21 Best X-Files Episodes

The X-Files is probably the best TV procedural of the 1990s. However, I never got around to watching it until college because my dad didn’t like David Duchovney. Me? I really like David Duchovney and I really like Gillian Anderson. I also really like spooky creatures, alien mysteries, well-placed jokes, and sliceable sexual tension, so you know, I REALLY LOVE THE X-FILES!

It kicks Law & Order square in the balls. Sorry Jerry Orbach, all due respect, R.I.P. and everything, but it kicks you square in them nuts. Here are my 21 favorite episodes because why not?!

21. Arcadia

Season 6, Episode 15

written by: Daniel Arkin; directed by: Michael Watkins

Growing up we had an HOA that my dad served on as president but then he got double-crossed at a meeting by these asshole board members who wanted to paint their houses Little Toot Yellow. He was subsequently ousted from office. I don’t know how strict my dad was because I didn’t own a house back when I was seven, but there’s no way he was as strict as the doggone HOA nutjobs in this special episode! Mulder and Scully continue their will-they/won’t-they streak by posing as a married couple in a super vanilla Suburban neighborhood where people have been going missing for HOA infractions. Foul play is DEF suspected! This is an all-time great comedy-leaning episode and features Mulder really fucking with the HOA. I mean, really fuckin’ with them. 8/10

20. Hungry

Season 7, Episode 3

written by: Vince Gilligan; directed by: Kim Manners

My dad is a big meat eater so he would probably love this episode about a carnivorous humanoid creature working at a fast food burger joint and feeding off asshole customers. This is one of the grosser episodes of the show and features one of the series’ most legit monsters of the week. You do feel sympathy for the monster, especially since April O’Neil is his psychiatrist. 8/10

19. Small Potatoes

Season 4, Episode 20

written by: Vince Gilligan; directed by: Cliff Bole

One of the lighter episodes of the show, to be sure, but also one of the most fun to watch. Apparently, Vince Gilligan wrote this episode because he didn’t want to be pigeonholed into writing only dark episodes of the series. This one is about a town full of pregnant women whose babies are being born with tails for some reason. Ends up it might be the janitor. I wasn’t born with a tail, just ask my dad! 8/10

18. Redrum

Season 8, Episode 6

written by: Steven Maeda & Daniel Arkin; directed by: Peter Markle

My dad never killed his wife, but people sure think Joe Morton‘s character did in this post-Mulder X-Files episode! The Terminator 2 and Blues Brothers 2000 actor plays a district attorney on death row for the murder of his wife. He gets gunned down on his way to the courthouse but not to worry, because every day he wakes up and it’s the day before. Kinda like Groundhog Day in reverse instead of just repeat. This is one of the more straight-up thriller episodes of the show and while it isn’t anything that could have been adapted into a longer movie, it makes for a thrilling 44 minutes. Morton should have received an Emmy nomination. 8/10

17. Humbug

Season 2, Episode 20

written by: Darin Morgan; directed by: Kim Manners

X-Files isn’t the only supernatural TV drama to tackle sideshow freaks, HBO got into the game with Carnivale, one of my dad’s favorite shows. Guess what show is better than Carnivale? You guessed it, The X-Files! Sorry pops, but even this silly carnie whodunnit episode featuring conjoined twin suspects was better than the whole of Carnivale. This is one of the funniest episodes of the show if you can get past all the self-inflicted eyeball stabbing. 8/10

16. Dreamland Parts 1 & 2

Season 6, Episodes 4 & 5

written by: Vince Gilligan & John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz; directed by: Kim Manners (Part 1) and Michael Watkins (Part 2)

My dad loves Spinal Tap so I don’t know why he vehemently refuses to watch this episode where David St. Hubbins himself, Michael McKean, plays a hilariously uptight government agent that Mulder Freaky Friday switches places with. This is one of the few alien-focused episodes I like because it leads with comedy. We get a lot of out Mulder struggling to be a dad in McKean‘s place and a lot of McKean being a real piece of shit to Scully under the guise of Mulder. We also get a bedroom mirror dance sequence that’s straight-up inspired. Michael McKean should have won an Emmy for Funniest Guest Star in an Alien Series. You’re really missing out, Dr. Dad! 8/10

15. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster

THE X-FILES: Guest star Rhys Darby in the “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-monster” episode of THE X-FILES airing Monday, Feb. 1 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Ed Araquel/FOX

Season 10, Episode 3

written & directed by: Darin Morgan

The only good episode in the first revival season (Season 10) and of course it was a comedic one penned by Darin Morgan. This one’s title is the description – Mulder and Scully meet a Were-monster, hilariously rendered by Our Flag Means Death‘s Rhys Darby. The creature is killing folks in the woods according to a nerdy animal control officer (Kumail Nanjiani) who helps Mulder and Scully find the were-monster and meet him. There’s a really clever twist in this episode that even my dad would find amusing if he bothered to watch the show. 8.5/10

14. Monday

Season 6, Episode 14

written by: Vince Gilligan & John Shiban; directed by: Kim Manners

One of my dad’s favorite movies is Groundhog Day, so it’s a mystery to everyone why he blindly dismisses this excellent take on the genre. Writer’s room superstars Vince Gilligan and John Shiban give us another potent action episode that sees Mulder trying to cash his FBI check and encountering a bank robbery where he dies…over and over and over again. The robber’s girlfriend tries to warn him, saying they’ve met a hundred times before, and eventually, he catches on. Season 6 was really stellar for a lot of reasons, one of which is the writers tried new things. 8.5/10

13. Field Trip

Season 6, Episode 21

written by: Frank Spotnitz & John Shiban & Vince Gilligan; directed by: Kim Manners

I used to take field trips when I was a kid, but I don’t remember having my dad sign a permission slip for a school trip where ravenous man-eating mushrooms would harvest my blood for sustenance. That’s the plot of this twisty, funny, and just plain fun X-Files monster of the week episode, another Season 6 banger from Vince Gilligan. 8.5/10

12. How the Ghosts Stole Christmas

Season 6, Episode 6

written & directed by: Chris Carter

An adorable little Christmas ghost episode that sees Mulder and Scully investigating a haunted mansion that is thought to bring back the previous inhabitants (Lili Tomlin and Ed Asner – two actors my dad loves) every Christmas Eve to murder intruders. There are a lot of fun Scooby-Doo-esque twists and turns in this one but ultimately it skews more heartwarming than terrifying, sporting four great performances – Duchovney, Anderson, Tomlin and Asner. 8.5/10

11. Drive

Season 6, Episode 2

written by: Vince Gilligan; directed by: Rob Bowman

Bryan Cranston is incredible!” my dad told me when he first started watching Breaking Bad. Great dad, you know what else he’s incredible in? THE X-FILES! Refuse to watch it? Well, he’s in this one episode called Drive, basically a riff on Speed where he plays this pre-Q-Anon conspiracy theorist whack-a-doo who believes if he stops driving his car his fucking head will explode. Cranston is as great as you’d expect in this episode that stands as one of the more serious, sobering ones in the show’s history. 9/10

10. The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat

Season 11, Episode 4

written & directed by: Darin Morgan

Easily the best and most enjoyable post-2000s episode about The Mandela Effect of all things. You know The Mandela Effect right? When you’re positive you remember something specific from your childhood but as an adult, you can’t verify it at all – Sinbad in Shazaam, The Berenstein Bears, Nelson Mandela dying in the 80s, my dad owning and operating an Indonesian textile mill in the 90s, etc. Anyway, actor/comedian Brian Huskey plays Reggie, a man claiming to be the former partner of Mulder and Scully, who they don’t remember because a secret government society has altered the current reality under the guise of The Mandela Effect, or as it’s called here”The Mengle Effect” because they altered that too! It’s great to see the show take such a big goofy swing this late in its life and of course, it came from Darin Morgan. 9/10

