The X-Files at 30: Revisiting 10 favorite episodes

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 12: Actress Gillian Anderson (L) and actor David Duchovny arrive at the premiere of Fox's "The X-Files" at the California Science Center on January 16, 2106 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 12: Actress Gillian Anderson (L) and actor David Duchovny arrive at the premiere of Fox's "The X-Files" at the California Science Center on January 16, 2106 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) /

Thirty years ago this month, The X-Files debuted on Fox with a modest budget and a seriously spooky theme song composed by Mark Snow. The pilot introduced us to FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). Mulder was the true believer, convinced of big government conspiracies regarding ETs, while Scully was the skeptic who trusted science above all else. The show worked, in part, because of their dynamic and the way it handled faith versus doubt. While the series had a long-running arc involving an alien invasion, it also had plenty of monster-of-the week episodes and two movies that had large theatrical releases. While the show somewhat failed to resolve its larger alien conspiracy thread (maybe the third film creator Chris Carter wanted to make would have done that), when the show was good, it was really good, offering compelling and emotional character arcs and heinous villains who operated in the shadows.

In honor of the show’s 30-year anniversary, this “X-phile” wanted to share and revisit some of his favorite episodes.

The Post-Modern Prometheus

By Season 5, The X-Files really balanced scares with more light-hearted episodes, and dare I say, some laughs. It struck a near-perfect tonal balance. Season 5’s fifth episode, The Post-Modern Prometheus, is one of the best. It’s a surreal and loose adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The agents visit yet another American small town and investigate sightings of a monster. Like Shelley’s novel, there’s a mad scientist, Dr. Pollidori (John O’Hurley), the Creation (Chris Owens), and nosy townspeople who shun anyone that’s different. The Cher-loving Creature just wants a friend, and Owens really gives a nuanced performance here that warrants pathos and understanding.  Shot in black and white, it feels like an old Universal Monster movie. This episode is pitch perfect, and its ending is beautiful. Just be ready to cry.


Over its initial nine-season run, only one episode of The X-Files was banned after one airing, Season 4’s Home. It would eventually return during various marathons, but not until several years later. The episode tackles taboo subjects, specifically incest and infanticide. The story takes place in Home, Pennsylvania where a woman births a deformed baby. Three similarly deformed men in the Peacock family bury it near their dilapidated house. Our favorite agents arrive on the scene after the baby’s corpse is discovered during a baseball game. It’s pure American Gothic horror, and that ending, when the Peacocks drive away, likely to set up in another American town, is utter nightmare fuel.  Home remains the series’ scariest episode.

Paper Hearts

From the first season of The X-Files, much of Mulder’s storyline involves the abduction of his sister, Samantha, when he was just a boy. It spawned his belief in little green men and ignited his crusade to uncover the truth, no matter the consequences. Season 4’s Paper Hearts shakes Mulder’s stubborn belief system to the core and has a heck of a performance by Duchovny and Tom Noonan as serial killer John Lee Roche, who claims Mulder’s sister was one of his victims. Roche’s statements are eventually debunked, but it’s enough to cause Mulder to wonder if his life’s work and career was all for naught because maybe there’s another explanation for Samantha’s abduction that’s more grounded in real, tangible human evil, as opposed to otherworldly events. This is one of the most emotionally devastating episodes of The X-Files.

The X-Files
HOLLYWOOD, CA – JANUARY 25: Actor David Duchovny honored with star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame held on January 25, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images) /


If you ask me, Season 7 really should have concluded the show. After all, it ends with Mulder finally meeting ETs after they abduct him. Meanwhile, series mainstay and bad boy Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) throws the main antagonist, the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), down a flight of stairs. This should have killed him. Despite the heavy season finale, Season 7 wasn’t without some humor, including X-Cops, a spoof of another popular Fox show, Cops. It even opens with a teaser shot like Cops, only starring Mulder and Scully, until the familiar opening actually kicks in. As the cameras roll and sirens wail, the agents investigate reports of a monster, which, according to residents, looks like everything from Freddy Kreuger to a werewolf. This is one of the funniest episodes in the long-running series.

Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man

From the very first episode, the Cigarette Smoking Man oozes deceit, authority, and big government cover-up. Time and time again, he stands in the way of Mulder and Scully uncovering the truth about ETs. Season 4’s Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man finally reveals the baddie’s backstory. The episode opens with the villain holding a rifle, eavesdropping on a conversation among Mulder, Scully, and their friends, the Lone Gunmen, who claim to have unearthed the Cigarette Smoking Man’s shady past. We come to learn he had a hand in major U.S. events, everything from J.F.K.’s assassination, to the Cold War, to the Anita Hill hearings. It’s also revealed that he’s a failed novelist. Davis turns in quite the performance in this episode, as does Chris Owens, playing the younger version in flashbacks. Both manage to humanize an otherwise despicable character.

The X-Files
TORONTO, ON – SEPTEMBER 13: Actor William B. Davis from “Amazon Falls” poses for a portrait during the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival in Guess Portrait Studio at Hyatt Regency Hotel on September 13, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Matt Carr/Getty Images) /

The Erlenmeyer Flask

Carter and company knew that Season 1’s finale had to be good. Boy, is it ever. Mulder and Scully nearly discover the truth about UFOs, as well as a big government project called Purity Control. The episode ends with that truth slipping from their grasp, the murder of their informant, Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin), and Scully sacrificing evidence all to save Mulder’s life. The finale really raises the stakes, while underscoring the perilous consequences of getting too close to the truth. More than anything, it highlights Mulder and Scully’s relationship. As future seasons would prove, they’d always put each other first.

The Field Where I Died

Speaking of Mulder and Scully’s relationship, Season 4’s The Field Where I Died introduces the concept of past lives and the idea that the agents have always been part of each other’s lives. It’s a pretty trippy episode regarding a religious cult and a Mulder’s persistent feeling that Scully and others were with him in the field where he died during the American Civil War in a past life. Simply put, this episode has some absolutely stunning writing, centered on Mulder and Scully’s unshakable bond and friendship.

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose

Season 3’s Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series and an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. In this one, Mulder and Scully investigate murders of psychics and fortune tellers, assisted by Clyde Bruckman (Peter Boyle), who foresees how people will die. Bruckman, an insurance salesman by day, just may be an actual psychic. Boyle’s acting here is sincere and masterful.

The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat

For the most part, Seasons 10 and 11, essentially a reboot of The X-Files, have more duds than gems. Don’t even get me started on how they mangled Scully’s storyline. That said, Season 11’s The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat is must-see. It brought back writer/director Darin Morgan, and in exploring the Mandella Effect, it also assesses the show’s legacy, including the conspiracy-obsessed culture we now find ourselves in.

Jose Chung’s from Outer Space

Season 3’s Jose Chung’s from Outer Space is the type of episode that you show to an Intro to Creative Writing class because of its wild and clever script and experimental narrative. Charles Nelson Reilly stars as sci-fi author Jose Chung, who finds inspiration for his next novel from Scully. Meanwhile, Mulder encounters men in black, played by Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura. This episode is funny, complex, and truly out of this world.

Happy 30th to The X-Files! Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get that third movie one day. Fans can dream. Until then, remembers friends, the truth is out there.

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