagro

Alright, I was overly judgemental of season six. There are actually some really good episodes, and after you get over the jolt of the sunnier locations and occasionally watered-down plots and characters post-film, a few episodes really bring it back and try something new at the same time.

This seems to be a fairly standard episode at first, even a throwback to 'Paper Hearts,' before it becomes clear that Mulder's new, creepy and strangely alluring neighbour seems to have a knack for predicting or even causing events to happen as he writes them in a novel. Kind of convenient that he moved in next to Spooky so they could find that out without too much effort.

This is one of the best episodes for Scully and doesn't even bring Catholicism into it this time (well, only briefly), with events and dialogue to both sadden and overjoy Mulder/Scully unrequited love fanatics. It seems this episode was initially underappreciated and later given an exaggerated sense of importance with its inclusion on a best-of DVD. I wouldn't go that far, but it's up there with the highlights of the season.
"Loneliness is a choice" - Dana Scully

6X19 The Unnatural

Another episode that largely abandons Mulder and Scully to dip into the past, this works a hell of better than last season's 'Travelers' and hardly invites comparison at all despite the similarities. The reason is, that earlier episode was bloody boring and this one is extremely entertaining, even if, like me, you're not exactly a baseball aficionado.

With more than 200 episodes of The X-Files out there, this is one of those you'll remember if you've seen it, and it's even more notable for being written and directed by David Duchovny, who co-wrote some stuff early on but presents his undiluted personal vision here. It's an inspired skewing of the mythology and pretty funny too.

For featuring the Colonists from the show's ongoing storyline as well as the Alien Bounty Hunter, this actually answers my biggest question about that arc, namely by clarifying that the Bounty Hunter and his shapeshifting race are the same Greys as the Colonists. That was probably intended all along, and everyone presumably got it but me, but still it would have made things easier if we'd got this unmasking scene back in season two.

Despite dipping into the mythology, this is still a stand-alone episode and a unique one at that, fusing 1940s race relations with shameless, enthusiastic baseball nostalgia. The Arthur Dales / Arthur Dales confusion is a bit of a distraction, apparently a last-minute change after the actor who played Dales previously had a stroke, but if two brothers sharing the same name is the most far-fetched thing about this episode for you, you've been watching too much X-Files.
"Did your mother ever tell you to go outside and play?" - Dana Scully

6X20 Three of a Kind

A second tangential, Mulder-and-Scully-lite episode in a row, Scully's presence feels mostly for the benefit of grounding new viewers who joined after the film, as this is really another Lone Gunmen episode following on from last season's 'Unusual Suspects' ten years down the line.

That wasn't an episode that was crying out for a sequel and my pessimism bore out with a mostly dull instalment that makes me even less optimistic for the trio's own spin-off series, which I never saw beyond its unfortunately coincidental 9/11 'prediction' and feel even less drawn to now. The Gunmen's appearances are always a treat when they're providing their unique brand of assistance to the agents, but they lose a lot when stretched to a full episode, let alone a prematurely cancelled series.

The actual plot is possibly one of the least gripping there's even been in this series, and is only saved by some slapstick and sluttiness from a drugged Dana Scully. Mulder isn't even in it. Hopefully things will be back to normal next time. I'm such a square.
"I am gonna kick their asses" - Dana Scully

6X21 Field Trip

It's a safe bet that I wouldn't have expected my stand-out episode of the year would be one where Mulder and Scully go up against a giant mushroom, but their independent and shared hallucinations offer insights into the respect these characters have for each other and their doubts about their own convictions, along with possibly the ultimate proof that they gain their strength from each other.

By getting inside their heads and testing their gullibility with increasingly humdrum hallucinations, this is like a more serious take on season five's 'Bad Blood,' and even follows the classic formula for a while of a scene-setting introduction ending in death, Mulder's slide show presentation to a sceptical Scully and plenty of trampling around woods. It's far from being a comedy episode though, applying rigorous sceptical enquiry at every step of the way. The audience always knows when characters are still trapped in the dream, but it's the culmination of Mulder's relentless prodding into plot holes that sees him fire three rounds into Skinner's chest to prove a point.

Because of course he's right, he's Fox Mulder. The series finally gets round to directly addressing one of the most problematic and irritating aspects of its premise now it's been stretched to six seasons, that of Scully consistently refusing to accept her partner's version of events despite him almost always being correct. His throwaway estimate of 98.9% to 1.1% against probably isn't too much of an exaggeration with more than 100 episodes down. Eventually Scully even concedes this, and hears her own doubting account relayed back to her from figments of her imagination to rub it in.

It's not a mythology show so I don't expect this character development to go anywhere, and she'll doubtless be right back to raising eyebrows at alien abduction and Bigfoot theories come season seven. It would take something pretty huge to break open her closed mind by this point. Let's see what the finale's got in store...
"What if we're being digested right now?" - Dana Scully

6X22 Biogenesis

Is this the start of a new mythology? Some of the old faces are still in play, namely the uncertain Diana Fowley, a brief cameo from Cancer Man and Alex Krychek finally following through on his deal with Skinner from the earlier 'S.R. 819' (how do I know these episode titles without having to look them up?), but the slate has been wiped clean of green-blooded hybrids and old men meeting in dark rooms. I only realised in its absence just how tediously drawn-out that old mytharc was: why didn't they try out some variations from time to time rather than digging ever deeper into that hole?

The shift here comes from looking backwards to the original colonisation of the planet, in an enjoyable Hollywood adventure romp involving magical tablets of extraterrestrial origin and strange writings dealing with such significant topics as the Biblical creation myth and the human genome. Carter and Spotnitz refuse to place any limitations on their scope here and the resulting episode is light on character to cram in all their lofty ideas. As a sucker for ancient astronaut science fiction I'm happy for everything they want to throw in there, but I hope the follow-up episodes live up the mythology's strong legacy of character development.

At the end of the episode Mulder's gone telepathic and insane from his exposure to a supposedly fraudulent artefact and Scully ends up on the Ivory Coast next to a crashed flying saucer that predates humanity. I remember how excited this left me feeling when I was thirteen and it first aired. It's no 'Anasazi,' but it's better than 'The End.' They've still got it.
"Will the hand that lit the flame let it burn down?" - Dana Scully

7X01 The Sixth Extinction

True to 'The Blessing Way'/'Redux I' form, the season opener forming the middle part of a trilogy is its weak link. The events of the exciting season finale are dragged out until Scully finally gets out of Africa and Mulder wakes from his brain overload induced coma only to fall back into it again.

There's some over-the-top Biblical imagery of swarms of insects, the seas boiling and dogs and cats living together, an even more over-the-top mad scientist with a machete and a magic man that only Scully can see. It's a nice idea that the evolved Mulder himself has become an X-File, but portraying him as "the key to every question that's ever been asked" isn't any more convincing than when they said that about Gibson Praise or Cassandra Spender. Make your minds up already and stop ordering more seasons.
"How can I reconcile what I see with what I know?" - Dana Scully

7X02 The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati

The closing instalment of this trilogy is better than the last episode and a lot more distinctive, but I didn't like it all that much, and I remember this being the point in my adolescence where I felt I'd finally lost touch with the series I used to love so much when I was slightly younger.

This is a Mulder-heavy episode, even as he spends most of it lying Christ-like on an overly symbolic operating table in the real world, playing on the sand and playing house with Diana Fowley, Deep Throat and Cancer Man in his dreams. Smokie dispenses an astounding revelation that we were all but told as far back as the season three finale (raise your game, people) and also fails to give a completely adequate explanation as to why he has let Mulder scurry around disrupting his plans for so many years when it would have been easier just to kill him. Those two points may not be unrelated, though he didn't have a problem shooting his other son in the face.

I guess the crux of this episode is Mulder having to choose whether he wants to live a normal life or be doomed to scurry around thwarting plans for the rest of his uncertain future. His vision of the world post alien apocalypse is a striking image and helps to make that supposedly inevitable outcome a little more real. If only they'd got round to making that movie in time for December 2012.

I would say that Scully gets character development too, except we've been down this same road several times before where she's presented with enough evidence to germinate belief in the paranormal, but she always falls back to her default setting in time for the next monster-of-the-week episode. That was stretching believability by season three, by season seven I have real trouble taking her seriously any more.
"Extraordinary men are always most tempted by the most ordinary things" - Cancer Man

Mythology Redux: Biogenesis

Nowadays, this attempt at crafting a new mythology (dragged down by some of the old) is generally seen as a mis-step. At the time (according to early Amazon VHS reviews, anyway), many fans claimed it "The Best X-File Ever." So what's the ultimate verdict, lying as it does with I, the fickle arbiter of truth?

It's a bit of a mess. The unshakable presence of Smokie is necessary but a bit annoying, and I especially could have done without the scene of him in a meeting that implies nothing much has changed, except that the shady men in the know are no longer conspirators but out on their own. At least we follow through on Krychek's compromise of Skinner, which I was worried had been abandoned and pointless. And I won't shed any tears over Fowley.

This three-parter explores very grand themes (the first two parts, at least) that seemed destined to be the new focus of the mythology from here on out. I was certainly pumped about the ancient astronaut genesis revelation as a teenager. Am I right in saying they amount to absolutely nothing, as we go back to alien infiltration before too long? Instead, the biggest shift in the storyline is the (clearly very deliberate) decision to make the mythology more personal and about our heroes, rather than what one of their dads did.

Everything from here on out will be more intimate (until season nine, I guess? I don't even want to think about that). Even though the misogynist conspiracy is no more, Scully will become ever more the female stereotype, but at least here she gets a chance to be the one running around the world wielding a machete while Mulder lies sick in the hospital bed. It's a nice, increasingly rare reversal of the dynamic. I liked it when she wore the tight top too. Oh, damn.

7X03 Hungry

What would otherwise be the most generic monster-hunting episode of the entire series is made a little more interesting through the stylistic shift of presenting events from the monster's perspective, encouraging us to sympathise with his craving for human brains in a way we couldn't with Eugene Victor Tooms or Leonard Betts.

