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'X-Files' 10 Best Episodes

Andrew Payne Andrew Payne
July 25th, 2008 11:34am EDT
The X-Files: I Want to BelieveAfter six long years, we may finally discover the ultimate truth. Today, the second "X-Files" movie hits theaters a decade after the first movie and six years after the series went off the air. All that time apart from Mulder and Scully has inevitably left fans feeling disconnected from the characters and casual viewers forgetting the show altogether.

This will probably result in the film being a massive financial failure (the first movie barely cracked $80 million at a time when 20 million people tuned in every week), but for the true X-Philes out there "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" is the major event film of the summer.

Still, even the most dyed-in-the-wool "X-Files" fan has to feel a distance between Mulder and Scully. The time apart has left them forgetting some of the events from the series that had them hooked in on Friday and Sunday nights.

In order to catch everybody up (die hards and the newbies alike), here's a list of the top ten "X-Files" episodes of all time, along with some other bests and worsts from the Sci-Fi series.

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Best Substitute for "The Truth Is Out There": On special occasions the credits were altered, and the famous phrase that flashes above the mountain was taken out in favor of one more appropriate to the episode. The best of these is the first, "Trust No One," at one time a chilling catchphrase for life and one of the last things that Deep Throat said to Scully, a mindset that would define the series in the coming years.

Best Secondary Character: Mulder and Scully (And later, Doggett, Reyes and Skinner) were the main characters on the series, but several recurring characters had similar impact. The best of these was the mysterious Mr. X, Mulder's man inside the syndicate who took the place of Deep Throat. His manipulative and mysterious nature always left viewers floored and never revealed his true motivations.

Worst Secondary Character: Diana Fowley. She was so bad, you probably don't even know who she is. She was Mimi Rogers' character, a former lover of Mulder's and co-discoverer of the X-Files. The writers brought her in at the end of the fifth season and viewers had to suffer through her wooden and boring character for the entire sixth season. She never really did anything and added nothing at all to the overall mythos of the series.

Best Villain: Krycek was too sniveling, The Cigarette Smoking Man humanized too often, and The Well-Manicured Man helped Mulder and Scully too much. The best villain was The Elder, apparently the American leader of the Syndicate who went so far as to order the assassination of CSM. He was a ruthless tyrant who stopped at nothing to carry out the Syndicate's plans.

Worst Villain: Knowle Rohrer, the Krycek of the Doggett era. 'Nuff said.

Best Monster of the Week: Conventional wisdom usually has the hideous Flukeman taking down this prize, but the coolest MOW was Phyllis Paddock, a woman who took the idea of the Substitute Teacher from Hell far too literally. (watch clip)

Worst Monster of the Week: The Killer Trees from "Schizogeny." This season five episode proved that even the "X-Files"' writers can come up completely dry on their scary creeps sometimes.

Best Guest Star: A toss-up between Peter Boyle as Clyde Bruckman and Jesse L. Martin as Josh Exley. See Below.

Best Not-Yet-Famous Guest Star: Felicity Huffman, Bradley Whitford and Shia LaBeouf all appeared on "The X-Files" before hitting it big. The best of these, however, has to be the third season episode "D.P.O." featuring Giovanni Ribisi as a kid who can make lighting and a svelte Jack Black as his best friend. (watch clip)

Most Shocking Moment: In a series filled with shocking thrills and gross-out villains, the most shocking moment didn't even happen during an episode. It came with the opening credits for season nine, a complete re-design that saw Annabeth Gish and Mitch Pileggi added to the opening sequence and the familiar graphics totally scrapped. These credits looked like they belonged to a different series and at that point, it was. (watch clip)

Biggest Dissapointment: Bruce Campbell's episode being lame nearly earned this accolade. Instead the biggest disappointment was highly-anticipated guest writer Stephen King producing an episode that wouldn't even make the top 150. A killer doll? "Chucky" wants its plot back.

