The Best 25 Episodes of The X-Files

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  • The Best 25 Episodes of The X-Files: It was pretty difficult assembling a list of only 25 episodes out of such a long and distinguished roster, but I feel like this is full of good episodes even if there are a few notable snubs. It contains a lot of the really memorable "monsters" as well as some of my favorite mythology arcs and a strong dose of humor. I will admit to cheating just the least bit. I'm counting any shows that are part of the same two-to-three episode arc to be one story, though I think is fair since you can't really appreciate one part without the others. There are a couple of stretches, but darn it, it's my list, and this lets me expand it to fill my needs while still holding to a satisfying, round-number framework. Let's begin.

  • 25. Triangle (Season 6)

  • Surreal and experimental, Triangle is a fan favorite and with good reason. When Mulder sneaks off to investigate a lead in the Bermuda Triangle, he finds himself trapped on an ocean liner in the midst of World War II. This time-warp oddly mirrors his own world, with Skinner, CSM, Kersh, and even Scully appearing in period styles; but only Mulder seems to know that all is not right. As he tries to foil the Nazi plot, back at the F.B.I. Scully becomes uncharacteristically zealous in her search for information that could save Mulder's life. This episode is trippy, funny, and has more Wizard of Oz references (and more kissing) than you can shake a stick at. Scully smooches Skinner? Mulder plants one on 1940's Scully? Kersh is a Jamaican slave? The weirdness doesn't end.
  • From a technical perspective this one of the most interesting X-Files to watch. Chris Carter filmed the whole episode in the style of Hitchcock's Rope, doing long takes and hiding the cuts to make each segment appear to be a single shot. He also makes use of split screen to illustrate the two dimensions on the ghost ship. The middle segment in which Scully runs around the entire F.B.I. building is the most entertaining. I love Fiery Scully.

  • Scully: "I want you to do me a favor. It's not negotiable. Either you do it or I kill you. You understand?"

  • Mulder: "Scully.... I love you."
  • Scully: "Oh, brother..."


  • 24. Drive (Season 6)

  • The transition of the show in Season 6 from gloomy Vancouver to sunny California forced a change in the way the X-Files looked. They no longer had the immediate foggy atmosphere that had been so effective in establishing mood from the outset. Fortunately, the new locations also opened up new story possibilities, and Drive took the wheel early on to show what was possible.
  • The plot is classic X-Files with a nod to Speed. Opening with a fake newscast, the teaser shows a man in a high speed chase westward. It turns out he's carrying his wife because she has a terrible pain and pressure in her head that can only be kept at bay by traveling at great velocity. Once they are stopped by police, she dies quickly and violently. As Scully tries to determine the cause of the condition, Mulder is hijacked by Patrick Crump, the bigoted hillbilly whose wife was killed and who is now suffering the same symptoms. As Mulder comes to believe the man and tries to help him, they are locked into a race against time as they run out of fuel and eventually out of road. This is a thrilling 40 minutes and we fear the end long before it arrives. Scully shines flashlights at things and performs gross medical inquiries, the government covers up yet another atrocity that it helped cause, and Mulder bickers with his potentially contagious passenger.

  • Mulder: "I'm sorry about your wife."
  • Patrick Crump: "Sure you are... You and the rest of your Jew FBI."

  • Patrick Crump: "Not Crump. Mr. Crump."
  • Mulder: "I can think of something else I'd like to call you. I could put 'mister' in front of that, too if you'd like."


  • 23. Arcadia (Season 6)

  • Every 'shipper's dream came true in this episode. Mulder and Scully go undercover as newlywed couple Rob and Laura Petrie (pronounced "Peetree," like the dish) to investigate a string of disappearances from a picture-perfect community. The neighbors are friendly and close-knit and the houses and lawns are immaculate; but woe to those who break the rules. And of course, that's exactly what Mulder and Scully are about to do. The X-File - the first official one this season - is pretty original and sinister, but the trappings of the episode are hilarious. Mulder has great fun with his gig pretending to be married to Scully, and they both have some classic exchanges as Scully chides him about the way he squeezes his toothpaste and Mulder frequently embarrasses her in front of the neighbors.