It is a refreshing change of pace when the scene doesn't cut to Mulder's office after the opening titles and it takes a few minutes for the agents to show up, only appearing intermittently thereafter to bait Roberts before the showdown at the end. We're left to fill in the blanks by ourselves, and if you've seen more than one episode of this series before, that's a simple enough task - Mulder and Scully drive around, Scully states her belief that the obvious suspect is the killer and Mulder argues it's actually the little guy, who also happens to be a monster. We're spared that for a week, but what we get instead isn't much more entertaining, as the sympathetic beastie tries to get help through dieting classes and self-help videos.

Unfortunately, this suffers from the same attempted humour angle as a lot of episodes since season six, which waters down the scares and anything meaningful they were going for with the switched perspective. That said, I do quite like Mulder being presented as the meddling bad guy who shows up every once in a while threatening to expose our "hero" and thwart his plans. This might be what a day in the life of Cancer Man feels like.
"This is like good cop, insane cop" - Rob Roberts

7X04 Millennium

So far I'm enjoying the seventh season more than the sixth. It hasn't gone out of its way to impress me, but the look and atmosphere feel like more of a continuation of season five, before things got a bit too sun-bleached after the move to Los Angeles. This is a bit of a weird episode, and that only makes the season five comparison stronger.

I can't comment on whether this feels like a Millennium episode too, as I never watched that show, but if I didn't know this was a deliberate crossover to tie up loose ends in that cancelled series, there'd still be something off about it. Why is this guest character getting so much screen time and assumed backstory? Even when I watched it first time around with no background knowledge I was aware there was a show called Millennium and assumed this must be the guy from that. My guess is, I'd like this episode less if I was a big Millennium fan, as it really sidelines that side of things to turn it into an episode about Mulder and Scully shooting zombies.

Zombie fans should enjoy the obligatory shoot-outs and ramshackle corpses straight out of a Romero film, but it's a little disappointing that Scully accepts what's going on when she sees it with her own eyes. That isn't usually enough, but I guess the whole Armageddon thing ties in with her religion, and she's always less sceptical about that.

The endtimes angle makes this episode even weirder and less satisfying, trying to convince us that Mulder and Scully are actually saving the world and preventing the apocalypse rather than just stopping some killers and saving a few lives as normal. It would have made that whole colonisation plot pretty redundant if things had ended 12 years too soon.

Mulder and Scully kiss at New Year. Don't read too much into it.
"Shoot for the head, that seems to stop 'em" - Fox Mulder

7X05 Rush

It's been a while since they did a teen angst episode, but the memories are still there and this one feels third rate compared to the likes of 'Die Hand die Verletzt' back in season two. It feels more like season five's 'Schizogeny,' though probably a little better than that one, and a lot better than 'Syzygy' from season three. This show has really been going for too long if I can make these direct comparisons.

This time, the angsty teenagers gain superhuman speed after being exposed to... some kind of light they don't even attempt an explanation for. As well as accelerating their bodies, this paranormal experience gives the teenagers a real rush, and after a while their bodies start to experience withdrawal - hey, it's kind of like a commentary on the drugs teenagers do! Brilliant.

The characters aren't very sympathetic and the effects are a bit stupid. The motion blur suggests the characters are dashing around carrying out their nefarious activities faster than the eye can see, but then painstakingly choreographing their routines so they end up in their exact original location at the same angle they started. That's dedication.
"Force = mass x acceleration, isn't that right?" - Mulder's physics lesson

7X06 The Goldberg Variation

A shockingly pleasant story in a particularly dark season, the comedy touches work a lot better than in the confused 'Hungry' as they aren't balanced by grisly deaths. Well, there are a couple, but they're only gangsters so it's okay. For once, all the good guys live.

This week's 'monster' is the meek and amiable Henry Weems, reluctantly the world's luckiest man whose good fortune has the (inconsistent) side effect of bringing misfortune to others. But Henry only wants to do good, and this is more heartwarming than your average X-File involving genetic mutants harvesting people's livers. Not that that's too difficult to achieve.

I'm normally not a fan of their more 'fun' and 'sweet' episodes - last season's 'The Rain King' was a low point of the entire series for me - but this one really succeeds in trying something different. There's even some really nice prop work with Henry's cause and effect gizmos. It turns out this ageing show remarkably has some life in it yet. I still have no clue what most of these episode titles mean though.
"Technically, falling 300 feet and surviving isn't a crime" - Fox Mulder

7X07 Orison

Another belated sequel to an old favourite, this time trying to spoil season two's 'Irresistible' by making the most potent aspect of that episode moot, as reprehensible 'human monster' Donnie Pfaster is revealed to actually be a demon or something. I'm not generally fond of the episodes that present good and evil as actual, Biblical concepts, but if you haven't seen the previous episode (you should do, it's good), or you're able to ignore the feeling of being let down, this is still pretty tense and sinister.

It gets repetitive when the escaped Pfaster gets up to his old tricks and kidnaps Scully yet again, but it's satisfying to see him face a little more resistance than he's used to with these feisty females. The guy was incarcerated through the mid-nineties, I guess he missed the rise of Girl Power.
"Nobody can stop the world, Mulder, I don't care how many holes they have in their heads" - Dana Scully

7X08 The Amazing Maleeni

I see what they were going for in this episode, but it's not the first time they've gone down the non-paranormal route, and by using obvious CGI for the eponymous Maleeni's ultimate trick, it cheapens the idea of a good, old-fashioned, smoke-and-mirrors story.

The mystery itself is a nice ride, as Maleeni's decapitated body is found to be at least several days deader than his antics that day would suggest, but once they reveal he has a twin it's just up to Mulder to don his Jonathan Creek anorak and fill in the blanks at the end. Can we get back to The X-Files now?
"The great ones always know when to leave the stage" - Albert Pinchbeck

7X09 Signs and Wonders

Another episode dealing with stark, Christian views of good and evil featuring unambiguous demons. Had they been watching too much Buffy lately?

This isn't the first, second, third or et al sinister cult the show has dealt with, and as ever it's portrayed in a negative light. Despite Mulder's plea to fairness by comparing this church's singular snake handling practices to mainstream communion, the regular church is presented as a peaceful, welcoming, family environment while its darker cousin in gloomily lit and presided over by a raving madman. Unlike the great 'Red Museum,' there isn't even a larger conspiracy plot involved.

The stand-out scene is obviously a woman giving birth to a load of snakes, but apart from that I struggled to stay interested. Mulder does make one very good observation about how people tend to crave black and white answers and having comfortable limitations imposed on their boundless choice of what to believe. Pity them.
"Lots and lots of snakes. Very pissed off by the looks of it" - Fox Mulder

7X10 Sein Und Zeit

It's mythology time again, and like last season's 'Two Fathers'/'One Son,' this two-parter is overly concerned with feeding us answers to shut us up. With the main conspiracy now long since thwarted, a long-running issue stretching right back to the beginning is finally laid to rest as we learn the truth about what happened to Mulder's sister Samantha after her abduction. But there's about 80 minutes of faffing around and misdirection first.

My biggest problem with these episodes is the feeling of glitches in the established continuity. We've already been told what happened to Samantha in detail, when she was sacrificed and tested as part of the alien hybrid program and used as the template for loads of clones. With so many Samanthas of various ages running around, it slightly trivialises the issue of what happened to this one iteration of the girl. At least that's what I thought when watching it - typing that out makes me seem like a monster. (There's also the more minor continuity oversight of Mulder looking through old X-files when I thought they were all burned).

The first half of this episode concerns Mulder's overly zealous mission to track down a missing girl, before the story shifts considerably with the shocking news of a death in the family. Seeing how Mulder deals with his grief is a nice insight that feels very true to character, and would be even better realised in part two.
"No one shoots at Santa Claus!" - Automatic writing

7X11 Closure

This is another good episode for Mulder, who was already spoiled with the earlier 'Amor Fati,' as he desperately tries to link his mother's death with a larger conspiracy only to be told the more down-to-earth truth. The truth about what happened to Samantha Mulder is also finally revealed through the key evidence of her teenage diary, combined with the testimony of an old nurse.

Maybe now Mulder can finally be at peace, after he's hung around with a few child ghosts first. The whole concept of walk-ins is quite bizarre, grafting an unnecessary spiritual skin onto a story that already felt concluded, but at least it achieves the seemingly impossible feat of giving the Samantha story something of an upbeat ending.

I actually don't like these episodes all that much in the grand scheme of things, but taken on its own merits, 'Closure' is decent enough. I just find Mulder's ghost mum a little hard to swallow and the attempted double bluff that Mulder's hypnotic recall of his sister's abduction was all a delusion just doesn't hold water if you've been watching all along.

Cancer Man shows up but doesn't do anything of interest. I hope his time comes again. So I guess they're not pursuing that ancient astronauts storyline after all.
"This is the end of the road" - Fox Mulder

Mythology Redux: Closure

This season's answer to 'Two Fathers'/'One Son,' 'Sein und Zeit'/'Closure' ties up the major dangling thread remaining (alright, second major after "are they?") in a way that was always going to be a bit disappointing, but didn't have to be this convoluted.

Yes, I know this is season seven of The X-Files and I should be used to "convoluted" by now... maybe I just don't like it when they go so fervently religious on us. Also, just like the dissolution of the Syndicate that could easily re-form from the ashes, it doesn't feel that much like a conclusive ending. So the original Samantha's gone; that doesn't mean there aren't still countless clones of her at various ages being used as slaves (to varying degrees of reluctance) all over the world. Why has Mulder never made it a priority to track them down?

I can't hate this two-parter, but I don't like it very much. Tied with Emily for the most disappointing TV movie so far. Bring on season nine!

7X12 X-Cops

The series is still capable of producing classic episodes even at this relatively late stage. This perfect blend of The X-Files and reality crime show Cops mixes in more than a little influence from The Blair Witch Project with all its frantic, terrified running from an unseen menace.

They go all-out to convince us this is a genuine episode of the other show, with shaky camcorders, video stock, an absence of music and naturalistic acting... sometimes. That said, this also embraces the humour of the situation and presents us with some very colourful characters indeed.

For Mulder, the presence of the film crew offers a chance to expose the world to paranormal phenomena, and you can feel his disappointment and confusion as his 'werewolf' is confused with Freddy Krueger before he realises what's going on. For Scully, the presence of the film crew is a constant irritant, and that's great to see too.

