20 X-Files Episodes That Should Be on Your Top 10 List, but Probably Aren’t.


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Don’t worry. “Shadows” (1×5) is most assuredly not one of them.

This post is at its heart an exercise in hypocrisy since not only have I not been able to narrow down my favorites to a Top 10 yet, I haven’t worked out a Top 20. But if you do have a Top 10, or a Top 20, or a nebulous cloud of episodes that you can watch over and over without getting bored, then I humbly submit the following for consideration for inclusion into that elite group.

These aren’t the obvious darlings like “Beyond the Sea” (1×12) or “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (5×6), these are the hidden jewels of The X-Files. And I present them in no particular order… because I can’t decide even when I’m making decisions.

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1. “Drive” (6×2) – One of several episodes that inadvertently serve as a prelude to Breaking Bad, this episode was written by Vince Gilligan and guest stars an incredibly ornery Bryan Cranston. Along with several episodes on this list, it serves as solid evidence that Season 6 wasn’t the shark jumping problem child it’s often accused of being.

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2. “Elegy” (4×22) – An honest look at death and dying and the stages of grief that the dying and their loved ones go through before death even occurs. For the first time, Scully and Mulder emotionally confront the reality of her cancer and a poignant episode is born.

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3. “The Pine Bluff Variant” (5×18) – This is as close as The X-Files ever came to being 24. If they had extended it by another hour, it could have been a movie. One of my favorite scenes of Fox Mulder ever is hidden in this episode.

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4. “Roadrunners” (8×5) – If you bailed after Season 7, this is the best episode of The X-Files you’ve never seen. Written by Vince Gilligan (yes, again), it features a feisty Scully and a peripheral, but clever Doggett. And it’s the only A+ I found it in my heart to give after Season 6.

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5. “Anasazi“(2×25) – As are several on this list, this is one of my favorite Scully episodes. And also as are several others on this list, this is another episode where Mulder goes crazy. He lives at the edge of sanity anyway, I know. But it’s still fun to watch. This is also when mythology really starts ramping up and branching out.

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6. “Monday” (6×15) – You really can’t trust that day. But if you dare to try, you’ll find an episode that’s equal parts mysterious, moving and funny. This is one of Mulder’s best episodes, in my humble opinion.

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7. “Milagro” (6×18) – Sadly, this favorite of writer Frank Spotnitz’s is largely misunderstood. But it’s a special one for the writing staff and if you give it another chance, I think you might understand why. Hint: It’s all about Scully as a character taking on autonomy and breaking out of the mold her writer put her in.

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8. “E.B.E.” (1×16) – A pre-mythology alien conspiracy episode written by Morgan & Wong that marks the memorable introduction of the Lone Gunmen. It’s also a turning point in Mulder and Scully’s partnership as Mulder comes to realize he and Scully are in this together and she’s the only one he can trust.

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9. “Field Trip” (6×21) – This is a trip in more ways than one, so expect the surreal. But if you want a brilliantly condensed version of what Mulder and Scully’s partnership is and why it works, this is the episode you turn to.

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10. “Aubrey” (2×12) – Written by one of the few female writers ever on staff, this episode features, well, a woman. A woman in a man’s world who can’t seem to escape the men in her life, to memorable results.

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11. “Tithonus” (6×9) – My husband, Vince Gilligan, wrote this one as well and it is great. It’s one of the rare cases that Scully investigates without Mulder, which creates for some humorous jealousy on Mulder’s end and some fun telephone conversations. But mostly, this episode shows off Scully to her best advantage and asks some profound questions.

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12. “Eve” (1×10)- We all know the Season 1 classics that turned The X-Files into a phenomenon, like “Ice” (1×7). But “Eve” marks the best in a long tradition of Creepy Kids. This one’s double the pleasure, double the fun. This is also one of the few times Mulder is ever completely wrong about a case.

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13. “Unruhe” (4×2) – By now you’re wondering how many Vince Gilligan episodes I plan to insert in this list. The answer is: not enough. Here’s another episode from the master that actually makes you think that one of our leads is in real danger… even though you know very well Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny signed contracts and won’t be going anywhere.