  • Mulder: "Woman! Get back in here and make me a sandwich!"

  • Schroeder: "How was your first night? Peaceful?"
  • Mulder: "Oh, it was wonderful. We just spooned up and fell asleep like little baby cats. Isn't that right, Honeybunch?"
  • Scully: "That's right, Poopyhead."


  • 22. Colony / End Game (Season 2)

  • A rousing two-parter opens a new chapter in the grand mythology of the X-Files. In Colony, it appears that Mulder's sister has been returned. However, she is not alone. A shape-shifting alien bounty hunter is also running amok with his own unsettling aims. This sets up a cliffhanger that leads us into End Game, which is by far the better of the two and the one that really sells the developments. Scully is captured and Mulder is forced to make the painful choice of trading his sister to get her back. He also gets a glimpse into the aliens' cloning activities, which sends him on a trek to a submarine stuck in a barren ice field, where he will risk his life to find out the truth. All this, and Skinner proves his loyalty when he confronts the shady contact, 'X,' to get information for Scully. In one of the greatest Skinner moments, he shows up at Mulder's apartment bruised and bleeding and calmly tells Scully where to find her partner. Scully: "How did you get this?" Skinner: "Unofficial channels." Awesome.

  • Mr X: "You'll only win the war if you pick the right battles, Agent Mulder. This is a battle you can't win."

  • Scully: "Did you find what you were looking for?"
  • Mulder: "No... no. But I found something I'd thought I'd lost. Faith to keep looking."


  • 21. War of the Coprophages (Season 3)

  • The least of the Darin Morgan episodes is still a scream. Placed right in the center of Season 3 is this irreverent and silly but very dry comic episode. The humor is based mostly in the characters as it comments on the Mulder/Scully relationship. Scully is at home, enjoying a quiet weekend by washing her dog and reading Breakfast at Tiffany's, but Mulder keeps calling her about developments in a town where cockroaches seem to be attacking and killing people. Each time she finds an increasingly unlikely scientific guess to allay his suspicion until the roach scare spirals out of hand and the whole town is in a panic. The imitable A.J. Buckley has a brief cameo as a druggie kid who meets a disturbing end, and Mulder rubs elbows with a gorgeous entomologist named Bambi ("Her name is Bambi?"). The episode goes a bit over-the-top at the end, but it's so off-kilter it keeps you on your toes the whole time. Not to be missed.

  • Scully: "I'm not going to ask if you just said what I think you just said because I know it's what you just said."

  • Scully: "This is no place for an entomologist."


  • 20. The Host (Season 2)

  • We love Chris Carter because he has no taste, and The Host is among the most unsavory monster of the week installments. It's, for lack of a better word, yucky. When Mulder is given a murder case by Skinner that sends him stomping through the New Jersey sewer system, it's his opinion that something stinks. But his assignment is no fluke - a giant parasitic creature is navigating the sewer system looking for hosts. Meanwhile Scully performs an unappetizing autopsy and Mulder receives a cryptic phone call informing him that he has a friend at the F.B.I. Flukeman is an unforgettable creature who represents the show at its slimiest.

  • Detective Norman: "Hey, Agent Mulder! What would you like us to do with the body?"
  • Mulder: "Wrap it up and send it to the FBI, care of Assistant Director Skinner."

  • Mulder: "This isn't where you tell me some terrible story about sushi, is it?"
  • Scully: "Well maybe you'd rather hear what you could catch from a nice rare steak?"
  • Mulder: "So, what? The murder weapon was a top sirloin?"


  • 19. Monday (Season 6)

  • Have you ever had one of those days? Pam has. In fact she's been living like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day for an indeterminate amount of time, but it's the worst day of her life and she can't escape. What's more, she's the only one who recognizes that time is repeating itself with small changes. The day Mulder is having isn't much better. It starts with a leaky water bed and ends with him being shot and blown up. Slowly, however, he begins to suspect and remember pieces of his past encounters. This cinematic episode weaves every day experiences like deja vu and Murphy's Law into a larger cosmic conspiracy. Are things fated to always turn out one way, or can a person change their destiny and that of others? That's the question that will be answered on Monday.