9. Die Hand Die Verletzt

Season 2, Episode 14

written by: Glen Morgan & James Wong; directed by: Kim Manners

The scariest episode of The X-Files with the exception of Home. It’s spooky for many reasons besides a German title, mostly because it turns the whole 80s/90s Satanic Panic thing back onto the PTA parents that would proclaim it to be the biggest threat to their communities. Basically, a town full of WASPy Satan worshippers, led by Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe (Dan Butler), let their faith dwindle so a demon comes into town to punish them all. It does take itself very seriously and one wishes maybe there was more levity towards the ridiculousness of Satanic Panic in the first place, but it delivers on chills in ways few X-Files episodes are able to do. My dad doesn’t like the devil though, thinks he’s a real prick. 9/10

8. The Post-Modern Prometheus

Season 5, Episode 5

written & directed by: Chris Carter

This classic Universal Monster Movie-inspired episode is basically 1931’s Frankenstein but if Frankenstein loved Cher and Jerry Springer. Shot in beautifully campy black and white and featuring J. Peterman (John O’Hurley) as a power-hungry geneticist toying with the laws of God and man, this is certainly one of the lighter and more humorous episodes of the show that still delivers the timeless message of not judging people by their personal appearance, something my dad taught me when I was young. It all culminates in Mulder and Scully taking the monster to see a Cher impersonator perform that’s equal parts hilarious and heartwarming. 9/10

7. Pusher

Season 3, Episode 17

written by: Vince Gilligan; directed by: Rob Bowman

The best action thriller X-Files ever produced is of course written by Vince Gilligan. It follows a self-important asshole dying from a brain tumor that has somehow made him powerfully telekinetic. He uses his power to manipulate people into self-harm or suicide for personal gain so it’s up to Mulder and Scully to risk their lives to stop him. Basically, this is a better, more polished version of Duane Barry, that features a nail-biting final sequence that would satisfy Broken Arrow fans everywhere, but apparently not my dad who does in fact own Broken Arrow on Laserdisc. 9/10

6. Beyond the Sea

Season 1, Episode 13

written by: Glen Morgan & James Wong; directed by: David Nutter

The only great episode from Season 1, Beyond the Sea plays more like a drama with supernatural elements and is anchored by a powerful performance by character-actor and Chucky-voicer Brad Dourif. It’s also a great acting showcase for Gillian Anderson whose Scully is processing the sudden and unexpected death of her father played by Major Briggs himself, Don S. Davis. My dad, on the other hand, is alive and well and a dentist in Sun City. 9/10

5. Bad Blood

Season 5, Episode 12

written by: Vince Gilligan; directed by: Rob Bowman

The best Vince Gilligan-penned X-Files for my money. Sure, it’s no “Ozymandias”, but this dumb, and I mean dumb, small-town vampire whodunnit has a real neat structural trick where we’re criss-cross presented with the recount of what happened from both Mulder and Scully’s point of view. Scully’s POV pegs Mulder as this rude Alpha dipshit who condescends to everyone in this small town including the hunky sheriff (Luke Wilson), while Mulder’s POV pegs Scully as some sort of love-sick teenager, head over heels for the sheriff, seen through Mulder’s eyes as a comically buck-toothed moron. It even features Ham from The Sandlot (Patrick Renna) as a vampire-obsessed pizza delivery guy. One time when I was eleven, my dad grabbed all the cheese and toppings off my slice of pizza and ate it in front of me while I cried. Anyway, the climax of this episode features a mobile home parking lot chase sequence that’s one of the funniest visual gags the show has ever given us. It also never confirms what version was the truth, but seems to hint it was somewhere in between their two stories. 9/10