Funniest Episode: When "The X-Files" did comedy, it was probably the funniest drama ever on television. In later seasons, the writers focused more on the comedy and less on the thrills, building on the timing of its two leads. The funniest of them all was the parody episode "X-Cops," which was shot like an episode of "Cops" and featured Scully's hilarious attempts to stay out of the view of the camera. (watch clip)

Worst Episode: For this, we'll have to consider the Doggett/Reyes era a different series. The worst of the classic series came in the second season following Scully's abduction. The dreadful "3" featured Mulder in LA by himself investigating vampires, or blood drinkers or something along those lines. It was a boring episode more dimly lit than usual. In fact, the episode was so dark that it was actually hard to see what was happening at points.

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Now, the countdown of the series' top ten episodes:



10. "Blood" - Season 2: Not a well-known episode, but a very creepy one. Citizens of a small town go on killing sprees after LED lights instruct them towards violence. Watching several digital displays tell poor Edward Munsch to "Kill 'Em All" is one of the eeriest things ever on the series. This was the episode that turned the "X-Files" from a mere creepfest to a show that offered real psychological thrills. (watch clip)


9. "The Rain King" - Season 6: A funny and heartwarming episode. Not bad for a show that's supposed to be a sci-fi horror series. This episode finds Mulder and Scully investigating a man who can supposedly make it rain. Turns out, the weather is actually caused by the town's meek weatherman who's been in love with a local woman since high school. Eventually, he turns to Mulder for dating advice ("The blind leading the blind," according to Scully) and wins the woman of his dreams, causing the weather to return to normal. An ingenious way to use the paranormal motif of the show for something other than thrills. (watch clip)


8. "Small Potatoes" - Season 4: A creepy episode that's also hilarious. Mulder and Scully travel to a town amid a woman's claim that the father of her betailed baby was from another planet. That turns out to be half true as the baby daddy is a local resident capable of conforming his body to look like anyone. His choice for that evening was Luke Skywalker. His ability leads to his trapping Mulder and attempting to take over his life, nearly making out with Scully in the process. This episode is a ton of fun as the audience is never quite sure who's who. (watch clip)


7. "The Unnatural" - Season 6: Ignore for a second the Arthur Dales confusion (Darren McGavin became too ill during filming to reprise his role) and focus on the gorgeous story of an alien baseball player Josh Exley. The flashback scenes are good enough to stand on their own as a history of the Negro Leagues and adds another great entry to the list of stories that explain the wondrous majesty of baseball. It works so well in this series as it shows that maybe there are more important things than Mulder's search for the truth, and those things can be as simple as a game. Combine that with a brilliant guest performance by Jesse L. Martin and you have a real classic written and directed by David Duchovny. (watch clip)

6. "Synchrony" - Season 4: Not the best plotted episode, but it's the killer's motives that make this a classic. Mulder and Scully go to Boston in order to investigate a graduate student's claim that a man predicted his friend's death. As it turns out, this man is actually that student who travelled back in time from the future to kill his past self and his colleagues: They'll invent a freezing compound in a few years that provide the human body the capability to survive a trip through a wormhole. It's a decent plot but one that transcends the series when the killer is asked why he's doing this. He tells of a world with no hope and no history. People are not able to see their whole lives before they happen and go back and change the past to shape the way they want the present to be. This chilling vision is an extraordinary description of the potential evils inherent in time travel and raises a good episode to the highest plane.

5. The Mytharc - Season 1 through Season 6: Okay, so this isn't one episode. It's actually a 37-way tie for fifth. This entry concerns only the original mytharc, that begins with the Cigarette Smoking Man overseeing Scully's being assigned to Mulder in the pilot and continues through meetings with Krycek, Duane Berry, The Syndicate, Deep Throat, Mr. X, Marita Covarrubias and a variety of other shady characters ending with The Syndicates' conspiracy with alien colonists literally going up in flames. This densely constructed mythology has only seen its equal in television history in "Lost". It went awry during the inscrutable sixth season finale, but the original Mytharc, the one involving the black oil, bees and faceless rebels was the thing that made "The X-Files" the best show on television during its first six seasons. If pressed for one episode to represent the mytharc, the best choice is the three-part Anasazi/The Blessing Way/Paper Clip. This is the run of episodes that begins with a Navajo boy discovering a train car full of alien carcasses and ends with Krycek bleeding out the black oil in a silo. All the major players are present and the plot serves as a bridge between Scully's abduction and the larger truth yet to come. (watch clip)