The funny episodes are often the best, that's been my biggest surprise watching the series back. But only the ones that are actually funny, as they don't always succeed.
"I don't think it's live television, Scully, she just said $#%@" - Fox Mulder

7X13 First Person Shooter

How was this allowed to happen? If it's possible to pin down a specific episode as the point at which this series irredeemably jumped the shark, it would definitely be this - a clumsy and dull attempt to explore the world of video games and virtual reality through a 'paranormal' perspective that doesn't make any bloody sense.

A virtual woman is killing participants in a new immersive video game that somehow exists, and Mulder risks his life to confront her against all sanity, being absorbed bodily into the virtual world for a while. He got better. But imagine if this is how he'd died, after all that. He kind of deserves to.

The script desperately tries to graft a gender commentary onto things, but comes off reducing all men to horny adolescents while offering scantily clad, ample bosomed female computer sprites as titillation. It might not be technically the worst episode, but it's one of those that would have been better if it had never existed.
"I don't know about you Scully, but I am feeling the great need to blast the crap out of something" - Fox Mulder

7X14 Theef

After hitting a new extreme low point with the last episode, they're going to have to do better than this to win me back. I only have minimal foreknowledge about what's involved in upcoming episodes, as I stopped watching around this point the first time around, but now the anticipated yin-yang double-whammy of 'X-Cops'/'First Person Shooter' has passed, there's only determination and a little obsessive compulsive disorder pushing me on. Please let there be some good ones coming up.

This is as by-the-numbers as X-Files episodes get, with the only notable thing about it being that Mulder and Scully aren't in it that much. Maybe after fearing cancellation last week, the actors had started to look for other opportunities (Duchovny won't last long). There's the usual gimmick of having this week's paranormal activity affect our heroes at the end when Scully goes temporarily blind, but apart from that we have to stay interested in the hunt for a killer we've already seen and a mixture of new-age and old-world mysticism carried out by a hillbilly who they're trying to make scary despite his dialogue bordering on parody. It's not a classic.
"Mi-cro-wave. I heard tell of such a thing, it's a true wonder. Radiation comes from the heart of the atom, I think it be God's own glow" - Oral Peattie

7X15 En Ami

The disappointment continues. When they let David Duchovny write an episode, he came up with the entertaining 'The Unnatural.' When they let William B. Davis write an episode starring himself as the nefarious Cancer Man, it resulted in what has to be the worst mythology episode they ever made. Please let that optimistic prediction bear out, I have two and a half more seasons to go.

This is just a very bad episode. Cancer Man himself is spoiled to a degree, revealing a more sentimental side while remaining pointlessly secretive throughout, but coming off even worse is Scully, who's duped by this man who was indirectly responsible for her sister's death and directly responsible for everything she went through with the abduction and the cancer, just because she "looked into his eyes" and didn't think he'd lie to her. She even lets him dress her up nice for dinner. What the hell's going on, Scully?

Even as we're repeatedly told that she's in danger, it never feels like there's a real threat, however hard Mark Snow tries to convince us with Cancer Man's Dracula-esque soundtrack, and true enough she appears back with the gang before the end like nothing happened. About the only thing I did like about this episode was Mulder's comment about the number of people who've died in Scully's apartment. Apparently her landlord doesn't like to talk about it.
"No sacrifice is truly altruistic. We give expecting to receive" - Cancer Man

7X16 Chimera

Like 'Theef,' this feels like a generic retread of elements that used to make the show enjoyable to watch week-to-week, but it's definitely lost something by this point. Maybe seven seasons of The X-Files is just too much and I've snapped the elastic limit, but this feels like it would have been below par even for seasons one and two.

For a start, Mulder and Scully aren't even paired up, and the flimsy attempt to link their disparate plots - Mulder's investigation of a Jekyll and Hyde serial killer and Scully's stake-out of a transvestite evangelist purloining prostitutes - is an extremely weak justification for running these stories side by side. Just say Scully's sick this week or something.

This might have been a bit scary if I was eight, back when the blue devil in 'Beyond the Sea' gave me nightmares, but the series has lost some of its scare factor too, replacing it with domestic tomfoolery. I'm getting the feeling this could be the single most forgettable episode in the entire run of the series - I'll have to see if that bears out when I look back over these in the future and wonder what the hell this was even about. Something about ravens?
"Mulder, when you find me dead, my dessicated corpse propped up staring lifelessly through the telescope at drunken frat boys peeing and vomiting into the gutter, know that my last thoughts were of you" - Dana Scully

7X17 all things

The X-Files was a pivotal show for moving beyond sexist stereotypes in television, so I was a little disappointed by my own reaction to this very different take on the series as being such a chick episode.

Written, directed by and primarily starring Gillian Anderson, her take on Scully and the series is notably different from that of co-star David Duchovny. He wrote an allegorical story about aliens posing as black people to play baseball that brushed at the overall colonisation mythology, she writes an episode exploring Scully's existential angst and Eastern mysticism.

Scully doesn't feel completely true to character here, but she's had odd days before, so while this doesn't come close to the standard of 'Never Again' there's at least a precedent. Giving Anderson the directing job may have pushed it over the edge into a vanity project though, with frequent slow motion and a repetitive Moby soundtrack making it hard to take seriously. Season seven's been a bit weird from the onset though, so it's not as jarring as it would have been at any earlier year. They can basically do anything by this point, who cares any more?
"We're always running. We're always chasing the next big thing. Why don't you ever just stay still?" - Dana Scully

7X18 Brand X

This starts out as a decent enough murder mystery until Mulder gets on the case and we find out it's about some killer bugs. Again.

There's a nice backdrop of litigation against tobacco companies, which is especially welcome after the alleged real-world conspiracy involving the moniker 'Cancer Man' being mitigated to the less controversial 'Cigarette Smoking Man' a few years earlier, but they get off pretty lightly. I really expected CJB to be in this one, it's a bit of a wasted opportunity.

Mulder gets some comeuppance for his ceaseless wisecracking at least when he's attacked by the bugs and rendered mute for most of it. Skinner screws up again.
"Can't blow a whistle with a mouth like that" - Fox Mulder

7X19 Hollywood A.D.

Such a strange season. I mean, season five had a black-and-white episode featuring a Cher-obsessed mutant and season six had Mulder switching bodies to become patriarch of an unrealistic family, but this year keeps getting more bizarre and it's not always skilful.

This oddball episode is better than the likes of 'First Person Shooter' at least (what isn't?), but it goes a bit too far in breaking the fourth wall and isn't funny enough to justify it. The scenes between Mulder and Garry Shandling as himself parallel Shandling and Duchovny in The Larry Sanders Show and are probably the best thing here, but the dancing skeletons and zombies just felt daft for the sake of it.

It doesn't help that the structure's uneven, spending most of the first half following Mulder and Scully with a screenwriter tagging along for research as they investigate a Dan Brown style plot before the action moves to Hollywood. It's a bit of welcome light relief after a few dull episodes that took themselves too seriously, but it wasn't enough to win me back in 2000 when I finally lost interest in the show altogether. History is repeating itself.
"If I'm carrying Marilyn Monroe's purse, does that mean I slept with JFK?" - Walter Skinner

7X20 Fight Club

Jesus Effing Christ, this season is terrible. It actually started out relatively decent - derivative and a little weird at times, but there were signs of improvement over season six. But after a quadruple-or-so whammy of completely dire episodes in the second half, there's no doubting this is the poorest season of the show. I really hope that turns out to be correct and that the Dogget years inject some new life or something. From what little I remember of season nine, I'm not too hopeful.

Series creator Chris Carter wrote this one, which is probably an indication that it's time to hand the reigns to someone else. How could the man who created Mulder and Scully and the concept of the series screw them all over so badly? This script was consciously written, he can't just blame it on elves.

A pair of deeply irritating twins make things explode and people get into scraps when they come close to each other. There are some briefly touched on theories about doppelgangers, but it's not dwelled on enough to make time for the slapstick. Some of the series' best episodes have been comedy ones, but when it dies it dies hard.

In the only borderline decent scene, Scully second guesses what Mulder's going to say in his initial briefing, finally recognising the formulaic nature of their investigations after seven years. Shortly after Mulder realises he's lost his relevance he's allegorically sucked down a manhole. Please give the guy something good to go out on.
"I think I'm going to start doing the autopsies" - Even Mulder's getting tired of this stuff

7X21 Je Souhaite

What the hell is this? After sliding downhill for two seasons towards an inevitably messy end, they deliver an instant classic that might even claw its way into my top ten monster-of-the-week episodes. I had to evaluate this one carefully, as standards were set so low by the likes of 'Fight Club' that almost anything might have seemed like a miraculous turnaround after that, but while even potential corkers like 'Hollywood A.D.' fell a little flat, this is a dark comedy episode done well like they used to be. Even if it's for one week only, I'm glad they put in the effort.

This week's beastie is a sassy genie weary of humanity's stupidity and selfishness, who gets her kicks by exploiting any loopholes she can find in turning self-serving wishes into burdens. Like some of the best X-Files, this really feels like a modern take on an oft-watered down part of folklore with all the trappings, and Mulder's actions on being told he has three wishes are brilliantly boring, culminating in him typing out a contract to make sure he doesn't get screwed over.

Scully conducts an autopsy on an invisible man but her scepticism unfailingly returns after the evidence is resurrected and walks out. The guest stars are higher calibre than last week's too, though it could just be the script. On a personal note, a friend of mine who didn't really like The X-Files told me about 12 years ago that he'd seen an episode about a genie and really enjoyed it, so I'm glad I've finally caught up. Just 42 stones left to unturn now, hopefully at least a few of them will be as good as this.
"Schwing!" - Fox Mulder

7X22 Requiem

There have been several end-of-an-era episodes in the series' history already as various overly tangled plot threads were snipped, but this penultimate one feels more self-conscious about it and more fitting than most. This season has already brought us closure on Mulder's sister's abduction, and here we go full circle by revisiting the setting and characters of the first episode, giving it a very welcome back-to-basics quality only slightly spoiled by grafting on some tired mythology elements like the Alien Bounty Hunter and the dealings of Cancer Man and his fellow conspiratorial survivors. I really hope they can lay that stuff to rest now, though seeing the deteriorating C.J.B. reduced to smoking through a hole in his neck almost makes up for a lack of character development.

