The first episode of The X-Files sets everything up pretty well. We are quickly introduced to the alien conspiracy storyline as well as sceptical FBI Agent Dana Scully and her assignment to work alongside (and debunk) the theories of ‘Spooky’ Fox Mulder on the cases that no-one wants solving. The chemistry between Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny that was so essential for the show’s success is also evident here, as is the latter’s ability to be both vulnerable and funny as well as suitably heroic. Cigarette Smoking Man is also introduced and the closing scene (pretty much stolen directly from Raiders Of The Lost Ark) of him locking the evidence away in the Pentagon tells you everything you need to know about him and the themes of the show. Not a stone-cold classic, but certainly good enough to get the series made.
The second episode was named after a porn film, which seems a little odd. Ok, it wasn’t, it introduces the Deep Throat character (inspired by Watergate of course) as Mulder’s enigmatic helper, who tries to convince him to steer clear of an investigation into a test pilot’s disappearance. Seth Green appeared as a local stoner who helps Mulder gain access to the secret military base where either UFOs are being kept or alien technology is being used to build spy planes. There he sees one of these ‘things’ before being captured and having his memory erased, but Deep Throat confirms (enigmatically, of course) that aliens exist at the end. The show was still getting into its stride at this stage, but it sets up a lot of what is to follow.
The X-Files would never have built its massive popularity if it had just stuck to the alien conspiracy stories, and it got off to a great start with this first ‘monster of the week’ episode. Squeeze features Eugene Tooms, a bizarre man who has the ability to murder people in locked rooms, as well as a fondness for eating their livers and hibernating for 30 years. Played creepily by Doug Hutchison, Tooms is still remembered as one of the show’s signature villains, and made a return later in the series. Some of the special effects look a little ropey (the shot of him reaching down the chimney), but hey, it was 1993 and this was the third-ever episode. A fine debut for writers Glen Morgan and James Wong.
Back to UFOs again, Conduit suffers a little from being quite similar to the first two episodes in that it sends Mulder and Scully off to a small town where there’s some alien-related schenanigans. A girl has gone missing and her brother seems to be receiving covert satellite signals. That side of things isn’t massively thrilling, but it does delve deeper into the disappearance of Mulder’s sister, and helps explain some of his fanatical need to believe in the existance of extra-terrestrials. The closing shots of Scully listening to his hynotic regression tapes while he sits in a church crying are certainly powerful, but don’t quite make this more than the sum of its parts.
The Jersey Devil
A curious monster of the week episode, the first written by Chris Carter, The Jersey Devil starts off with people being killed and partly eaten by some kind of creature in New Jersey. Towards the end it emerges that it’s an attractive (if slightly grubby) naked woman doing it, and Mulder – unsurprisingly – feels protective of her, so it’s a sad ending when she gets killed by typically unhelpful local law enforcement types. The subplot sees Scully going on a date with some guy, but blowing him off at the end so that she can go and help Mulder visit a museum. Workaholic or the stirrings of some romantic chemistry? At this stage it wasn’t clear…
The first really supernatural episode, Shadows features the secretary of a deceased company executive who finds herself being helped by him from beyond the grave. It turns out that he was murdered at the behest of his evil business partner after coming to a dispute over some politically dubious deal. Mulder and Scully’s investigation starts to show signs of Scooby Doo-ness at times, particularly when the latter is incredibly slow to get out of a car and misses hot ghost action so as to maintain her sceptical edge. I like ghost stories, so I quite enjoy Shadows, but it’s not exactly a series highlight.
At the time, Ghost In The Machine probably looked and felt very hi-tech, but time has not been kind to it, leaving its ‘2001 rip-off’ storyline looking even more flimsy than before. Even the episode’s writers have admitted that they think it’s disappointing. The story involves a computer that becomes a little too smart for its own good and decides to kill anyone who tries to shut it down. As far as monsters-of-the-week go, it’s not the most charismatic or scary of beasts and the all-too predictable ‘it’s not really dead’ ending thus has a fairly limited chill factor. Somewhat confusingly, this episode sees the return of Deep Throat for the first time since his introduction, but it’s not exactly clear why he’s in it. All in all, a bit of a mess.