4. "Triangle" - Season 6: Chris Carter rarely directed his creation, leaving that mostly to Kim Manners, but when he did he showed a brilliant eye not usually seen on broadcast TV. This is the best example - a breathlessly-paced episode in which each act appears as one continuous shot. The title takes its name from the Bermuda Triangle where Mulder finds himself a passenger aboard a ship taken over by Nazis before World War II. The entire regular cast plays themselves as well as roles on the ship from the past. Skinner, Spender, and CSM are all Nazis and Scully is an American Passenger who slugs Mulder in his Nazi Uniform. This episode is a lot of fun, particularly in the act that finds Scully blitzing through the FBI building in order to get some information on Mulder's whereabouts. The acting is superb and nothing can beat those no-cut acts. (watch clip)


3. "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" - Season 3: Normally considered the best in the series, "Bruckman" checks in at number three on this list, and why not? It's an expertly-crafted, time-jumping story about the titular character's (Peter Boyle) ability to see how people die. Mulder and Scully use his power in order to track down a serial killer that is murdering psychics. This episode has some great dark humor and some real suspense, especially the climactic scene in a hotel kitchen that plays out exactly as Bruckman foresaw, but only because he foresaw it. Peter Boyle gives maybe the best performance of his career as the bedraggled prescient, sick of his gift but reluctantly using it one last time to save some lives.

2. "Paper Hearts" - Season 4: An elegiac reverie of an episode and the most haunting of the entire series. This episode finds Mulder's dreams leading him to a spot where a girl is buried. The girl turns out to be the victim of John Lee Roche, a serial killer once arrested by Mulder who took a heart-shaped swath from each of his victims. Mulder's visions lead him to confront Roche in prison where the killer dangles the possibility that Samantha was one of his victims nobody ever found. What follows is an evocative journey as Mulder accompanies the killer to Samantha's supposed grave ending in a confrontation in a lot filled with vacant school buses. Beautiful. Spare. Brilliant.

1. "The Post-Modern Prometheus" - Season 5: The best "X-Files" episode of all time is unlike any other episode of any other television series in history. Chris Carter wrote and directed this gem, shooting it like a horror movie from the thirties complete with black and white cinematography. The story follows Mulder and Scully to a small town where a woman claims she was impregnated by a monster that looks mysteriously like the main character of a comic book authored by her son. The dynamic FBI duo embarks on a strange trip through the town, meeting a hen-like reporter and a mad scientist (the always funny John O'Hurley) who created the monster. This builds to the best ending of any television episode ever. No exceptions. In fact, the end is so good this would have made a perfect series finale. What would have been better than after all the conspiracy and the creepiness, for Mulder and Scully to befriend the monster and finally leave us with the comic book image of the two smiling and dancing? Anyway, enough writing. Hit it, Cher. . . (watch clip)

Five honorable mentions:

"Home" - Season 4: Proof that not everything controversial is overrated. The only "X-Files" episode banned from TV is a creepy gem with the most beautiful grotesquery ever put on the small screen. (watch clip)

"Humbug" - Season 2: The episode set in a sideshow colony. This one had a real heart and some genuine creeps from a more mainstream form of the paranormal. (watch clip)

"Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" - Season 3: Deserves mention for the Alex Trebek cameo alone. (watch clip)

"Syzygy" - Season 3: The scene where Mulder drinks a screwdriver right in the vodka bottle while Scully smokes in the other room makes it memorable, but the creepy battle between the two psycho girls makes it a classic.

"The War of the Coprophages" - Season 3: One of the better examinations of the series and the relationship of its leads. Mulder is miles away (literally) from Scully as she sits at home quickly shooting down his paranormal theories.

Disagree with the picks? Is your favorite episode or moment missing from the list? Leave a comment below. And remember to check back next week as overrated/underrated makes its triumphant return with a rundown of the most overrated and underrated movies to earn over $300 million, in honor of "The Dark Knight" single-handedly pulling our country out of the recession.

Andrew Payne
Story by Andrew Payne
Starpulse contributing writer