Speaking of development, this episode is the first to make strong suggestions that Mulder and Scully's relationship is more than strictly platonic. There were a couple of ambiguous kisses in 'Triangle' and 'Millennium,' but here they seem to be fully entangled without completely lifting the trademark veil of secrecy. I think it's done well - after teasing us for seven years, you can't just shove a passionate embrace in our faces.

The ending feels a little contrived, but as a means to writing Mulder out of the series for the foreseeable future, abduction is certainly the most fitting. If there hadn't already been publicity about David Duchovny's departure, we'd doubtless expect him to be back in the basement investigating a werewolf or something by episode three of the next season. That's not the case this time, and with such a major shake-up offering the prospect of improvement for a series that's been generally sliding into mediocrity I can honestly say I'm looking forward to cracking open a new season for the first time since season five. I didn't expect that.
"I've seen things that I cannot deny" - Dana Scully

8X01 Within

This feels like a different show, and not only because of John Doggett. It's not as good as the old show at its best, but it's better than it was at the end. I'm feeling less optimistic about the inevitable return to monsters-of-the-week, but the mythology episodes at least seem to be in good hands. There is, against the odds and reason, life in this show yet.

Doggett is the main talking point, and his duplicitous introduction culminating in Scully throwing water in his face diffuses some of the hostility fans may have felt for Mulder's replacement. But in this opening episode he's used more like a guest star of the week, as Scully confides in Skinner, the next best thing to Mulder, and they set off on a road trip to Arizona that turns out to be just as successful as Doggett's FBI task force.

Mulder's still a pivotal part of the series, by the way. In fact, these episodes are all about the Fox hunt and we even get scenes of him aboard the UFO, which are ambiguous at first in a 'Duane Barry' kind of way but are really meant to be taken at face value. There's still some ambiguity about Mulder's headstone at least - was he really dying or is this all deceptive paperwork?

One of the most impressive things about this episode is they don't even bring in Krychek or Cancer Man (he's obviously not dead), though the Alien Bounty Hunter and Gibson Praise are still grounding it in the past. This episode was still a change of pace, feeling more realistic than the show has in a while as Scully and Skinner stumble through the intentional and accidental nuisances of the FBI's manhunt for their missing agent. Scully and Skinner... I wonder whether that would have worked?
"Give a little, get a little, Agent Scully" - John Doggett

8X02 Without

The not-exactly-conclusion to the search for Mulder (the Mulder is still out there) is less progressive than the season opener, falling back on gimmicks like 'one of these men is the shapeshifter' and 'is it a UFO? Nah, it's a helicopter,' and the whole inclusion of Gibson doesn't amount to much. He's also not as cute now his voice has broken.

The most interesting aspect is Scully filling Mulder's shoes as the 'believer,' at least as far as phenomena she's witnessed first-hand. This was a long time coming, frustratingly so, and while she did previously admit to seeing things she can't explain, she was never really willing to use the word "alien" before.

It's another gimmick to have Doggett assigned as her partner, but the series must continue (apparently) and their new dynamic will at least be new. For a while. The character's impressed me so far, especially in standing up to that dick Kersh, and Robert Patrick is obviously great. After becoming gradually disillusioned through the course of season seven on its original airing, this is the first time I've watched any of these episodes, so I'm interested to see how they turn out.
"It's too hot for this B.S." - John Doggett

Mythology Redux: Requiem

I didn't see the VHS (were DVDs out by now?) compilation edit of this "TV movie," but of all the season-bridging "trilogies" the series produced over the years, this one has to be the least suited to the format. (Even Scully's abduction arc worked fine, and they skipped over an episode in the middle of that).

Sure, a lot of people binge-watching on Netflix won't be able to resist leaping from 'Requiem' into 'Within' right away, but don't pretend they're all one big story. All of it is great - without a doubt the best the mythology's been since the film - but while the season seven finale brings the series full circle and presents us with a viable end to the series, the next two inaugurate a bold new era. One that may have been flogging a dead horse in some ways, but is unfairly maligned in others.

I don't think I appreciated just how great a finale 'Requiem' is until this time around. If this had been the series finale, as semi-intended, it would have worked a hell of a lot better than 'The Truth,' but let's not get ahead of myself.

By drawing our attention to how far the series has come since the pilot, it feels a little more crowded (Skinner, Cancer Man, Krychek  the other one whose name I'm not going to attempt to spell and the ABH), but thanks to the conspiracy culling it still feels surprisingly low-key. I prefer to forget that Smokie still seemed to be involved in some sort of semi-Syndicate in his recent appearances; the dying, deposed despot desperate to start over is a fitting end. And talking of fitting ends, leaving Mulder out there would have made for far more tantalising wilderness years than "he's on the run" and "he's just living in that house, I guess."

But we got another season, and as uninventive as it may be to make your female lead pregnant for a shock cliffhanger, and as much as the looming shadow of Mulder prevents new characters from ever really getting a fair chance, I think the series benefited from it. I'd already bailed out before David Duchovny did, so I didn't watch many episodes from this era the first time around until my run through the series a couple of years back, but I can confidently assert that season eight is an improvement over the preceding year, at least in mytharc terms.

But could it even be better than the bipolar season six? Surely it doesn't hold a candle to the untouchable Vancouver years? I'm looking forward to tearing down some of these preconceived notions in the days ahead... (the answer's almost definitely no, just to dispel any excitement).

8X03 Patience

So here we are again, back with another disappointing beastie of the week in a story that would have felt dull and a little silly even before mutants and monsters had been done to death. It's almost as if they don't want us to warm to the new season.

The only reason this is worth watching - unless you really have to see the bat man thing to believe it - is to observe Doggett's integration into the X-Files job, which he treats with a level of professionalism it arguably doesn't deserve. The ghost of Mulder still hangs tangibly in the air, most conspicuously in his name plate remaining on the desk, and Scully assumes her lost partner's role with detached discomfort, presenting the slideshow of mysterious victims to a bemused Doggett and receiving all the cynicism Mulder used to face from local cops now she's no longer presented as the voice of reason.

It's a nice development, shame about the plot.
"I am a scientist who happens to have seen a lot" - Dana Scully

8X04 Roadrunners

Another unremarkable episode that's made worthwhile thanks to its early placement in the season, this one's most notable for Scully going solo and learning the lesson that she really needs a partner. The fact that Doggett's great at his job, tracking her down through diligent research and by following his honed instincts, helps to establish his worth. Even if you were turned off from The X-Files by its gradual deterioration and exiting actors, you couldn't place any of that blame on Doggett, or Robert Patrick for that matter. They're making the best of it.

Apart from that, this is another episode dealing with a creepy cult whose motives and beliefs are never believably fleshed out, and is mostly an excuse to creep out Scully and the audience as she's selected to host a parasite that the cult inexplicably believes to be the resurrected Jesus Christ. Gillian Anderson takes the lead and gets to display her range, from a strong and independent FBI agent who can look out for herself and knows when she's being bullshitted to a terrified pregnant woman facing torture and death. If she was getting bored in the role, she doesn't let it show.
"I'm going to kill every last one of you bastards!" - Dana Scully

8X05 Invocation

Still getting better, but still mostly derivative. They've done weird kids before - most memorably in 'The Calusari' and 'Revelations' back in the second and third seasons - and while they craft an intriguing mystery with the reappearance of a disappeared child a decade later, un-aged and prone to vanishing acts, the lack of resolution is a let-down.

As has been the norm this season, the episode is made a little more worthwhile than it would have been in the previous year by putting a Doggett spin on it. Notably, we're teased with some backstory that's bound to be developed later, as the agent carries a photo of an unmentioned child in his wallet and seems overly zealous in bringing a child abductor to justice. I wonder what that could be about?

Scully's forced into the Mulder role again, urging Doggett to open his mind in light of the evidence of their eyes, and there's even a backmasked recording of a children's song just to add some unnecessary chills. If there's one aspect of the series that's really improved this year compared to the previous two, it's the chills. I'm not missing the goofy humour that used to spoil every other episode, as long as they can still deliver a decent comedy episode every once in a while for some relief from the despair.
"What we've got here is a healthy seven-year-old boy who was born seventeen years ago" - Dana Scully

8X06 Redrum

After forcing us to get acquainted with Doggett and reacquainted with the new, open-minded Scully in recent episodes, it's nice to get an episode that does something different, barely featuring either of them at all and instead presenting days in the backwards life of convicted murderer Martin Wells, who has no memory of the crime he's been incarcerated for as he hasn't experienced it yet.

I'm a sucker for time travel done well, and I'm happy for the The X-Files to go down more of an anthology route with its stand-alone episodes rather than always needing to put the regulars in peril. With the focus being on uncovering the mystery of the killer and Wells trying to enlist the aid of the agents as he explains his situation fresh each day, there's little time spent on timey-wimey, effect-before-cause gimmicks beyond a healing scar and resurrected spider. Never mind.
"This is not happening" - Martin Wells

8X07 Via Negativa

Season eight continues to be relentlessly dark, disturbing and reliably average as we deal with the second religious cult this season and are force-fed Doggett until we damn well like him. I don't think there could really be any haters by this point - even Frohike thinks he's alright.

Scully's hardly in this one, her absence at least serving to remind us she's still pregnant, so Doggett's joined on this week's adventure by Skinner. Doggett + the Gunmen and Doggett + the Skinman are nice groupings to see, and after establishing himself as the anti-Mulder early on, Doggett even becomes a little more open-minded to paranormal possibilities by the end after an extended and very tense dream sequence. Whether this really represents character development or is like those countless times Scully started to believe only to be back in the fully-fledged sceptic role the next week remains to be seen.

It's rare to get a truly original idea in the series by this late point, and we've had cult suicides and deadly hallucinations before, but seeing these things through Doggett's uneducated eyes is somehow enough to avoid boredom. I didn't expect to like this season as much as I am - it's not great or anything, and it's certainly not up there with the first five, but it might be better than the others. Just as long as there's no god-awful 'First Person Shooter' or 'The Rain King' on the horizon.
"Just because I'm assigned to the X-Files, you want me to think like Scully and Mulder would. You got the wrong guy" - John Doggett

8X08 Surekill

If this tale of x-ray vision and criminal brothers competing for a woman's affection had been submitted in season seven, you could bet it would be turned into one of those goofy comedy episodes. I'd still take that over this straight version, which was a chore to get through.

