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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.