  • Mulder: "You ever have one of those days, Scully?"
  • Scully: "Since I've been working here? Yeah. When did you get a water bed, Mulder?"


  • 18. Small Potatoes (Season 4)

  • Vince Gilligan pens one of the X-Files' most provocative comedy episodes in the grand tradition of (and guest starring) the immortal Darin Morgan. Somewhere in West Virginia (one of the show's favorite locations for paranormal activity), babies are being born with tails. The most recent mother of such an infant claims the father is from another planet - and from a galaxy far, far away. Even Mulder doesn't buy it, and soon our favorite agents trace the anomalies to a single father, an otherwise unremarkable janitor named Eddie Van Blundht (the 'h' is silent), who was not only born with a tail but who can also change his appearance to look like anyone! The hijinx have only begun when the unscrupulous Eddie adopts Mulder's identity and sets into motion a hilarious deconstruction of the Mulder character ("Where the hell do I sleep?"). Watching Duchovny satirize his own character and shamelessly hit on Scully is a delight; an awkward, uncomfortable delight, but no less brilliant for it.

  • Scully: "Birds and the bees and the monkey babies, Mulder."

  • Mulder: "I have a theory, if you want to hear it?"
  • Scully: "Van Blundht somehow physically transformed into his captor then walked out the door leaving no one the wiser?"
  • Mulder: "Scully, should we be picking out china patterns or what?"


  • 17. Die Hand Die Verletzt (Season 2)

  • This is a classic X-File. It's violent, aberrant, frightening, and yes, humorous - with plenty of memorable imagery. Big snake? Check. Witchcraft? Check. Creepy teacher? Check. Child abuse and human sacrifice? Double check. But it's not enough until the fetal pig starts moving and squealing during dissection. I think that's the point at which this episode really takes off. There's some convincing acting by young guest star Heather McComb in a difficult role - she really makes us believe all the trauma she has suffered. And whatever demons are at play here, you can tell they get devious satisfaction out of making the water drain in the wrong direction.

  • Scully: "Mulder! Toads just fell from the sky!"
  • Mulder: "Guess their parachutes didn't open."

  • Mulder: "Even the devil can quote scripture to suit his needs."


  • 16. Humbug (Season 2)

  • Carnivals and circuses are strange by nature, and freak shows by intent. We get a little of all of that in Humbug when Mulder and Scully investigate a murder in a bizarre community inhabited by side-show attractions. This was the first episode written by Darin Morgan and thus the most surprising. Fans of the show at the time were not expecting comedy beyond the frequent character quips, so taking it in this direction was risky. Fortunately everyone loved it, and the shtick was used sparingly enough in the next few seasons that it didn't get old until Season 6 completely wore it out. A general feeling of creepiness pervades this episode, so it helps that the dialog is snappy. Oh, and Scully eats a live cricket. That's gotta be a top 10 moment right there.

  • Lenny: "Mr Nut, the kind-hearted manager here, convinced me that to make a living by publicly displaying my deformity lacked dignity. So... now I carry other people's luggage."

  • Dr Blockhead: "Did you know that through the protective practice of Tiea Bu Shan, you can train your testicles to draw up into your abdomen?"
  • Mulder: "Oh, I'm doing that as we speak."

  • Dr Blockhead: "If people knew the true price of spirituality, there'd be more atheists."


  • 15. Irresistible (Season 2)

  • A death fetishist is on the loose (Fox network wouldn't let them use the word necrophiliac) in the form of handsome, intelligent, mild-mannered Donnie Pfaster. He is perfectly cast and makes an absolutely chilling villain. Pfaster is one of the X-Files' most notorious monsters - an unassuming guise for pure evil. Scully finds herself more and more troubled by the case as it begins to take a toll on her in ways she would never have imagined. She hides her feelings from Mulder, the one person who can come to her aid when she needs it most. Meanwhile, Mulder must get inside the mind of the reprehensible killer in order to stop him before he completes his next murder. Irresistible is a dark, oppressive episode. It's difficult television that brings to light fears which are all too real in today's world.