In an earlier episode, they gave a blind woman supernatural powers as karmic compensation. Here, the blind guy's twin brother gets too much vision. The universe likes balance. This is stupid.

I'm getting bored of this dark and dismal stuff now, and Doggett and Scully's investigations feel more like an episode of Law and Order than The X-Files. I really hope there's a comedy episode coming up to lighten the mood. I miss Mulder.
"I hate twins" - John Doggett

8X09 Salvage

This has got really boring now, partly because they've messed with the established pattern to give us dull monster after dull monster every week. There really should have been a mythology or bad comedy episode by now to shake things up a bit.

Back in season four, I bet they could have made Mulder and Scully vs. the Terminator a classic episode. But here, even with the added tongue-in-cheek presence of Robert 'T-1000' Patrick, it just feels like they've run out of ideas and started to work through popular films, like the third season of Sliders. Whenever I compare The X-Files to Sliders, you know something's wrong.

The government-conspiracy-of-the-week is far less enthralling than a standard mytharc episode would have been, and I'm not still not on board with this new-fangled open-minded Scully, who sticks steadfastly to her hypothesis that they're dealing with a cyborg right from the beginning. Scully turning into Mulder would have been brilliant character development if it hadn't been such a sudden shift and precipitated by David Duchovny's contractual obligations.

When's Mulder coming back? He's in the bloody opening titles every week.
"Ray Pearce has become some kind of metal man?" - John Doggett

8X10 Badlaa

This is the first good episode in a while, even if it does uncomfortably fall back on an intuitive fear of foreigners, especially if they're disabled and poor. Leaving that dodgy issue aside, this story of an Indian fakir hibernating in fat people's stomachs to travel the globe and spread mayhem is like an X-File of old (I only just realised the connection to the Fiji Mermaid in 'Humbug'), throwing in some kids in jeopardy and explaining why Scully's been so open-minded this season as she even forces herself to shoot what looks like a child based entirely on faith in the paranormal. She just misses Mulder. We all do.

The rose-tinted ghost of Mulder isn't going away and is a little annoying (show him or don't mention him at all), but I'm glad they've addressed the convenient plot contrivance of Scully's open-mindedness, and this is the best presentation of her and Doggett's conflicting views since the opening two-parter. So I guess I could have just skipped past those dull ones with the bat guy, the x-ray vision guy and the Terminator guy, thanks for telling me.
"In my experience, dead men don't tip" - John Doggett

8X11 The Gift

No, that won't do at all. Bringing back Mulder for flashback scenes in which he doesn't even interact with anyone and acts completely out of character isn't what I was hoping for from the character's long-awaited return. Hopefully they'll do something more worthwhile when he inevitably comes back for real, however long we get him before he goes away again.

It feels like they're trying to turn Mulder into a deceptive arsehole so we warm to Doggett more, while at the same time using David Duchovny's limited presence to lure back some viewers. Even Scully isn't in this one, with the Skinman filling in on deputy duty again.

There's an X-File about a soul eater that consumes your illness, which Mulder was seeking out for wholly selfish reasons rather than because he's interested in beasties. Doggett gets covered in goop, but that's probably not enough to turn him into a believer yet.
"A man doesn't get shot three times then tunnel out of his own grave" - John Doggett

8X12 Medusa

We've reached the end of the 'introducing John Doggett' stretch of the season, which has been a mostly mediocre, relentlessly bleak ride. Not inherently a bad thing, though a decent comedy episode would have been nice. This episode's a little different from the standard monster-of-the-week, but at this point there's little they haven't done before, and there are still several episodes that spring to mind with similar micro-organism threats and quarantine crises - there's 'Ice' and 'Firewalker' before we even reach the third season.

This one holds its own though, mostly thanks to the distinctive setting of the Boston subway, or rather a gargantuan replica of the platform and tunnels. Doggett and some redshirts wander the tunnels dealing with a contagion, deformed vagrants and oncoming trains while Scully deals with a mean man giving her a tight deadline. Come on, she's pregnant after all.

By the end, Doggett learns the familiar lesson of the impossibility of exposing government conspiracies when evidence is conveniently lacking, and he and Scully develop a deeper understanding or something. There's John Doggett, do you guys like him now? Does that mean we can bring back Mulder now?
"These guys were just doing their job. Keeping the trains running" - Dana Scully

8X13 Per Manum

I don't think I've ever craved a mythology episode this much, it might be the longest we've had to wait. True to form, this stands high above the by-the-numbers beastie episodes and is the first one to really focus on Scully since 'Roadrunners.'

The conspiracy continues as former abductees start allegedly giving birth to alien babies and being lethally silenced. There's a strong suggestion that Scully's baby might have the same dark origin, even as we're teased by flashbacks revealing the parts of season seven we weren't privy to at the time, because they only just made it up. These retcons developing the Mulder/Scully romance only serve to make shit episodes like 'First Person Shooter' and 'Fight Club' more annoying looking back.

This feels like season four's 'Memento Mori' in taking a more personal and emotive angle on the mythology, except whereas that episode confined Scully to a hospital bed while Mulder and the Lone Gunmen scurried around to find answers, here she's the one breaking out of hospitals and evidently forgetting to trust no one except when it comes to poor Doggett.

As much as I enjoyed the ones with the time travelling prosecutor and the little Indian guy who crawls inside arses, this is the best episode since the two-part season opener. If this show was more fully serialised they'd definitely run out of decent storylines fast, so I just have to appreciate five or six per season. Mulder only shows up in flashbacks again, but this time they're done really well and nicely discombobulating to the casual viewer. Though I think the series shook off its last casual viewers a long time ago.
"My wife gave birth to an alien!" - Duffy Haskell

8X14 This Is Not Happening

Really, more mythology already? You're spoiling us. I was a little surprised to find that UFOs are still really doing it for me even after eight years, and the MacGuffin of the search for Mulder makes it easier to actually care about what's happening. The mythology hasn't been this engaging since season five.

It's still pretty repetitive though, falling back on hallmarks of the X-Files canon as they bring back familiar faces from the past whenever they feel like it, with no real throughline. This time it's friendly miracle healing shapeshifter Jeremiah Smith from 'Talitha Cumi'/'Herrenvolk', though Cancer Man and Krychek are fortunately absent. We're also introduced to Special Agent Monica Reyes, who's a little annoyingly kooky but at least sincere, and whose scenes with Doggett really do hint at an ultimate replacement of Mulder and Scully with this new reverse pairing of believer and sceptic. I wouldn't watch that, but if Scully starts bunking off in season nine I guess I'm contractually obliged to.

The ending is really good and a little unexpected, to be completely ruined in the next one. At times, Mark Snow's emotional score reminds me of the opening theme from Mr. Bean.
"You ever hear of an alien in Nikes?" - John Doggett

8X15 DeadAlive

Mulder's funeral and events skipping ahead three months would make his death seem surprisingly final if not for that title. This isn't as strong as the last couple, as it falls into the same trap of some previous mythology episodes in evolving the storyline in a slightly silly way - now abductees are being turned into aliens? It seems an unnecessarily time-consuming process when they could just pour in the black oil and make an alien burst out of your stomach. This show really doesn't hold up too well under scrutiny.

Krychek and his nanites are back, and neither is entirely welcome. Why does Krychek need Skinner to kill Scully's unborn child? Can he really not do that himself? Oh, I forgot, no scrutinising. The Skinman also really goes out on a limb when he has Mulder's body exhumed on the off chance he's been resurrected, it's almost as insane a demonstration of faith as Scully shooting a child a few episodes ago. What's Mulder done to these people? They're always right, of course.

So... are we restarting the mythology again? What's next?
"The truth may hurt, but it's all that matters" - Dana Scully

Mythology Redux: Deadalive

It feels like comparison between Mulder's and Scully's abduction stories is conspicuously lacking. Clearly because popular interest (even a lot of nerd interest) in the series had evaporated by this point - deservedly or not - so that even people who were raised on the series, like me, tend to forget that these latter day events even happened.

When you have the basic behind-the-scenes info about actor availability, both cast members' abductions are actually quite comical. Gillian Anderson would come back once she'd given birth and enjoyed the bare minimum maternity leave before she could get to back to work earning a fraction of what the man one was making; David Duchovny would be back for sweeps with the punctuality previously demonstrated by Cancer Man and the conspiracy.

But reigning ourselves back into the fiction and judging these stories on their own merits, there's a lot to like. The fact that they can actually show a convincing UFO at this point in the series, and no longer need to maintain the ambiguity, makes for some powerful scenes. Mulder's inevitable recovery is a bit weirder than Scully's, but it makes for a similarly dramatic final part as his colleagues run around car parks shooting and shouting.

Even now the aliens are doing it for themselves with no need for turncoat human conspirators (who were always going to be more trouble than they were worth), the mythology feels like it's evolving down distinctly retrodden ground, even bringing back familiar faces from way back in the golden age. And nothing the characters do really makes sense when you accidentally think about it for a second. But if all The X-Files can do these days is to riff on itself and require us to suspend our disbelief, at least it's still doing it with style. For now.

8X16 Three Words

Sorry I asked. Apparently the new mythology is the same as the old mythology: people being replaced by alien duplicates with something funny going on around the neck area. Could they really not come up with something new?

Aside from that major gripe, this is a decent episode continuing this season's surprisingly serialised scentre. Mulder's recovery is a massive reset button, but at least there are hints that his psychological scars won't heal as rapidly as his physical ones. Does the world know about this? Shouldn't he be famous?

Mulder and Doggett meet for the first time, which goes about as well as Doggett's first encounter with Scully. That guy doesn't make a great first impression. Kersh reveals that he preferred the Scully/Doggett pairing, I guess he's alone on that one.
"You're being paranoid, Mulder. Even for you" - Walter Skinner

8X17 Empedocles

Now Mulder's back and there’s a larger ensemble, this has become (however temporarily) a serialised show with different weekly plots. I really like it. If they keep this up, season nine won't be anywhere near as bad as I've been led to believe.