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14. “Ascension” (2×6) – The follow-up “One Breath” (2×8) gets more attention, I think because of its emotionality. This episode, though, features lots of action and Mulder gone for a ride on the cray cray train now that Scully’s missing and he feels responsible. It’s also Mulder’s first encounter with Maggie Scully whose scenes with him have more impact than those with his own mother.

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15. “Kill Switch” (5×11) – Fun, fun, fun (‘til her daddy takes the T-Bird away). I love this romp of a ride and all the shenanigans it entails. Again, this is a mini movie and it stars a sarcastic Scully, who I’ve been missing since Season 1.

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16. “F. Emasculata” (2×22) – This is neck and neck with “Roadrunners” for the grossest episode in the series, but boy is it fun. This is less of a traditional X-File and more of a thriller a la Outbreak or U.S. Marshalls.

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17. “Trevor” (6×17) – Another silent gem from Season 6 that I want to hear make some noise. “Trevor” feels like a Season 3 case, but now with banter bumped up. It’s classic, but particularly cinematic thanks to director Rob Bowman’s trademark touch.

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18. “Folie à Deux” (5×19) – Giant Telemarketing Grasshoppers? Yes, please! Yet another entry from Vince Gilligan that isn’t nearly as light and silly as it sounds. Here he shows just how well he understood these two characters and the depths of their shared madness.

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19. “Wetwired” (3×23) – For once, Mulder isn’t the paranoid one. If you want to see some high drama from Scully that doesn’t involve wailing for her baby, then this is the episode for you. It also features a great guest spot by the Lone Gunmen and one of Maggie Scully’s best moments in the series.

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20. “Demons” (4×23) – Season 4 was the season of angst and this episode is Mulder in full 90’s emo mode. But don’t let that scare you off – Scully is fierce this episode. And even though it’s not technically connected to the season finale “Gethsemene” (4×24), it serves as the perfect emotional bridge to it. 

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37 responses to “20 X-Files Episodes That Should Be on Your Top 10 List, but Probably Aren’t.

  1. WETWIRED! I have your review to thank for alerting me to the greatness of that episode. Definitely one of my favorites.

    And if I were making a “Top 10 Episodes That Still Make A Grown-Up Adult Me Afraid To Turn Off The Lights” list… Folie à Deux would be #1-10.

    • This was *hard*. I should have made it a Top 25, but that has less of a ring to it than Top 20 for your Top 10. LOL!

      Anywho, I’m so glad to hear that! That makes me happy! Awesome episode.

      And I can totally see being freaked out by Folie. Go Vince.

  2. Great list! Some of these are already on my top 20, and I’m glad to see them get some love (Wetwired! Folie a Deux! Milagro!), but a lot aren’t even on my radar, so now I’m wondering if I should give them another go. (I must say, it would take a lot to convert me to Roadrunners. Although maybe it just annoys me that it’s the only X-File in Utah; is Hollywood capable of using my home state for any reason other than “Hey, they’re basically nothing but weird cultists, right?”)

    Can I ask what your favorite Fox Mulder scene in the Pine Bluff Variant is? Because I’ve always loved him throughout that whole episode, being all tough and stoic and being a Serious Agent. In particular, I absolutely adore “If you touch me again you’d better kill me!” Oh Mulder, deep down you’re a squishy-hearted little nerd, but you can be hardcore when the situation calls for it.

    • Although maybe it just annoys me that it’s the only X-File in Utah; is Hollywood capable of using my home state for any reason other than “Hey, they’re basically nothing but weird cultists, right?”

      ROFL!!! Oh… my.

      “If you touch me again you’d better kill me!”

      That’s it!! That’s the moment!!!

      Definitely give a few more of those a try. My opinion of several of them has grown quite a bit over the years. Time gives you a whole new perspective.

      Now, I just need to figure out my own Top 20… maybe Top 25?

