The X-Files is one of those rare television series that I just keep coming back to, and that’s in no small part because of the fact that a good half of the episodes (maybe more!) are designed to be standalones. There are so many awesome one-off adventures that Mulder and Scully embark upon that you could probably throw any X-Files DVD into your player and find one. This, of course, means that you can introduce people to the series without giving any backstory, but more importantly, it means that if you have 45 minutes to kill and don’t want to spend your time trying to remember the complicated details of the multi-season conspiracy plot that made up the show’s backbone, you always have the option of watching everyone’s favourite pairing of FBI agents try to solve a supernatural mystery. It’s rare that any of these standalone episodes, often called the “Monster of the Week” episodes, are anything less than terrific, which posed quite the challenge for me when I decided to write down my top 5. But I did it! So here they are, my top 5 favourite “Monster of the Week” episodes of that most fantastic of TV shows: The X-Files.
5. Pusher (Season 3, Episode 17)
Besides the brilliance of the standalone episodes, another thing that made The X-Files such a great series was Chris Carter and company’s ability to create tension and fear out of almost nothing, and the episode Pusher is a prime example of this. Robert Patrick Modell, played by Robert Wisden, is, in my opinion, one of the best villains of the series, and his supernatural ability to control peoples’ minds through the sound of his voice is nothing short of inspired. Think about that for a second: his power is in his ability to speak. That’s all! But that’s all that was needed to make this episode one of the best. Modell’s character is well-rounded and interesting, with his fascination with samurai and sociopathic tendencies combining to form what I consider to be the best intellectual opponent for Mulder. I also love how Modell, or Pusher, plays with his victims. He doesn’t just tell them to go jump off a building – that would be too simple – but instead gets right into their heads and messes with their brains. An early scene, wherein Pusher makes a police officer cease to see an oncoming truck by simply repeating “Cerulean blue is a gentle breeze” is, to me, one of the most memorable of the series. And you know that an X-Files villain is good when he gets a sequel episode – in this case the season 5 episode Kitsunegari.
4. Home (Season 4, Episode 2)
This episode was the only X-Files episode to have a “mature content” warning before it, and with good reason! The story of an inbred family causing trouble in a small town is not for the faint of heart, and the opening scene of this episode alone – featuring a baby being born in a disgusting shack of a house, its umbilical cord cut by scissors – pushes well past the boundaries of good taste and into splattery horror territory. But that’s what makes Home such an awesome episode! For my money, Home is The X-Files at its darkest, and I don’t think there’s a sane person in this world who wouldn’t find the episode disturbing. I remember being pretty traumatized by this one as a kid, but now that I’m older, I think it’s a masterpiece of the series. How can you go wrong with dead babies, inbred rednecks and boobytraps? I recommend watching this one in a big city, in the middle of the day, and with all the lights on.
3. Detour (Season 5, Episode 4)
I grew up in the country surrounded by nature, and from a very early age I had a healthy fear of the strange and unusual creatures that lurk in the forests after nightfall. Which is why, when I watched this episode, it completely terrified me, because the monsters in it could literally be right outside my bedroom window and I’d never even know it! Another great example of how The X-Files could create atmosphere and scares on a low budget, Detour sees Mulder and Scully snooping around the Florida wilderness, trying to get a bead on the seemingly invisible creatures that are stalking them. The monsters in this episode – which Mulder speculates are “moth men” – are some of my favourites of the series; they have the chameleon-like ability to blend in with their surroundings, which creates some truly scary moments like when one character discovers that the ground nearby seems to have a face, and the moth men’s glowing red eyes are the stuff of nightmares. But beyond the top-notch monsters, there are two other things that make this episode stand out for me: the first being that Mulder and Scully aren’t on assignment here (they were on their way to a conference and took a detour, as the episode title implies), and the second being the moment that the two of them share when they’re lost in the woods at night. Mulder is injured and in need of rest, so he asks Scully to sing to him to comfort him while she stays on watch. Her rendition of Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog is terrible, but the fact that she sings to Mulder really gives you a sense of how deep the characters’ connections to each other go.
2. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Season 3, Episode 4)
The top two spots on this list are both occupied by episodes written by Darin Morgan, the man I consider to be the greatest writer ever to work on the show. Over the course of The X-Files‘ run, Morgan wrote a total of four episodes, and it took a lot of restraint on my part not to fill this list with all of them. Instead, I’ve decided to give the honour of the top two spots to my favourite two episodes, and I know I’m not alone in saying that these two episodes are, without a shred of doubt, the absolute best of the series. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose features Mulder and Scully investigating the murders of several fortune tellers, and in doing so they come across Clyde Bruckman (Peter Boyle), a middle-aged insurance salesman with what seem to be actual psychic powers. Naturally, Mulder is instantly intrigued by Bruckman’s ability to see peoples’ deaths, and one of the best scenes of the episode features Mulder handing Bruckman different objects and getting him to describe how the owners of the objects will die. This is one of the episodes of The X-Files that treads the line between supernatural intrigue and comedy, and the balance is perfect. Between the tense moments where Bruckman describes a serial killer stalking Mulder (a scene which pays off perfectly later in the episode) and the ridiculous demeanour of the TV psychic the Stupendous Yappi, there’s so much to love about this episode that I couldn’t possibly cram it all into a single paragraph. Not only is the one of the best episodes of The X-Files, I’d say it’s one of my favourite episodes of ANY TV series.
1. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space (Season 3, Episode 20)
This is the big one! Jose Chung’s From Outer Space isn’t only my favourite episode of The X-Files, but if you do a quick search online, you’ll find that it tops almost everyones’ lists. Unlike Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, Jose Chung’s From Outer Space is basically an all-out comedy, with the events of the episode being filtered through the mind of pulpy sci-fi author Jose Chung (none other than Charles Nelson Reilly!). The result is an X-Files caper filled with goofy, fun and bizarre moments, including Mulder eating a tonne of pie, an alien smoking a cigarette, self-censorship in the form of people saying “blankity-bleep” instead of swearing, and JESSE VENTURA and ALEX TREBEK as MEN IN BLACK! If that doesn’t sound like the makings of an awesome X-Files episode to you, then you need to have your head examined. A prime exhibition of how the X-Files could play around with genre and didn’t always have to be scary to be entertaining, Jose Chung’s From Outer Space is, well, perfect, and I don’t know how I could possibly praise it more than that. If you haven’t seen this episode, even if you’re not an X-Files fan, then you need to seek it out and watch it. There is none better.
– The Host
– Post-Modern Prometheus
– Darkness Falls
– Fallen Angel/Max
– Leonard Betts
– Unusual Suspects/Three of a Kind
– The Amazing Maleeni
– Never Again
– Small Potatoes
– Folie a Deux
– Bad Blood
– Terms of Endearment