Ice is no more original than Ghost In The Machine really, with its ‘people who aren’t really themselves in an ice station’ setting patently ripped off from The Thing, but it’s a fantastic episode nonetheless. Directed by David Nutter (Band Of Brothers, The Sopranos) and featuring the wonderful Xander Berkeley and Felicity Huffman as two scientists stranded with Mulder and Scully in Alaska at a remote research outpost where all the staff seem to have killed each other. Little parasitic worms are to blame, but which of them has been infected? Can Mulder and Scully even trust each other? Exceedingly well made and acted, this is tense and thrilling and a definite highlight of the first season.
… And back down to earth with a thud. Literally. Space is a confusing and generally boring episode that was meant to a cheap and cheerful bit of filler but ended up costing a lot and achieving little. It revolves around a former astronaut-turned-shuttle supervisor at NASA, who is haunted by some kind of spectral entity that may or may not be trying to sabotage shuttle launches, for some reason. There’s lots of scenes involving a shuttle trying to return to Earth safely, but Apollo 13 it ain’t, and it’s hard to really understand what Mulder and Scully are doing, other than guiding us through a story that makes little sense and is seriously lacking in entertainment.
After quite a while away from the mythology, we’re right back in it here, as a downed UFO sends Mulder off into the woods to try and find it, putting his freedom and The X-Files (not the TV show) in jeopardy. With an invisible alien (presumably a Predator, then) running round and a whole bunch of army types, it’s a good thing Mulder finds a new ally. Unfortunately, it’s proto-Lone Gunman Max Fenig, the kind of easily-discredited alien conspiracy nutjob who tends to get him in trouble, and so it ends, with poor Max being abducted by aliens while Mulder can only watch (and Scully can’t, because she still never manages to be in the right place at the right time). We also see at the end of the episode that Deep Throat might not be any more than kind of ally Mulder needs, as he seems to be working with the people who want to shut him down. An episode that sets up more than it achieves, but worthwhile nonetheless.
A suitably creepy episode about genetic experiments that were aimed to create supersoldiers, but only made a race of psychotic superwomen who all look like Harriet Sansom Harris (last seen terrorising Wisteria Lane in Desperate Housewives). The episode starts with Mulder getting excited about aliens (doesn’t he always) when a man is found dead and drained of blood, but when a similar murder victim is found across the country and both men have identical daughters, there’s clearly something even more curious afoot. Mulder and Scully take the two twins under their wing, not realising that twin girls are always evil, and it turns out that they are the result of experimentation by one of the original ‘Eves’ who had escaped captivity. It’s a pretty decent episode all round and inspired the name of also decent American rock band Eve 6.
In which Romo Lampkin from Battlestar Galactica sets fire to people. And, in the end, himself. And another American TV show completely fails to portray people from the UK in a realistic manner. Lampkin (or Mark Sheppard, to use his actual name) plays an Irishman called Cecil L’Ively (no, really) who is a twisted firestarter and has been burning up members of the British aristocracy. With one of them over in America, Mulder gets a call from insanely irritating posh British ex-girlfriend Phoebe Green, who is investigating for Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard (I might have made some of that up). Needless to say, Scully hates her and is relieved when she sods off back to Blighty. Me too. It’s not a terrible episode, but I do find it a little hard to get past some of the lazy stereotypes.
Beyond The Sea
One of the best episodes of the whole show, Beyond The Sea is the first one to move Scully away from her role as The Sceptic and The One Who Is Never In The Room When Weird Stuff Happens. Affected by the death of her father (a Navy man, hence the title and usage of the Bobby Darin song throughout), she finds herself more open to the bizarre and unexplained than usual, so when serial killer Luther Lee Boggs claims to have some psychic insights into some new killings, and turns into her father, it’s Scully rather than Mulder who believes him. Brad Dourif is awesome as Boggs, managing to steer clear of the obvious parallels with Hannibal Lecter, and it’s one of the first episodes to work on the father figure theme that runs through the show. Directed, like Ice, by David Nutter, it’s definitely an early highlight of The X-Files.
