The X-Files: Season One
In the first season of The X-Files
, creator Chris Carter was uncertain of the series' future, so each of the episodes is a self-contained suspense story; they do not delve deep into the ongoing X-Files mythology or turn to self-parody and humor as do episodes in later seasons. Yet, these episodes display the elements for which the show would become famous: the cinematic production values and top-notch special effects, the stark lighting of the Vancouver sets, the atmospheric halo of Mark Snow's score, and the clever plots dealing with subjects ranging from the occult, religion, and monsters to urban legends, conspiracy theories, and science fiction. Most importantly, season 1 introduces FBI agents Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox "Spooky" Mulder (David Duchovny), two of the most attractive government officials around. Scully is the serious-minded medical scientist assigned to join Mulder on the X-Files, a division of the FBI dealing with the paranormal. Mulder is the intuitive thinker with a dry wit, a passionate believer in the existence of paranormal phenomena and one of the few characters on television smart enough to figure out who the bad guy is before the audience does. Their muddled relationship, a deep friendship laced with sexual tension, provides the human heart in a world where the bizarre and horrible lurk in everyday society.
Those unfamiliar with The X-Files often view all the fuss with the same skepticism with which Scully first regards her new partner's ideas. But just as she comes to realize the uncanny accuracy of Mulder's outlandish theories, newcomers to The X-Files who sample a few episodes in this boxed set will likely find themselves riveted to their television late into the night. And undoubtedly, the shadows and creaking noises in the house that evening will seem more menacing than usual. --Eugene Wei
The X-Files: Season Two
While the first season of The X-Files introduced us to Scully and Mulder, the second season finds the show confidently hitting its stride. Building on its earlier success, the show evolves, and in these 25 episodes, a glimpse is shown of a longer-running story line (which will continue through subsequent seasons) that is woven into the usual stand-alone episodes of the paranormal. These so-called mythology episodes hint at a global conspiracy involving sinister government agents, UFOs, alien abductions, genetic engineering, the ever-lurking Cigarette Smoking Man, and Fox Mulder's father. Season 2 fleshes out Mulder's family history, including the childhood abduction of his sister Samantha, an event that would shape him for life. Actress Gillian Anderson (Scully) became unexpectedly pregnant during season 2, but series creator Chris Carter managed to dance nimbly around her absence and even integrate it into the show. As in season 1, Mulder and Scully are surrounded by a strong supporting cast, which adds a suspicious new agent named Alex Krycek, an informant named X, and a seemingly indestructible alien bounty hunter.
Among the standout episodes are "The Host," "Duane Barry/Ascension," "Humbug," "Dod Kalm," "Colony/End Game," and "Anasazi." These episodes are a powerful reminder that The X-Files, like no other show on television, can span horror, suspense, mystery, romance, drama, and comedy, sometimes all in the same episode, and always with the production values of a major feature film. --Eugene Wei
The X-Files: Season Three
By its third season, The X-Files had grown from a cult hit to a global phenomenon, becoming the most popular show in many countries outside the U.S. Armed with the knowledge that the show was here to stay, series creator Chris Carter expanded its mythology, and the 24 episodes in this boxed set represent arguably the strongest of all the X-Files seasons. As usual, stand-alone episodes explored the paranormal and sometimes terrifying possibilities in mythology, pop culture, and religion. Darin Morgan helps the show to mature by expanding its use of humor, directing classic episodes such as "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" (featuring a fabulous performance from Peter Boyle) and "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space.'" Meanwhile, two-part episodes continue to delve into the X-Files' own mythology, introducing the alien black oil, the implant in Scully's neck, the mysterious Agent X, and the shape-shifting Jeremiah Smith. But following the complex mythology is not crucial to enjoying the show. The strength of the X-Files lies not in resolution but in feeding the paranoia of its rabid audience by revealing conspiracies that linger in the mind as unanswered questions. Series creator Carter realized wisely that fans did not look to the X-Files to explain the unexplained, but to question that which they thought they understood. The third season was effective because it hinted that while the truth was out there, it was more complex, sinister, and amazing than even Mulder had imagined. --Eugene Wei
The X-Files: Season Four
In season four, The X-Files continued to expand the breadth and complexity of the mythology established in the previous two seasons while developing a deeper, romantically ambiguous relationship between its photogenic leads, FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). New players such as United Nations official Marita Covarrubias and virus-carrying bees joined familiar faces like Cigarette Smoking Man, Alex Krycek, the blockheaded Alien Bounty Hunters, and the Consortium in the growing cast of a global struggle involving multiple factions of alien forces. It was a season in which Mulder and Scully seemed to lose ground to the global forces surrounding them, in which Mulder was infected with the black oil and Scully discovered she had cancer. With even the loyalties of Assistant Director Skinner and Mulder's mother in doubt, Mulder and Scully learned to trust only each other in their pursuit of the truth.