  • Agent Bocks: "You're saying some human's been doing this?"
  • Mulder: "Yeah, if you want to call him that."

  • Karen Kosseff: "Is it your partner? Is there a problem with trust?"
  • Scully: "No. I trust him as much as anyone. I trust him with my life."


  • 14. Leonard Betts / Memento Mori (Season 4)

  • A little unorthodox since it's not technically a two-parter, although some would say it's part of a cancer trilogy which would include Never Again. I personally don't think Never Again is worthy of a top seed, and it's not directly related like these two are. Leonard Betts practically screams "to be continued" even though the words themselves don't appear. In Leonard Betts, the titular Betts is a gifted EMT who is decapitated in a sudden ambulance crash. However, his headless body disappears from the morgue, and the disembodied head is doing things no disembodied head should. Incredulous, Mulder and Scully run a gamut of tests as they try to figure out what's going on. Eventually they discover that Betts possesses an incredible regenerative ability; but that's where things take a much darker turn. The climax of the story is a cheer-worthy action bit in the back of an ambulance, but any jubilation is muted by pained disbelief as Betts' proclamation comes out of left field: "I'm sorry... but you have something I need."

  • This leads us to the somber and emotionally charged Memento Mori, in which Scully must deal with the crushing realization that she has an inoperable cancer. She finds friendship and courage in a fellow abductee dying from a more advanced stage of the same illness, and seeks a radical treatment. Mulder, too, copes with the news. He enlists the aid of the Lone Gunmen to infiltrate a research facility and discover information about a government conspiracy he hopes will shed light on Scully's condition. And Skinner may pay the highest price if he makes a deal with the devil for Scully's life.

  • Mulder: "Will the real Leonard Betts please stand up!"

  • Mulder: "The truth will save you, Scully... I think it will save both of us."


  • 13. Folie à Deux (Season 5)

  • No attempts at objectivity here: I love this episode. I've been just skimming through the episodes for screen shots but I stopped and watched most of this once I put it in. I like the way it's lit and shot. I like the sense of paranoia and the concept of "hiding in the light." Most of all, though, there's a monster. An honest-to-goodness monster, of which there just haven't been enough in Season 5. Yes, the effects are odd, and some might say cheap-looking. I personally like the way the creature looks and moves - erratically, irrationally, like a TV channel getting interference, phasing in and out of our three-dimensional space. It seems like it shouldn't exist, and that's part of what makes it scary. Plus, what the mind does is always better than what the eye beholds. The "zombies" it influences are good and creepy as well. I think everyone can relate to the soul-sucking effect of the daily grind, and it's never been so creatively illustrated.

  • Mulder: "Scully, you have to believe me. Nobody else on this whole damn planet does or ever will. You're my one in five billion."


  • 12. Paper Hearts (Season 4)

  • Season 4 is commonly called the darkest season of The X-Files, and I'd say that's probably accurate, at least until Season 8. Both heroes face some of their toughest challenges. Paper Hearts is, in some ways, Mulder's Irresistible. John Lee Roche is the kind of evil he has difficulty contending against, and this case suddenly becomes very personal to him. Roche is a cold, remorseless child killer serving multiple life sentences who cut cloth hearts out of the clothes of his victims and kept them as mementos. When a vivid dream leads Mulder to a previously undiscovered body, he realizes Roche killed more children than anyone had suspected - and one of them might be Samantha. This is an illuminating episode for Mulder as he shows great vulnerability - one scene in particular is both beautiful and heartbreaking. However, he also demonstrates that he is still a competent agent under pressure and determined to right wrongs. Mulder's dream sequences are fanciful bits with unique music that provide us a touching reprieve from the stressful situation without. This is an artful and emotionally cutting episode that easily stands among the best.

  • Mulder: "Help me, Scully."

  • Scully: "You said it yourself once. You said that... a dream is an answer to a question we haven't learned how to ask."