There’s a number of first season episodes that feel like they could have been so much better if they’d been done a year or so later, when the show had properly gotten into its stride. Gender Bender is one of those. A one-night stand turns bad when a man dies and his young female date turns into another man (known in the trade as ‘adding insult to injury’). Mulder and Scully investigate and are led to an Amish-type community called The Kindred, who are very mysterious indeed and seem to have great pulling powers (basically, they can seduce someone by touching their hands, which is useful for backward religious types in nightclubs). Confusingly, one of their victims is future antagonist Alex Krycek, and Scully almost falls prey to their wicked wiles, but the whole thing gets a bit messy when they all disappear and the hint is given that they were aliens, an ending that feels rather tacked-on and unnecessary.
Another David Nutter episode, but less successful than Ice or Beyond The Sea. Lazarus features that age-old ‘body swap’ scenario (albeit a one-way thing) where a bank robber’s soul enters the body of an FBI agent after both are wounded in a foiled robbery. The robber’s body is left to die while the agent is saved by paramedics, and he’s a little annoyed about this, not to mention that he seemed to be double-crossed. So, in the agent’s body, he goes about getting revenge, first on Callum Keith Rennie (another future BSG star after Romo Lampkin) and then finding out that it was his girlfriend who betrayed him after all. Unfortunately, by this stage, he’s in desperate need of insulin and Scully’s tied to a radiator. It’s well played-out and Christopher Allport is good in the dual role of Agent Willis and Bad Man Dupre, but it’s not one that sticks in the memory particularly.
Young At Heart
Another ‘strange, but not necessarily-in-a-good-way’ episode, Young At Heart starts inside a prison facility with a man having apparently died and having his hand amputated, but not actually being dead. Four years later, he seems to be back, looking a lot younger and having a hand that is rather salamandery. Yes, that’s a word. As well as being not-dead and younger than before, he’s also a face from Mulder’s past, having killed a hostage and an agent when our hero hesitated to shoot him. Can you guess what the endgame scenario of the episode will be? The X-Files angle is that a doctor with a background in dubious experimentation is responsible for his regeneration and there are crucial scientific secrets that the government wants, but Mulder’s shoot-first approach puts an end to all that. Another ‘ok, not great’ first season episode, basically.
One of the most significant of the early mythology episodes, E.B.E. sees an Extraterrestrial Biological Entity (an alien, basically) crash-land in Tennessee and a truck driver is questioned by police after shooting at its UFO. Mulder and Scully try to investigate, but are hamstrung by unhelpful local police (not an uncommon occurrence) and find themselves being bugged and lied to. The real revelation for Mulder is that Deep Throat may not be quite as helpful and nice as he looks, but luckily he meets The Lone Gunmen, who take up the Max Fenig role of being geeky alien conspiracy nuts who make Mulder look like a sensible and sensitive hero that we can all get behind. Unlike poor Max, they don’t get abducted and will be back several times, even getting their own spin-off out of it. Good work, geeks. Still E.B.E. is more significant than it is successful, as there’s a lot of running about and confusion and paranoia, without too much else.
Bible-bashing preachers were always likely to be a source of a story for The X-Files, so it’s no surprise that one pops up in the first season. Miracle Man starts with a boy laying his healing hands on a really badly burnt dying man to revive him, before taking us up to the present day where the boy is a teenage religious sensation and the burnt man is a sidekick to the preacher who pulls all the strings. However, something is going wrong and people have started dying instead of being healed. Mulder and Scully arrive and the former is convinced of the boy’s authenticity when he mentions a ‘missing sister’. It’s all a little bit humdrum for an X-File, to be honest, and the connection to Mulder’s sister is a bit tenuous, but the killer’s identity is reasonably surprising and it would have made a decent episode of a less ambitious show.
Native American mythology and folklore would become quite a big part of The X-Files over its nine seasons, but this episode just sees it wrapped around a werewolf story and not a particularly memorable one. Some farmers shoot a wolf that’s been attacking their herd, only to find that it’s a now-dead Native American man. Mulder and Scully find some issues in dealing with the locals, but get help from Sheriff Hawk, who seems to have won a promotion since leaving Twin Peaks. Scully is in full-on sceptic mode throughout, leading to potential disaster when she ends up in a cabin with a werewolf (or rather, a manitou), wondering where the guy she was previously with has disappeared to. Luckily, Mulder saves the day and everyone lives happily ever after. Not a great episode really.
