The new series of “The X-Files” begins 10 days from today. If you’ve been following along with Fox’s “201 Days of The X-Files,” then you’ve been watching one episode a day since July. I did not participate, as I have watched them all before, in a much shorter time span.
But if you haven’t been watching an episode a day, you can still catch up in time for the premiere Sunday, Jan. 24. Really, all you need to watch are these 10 episodes. Some of them are on the list because they are among the best in the series, but some are on the list because of the breadth and variety they represent.
Let’s get started.
9×19: The Truth
By the time “The X-Files” ended in 2002, the series had long since lost the feel and cadence of its earlier seasons. The conspiracy mythology had become hard to follow because so many factors had been introduced. Mulder’s absence became a focal point, as Scully searched for him while carrying his baby.
But this episode is a must-watch before the new series because it serves as a CliffsNotes of sorts for the plot for the entire original series. In this two-part episode, Mulder was tried in a military court for the death of a marine, Knowle Rohrer. Skinner served as Mulder’s defense attorney and pinned his entire case on proving not only that extraterrestrials existed, but that the government knew and created “super soldiers” like Rohrer who could not be killed. As each witness testified, footage from earlier episodes (and the first movie) was shown. The episode put the entire conspiracy plots in a context that was easier to swallow than the dense mythology episodes in the series’ later seasons.
It seems counterintuitive to watch the finale first, but it will make any of the mythology episodes easier to understand.
The dynamic between Mulder and Scully depended on the fact that they couldn’t trust anyone but each other, despite the fact that she had been assigned to the X-Files to spy on Mulder and debunk his theories. Their chemistry was evident in their first scene together, such that during the hotel scenes, you forget that they had only just met. The Smoking Man’s presence in Blevins’ office was creepy enough to be noticeable but not revealing enough to know what role he would play in the series.
The series’ third episode indicated that this show was not going to be just UFOs or government conspiracies. “Squeeze” was the first “monster-of-the-week” episode, featuring a man who could stretch and contort his body to squeeze into ventilation shafts, chimneys, and toilets so that he could kill people and eat their livers. As one does. The episode was scary as it was disgusting, but wasn’t gratuitously gross.
1×13: Beyond The Sea
In a story reminiscent of “The Silence Of The Lambs,” Mulder and Scully interviewed inmate Luther Lee Boggs, who claimed to have psychic visions about a couple who had been abducted. Mulder thought Boggs was lying, but Boggs’ ability to channel Scully’s recently deceased father convinced her he was telling the truth. This was the first episode in which the writers flipped the dynamic between Scully and Mulder, making him the skeptic and her the believer.
1×24: The Erlenmeyer Flask
In the first season finale, Mulder and Scully discovered evidence of government experiments using alien DNA. They couldn’t prove anything, though, because anyone and everyone who knew about it turned up dead. The episode ended with Deep Throat being shot dead in the street and the X-Files being shut down. The term “Red Wedding” was not in pop culture vocabulary at the time, but this could definitely count as the (first) “Red Wedding” of “The X-Files.”
3×02: Paper Clip
The best mythology episodes of the series were from the first four seasons, and the three episode arc of of “Anasazi”/”The Blessing Way”/”Paper Clip” were the most satisfying episodes of the conspiracy plot. These episodes featured the strongest elements of the series: The Lone Gunmen, Mulder’s family, Scully’s family, Albert Hosteen, back stories on the experiments, insight into Mulder’s sister’s disappearance, Krychek being two-faced, and Skinner being a badass. Furthermore, this episode had one of the best lines of the series: “This is where you pucker up and kiss my ass.”
3×04: Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose
This episode, heralded by many as the best of the series, was a stand-alone episode in which Mulder and Scully investigated a series of murders of fortune tellers and psychics in Minnesota. Peter Boyle played Clyde Bruckman, a man who could foresee how people would die and who begrudgingly helped Mulder and Scully on the case. Darin Morgan’s script masterfully blended dark humor with poignant meditations on mortality in a way that wasn’t flippant or cheesy.
3×20: “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space'”
The series had used wit and humor in several episodes, particularly the quirky “Humbug,” but this episode was the first one that felt more like a comedy than a drama. The plot focused on the familiar topic of alien abduction and government deception, but the episode deviated from the normal format of the show, as most of the action took place in a series of flashbacks told from multiple points of view. Charles Nelson Reilly’s character Jose Chung interviewed Scully about an X-File as part of research on his next novel, which would be a work of “nonfiction science fiction.” Scully and Chung rehash the various versions of what happened to two teenagers in rural Washington, which includes Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek as men in black. Some of the series most memorable dialogue came from this episode, but the best line came from UFO enthusiast Blaine, who said, “I didn’t spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage.”
5×12: Bad Blood
In the same vein as “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space,'” “Bad Blood” was a comedy based on the discrepancies between Scully’s and Mulder’s versions of events. The episode opened with Mulder driving a stake into the chest of Ronnie Strickland (Patrick Renna of “The Sandlot”), whom Mulder believed to be a vampire despite the fact that Strickland’s fangs were fake. Mulder and Scully then compared stories so that they’d have their stories straight when talking to Skinner.
In later seasons, the series challenged its format and approaches to storytelling, including using humor and nonlinear chronologies. The premise of “X-Cops” was pretty straightforward: Mulder and Scully appearing on the Fox reality show, “Cops.” The episode unfolded in real time, allowing the audience to experience the action at the same rate as it happened. While the crossover with “Cops” could be dismissed as a gimmick, the episode used a new tactic to revisit familiar motifs of the show, particularly Mulder’s attempt to document proof of the paranormal.
What about the second movie?
“The X Files: I Want to Believe” came out in 2008, six years after the series finale aired. This was basically a monster-of-the-week story, and had nothing to do with UFOs, aliens, or government conspiracies. The only thing you need to know about the movie is that it wrapped up the “Mulder on the run from the FBI” storyline. The series ended with him becoming a fugitive after Scully et al helped him bust out of military jail. In “The X Files: I Want to Believe,” the FBI ended its manhunt of Mulder in exchange for him offering insight on a case. That’s the only illuminating thing from the movie. Skip it, and use the extra time to rewatch “Bad Blood” another time.
What about “Home”?
You can, but that’s on you. The point of this is to help you prepare for the new series, not give you nightmares. Just don’t watch it before bed. #nopenopenope