  • 11. Anasazi / The Blessing Way / Paper Clip (Seasons 2 & 3)

  • This jam-packed story arc was the Season 2 finale and the Season 3 premier; though, as usual, the last episode (in this case, Paper Clip) is the best of the three. It's one of those ratings period power plays in which several  characters die and several more almost do. In Anasazi, Mulder begins acting strangely, and we learn of his father's involvement with the government conspiracy. Mulder comes into possession of encrypted files and finds a man, Albert Hosteen, who can decipher them. He also discovers a train car full of bodies he fears are extra-terrestrial, but is caught in an explosion and presumed dead.
  • Of course he isn't quite dead and in The Blessing Way he drifts back to us with help from the Navajos, and Scully talks to her family as well as the Well-Manicured Man who gives her unsolicited information. Suspicions swell until the episode ends with a three-way standoff in Mulder's apartment.
  • In Paper Clip it all bursts open. Mulder and Scully find a hidden complex with countless files of those who have had smallpox vaccinations and barely escape with their lives. Meanwhile, tensions and disputes flare up among the Syndicate and their agents. And, in one of the most satisfying scenes in the series, Skinner sticks it to the Smoking Man but good. It's a pivotal time for the X-Files that establishes characters, broadens the scope of the mythology, and - of course - leaves us asking more questions than it answers.

  • Well-Manicured Man: "We predict the future. The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

  • Smoking Man: "What is this?"
  • Skinner: "This is where you pucker up and kiss my ass!"


  • 10. Bad Blood (Season 5)

  • One of the most famous comedy episodes. Mulder is accused of murdering a teenager in a small Texas community - someone he believed was a vampire. Now, with their reports to Skinner imminent, he and Scully try to agree on the events of the past day. What follows is two notably different versions of the case as each agent explains what they experienced. Vince Gilligan leaves nothing sacred as the characters mercilessly skewer one another by exaggerating their behaviorisms and those of their partner. The reason I can't rank this any higher is because at times it seems to cast both agents in a very negative light - it's hard to believe they think this way about each other. Yet it's also amusing and enlightening. Scully swoons over the local sheriff played by Luke Wilson (who in Mulder's version has buck teeth) and tries to impress him with her medical and scientific knowledge. She paints her partner as egotistic, evasive, and a bit of a buffoon. Mulder, on the other hand, thinks of himself as acquiescent and resourceful; and he shows us a short-fused, self-pitying Scully. Though of course it simply goes to show how both of them wish to be better understood by the other.
  • The reason I can rank it as high as I have is because it's very funny, and consistently so. David Duchovny has a gift for comedy and he puts it to great use here. Not only is the teaser hilarious ("oh...shiii-") but when Mulder is lying drugged out of his mind on his hotel floor singing the theme from "Shaft," well... that makes me laugh every danged time I see it. I can't even begin to name more individual gags because nearly every line of dialog sends up what the X-Files had been doing for 5 years prior - and I haven't even talked much about the actual case which is in itself interesting with a few twists thrown in. A landmark episode that deserves its reputation.

  • Mulder: "Come on, Scully, get those little legs moving!"

  • Mulder: "We got another dead tourist. You got to do another autopsy."
  • Scully: "Tonight? I just put money in the Magic Fingers!"

  • Scully: "Well, it's obviously not a vampire."
  • Mulder: "Why not?"
  • Scully: "Because they don't exist."


  • 9. Detour (Season 5)

  • One of the first episodes I remember seeing is one that taps into a primal human fear - that you will look out into the woods, down the hall, or under your bed, and see red eyes glowing back at you from the darkness. What could they be? What do they want? Will they eat you up and never leave a trace? It almost doesn't matter. The sheer knowledge that some unseen thing is watching you is a violation of every comfort we have. In this case, Mulder and Scully accidentally come upon an investigation on their way to an F.B.I. team-building seminar in a Florida forest where people have gone missing. Before long they are on the trail of unidentified attackers who ambush their victims and drag them underground. It's a truly creepy episode with a great location and, best of all, a wonderful conversation between two friends who obviously trust and care for one another. The icing on the cake is that Scully sings "Joy to the World;" and not the Christmas carol. The one with the bullfrog.

  • Mulder: "I was told once that the best way to regenerate body heat was to crawl naked into a sleeping bag with somebody else who's already naked."
  • Scully: "Maybe if it rains sleeping bags you'll get lucky. You ever thought seriously about dying?"
  • Mulder: "Yeah, once. When I was at the Ice Capades."