4. Triangle

Season 6, Episode 3

written & directed by: Chris Carter

You’d have to be a real anti-X-Files Nazi not to swoon for this ridiculously playful Wizard of Oz-type story where Mulder travels back in time to a British cruise ship overtaken by actual real Nazis right before the start of WWII. On board is every supporting character you’ve grown to love over the past six seasons including The Cancer Man as the head Nazi, Skinner as a good Nazi, Kersh as a Jamaican engine room worker, and of course, Scully as a British scientist who is the key to the eventual defeat of the Nazis. On top of how much fun this is, the whole episode is comprised of three long single-takes that are so flippin’ impressive you’ll do a backflip in your living room! So please Dad, I’m begging you. Watch just this episode and tell me you don’t find David Duchovney at least a little charming. He’s kinda hot, right Dad? 9.5/10

3. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space

Season 3, Episode 20

written by: Darin Morgan; directed by: Rob Bowman

The true comedic masterpiece of the entire show, Jose Chung’s From Outer Space is Darin Morgan straight-up making fun of The X-Files and the nature of conspiracy theories in general. My dad loves conspiracy theories, so I don’t know what the deal is! Oh well, this one features two separate races of aliens, probings, old men who write books, and a chance encounter with Jeopardy‘s Alex Trebek (R.I.P.) and Predator/U.S. Government superstar Jesse Ventura. 9.5/10

2. Home

Season 4, Episode 2

written by: Glen Morgan & James Wong; directed by: Kim Manners

Hands down the most brutal, disturbing, and downright scariest episode of network television I’ve ever seen. How the fuck did they get away with this? A family of in-bred human monsters are all having sex with each other and killing people who come onto their property. I wonder how my dad would deal with this household as HOA president. I think Little Toot Yellow might be the least of his problems. Anyway, Mulder and Scully investigate and it becomes this really intense let’s sneak into the monster’s lair episode. There’s a scene where the town’s sheriff gets beaten to death by one of these dudes and his wife watches in terror from under the bed. That’s the scariest thing The X-Files has ever done. My god. However, it’s not just morbid it’s really well written and ends on a somewhat poignant note about fighting for home. 10/10

1. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose

Season 3, Episode 4

written by: Darin Morgan; directed by: David Nutter

The finest hour of television The X-Files gave us and the only episode to win the Emmy for Best Writing, Darin Morgan‘s touching tale about Clyde Bruckman (Peter Boyle – R.I.P.), a haunted old insurance salesman with psychic abilities who reluctantly helps Mulder and Scully catch a serial killer offing other mediums. It’s the only episode of the show that I would classify as a hybrid between a comedic and dramatic episode because it balances tone so well. Peter Boyle also won an Emmy for it and it’s no surprise. It’s one of the best characters of his long and versatile career which included playing the dad in Everybody Loves Raymond, a show my dad dislikes even more than The X-Files. 10/10

WORST EPISODE

The Field Where I Died

Season 4, Episode 5

written by: Glen Morgan and James Wong; directed by: Rob Bowman

This stupid melodramatic up-it’s-own-ass pile of reconstituted dog turds cold opens with David Duchovney reading some lame poem some dead white asshole probably wrote. It’s so uncomfortably pretentious and then the first scene after the credits is basically an X-Files cold open, so I’m like, what the fuck with the two openings? My bet is that Duchovney was like “Hey, I want to read this poem” and everyone was like “Jesus fucking Christ, let’s just let him do it, we’ll never hear the end of it if we don’t.” From there it goes into this cult story where a woman suspect/witness who believes she is a reincarnated spirit and is living past lives all at once. THIS BASICALLY MEANS SHE’S DOING THE SPLIT PERSONALITY ACTING THING AND ALTERNATING BETWEEN THIS ROLODEX OF EXAGGERATED IMPROV CHARACTERS. This actress is SOOOOO BAD. Like Hallmark Original Movie School of Acting bad. One character has a New Jersey truck drive voice, and it’s like WTF? This is like asking your grandma to do an impression of your dad bad. I hated this shit. You know what? My dad was 100% right, fuck this show.

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