An older show you should watch: The X-Files

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Britannica

Gillian Anderson (left) and David Duchovny star in The X-Files (1993-2018) as special agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder.

Carly Philpott, Editor-in-Chief

Late last summer, I discovered The X-Files.

I was in the mountains with my dad and my brother, and we’d brought the DVDs of season one along. I watched the first episode curled up on the couch with some Milano cookies, and I was utterly hooked.

I fell in love almost instantly with the characters, the plotlines, the endless conspiracies that took a turn with every episode.

For almost a month, I made my family watch two 45-minute episodes with me every single night. Then, when that got to be too much for them, we reduced it to one a night. It was like that for most of the first quarter of my freshman year.

My dad had been pushing the X-Files agenda on us for years. He’d watched it live every week with his grad-school friends in the 90s; even before my obsession with the show he owned over half of it on DVD.

The X-Files first aired in 1993 and aired for nine seasons, with one movie, The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998) in the middle. After the show left TV, there was one more movie, The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008) and two short reunion seasons in 2016 and 2018.

The franchise centers on two FBI agents, Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, who head a special unit that investigates paranormal activity. The agents go on cases that involve everything from ghosts to shape-shifting “werewolves” to ancient extraterrestrial parasites trapped in ice to a man who hibernates for 30 years at a time, only to emerge to kill people and eat their livers – all in the first season alone.

The show is a combination of two types of episodes – so-called “monster of the week” and “mythology” episodes. Mythology episodes are all placed along the same plotline, as the agents and their allies slowly uncover the government conspiracies surrounding extraterrestrial life. Monster of the week episodes are standalone – they each involve a new “monster” and rarely are multiple parts. When you watch an episode, you really never know what you’re going to get. And sometimes, it’ll seem like one thing and end up something completely different.

One reason the show is so great is because it combines cinematic elements from all ends, from Hitchcockian-type thrillers to horror on the level of Stephen King (who actually wrote one season 5 episode) to completely comedic episodes that seem like a total turnaround from the normal plot of the show.

Even in its low points, such as in the first season when it was still getting on its feet, or the seventh season when there were arguably too many monster of the week episodes and not enough plot, the show is still compelling, always making you want to come back for the next episode.

Even when one main character or the other was absent from episodes for one reason or the other (Mulder was only in the second half of season eight due to feuds with the show’s creators, while Scully missed part of the first half of season two on maternity leave), the remaining characters are able to make up for it, creating a storyline that continues to stay interesting and is easy for the missing characters to pick up when they return.

The X-Files provided a blueprint for other crime and paranormal shows, movies, and other entertainment, such as Supernatural, Project Blue Book, Men In Black, Lost, and even Stranger Things. Even the so-called “Illuminati Theme Song” that’s so popular today is actually the theme song to The X-Files.

It was hugely important in re-innovating paranormal and action television; even today, reviewers still write about its impact, and one Vox article credits them for “inventing modern television,” saying that “The X-Files is that rare show that seems to exist both in the time it aired and in the present.”

As we witness our government practically imploding around us, the subject matter of The X-Files is almost more relevant than it ever has been. This show is critical of the government when we need it most, explaining how we can safely question our government’s integrity in ways we couldn’t have thought possible.

Even beyond its content and its message, The X-Files is important in so many ways. The main female character, Scully, who is both a doctor and a successful FBI agent, has spurred something known as the “Scully Effect” – inspiring girls and women to enter the STEM field in numbers never seen before. A Simon Fraser University study found that woman viewers of The X-Files were more likely to study or practice a STEM subject, many of them quoting Scully as their inspiration.

The X-Files has been my favorite show since the very first time I saw it. For me, it’s about its impact as well as the incredible stories it tells. I’m quick to recommend it to anyone I meet, because I truly think everyone can enjoy it, and I believe everyone should give it a try.

If you enjoy paranormal shows and movies, action shows and movies, or even just TV in general, you really should try out The X-Files.

Episodes I recommend

If you don’t want to watch the series in order, or if you want to get a good idea of the show before committing to it, here’s a list of episodes to watch. These are all monster of the week episodes, so they won’t spoil the general plot of the show.

  • “Pilot”

If you want to start the show, you can’t go wrong with starting on episode one. Even if you don’t plan on watching the series start to finish, this episode is a must-see. It begins with Scully’s assignment to the X-Files, a paranormal division of the FBI, and their very first case together: recent high school graduates in a small town in Oregon are dying, and Mulder thinks it’s due to alien abduction. The story follows Mulder (a believer) as he tries to convince Scully (a skeptic) that not only do aliens exist, but also that they’re present in Bellefleur, Oregon.

  • “First Person Shooter”

Much different from any other episode, “First Person Shooter” is probably one of the best season seven episodes. It centers around a virtual reality video game that suddenly starts killing people, and Mulder and Scully must find out why. With the help of the Lone Gunmen – a trio of Mulder’s friends who pen a conspiracy newspaper – the agents attempt to dismantle the game before it sucks them in, too.

  • “Field Trip”

A couple disappears under mysterious circumstances, and Mulder and Scully rush to investigate. As usual, Mulder pins the blame on alien abductions, but it soon becomes clear that the cause is anything but. After Mulder’s skeleton is found in the same field where the couple went missing, Scully returns to DC to attend his funeral – before realizing that he may not actually be dead. In this episode, you never quite know exactly what’s going on; the entire thing feels like one giant hallucination.

  • “Detour”

This case was never supposed to happen. Mulder and Scully are on their way to a FBI partnership conference in Florida when they’re stopped by a roadblock. A man is dead, and Mulder uses the case to get out of the conference. Mulder suspects that invisible killers are at play, and drags Scully out into the woods with a guide to investigate. But after their guide is killed and Mulder is seriously injured, the pair are stranded in the woods in the middle of the night to figure out what’s killing innocent people – and if those people are so innocent after all.

  • “Død Kalm”

After an American ship goes missing off the coast of Norway, Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate. They discover the ship floating aimlessly in the middle of a stretch of sea that is famously dangerous. When their guide leaves them, they find themselves stranded on the ship with no way to get back to shore. They quickly realize something bigger is wrong as they find themselves aging at an advanced rate. As their bodies deteriorate, the agents and the others on the ship must find a way to reach home before it’s too late.

  • “Eve”

One of the most chilling episodes of the series, Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate the mysterious death of a man. But when his daughter goes missing, it’s clear that bigger factors are at play. The story deepens when another man is killed exactly the same way across the country, and his daughter turns out to be identical to the missing girl. As the agents fight to save the girls and their families, they begin to uncover a decades-old government cloning project, and realize that the girls might not be victims at all.

  • “War of the Coprophages”

This episode was one of several written as comedic relief among an often dark series. Mulder travels alone to investigate deaths that appear to be caused by vicious cockroaches, telling Scully he doesn’t need her help. But after Scully discovers that Mulder is working alongside a female entomologist named Bambi, Scully gets angry and joins him in the case. Mulder, being Mulder, wants to believe that aliens are to blame for these unique roaches, and the episode is sprinkled with roach-related humor. (Some other comedic episodes that I love are “Je Souhaite,” “Small Potatoes,” “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” “Bad Blood,” “Arcadia,” and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.”)

  • Triangle

My personal favorite episode, “Triangle” begins when Scully finds out that Mulder has gone to the Bermuda Triangle to investigate a century-old ghost ship, and has now disappeared completely off of the map. As Scully feverishly tries to get FBI permission to save him, and Mulder finds himself in 1939 trying to save The Queen Mary from Nazis, the episode quite literally never stops; each act was shot on a single roll of film, so there are no cuts or jumps.