  3. “The Pine Bluff Variant” is one of my favourites. The suspense starts at the opening scene and doesn’t let up, thanks in part to the music. The finger breaking scene gives me chills because I know what they’re going to do to Mulder and I can’t imagine anything worse than waiting for someone to crack my knuckles in the wrong spot. I love when Scully is examining his hand and says Mulder is in pain. His response? “Yeah, if you keep pulling it around like that.” Classic.
    And “Wetwired” is awesome – the paranoia is palpable. But how is Mulder totally oblivious to Scully’s erratic behaviour?
    “F. Emasculata” – can’t watch it unless I have my glasses off and I’m about a hundred feet away from the TV. Pustules are not my thing.
    Anyway, great list. I may have to do (yet) another rewatch.

  4. I’m SO glad basically all the eps I tend to watch whenever I need an X-Files fix are on this list! “The Pine Bluff Variant” is one that I find myself constantly going back to (mainly for THAT Mulder scene and of course “You’re in pain” “yeah if you keep pulling it around like that.” hahaha), along with “Milagro” and “Folie a Deux”…

    fantastic list!

  5. Nice list It’s great to see Drive and Tithonus get some love, as they are also in my top 15 (;-)) list.

    On the subject of states, I’m bummed they never made one in my home state of Kentucky.

    • I always wanted an X-File set in Ontario but I think the closest we got was a bus to Toronto in F. Emasculata.

      • I realize they’re in the F.B.I. and have no jurisdiction in Canada, but it’s sort of ironic when you think that the show was filmed in Vancouver.

    • They didn’t?? Every time TXF came to my state, it was all freaks and weirdos… which is accurate.

    • Don’t feel so bad. They were in Delaware several times and they didn’t even get the stock pictures right. I think they just googled Delaware and didn’t notice they were using pictures from Delaware, OH or something. Also, one of my favorite things about Pine Bluff is that the super secrete evil super villains are headquartered IN…Slower Delaware. Right. Hope the farm they were hiding out in was close to the Pumpkin Chunkn’ field.

  6. A lot of my favs are on this list! This is a fabulous list.

  7. A+ list! All of these are so good and definitely ones that I randomly choose to rewatch. Maybe a top 50 list is necessary to include all the amazing ones? I’ll have to compile my own list and see. You’re making me want to watch all of my favorites again even though I just came off this giant rewatch! I just…love this show so freakin’ much.

  8. I agree with your list but one of my favs is Arcadia. Simply because I love the little Interchange between them. This was after the Fowley debacle so I think their relationship was trying to get back on track. Mulder’s ” woman get back here and make a sandwich”makes me goes into hysterics every time and I love the trash monster!

  9. I forgot to say in my previous comment, I would add season 4’s Paper Hearts to this list. It’s not often talked about, put that episode really adds an emotional pinch. Here we have an emotionally charged Mulder being toyed with by a psychologically sadistic killer.

  10. I’m glad you’re back, your writing makes me laugh. And think! It’s not all frivolous. I am very much a Season 1 and 2 person and like that others appreciate Eve and E.B.E – I have always loved them and their slightly-too-close-too-home-so-makes-it-scarier sinisterness. Well, E.B.E. is not that close to home for a non paranoid person (!) but it’s convincing of the whole by making many little things seem convincing – I don’t think that was just being 14. I look forward to using your list within a list to kickstart a watch/re-watch of later seasons.

    • It’s not all frivolous but I’ll have you know I take great pains to keep my inner 14-year-old fangirl in check. There are secured restraints in place.

      I LOVE Seasons 1 & 2 too! I love them even more than I did when I started this blog. Even though the episodes aren’t necessarily as perfect as most of the later ones, they’re almost always memorably entertaining… unless they’re “Shadows” or a few others that shall not be named.

      Thank you, dear!

  11. Great list! I am constantly flumoxed that “Monday” doesn’t appear on every top 10 list of XFiles episodes. For honoring that episode alone, you win the prize of being my favorite XFiles blogger/reviewer/commentator on the planet. I’m sure that makes your life complete to hear. 😉

  12. Fantastic list! Especially glad to see Eve on it. It’s always been one of my Season 1 favorites. “We’re just little girls.” Hardly! Just watched Unruhe and Paper Hearts again. So creepy, so good. And F. Emasculata … Whoever put the gag real together for that season loved it too 😷😷😷

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