  • Agent Kinsley: "I couldn't believe how hard it was not to use the word 'but'."
  • Mulder: "I'm having that same problem right now..."


  • 8. Home (Season 4)

  • Home is "that episode." For a while, before putting television shows on DVD was as popular as it is now, it was a hard episode to find. It's the only episode in the show's history to be given the dreaded "TV MA" rating - and it's not even the bloodiest show up to this point. People just found it uncommonly disturbing, and I guess that's understandable. In a small town named "Home," where the sheriff's name is Andy Taylor, a baby has been found buried - a baby that Scully says has practically every birth defect known to man. The law enforcement implicates the Peacocks, a clan of inbred brothers who hide out on their farm house outside of town. When Mulder and Scully attempt to question them, however, they stir up a series of horrific events. The sequence in which the Peacocks invade the Sheriff's house is a page right out the Tarantino school of film making, made all the more unsettling by the juxtaposition of the happy music with deadly violence. For high-impact television, there's no place like Home (do I get Gene Shalit points for that quip?).

  • Mulder: "Well, just find yourself a man with a spotless genetic make up and a really high tolerance for being second-guessed and start pumping out the little uberScullys."

  • Mulder: "Scully, would you think me less of me as a man if I told you I was a kind of excited right now? There some secret farmer trick to get these things moving?"
  • Scully: "I don't know. Baa-ram-ewe. Baa-ram-ewe."
  • Mulder: "Yeah, that'll work."


  • 7. Field Trip (Season 6)

  • Strange things are afoot. Skeletal remains are turning up in a field with no other evidence. When Mulder investigates the area, he meets a couple who had gotten trapped in a cave while hiking and who believe that their deaths have been faked by aliens so no one will look for them once they are abducted. Meanwhile, Scully goes after Mulder only to find her worst fears realized. This is the last great X-File, wedged at the end of Season 6 just before the series went to the dogs. It has a perfect ending (even if it is a little telegraphed), and the scenes leading up to it are darkly funny. They are devastating in one sense but also bizarre enough to be amusing. We feel the frustration and disorientation that the agents experience as the world they know becomes just a little too convenient and then disintegrates around them. And Mulder finally stands up to Scully about her disbelief, which she finds subsequently tested. Their combination of viewpoints may once again serve to extricate them from a dire situation. The word "Trip" in the title is no accident. This episode is as far-out as they come.

  • [repeated line] "I think his body was stripped and then skeletonised. Possibly by boiling or use of an acid solution."

  • Mulder: "Scully, in six years, how... how often have I been wrong? No, seriously. I mean, every time I bring you a new case we go through this perfunctory dance. You tell me I'm not being scientifically rigorous and that I'm off my nut, and then in the end who turns out to be right like 98.9% of the time? I just think I've... earned the benefit of the doubt here."


  • 6. Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose (Season 3)

  • Possibly the most acclaimed episode in the X-Files canon, writer Darin Morgan and guest star Peter Boyle won Emmys for their work here. This is Morgan's most complex script. The humor is more ironic than silly, and while it tempers the episode it doesn't overpower the X-File. The story is actually an intriguing rumination on fate vs. choice, whether the future is set, and why people act the way they do. A serial killer has been targeting fortune-tellers. So who do the police call in to help? A charismatic TV psychic called the Stupendous Yappi. But Mulder and Scully run across an insurance salesman named Clyde Bruckman who may be the real thing. The catch? He can only see how people are going to die, and not much else that's useful. Can he be trusted? What good are his predictions if the events can't be changed? And if the future already exists, as Bruckman suggests it must for him to be able to see it, what is the point of doing anything at all? "Now you're catching on." Scully gets a dog, and Bruckman makes predictions about the death of both of our protagonists... neither of which has yet been contradicted.

  • Scully: "All right. So how do I die?"
  • Clyde Bruckman: "You don't."

  • Scully: "Mr Bruckman, there are hits and there are misses. And then there are misses."