The show also continued to take breaks from the dizzying, heavy mythology to serve up standalone episodes with the show's unusual blend of sophisticated humor and creepy paranormal explorations. In "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man," the show parodied the scope of the public's conspiracy paranoia, implying that Cigarette Smoking Man was involved in everything from JFK's assassination to the Buffalo Bills' four straight losses in the Super Bowl. The three previous seasons had not exhausted the list of popular paranormal phenomena to tackle, and season four covered a wide range of topics from invisibility ("Unrequited"), past lives ("The Field Where I Died"), and inbreeding ("Home") to shape-shifting ("Small Potatoes") and golems ("Kaddish"). The X-Files proved, again, to be that rare science-fiction show that could both frighten and touch its audience, telling intelligent stories that resonated with the skeptic in each of us, all the while sprinkling in a few laughs. --Eugene Wei
The X-Files: Season Five
The midpoint of what would be a nine-season show, the fifth season of The X-Files (the first to be put on DVD in anamorphic widescreen format) gives fans a heavy heaping of what they love. For the mythology buffs, riveting episodes from the season bookends "Redux" and "The End" to several episodes in between tease with new revelations about the vast government conspiracies and alien invasion plot lines sketched in earlier seasons. But enough questions are left unanswered for the theatrical X-Files movie, which was released the subsequent summer, and the seasons that followed. Supporting characters like the Lone Gunmen, Agent Krycek, the Pusher Robert Modell, and Fox's father and sister Bill and Samantha Mulder are flushed out in more detail in several episodes that occasionally jump back in time to cover the prehistory of the X-files. New chess pieces are introduced, each raising new questions: the clairvoyant child Gibson Praise, Agent Spender, faceless alien resistance fighters with pyromaniacal tendencies, a child who may be Scully's, and Mulder's old flame, agent Diana Fowley (Mimi Rogers). All the time, no one knows who will be assassinated next, who is or isn't dead, just who isn't potentially a child of the Cigarette Smoking Man, and why the base of the neck is everyone's vulnerable spot. The creature feature stand-alone episodes vary in quality, but all are redeemed by the outrageously funny self-parody episode "Bad Blood," a fan favorite that guest stars Luke Wilson as a small-town sheriff who catches Scully's eye.
Finally, "shippers" (fans who would love nothing better than to see Mulder and Scully act upon their feelings for each other) get a heavy dose of the usual sexual innuendo and lingering, tender glances between the attractive costars. Mimi Rogers and Luke Wilson incite palpable jealousy between the leads; the appearance of a wedding band on Mulder's hand in a back story hints at stories not told; and the usual extreme and dimly lit crises illustrate just how far Mulder and Scully will go for each other. In the end, the complexities of their relationship may be the most tense and intriguing of all the mysteries explored by this epic television series. --Eugene Wei
The X-Files: Season Six
Following the X-Files feature film in the summer of 1998, "The Beginning" quickly crowbars an attempt at fitting the film into the TV chronology before it picks up plot points left dangling from the fifth-season finale, "The End" (note the guard asleep at the nuclear power plant console is named Homer!). Between arc threads are several pleasing excursions: time travel to a Bermuda Triangle boatload of Nazis ("Triangle"), further temporal escapades akin to Groundhog Day ("Monday"), a demonic baby case featuring genre stalwart Bruce Campbell ("Terms of Endearment"), and Duchovny being able to play someone else via personality switching ("The Dreamland, Parts 1 and 2"). Back in the real scheme of things, Mulder chases "S.R. 819," a Senate resolution tying conspiracies together. "Two Fathers" and "One Son" indicate that the abductee experiments are intended to cure the black oil disease. The year finishes with "BioGenesis," in which we're asked to ponder, are we from Mars? A beach-buried UFO leaves Scully wondering. --Paul Tonks
The X-Files: Season Seven
With the original conspiracy plot arc having fallen into a muddle of loose ends, once-hungry lead actors on the verge of big-screen careers and making demands for more time off or shots at writing and directing, and the initial wish list of monsters-of-the-week long exhausted, it's a miracle that by its seventh season The X-Files was still making its airdates, let alone managing something pretty good every other show and something outstanding at least once every four episodes. The season opens with a dreary two-parter ("Sixth Extinction" and "Amor Fati") and winds up with the traditional incomprehensible cliffhanger ("Requiem"), but along the way includes a clutch of episodes that may not match the originality of earlier seasons but still effortlessly equal any other fantasy-horror sci-fi on television.