It's Doggett's turn in the limelight this time, with an overdue story focusing on the death of his son as it ties into a current case. They're gradually edging out Mulder by making Reyes even more open-minded and fanciful than he is, though as ever, even a half-baked kooky theory Mulder comes up with based on minimal evidence turns out to be exactly correct as 'evil' is shown to be a sort of virus. That's that sorted, then.
"I was afraid. Afraid to believe" - Dana Scully

8X18 Vienen

The black oil returns in an oddly retro instalment harking back to the good old days. There’s no mention of chest bursters, alien facsimiles or immaculate conceptions as Doggett reluctantly teams up with Mulder to investigate people getting possessed and killing each other on an oil rig. It's a great setting, but the episode's been done before.

My biggest problem with this one is Kersh, who's never really felt intimidating as a villain, and isn't even a competent hindrance. His dressing down of Mulder still gives the resurrected agent too much slack, and when Doggett, Scully and even Skinner go off the rails, he's like an impotent parent powerless to control his kids.

At least there's some sense of a continuing narrative by the end as Mulder's fired and officially hands the reigns over to Doggett. I guess Duchovny's guest star contract isn't going to extend much beyond this season, unless they can concoct increasingly elaborate ways of getting him involved in paranormal events. I look forward to more plots about Mulder's spooky neighbours in the weeks to come.
"How'd you get stuck down here, Agent Doggett? Kersh catch you peeing in his cornflakes?" - Fox Mulder

8X19 Alone

The revolving door of the X-Files office sees another fresh face passing through as Scully's replaced during maternity leave by a green Mary Sue, providing pretty much the only comic relief there's been this whole season. I like the idea that the accountant working on Mulder and Scully's travel expenses would be drawn to the attractive jet-setting world of paranormal investigation.

So while the main plot involves a mad scientist were-snake, the B-plot following Mulder and Scully's soap opera is a little more worthwhile, if only for the sense that things are coming to an end very soon. The question is explicitly raised as to whether Scully will be returning after her maternity leave, or if season nine will really be the Doggett and Reyes show. I need to see a little more of Monica before I can decide whether that would be a good or bad thing.
"You think I'm pretty foolish, don't you?" - Leyla Harrison

8X20 Essence

Back in the mythology for the closing two-parter, we never really left. That might make this pair a little more underwhelming as they lack the usual thrill of the humdrum weekly fare giving way to fleshed-out character pieces and smart plots, but the fact that these factors are pretty thin on the ground also makes it distinctly average.

There are some forced old-school touches like a fanciful opening voice-over and Scully's mother, as well as the unnecessary return of Krychek who should really have been dispatched the previous year. I like the evil Billy Miles more, it’s a fun way to give that character something else to do.

If you were put off by some of the more complex plots of previous seasons, things are pretty darn straightforward here: some people in the military, the government and the FBI have been replaced by indestructible alien duplicates who want to kill you. It feels like The X-Files ripping off Deep Space Nine when it was ripping off The X-Files. There's also some religious blah with Scully's impending child.
"The child she is carrying is very special" - Lizzy Gill

8X21 Existence

Scully has her baby and everything ends shockingly happily ever after. I didn't see that coming. I guess we need at least one more season to make sure things end at least a little downbeat.

Krychek gets his comeuppance too, helping to wipe a little more off the slate ready for the Doggett and Reyes Show to begin in earnest as they face off against indestructible Super Soldiers, deal with increasingly desperate human-animal hybrid monsters every other week and try to contrive the same ambiguous sexual chemistry as Mulder and Scully before kissing seven years down the line.

I quite enjoyed the second half of this season, but this really feels like a show that's gone on for too long.
"All the sacrifice, the blood spilled. You've given nearly a decade of your life, where the hell's it gonna end?" – John Doggett

Mythology Redux: Existence

Another season finale that would have made a better series finale than what we actually got a year later, not that that's saying much. The uncharacteristically happy ending (ignoring the looming alien apocalypse, obviously) is a first in that regard, and would have made for warmer wilderness years, in contrast to the teasing cliffhanger that 'Requiem' gave us a year previously and the cobbled together mish-mash we got a year later that thankfully isn't the end any more. (Presumably, Scully's shocked UFO-illuminated eyeball isn't going to be the conclusive closing image either).

If season eight had been the final year, I expect the latter extremities of the series would have been slightly better remembered. Though still criticised for going on too long, which has been a fair assessment since even before the old mythology imploded. But would it have been for the best? This time, I think yes. Wiping out the shaky post-Fight the Future seasons entirely would have preserved the consistency of the early years, but there's a lot that's worth preserving in seasons six and eight, even a little bit of seven. As for nine...

Moving on to these actual episodes then, the dilution of the formerly complex mythology to basic body snatching doesn't exactly feel like a step in the right direction, and I've never been fond of Chris Carter's penchant for hokey Christian imagery, so this isn't up there with my favourite two-parters of the series. It's not even in my top two two-parters of the season. But at least it dares to deliver some closure... most of which would be unceremoniously torn away after the summer break.

But I'm not going to bother watching that. Let's leave the re-rewatch here and pretend there's nothing to worry about except the inevitable alien invasion.

9X01 Nothing Important Happened Today

Season nine? Are you kidding me? When's this show going to die? It isn't even recognisable any more, with new blue opening titles and everything. And it's pretty crap.

Xena: Warrior Princess shows up as an indestructible Super Soldier whose chosen method of dispatching her victims is drowning, just for the titillation of seeing her almost partly naked and submerged. They even have Reyes wake up nude with the camera hovering just above the important bits. What's happened to this show?

Reyes seems to be a main character now, well on the way to replacing Scully entirely (or should it be replacing Mulder?), but the minimal backstory we're given and her bland taste in men doesn't bode well for her character living up to those predecessors. Reyes and Doggett are still real novices at the whole conspiracy thing, irked when evidence vanishes before their eyes, and even Mulder and Scully's characters are spoiled further - the former in and by his absence as he decided to pack up and leave Scully to care for their son alone, the latter still treating Doggett like shit for no real reason despite trusting strangers every other week.

Let's see what part two holds.
"You make it sound like I go home from work with post-its on my ass" - Monica Reyes

9X02 Nothing Important Happened Today II

No improvements here. After successfully ruining Mulder and Scully over the last season and in the previous episode, here it's Skinner's turn to be rendered a complete wuss, trying to cover everyone's asses (at least the fixation with that part of the anatomy is consistent) as if their careers are really that important by now. At least Kersh is cleared of being the major villain, though the alternative of bullet-proof Super Soldiers isn't any more compelling.

The conspiracy involving a chemical introduced into the water supply has shades of intrigue, tapping into the ongoing fluoride paranoia, but the episode isn't really about that. The Lone Gunmen show up for some comic relief, I suppose. I don't know why Langly's blue, do I have to watch their show or something?
"I'm a bioengineered combat unit. I have no weaknesses" - Shannon McMahon

9X03 Dæmonicus

I wish they'd done an episode based around a sentient, evil Scrabble board. Oh come on, it wouldn't have been any worse. Instead, they did an episode about demonic possession that borders on creepy before an explosive vomiting scene turns it into a Monty Python sketch.

Scully's reassigned to teaching duties, which combined with her single parent lifestyle makes it pretty clear this character's being edged out for most of the season. Can Doggett and Reyes go it alone? Would anyone watch that? It's a bit of a backwards step to have a gruff male sceptic opposite an airy spiritual woman, kind of unravelling all the progressive work done by this show's early years. But that doesn't matter when no one's watching.
"You say anything you want about Satanic ritual, but don't tell me you think the Devil did this" - John Doggett

9X04 4-D

Doggett and Reyes' relationship is explored as John ends up paralysed (he got better), though with the same professional detachment Mulder and Scully carried for the best part of seven years. Doggett's paralysis unfortunately slows down an already tedious episode as he types his dialogue, and this week's villain and paranormal phenomena are both very forgettable and a bit dumb. You can't bring in parallel universes at this late stage and then do sod-all with them.
"Too much Star Trek" - John Doggett

9X05 Lord of the Flies

I quite enjoyed the demeaning Jackass parody, more so when this episode was first broadcast and this stuff was contemporary (I guess I must have watched some season nine after all), and for the most part this feels like a nostalgic step back into the teen angst episodes that would occasionally crop up in the first five years, plus that rubbish one in season seven where they got fast. It's better than that at least, and a kid who controls bugs, while stupid, isn't much more far-fetched than a lot of the monsters from the classic years.

There's also the welcome return of a more light-hearted tone that was completely absent in season eight. It means this ends up in the same mediocre category as stuff like 'Terms of Endearment,' especially with the twist ending, and I'd rather watch a daft idea treated with the disrespect it deserves than being treated with undue austerity, like that bat guy from 'Patience.'

Plus, Syd Barrett gets a name-check and some airplay, which is great.
"These kids take enormous pride in being sub-mental" - John Doggett

9X06 Trust No 1

A mythology episode, which used to be a reason to celebrate but now means more recycled tripe with Super Soldiers, hushed whispers about Scully's baby and a fixation on Mulder who isn't even in it. Except a photo double who appears blurry and far away near the end and might be Mulder. That's just really annoying.

Stock footage of the absent Mulder gives viewers false hope at the start and sets the tone for an overly sentimental episode, dripping in ambient piano and slow motion gunfights in case things threatened to become entertaining for a few seconds. We're also privy to Mulder's emails to Scully, which show an unappealing soppy side to him and don't feel true to character. He even calls her "Dana," for god's sake!

Terry 'Locke' O'Quinn shows up for his third different X-Files role, which is just getting stupid now. He's a great actor, but being blown up in the film should have made him a bit too conspicuous for a return spot. He was apparently in Millennium too, but it'll be a few years before I can stomach another Ten Thirteen Production all the way through.

Once again, Scully shows her failure to learn the Trust No One tagline (it's right up there in the title this week and in Mulder's email address), and it unshockingly turns out that O'Quinn's 'Shadow Man' is actually a baddie - a Super Soldier no less. An indestructible, unstoppable... oh, it turns out they have a kryptonite. This show just sank to a new level, let's blast through this season and try to dismiss it as a bad dream.
"Mulder must die!" - Shadow Man

9X07 John Doe

With Scully episodes now confirmed to be inevitably bad, and Reyes still needing a chance to prove her worth, it's comforting that Doggett episodes can still be impressive, largely thanks to Robert Patrick who plays extreme duress well. Hopefully they won't ease up on treating Doggett like crap any time soon.