  • 5. Squeeze / Tooms (Season 1)

  • The very first X-Files monster is not only a great one, but also a very important one. With Squeeze, Chris Carter and writing team Glen Morgan and James Wong proved that the show would be about more than just aliens. They established the format for what would become the most common type of episode throughout the series. When a man is killed inside of a locked room with no apparent entry point and his liver is extracted, police are baffled. Mulder recognizes the M.O. and finds cases of similar murders dating back decades. A man named Eugene Victor Tooms is, it seems, more than just a man. In fact, he is a genetic freak with the incredible ability to stretch out his body parts and fit into impossibly confined spaces. The catch? He needs livers to survive, and the new partners Mulder and Scully have only a limited time to apprehend Tooms before he finishes his killing streak and goes back into hibernation for 30 more years.
  • Tooms is a menacing villain with a calculating expression and jaundiced eyes, and was popular enough to earn a sequel later in the same season. Several of the great X-Files baddies have reappeared, including Donnie Pfaster and Robert Patrick Modell. While not technically the same story thread, the second episode completes the tale and offers good character building as well as some creative comeuppance.

  • Mulder: "Is there any way I can get it off my fingers quickly without betraying my cool exterior?"

  • Scully: "Mulder, I wouldn't put myself on the line for anybody but you."
  • Mulder: "If there's an iced tea in that bag, it could be love."


  • 4. Jose Chung's "From Outer Space" (Season 3)

  • Get ready for the funniest, most absurd X-File of them all! Author Jose Chung wants to write a novel based on extra-terrestrial phenomenon, and he interviews Scully about her experiences on The X-Files. As a fan of his work, she obliges; however, it's going to be hard to make sense of this twisted tale of reality and perception. Each character has his own report of portions of the case, and sometimes the same event will be interpreted in more than one way. Darin Morgan offers up his most brilliant parody of everything X-Files, and much of the humor comes from subverting or deconstructing the established tropes and the rhythm of the show. An alien smokes and mutters "This is not happening." Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek are men in black who warn a writer not to tell anyone he saw anything in the night sky other than the planet Venus. Detective Manners utters the words "bleep" and "blank" in place of his curses. Mulder eats an entire pie while interrogating a shop owner; and, in what is probably the funniest single second of all, shrieks like a little girl. And just who is Lord Kimbo, you ask? How the hell should I know?

  • Blane: "Well hey, I didn't spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage."

  • Scully: "That was Detective Manners. He said they just found your bleepin' UFO."


  • 3. Duane Barry / Ascension / One Breath (Season 2)

  • This abrupt and startling chapter kicked off the X-Files mythology, taking it in unpredictable directions. Mulder and Scully are already off the X-Files, but things go from bad to worse when - of all things - Scully is abducted! In Duane Barry, Mulder is called in to helm a hostage situation. Barry, a former abductee, is terrified of being taken again. He implicates what we have also suspected - that the government is in on it. Eventually, he takes Scully in hopes of offering her in exchange for himself, and Mulder sets off to rescue her. His adventure leads to a harrowing ride atop a cable car, and his new partner Alex Krycek chooses that inopportune moment to reveal his villainous intentions. With enemies on every side, Scully's absence begins to take a toll on Mulder and he recklessly confronts those he holds responsible, including the Cigarette Smoking Man. Meanwhile, Scully toes the line between life and death in a series of poetic visual metaphors. One Breath is an emotional climax that shows us the depth of the characters. Usually I think of Gillian Anderson as the best actor of the principal cast, but she spends most of her screen time in a coma and they still come out strong. It's a thrilling and beautiful arc that transcends monsters and aliens with high intrigue and the poignant character drama which has always been at the heart of The X-Files' appeal.

  • Smoking Man: "Kill Mulder and you risk turning one man's religion into a crusade."

  • Mr X: "There are no answers for you, Mr Mulder. They only have one policy. Deny Everything."

  • Smoking Man: "Don't try and threaten me, Mulder. I've watched presidents die."


