Mulder and Scully are back. One of the most influential shows in history and perhaps the most 90’s thing ever created, the X-Files, has returned for a 10th season. The X-Files is the story of two FBI agents investigation the strange, supernatural, paranormal, and cryptozoological. At its heart it has always been a psychological horror television show starring two best friends. Season 10 debuted with 2perfectly serviceable episodes. Then episode 3 came and it was nearly perfectly. Then episode 4 came and it was classic X-Files.
You’ll note a startling trend in my top 11 list. I focus on the monster-of-the-week (one off) episodes and mostly ignore the mythology (alien/conspiracy) episodes. As great as the underlying conspiracy and paranoia were for the show, most of the episodes that focused on them were lost beneath the overwhelming mountain of fantastic standalone plots. It didn’t help that the writers were painting themselves into a corner early on and, as a result, later mythos episodes –and movies -suffered.
But most of you aren’t me. You haven’t watched every episode (some dozens of times). Maybe you’ve only ever seen the new ones and aren’t sure where to start. I’m here to help! Here are the top 10 X-Files best episodes and the top 1 episode of another show featuring the characters from the X-Files!*
*Note that my top 11 is indisputable. I’m a scientist and it’s just good, solid research that leads me to this conclusion.
11. Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” (Millennium: Season 2, Episode 9)
This is the best episode of another show featuring characters from the X-Files, narrowing edging out The Simpson’s “The Springfield Files”. Jose Chung – who appears elsewhere on this list - shows up on the X-File’s sister show Millennium. Here Jose Chung (Charles Nelson Reilly) continues to expertly play the persona of a cut-rate sci-fi author stuck in the middle of utter ridiculousness. Check out the send ups of Scientology and cultism.
10. Bad Blood (Season 5, Episode 12)
Here we find vampires and Luke Wilson. This episode is one of a handful of episodes that plays with varying points-of-view that was done just slightly better in my number 3 (Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”). Mulder kills someone who may or may not be a vampire so he and Scully tell their stories in ridiculous flashbacks. There’s also a bit of feminist subversion here if you’re into such things.
9. X-Cops (Season 7, Episode 12)
The entire episode is a spoof of the long running and godawful reality show, “ Cops”. Cops being filmed for “Cops” sort of stumble on Mulder and Scully investigating a werewolf… or Freddy Kruger… or a disease… or some evil entity. Trust me, it’s good.
8. Pusher (Season 3, Episode 17)
The Pusher (Robert Wisden) is a contract killer who essentially has the power of the Purple Man. His suggestions cause people to harm themselves. He ends up in a riveting cat and mouse game with Mulder. It’s probably the best classic thriller style episode of the series. You’ll never think about the color cerulean blue the same way.
7. The Host (Season 2, Episode 2)
This episode is brilliant in its grossness and truly shows the X-Files finding its voice. There’s a weird monster. There’s comedy. There’s violence. And, to add a cherry on top, they actually arrest the monster. It’s a rare episode that’s both terrifying and has a resolution.
6. Unusual Suspects (Season 5, Episode 3)
While arguable the weakest episode on my list, I placed it this far down because of one key element: The Lone Gunmen. The X-Files had a great supporting cast, from the mysterious Cigarette Smoking Man to dirt bag Alex Krycek to the always frustrated Walter Skinner. My favorite supporting cast shines here, though, in the origin of the Lone Gunmen and possibly Mulder’s delusions. If you prefer something a little more, uh, serious then replace this episode with Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man (Season 4, Episode 7).
5. Blood (Season 2, Episode 3)
Edward Funsch (William Sanderson aka Larry from Newhart aka a show that was popular before most of you were born) plays a perennial loser fired from work. This episode masterfully combines the paranoia and conspiracy elements that made some of the X-Files so cinematic with a human story. Add this all to the very real threat of spree killing and you’ve got riveting television.
4. Irresistible (Season 2, Episode 13)
Watching this straight forward episode about a death fetishists makes you realize just how influential the X-Files was. Basically every procedural that came after the early seasons apes the entire style of the X-Files, from the lighting to the plotting to the camera work. Scully, always the emotional foundation of the show, takes center stage and, holy hell, is the bad guy of the week creepy as hell. It’s also a rare episode where the paranormal explanation is wrong and the mundane explanation is infinitely scarier.
3. Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” (Season 3, Episode 20)
Jose Chung is writing non-fiction science fiction about a particularly bizarre X-Files case. There’s censored swearing, Mulder eating pie, Jesse Ventura, aliens who may not be aliens being abducted by other aliens, and teenage hormones. It’s everything that made the X-Files great with all of the humor desperately lacking from many of the more self-serious episodes. And in the face of utter ridiculousness, the story still crafts a touching moment between two teens.
2. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Season 3, Episode 4)
To discuss the plot in detail would do a disservice to this episode. The basic plot is sort of simple and kind of good, but the X-Files does what it does best and makes you care deeply about a lovable loser while questioning whether or not anything paranormal is going on. Plus, it has the always brilliant Peter Boyle (better known as Frankenstein’s monster) as Clyde Bruckman, a psychic with a pretty crappy gift. Scully gets to do what she does best and provide real emotional weight to the series.
1. Home (Season 4, Episode 2)
This is by far the best episode of the X-Files. It’s terrifying, bizarre and gut-wrenchingly realistic. It has all the key beats that make the X-Files the best show of its kind anywhere. Mulder and Scully go to a small town to investigate a dead baby that suffers from multiple congenital defects. Along the way, you’ll meet the frightening Peacock family and learn to live in terror of the song “Wonderful! Wonderful!” by Johnny Mathis. As an added bonus it’s the only episode so disturbing that Fox pulled it from all reruns after airing.