This has many of the hallmarks of Vince Gilligan's later preoccupations in Breaking Bad, as an amnesiac Doggett wakes up in a shady Mexican town run by a drug cartel (the guest cast is unusually good too). This show hasn't exactly been progressive in its portrayal of Mexico in the past, and although this is a hell of a lot better than the ridiculous soap opera of 'El Mundo Gira,' its presentation of Mexico still isn't exactly inspiring, with widespread police corruption and plenty of guns. Book your flight today!

The episode shows its age very specifically with use of the Three Kings sun-bleaching camera filter that was widely copied at the time, and having Doggett lose his memory is a convenient way for the audience to learn a little more about his past. The paranormal activity is pretty weak too, but this story's mostly notable for Doggett's breakdown as he's forced to relive his son's death over again as his memories return. Poor bastard. Keep it coming.
"'Pillar of the community?' Does anyone actually use that phrase except mob lawyers?" - Monica Reyes

9X08 Hellbound

There's a very old-school ambience about this episode, which is about as close as The X-Files gets to Hellraiser. It feels like there were three or four episodes just like this per year in the first five seasons of the show, with some touches that can only be deliberate homages or theft. Even 'Victor Dale Potts' sounds like the X-Filesiest name ever.

The skinned-alive make-up is impressive, and I like the suggestion of Reyes sneaking around a tomb in search of her own flayed skin from a past life, but beyond that there's not a lot to offer anyone who's ever seen this show before and is hoping for something a bit different. That said, they do leave us with something to chew over as it's basically confirmed that reincarnation exists, and specifically that a soul jumps to a new body at the moment of birth. That would have all sorts of ramifications for the abortion debate.
"These men were born to die this way" - Monica Reyes

9X09 Provenance

God, this show's become terrible. I knew season nine wasn't very highly regarded by fans, but I wasn't prepared for this level of downward spiralling, even considering the state of the season so far. But this is what they give us for the mid-season mythology game-changer?

Elements are revisited and basically re-hashed from the intriguing 'Biogenesis'/'The Sixth Extinction' trilogy that bridged seasons six and seven, but not in a way that adds anything to the ancient astronaut genesis story or is entertaining. After dallying with more internal FBI conspiracies that even threaten to have consumed the Skinman, this becomes another episode where Scully goes on the run and worries about her baby, like every other mythology episode of the last two years.

They even make a compulsory name-check of Mulder one time and raise the possibility of his off-screen death, like that's going to worry any viewers. They may have completely shat on that character over the past year, but killing him off in the shadows would be going too far even for season nine.
"Your son has to die" - Robert Comer

9X10 Providence

This second part's a little more entertaining, as long as you switch off the critical faculties that this show used to encourage. There's a pretty cool opening revealing that Super Soldiers were being employed as far back as the Gulf War, but after that we're back with the search for William.

These storyline episodes really pale in comparison to previous seasons, and when thinking back on The X-Files in future years (I don't really have a reason to ever watch it again), I hope these feelings of disappointment and frustration with the later seasons will fade and I can just enjoy fond memories of the first five. I should have ended this nostalgic journey with the first film, this is just getting masochistic now.

The development I'm least fond of is the increasing focus on God as the answer to everything, with four of the main characters being portrayed as Christians to some extent (and the absent Mulder seemed to be on the fence). On one hand, we're presented with a child-abducting cult leader who reads Biblical prophecy in alien events, while on the other hand Doggett is apparently woken from his coma by prayer. So what came first, the crashed UFOs with religious writing on them or the gods they inspired? And if the Christian God's the correct one after all, why did our progenitors bother writing down the Qu'ran and other incorrect scriptures on their craft? Are they just screwing with us?

Like I said, an inquisitive mind is a hindrance by this point in the show. They even introduce a replacement for Cancer Man, despite having something like one mythology episode left before the finale. On the positive side, there are only nine episodes left to go, and I remember liking at least one of them.
"Bring me the head of Fox Mulder" - Zeke Josepho

9X11 Audrey Pauley

There you go, that's more like it! It's pretty stupid and makes no sense whatsoever, but this dark fantasy featuring a brain-dead Reyes wandering a magic toy hospital is a lot more entertaining than that repetitive cack with alien artefacts and Super Soldiers.

I notice I've responded best to the episodes this season that really haven't felt like The X-Files, and this is another example. It feels more like the sort of low budget TV miniseries I'd persuade my mum to rent from Blockbuster in the mid-90s, probably starring Dean Stockwell. There's even a friendly-yet-ultimately-disposable black character.

Beyond the flimsy plot itself, there are also some very nice scenes hinting at a possible Doggett/Reyes relationship that would never see the light of day, including a possible kiss from a Monica who's conveniently slightly inebriated for plot purposes. Scully's still hanging around doing nothing much of interest, which is for the best these days.
"Have you ever been dead?" - Val Barreiro

9X12 Underneath

Doggett's "meat and potaters" police work goes up against Reyes' intuitive woo-woo again, and because this is The X-Files, she's right. Has Doggett really read through Mulder's case reports?

Doggett's dog-like trustworthiness is called into question as an old arrest he made turns out to have bagged the wrong guy... or did it? Just like used to happen to Mulder and Scully towards the end, everything in their lives not related to the X-Files ends up being related to the X-Files anyway.

Scully puts in some face-time for no reason other than to keep a few sceptical old-schoolers hanging on. Don't worry guys, it's almost over.
"We've moved on from Casper the Friendly Ghost to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?" - John Doggett

9X13 Improbable

I'm in a like/hate relationship with this final season now, and the positive end of the scale is down to this enjoyable yet totally ridiculous episode. It's been a hell of a long time since they've done a comedy episode this well, and while I can appreciate how certain daft elements like the French sing-alongs and Burt Reynolds inexplicably guest starring as God could put off some viewers, I think it somehow gets away with it. Maybe because it is the last season, the bar's been set very low and they've got nothing left to lose. Some of these recent episodes have been pretty whacko and a damn sight better than the ones taking things seriously.

This is one of the relatively few season nine episodes I saw the first time around, and I remember liking it a lot then too. I didn't assume Reynolds was supposed to be literally God though, just some sort of local deity who likes games and loves music. I've been disliking the general leaning towards Christian morals in the mythology episodes, but I'd be fine if it turned out it was all leading to our lives being governed by the random card shuffling of a moustachio'd man.
"The game can't beat the man. Man only beats himself" - God

9X14 Scary Monsters

I wonder what it would be like to watch a compilation of every pre-credits teaser from The X-Files? Extremely time-consuming, tedious and anticlimactic probably, but at least you could enjoy some crowd-pleasing scares and suspenseful cliffhangers without needing to be disappointed by explanations like 'it was the kid all along.'

How many creepy kid stories have there been now? Tommy isn't like other boys, apart from all of those. Doggett and Reyes are trapped in a remote cabin with the creepy kid, his terrified father, a load of scary monsters and Leila Harrison, the meta X-Files fangirl from last season's 'Alone,' who makes direct comparisons between the Mulder and Scully years and the current Doggett and Reyes years that we didn't need to be reminded about, eventually concluding that Doggett might be better than Mulder which isn't convincing anyone. Nice try.

Scully continues to provide auxiliary assistance and Gillian Anderson looks like she really wants this to be over. We all do.
"I made this" - Tommy Conlon

9X15 Jump the Shark

I didn't hate this episode as much as I expected to, it was just a little dull. Sending The Lone Gunmen off with arbitrary heroic deaths does sadly exclude them from appearing in any future films, but how likely are those looking these days anyway?

I never watched the trio's short-lived spin-off series, but unlike the earlier 'Millennium' crossover we're granted a brief recap at the start. Also like 'Millennium,' there are efforts to bring closure to the cancelled series while combining the story with a standard X-Files plot, here allegedly involving Super Soldiers until it turns out Fletcher just made that up. He makes a pretty decent villain, it's just always a shame to be reminded of 'Dreamland,' one of the early X-Files lows back when I could still be disappointed.

If you're not really interested in these sideline characters this episode won't be of much interest, and even if you're a fan of The X-Files from seasons one to seven you only get a little bit of Scully and Skinner at the funeral. This is the one time this season I would have been grateful for a Mulder cameo, even just a blurry trenchcoat-clad body double on a hill in the distance. Can't they get anything right?
"It hasn't exactly been our year" - Melvin Frohike

9X16 William

They should have called it 'Fox,' as the ghost of Mulder continues to haunt the show, preventing it from going anywhere. In the most infuriating development thus far, the arc of Mulder and Scully's son is brought to a close as he's supposedly made normal and given away for adoption, thus making everything that happened in the previous year a complete waste of everyone's time. Cheers.

It's never really convincing that the deformed Spender could really be Mulder, and bringing that character back from the dead is a bit of a cheat. It's also irritating to hear about Mulder's activities without being privy to them, especially when they turn out to only be lies.

And like you can ever really hide someone from Them, anyway - has Scully learned nothing over the past nine years? Even if the aliens need to carry out a King Herod style purge of infants to get to William, they've got to get tired of subtlety some time. Maybe that'll be the next film.
"I've seen my share of the hideous, of the disgusting and the repellant, but you sir are the most perfect expression I will ever see of all that is vile and hateful in life" - Dana Scully

9X17 Release

Well, there's some closure, I guess? Though as with the episode 'Closure' that wrapped up the story of Samantha Mulder we already pretty much knew, I thought we already knew about as much as we needed to regarding the murder of Ike Doggett. But I guess they wanted to draw a line under that character ever returning in a future film franchise.

I'm not against Doggett or his centric episodes, but this was nowhere near as good as the season's earlier 'John Doe,' and even that wasn't great. I liked Scully's weird obsessive student, and I keep forgetting to mention that Mark Snow's scores this year have been quite pretty. When I have to fill up space talking about that though, you can tell there's not very much going on.

This episode also writes out A.D. Brad Follmer, which is good news as the finale's looking crowded enough as it is without that bland recurring character taking up desk space. One more to go before the big finish, so I guess they're going to start planting some pretty serious seeds, right? RIGHT...?
"You should know there's a real good chance you're nuts" - John Doggett

9X18 Sunshine Days

I'll go lightly on this penultimate episode, since I admire its audacity to be a stand-alone story rather than an administrative lead-in to the highly publicised finale. Even more so for being a ridiculous stand-alone that gets nostalgic for the wrong show entirely.