One of the best Chris Carter-written episodes of the first season, Darkness Falls is another of those that was intended to be quick, cheap and easy and ended up being a nightmare to make. When a group of loggers disappear out in Them Thar Woods, Mulder and Scully are despatched to find out what happened, but they end up stuck there with a park ranger, someone from the logging company and an eco-terrorist. They learn that an ancient tree has been felled, releasing a dormant organism from within its rings, little green insects that swarm and devour people whenever Darkness Falls. But there’s not much gasoline left, and someone’s got to go get help. This fairly simple premise makes for an entertaining episode and one with an environmental message to tell too.
It might seem odd to have a sequel to an earlier episode this early in a show’s run, but Eugene Tooms had been so successful as a monster that it was a welcome return for him. Far from showing a series running out of ideas and having to repeat itself, Tooms provides an opportunity to see what happens after the credits roll in other X-Files episodes, with Mulder unable to keep the liver-eating stretchy-man behind bars because no-one believes the far-fetched facts of the case. So Tooms is released and able to try and get his last liver to allow him to hibernate, while Mulder obsessively stalks him to try and prevent this, leaving Scully to do some detective work. It’s all very well done again, and there’s hints of things to come with a first appearance for Walter Skinner and the first words from Cigarette Smoking Man, as well as ominous suggestions that unwelcome changes may be coming for our heroic duo.
The inconsistency of the first season sees another great episode followed by another duffer. Born Again sees another strange little girl and another storyline where a dead person seems to be controlling a living person to get revenge on those who screwed them over in life. Andrea Libman does a fine job as the creepy little Michelle, who seems to be responsible for the deaths of two men who were involved in the murder of a police detective nine years earlier. Has he been ‘born again’ in the body of this girl? Mulder thinks so, and uses regression hypnosis to try and prove it. Unusually, when it all blows up and the little girl is trashing a house with her telekinetic powers, Scully is there to see it, but that’s about all that’s different about Born Again, which is really just a run-of-the-mill monster-of-the-week and is far too similar to other first season episodes.
If any episode could be said to sum up the first season of The X-Files, it would probably be Roland. Quite astonishingly, ANOTHER episode that sees a dead person using a living person to exact their vengence (even more gobsmacking given that it follows Born Again), it’s got a fairly weak storyline, but manages to rise above it. Mostly, that’s down to Željko Ivanek, who plays mentally-disabled janitor Roland, who is being controlled by his dead twin brother scientist to kill his former fellow researchers. Ivanek, who has appeared in plenty of other great TV shows, manages to convince in what could have been a hideously contrived and offensive role if mis-cast, and is helped by one of the series’ finest death scenes, where he forces someone’s head into liquid nitrogen and then drops them to the floor, shattering their skull. Both the bit where he steps on a disembodied ear (I think) and the Police Squad-esque outline of the murder victim afterwards are just fantastic. Not a great episode, but centred around a wonderful performance and with some really funny and sweet moments.
The Erlenmeyer Flask
Having reached the end of the first season, Chris Carter presumably figured that it was time to ramp up the mythology a little bit, and that is reflected in Mulder’s impatience with Deep Throat’s cryptic clues: “Maybe this time, we can just cut out the Obi-Wan Kenobi crap.” Indeed, things do definitely take a big step forwards here, setting up the second season and most of what follows with its alien-human hybrids, secret groups within secret groups and people who just seem to go around killing anyone who might be useful. Indeed, with the genuine shock of seeing Deep Throat murdered, it’s got one of the most iconic scenes in the whole series, as well as his dying catch-phrase, Trust No-One. The ending mirrors the end of the Pilot, with Cigarette-Smoking Man getting rid of more evidence in the big Pentagon Room Of Doom, and the closure of The X-Files makes for an incredibly bleak finale, even if it was largely a device to help them work around the increasingly obvious pregnancy of Gillian Anderson. Overall, a fine ending to a patchy debut season, and a good link into the much better things that were to come.
- 225: Top 10: Reasons I Love the Xfiles (racheldangerw.wordpress.com)