  • 2. Pusher (Season 3)

  • A man whose words can cause people to kill themselves locks Mulder into a battle of wills in this Season 3 standout. Robert Patrick Modell, who calls himself Pusher, is an otherwise average individual who has gained an almost Jedi-like power of suggestion and used it to kill many people. However, since the victims were talked into self destruction, the murders look like suicides; and even if the police could bring a solid case, Modell's coercion works on the judge, too. How can you catch a man who can control you? Modell is an egocentric loose canon with nothing to lose, and one of the most dangerous adversaries our agents have ever faced. When he traps Mulder and Scully in a sadistic game of Russian Roulette, it's a test of their last reserves of determination and loyalty in the breathless finale.

  • Mulder: "Oh... Your shoe's untied. Made you look."

  • Scully: "Please explain to me the scientific nature of the whammy."


  • 1. Beyond the Sea (Season 1)

  • Get some tissues, 'cause this episode brings the rain. When Scully's father passes away suddenly, she copes by continuing her work. The next case that comes down the pipeline is a kidnapping. The FBI has five days to find a pair of teenagers before they are killed by their captors, and the only person who claims to have any information is himself a serial killer put on death row in part by Mulder's profile. Boggs says that he is a psychic capable of channeling spirits and wants to work a deal - his life for information that could save the kidnap victims. Uncharacteristically, it's Mulder who plays the skeptic, believing instead that Boggs is in league with the criminals. However, in Scully's weakened mental state, she begins seeing things that make her wonder if Boggs is telling the truth. She investigates his lead, hoping ultimately that he will help her speak to her recently deceased father from beyond the grave.

  • X-Files has had many distinguished guest stars over the years, but Brad Dourif is certainly one of the finest. He shines here as the fearful and enigmatic Boggs, giving a knockout performance. He's believable and captivating. I ought also to mention Sheila Larkin who plays Scully's mother and does an excellent job whenever she appears. Yet, this episode belongs to Gillian Anderson's Dana Scully. She's certainly Dourif's equal and when they go head-to-head, sparks fly. It's her emotional journey as she looses her father, takes a chance on a serial killer, and almost loses Mulder. She displays achingly real vulnerability but remains strong, ultimately solving the case and restoring justice. The ending is beautiful, quiet. The only sound is a heart monitor beeping when Chris Carter's name appears from the black, and the X-Files theme song seems almost a crude interruption of such a gentle moment. Beyond the Sea is a consummate episode that does everything right - the supernatural, and the very human.

  • Mulder: "Dana, after all you've seen, after all the evidence, why can't you believe?"



Author Comments: 

RUNNERS-UP:
Episodes that I wanted to include but simply didn't have enough room.

-The Goldberg Variation: I wanted to have this as a representative of Season 7. It's a nice bright episode with some good humor, but not weighty enough to boot out another contender.
-Via Negativa: I am actually a fan of Doggett and Season 8 in particular. This episode was creepy and had some great shots.
-Nisei/731: Cinematic and exciting, especially 731 in which Mulder fights for his life on a wired train car. I felt the other mythology arcs that I picked were a little more important.
-Quagmire: Big Blue and Queequeg and the conversation on the rock.
-Ice: Popular Season 1 episode that is quite strong - just not strong enough to displace the others. These would probably squeeze in if I expanded to top 30.

NOTABLE SNUBS
Here are a few episodes that many fans are probably irritated that I left out, but that I never had any intention of adding.

-Redux and Redux II: These Season 5 episodes are loved by shippers, but for me they didn't add much to the mythology, and actually marked a point where it began to go down hill. Season 5's mythology was weaker than 4's, and of course by Season 6 it was completely retooled (but mostly destroyed).
-X-Cops: It's a gimmick episode and not a penny more.
-Dreamland: Overlong episode wore out its premise and the writers had no way out of the corner they put themselves in.
-Post-Modern Prometheus: Cher? Please.

Brilliant list. Personally I would have found room for the Nisei/731 arc but there's no faulting your choices. Great stuff.

Wow, adding the screencaps and reviews has clearly taken a lot of work. Fantastic to see such a definitive guide to the best of TXF on Listology though. Thanks.

This actually started as an article on my blog and so I thought I would try to expand the listology entry to mirror that format. I saw another dude who had a nice-looking list with pictures and everything and it inspired me to go the extra mile. I feel it's more satisfying this way. :)

nice list