This story about a lonely man creating The Brady Bunch in his house can be filed under the category of Creepy Kid Episodes by giving us a chance to see how paranormal tykes like Michelle ('Born Again'), Christopher ('The Calusari'), Kevin ('Revelations') and Tommy ('Scary Monsters') turn out when they're all grown up. The answer is, pretty damn unbalanced. Oh hang on, 'Eve' already showed us that back in the first season. I guess this show really doesn't have any ideas left.

There's a distinctly light-hearted tone about this one that's welcome relief between two very serious and sombre instalments, and Gillian Anderson seems to be enjoying herself for the first time all year. Scully gets excited at the prospect of finally obtaining proof of the paranormal, something that's been fleetingly just out of their grasp too many times to count (though her episode tally is spot-on), but of course things end up back at square one. We wouldn't want to burden the millions of long-absent viewers returning for the finale with too many new developments to keep track of.
"I've been working this unit for nine years now. I've investigated nearly 200 paranormal cases. We are due for some incontrevertible proof. I want vindication" - Dana Scully

9X19 The Truth

Any long-running drama series that amasses convoluted plots over the years and has multiple loose ends to tie will inevitably let down some viewers at the end. At 202 episodes, The X-Files is an exceptionally long-running drama series with infamously convoluted plots, so I doubt any ending would have been truly satisfactory.

After watching through the entire series in order, forcing my brain to hold onto and try to make sense of the important bits and forcing my eyes to remain open for the last three seasons or so, my reaction is still the same as when I eagerly downloaded the finale in 2002 after having faded in and out of the show since watching the pilot as an impressionable kid. The feeling of - really, that's what you're going out on?

I shouldn't have been surprised, considering the state of the mythology in the later seasons in general. This was never going to recapture the magic of 'Paper Clip' or 'Patient X,' and the series has just been going for too long to offer much that's new and exciting. Instead, they opt for a self-contained plot featuring the return of Mulder and his sham trial following the alleged murder of an invincible Super Soldier (he's not quite dead) that tries desperately to connect separate conspiracy threads from across nine years while conveniently skipping out others.

There are actually fewer flashbacks than I remember, though even by focusing on the bread and butter topics like the Black Oil and the Syndicate, those sequences still feel more like YouTube compilations from fans, especially with Scully taking things back chronologically to the dawn of life. These parts do serve a two-fold purpose in reminding viewers how good the show used to be and explaining some aspects of the mythology that viewers might never have been completely clear about, or just forgotten. The X-Files ran for a long time, I think I mentioned that.

Whether it's intentional or accidental, I noticed that some details were contradicted in this same episode, and Reyes' account on witnessing a Super Soldier survive point-blank gunshots can't really be used as evidence of their extraterrestrial nature considering Jeffrey Spender's alive and well for plot purposes. Okay, maybe not 'well' exactly.

Jeff's father is also brought back from the dead temporarily just for the purpose of a nostalgic ensemble, and like Noel Rohrer they make sure you really, definitely see him die this time. With the primary villains all dispatched, there's only the unseen conspiracy and the inevitable alien invasion of December 22, 2012 looming in the shadows.

Which brings me to my biggest gripe with this episode. Not that half of it's taken up by a pointless trial as an excuse for archive clips and patronising voice-overs, or that after proving their worth all year in Mulder's absence and Scully's part-time truant Doggett and Reyes are reduced to scurrying around with chores, but that The Truth this entire episode is based around - and implicitly The Truth that's been sought in the opening title sequence since 1993 - is information we've already known since at least season five when Cassandra Spender expressly stated it.

Then to make matters worse there's the finale scene that suggests The Truth and The Hope might lie in the existence of a benevolent God after all. This at least gives Scully an "I-told-you-so" moment after she finally succumbed to Mulder's path, but I'm not sure how making Mulder religious is a satisfying end to his character arc. Come to think of it, haven't we met this God guy already? Deals cards, loves music, face of Burt Reynolds? It's probably for the best that they didn't call him back for a cameo.
"Maybe there's hope" - Fox Mulder

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

I wanted to enjoy. I remember not being too disappointed when I went to see this with a some fellow fans in 2008, maybe because I hadn't watched the series for a couple of years and was probably buzzing off the nostalgia. Watching it as a coda to 202 episodes, it's less impressive.

It wasn't a bad idea to go with a stand-alone story rather than the larger alien/conspiracy plot, but I would have preferred something with more scope. Watching a conveniently re-enlisted Mulder chasing down an illegal organ harvester with the occasional help of a psychic (bizarrely played by Billy Connolly) doesn't quite cut it, and to make matters worse, he isn't even teamed up with Scully for most of it.

I don't have any criticisms about the film's budget, look or style. The snowy landscapes and petrified forests of British Columbia recapture the atmosphere of the show's classic years well and it's also fitting to the series that they recruit mostly TV standard actors (no offence), plus another bizarre casting choice in Xzibit. There are various aspects of this film's production that make you question what they were thinking.

My biggest criticism is that it gets extremely boring before the half-way point, and even a late cameo from Walter "Skinman" Skinner doesn't turn that around. Get your jollies from early scenes of a delightfully bearded Mulder collecting clippings of paranormal activity and chomping on sunflower seeds, admire Gillian Anderson's enduring beauty and hope they've got something better up their sleeves if they're ever allowed to do this again.

While this film's poor financial returns may not bode well for the future of the franchise, it does have a positive impact by re-establishing The X-Files as being about Mulder and Scully, making it easier to forget those later seasons even happened. I'd like to see more, I hope there's more to come.
"Don't give up" - Father Joe

Ranking the mythology episodes

The Unopened File (Anasazi/The Blessing Way/Paper Clip)
Patient X (Patient X/The Red and the Black)
Piper Maru (Piper Maru/Apocrypha)
Colony (Colony/End Game)
Memento Mori
Tempus Fugit (Tempus Fugit/Max)
Master Plan (Talitha Cumi/Herrenvolk)
Redux (Gethsemane/Redux/Redux II)
One Son (Two Fathers/One Son)
Abduction (Duane Barry/Ascension/One Breath)
The X-Files: Fight the Future
Requiem (Requiem/Within/Without)
The Erlenmeyer Flask
Fallen Angel
Deep Throat
Deadalive (This Is Not Happening/Deadalive)
Biogenesis (Biogenesis/The Sixth Extinction/The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati)
Red Museum
Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man
Zero Sum
Per Manum
Three Words
The End
Tunguska (Tunguska/Terma)
Little Green Men
Existence (Essence/Existence)
Emily (Christmas Carol/Emily)
Closure (Sein und Zeit/Closure)
The Beginning
S.R. 819
The Truth
My Struggle/My Struggle II/My Struggle III/My Struggle IV
Nothing Important Happened Today (Nothing Important Happened Today/Nothing Important Happened Today II)
The Gift
Providence (Provenance/Providence)
En Ami
Trust No 1

Top 10 monster-of-the-week episodes

#1. The Post-Modern Prometheus (5X05)

A terrific comedy episode that parodies the early horror film style in loving detail. Mulder and Scully aren't swept up in the silliness as they would be in later 'comedy' episodes and make astute cracks at Celebritarianism in an episode featuring cameos by Jerry Springer and almost-Cher.

#2. Bad Blood (5X12)

Breaking Bad's Vince Gilligan is largely responsible for the show being so good in its middle years. This is his best comedy episode that gets away with a lot by presenting Mulder and Scully's differing accounts of a fateful night. You'll need four seasons under your belt to come up with anything close to an objective version of events.

#3. Small Potatoes (4X20)

More welcome relief from the darkness, this episode addresses the will-they-won't-they romance more than any other until the messy later years. It's the best 'Which is the Real Mulder?' episode and Gilligan deserves credit for the seemingly impossible feat of making rape a fit subject for comedy.

#4. Humbug (2X20)

The first of Darin Morgan's legendary, limited run of episodes is the roughest, but it's always been my favourite. It's the landmark point at which The X-Files belatedly let its hair down and realised it could poke fun at itself some weeks without compromising the seriousness the rest of the time. Some of the later seasons would get this formula spectacularly wrong.

#5. Leonard Betts (4X12)

Not such a funny one this time, this feels deliberately crafted to be the ultimate monster-of-the-week episode and it probably is. Combining elements from previous classics like 'Squeeze' and 'Pusher,' it's also pleasantly gory. Mulder and Scully have never been more Mulder and Scully than here, you can watch this one first.

#6. Triangle (6x03)

A year on from 'Post-modern Prometheus,' Chris Carter delivered another experimental classic that's less instantly loveable and has probably turned off as many people as it's impressed. Elaborate single-take scenes and a nonsensical plot that was most likely all a dream anyway, it's either a complete waste of time or one of the most memorable TV episodes you'll ever watch.

#7. War of the Coprophages (3X12)

Another controversial pick from the Darin Morgan pile, again I know it's inferior to his other season three gems, but it's this ramshackle strangeness that makes it more appealing. It's got quotes coming out of its ears, I love the format of the phone conversations and how Scully saves the day, and I love how some people will be pissed off that the cockroaches are left unexplained.

#8. Pusher (3X17)

Vince Gilligan's first classic is one of the series' best psychological, 'human-monster' episodes, even if I have a softer spot for some of his sillier ones. With its supernatural elements, it's not like there's a clear throughline to his more famous shows, but Breaking Bad fans should find plenty to appreciate here, once they're done with 'Drive' of course.

#9. The Unnatural (6X19)

When I first sat through David Duchovny's historical baseball folk allegory as a teenager, I thought it was one of the worst episodes they'd ever done. But I used to think 'Far Beyond the Stars' was a boring Deep Space Nine episode too. Duchovny wrote another, sillier episode the following year, but he can rest on these laurels.

#10. Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose (3X04)

A man gifted with the reluctant knowledge of how every individual is going to die takes up a job in life insurance, and there's a transparent Yugi Gellar parody so we can poke some fun at charlatans. Darin Morgan continues to force the stoic series to crack a smile and turns out a solid, suspenseful episode at the same time.

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