The highlights: "Hungry," a brain-eating mutant story told from the point of view of a monster who tries to control his appetite by going to eating disorder self-help groups; "The Goldberg Variation," a crime comedy about a weasely little man who has the gift of incredible good luck, which means Wile E. Coyote-style doom for anyone who crosses him; "The Amazing Maleeni," guest-starring Ricky Jay in a rare nonfantastic crime story about a feud between stage magicians that turns out to be a cover for a heist; "X-Cops," a brilliant skit on the TV docusoap Cops with Mulder and Scully caught on camera as they track an apparent werewolf in Los Angeles (season-best acting from David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson); "Theef," a complex revenge drama with gaunt Billy Drago as a hillbilly medicine man stalking a slick doctor; "Brand X," a horror-comic tale of corruption in the tobacco industry; "Hollywood AD" (written and directed by Duchovny), in which Tea Leoni (Duchovny's wife) and Garry Shandling are cast as Scully and Mulder in a crass movie version of a real-life X-file; and "Je Souhaite," a deadpan comedy about a wry, cynical genie at the mercy of trailer-trash masters who haven't an idea what to wish for. --Kim Newman
The X-Files: Season Eight
The eighth season of The X-Files will always be remembered as the year of brave decisions. David Duchovny's increasing dissatisfaction with the role meant he'd only appear in a few episodes. The solution? Enter Agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick) who basically stole the show within his first two minutes of screen time (and watch out for several Terminator 2 in-jokes too!). Scully (Gillian Anderson) switched roles to being the believer alongside Doggett's skeptic in a year that was more reliant on the background story arc than ever before. Her pregnancy remained at the foreground, while a more prominent Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) joined in a hunt for the abducted Mulder that drew upon the black oil, cloning, and bounty-hunting aspects of the convoluted alien conspiracy story. A distinct lack of guest stars or writers indicated maturity beyond the need for ratings stunts: dedicated fans were pleased to see sinister Krycek, the reliable Lone Gunmen, and the return of the show's very first abductee. The real strengths of the season came from new characters, including alternative female role model Special Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), and some terrific standalone episodes. Investigations covered a man going backward in time, deaths aboard an oil rig, a contagion in the Boston subway tunnels, and creatures resembling bats and slugs. Agent Leyla Harrison (named after an X-Files fan who died of cancer) got to ask all the petty questions regular viewers want to know themselves. With season 9 promised to be the last, this year was a remarkable achievement so late in a show's life. --Paul Tonks
The X-Files: Season Nine
Though season 9 may not be the best period in a long line of groundbreaking television, it is still worthy of the X-Files name. Knowing this was the last season had many fans prematurely disgruntled, and the expectation for "going out with a bang" was extremely high. Lots of longtime issues came to a head (Scully's single motherhood, new X-files agents at the helm, Agent Skinner is now a believer, Mulder MIA, etc.), and many new issues and plots arose. Learning the facts of his son's death, Agent Doggett (Robert Patrick) seeks out the missing Agent Mulder (David Duchovny) to help him expose the corrupt Deputy Director Kersh (James Pickens Jr.). Knowing that her gifted son William is a target of a religious cult, Scully (Gillian Anderson) enlists the help of the Lone Gunmen for protection. The missing Mulder is finally located. Unfortunately, he is being held in custody by the military on murder charges, which leads to the grand finale: the trial, not for a man guilty of murder, but for a man guilty of seeking the Truth.
The naysayers have plenty of valid complaints (particularly about the "Super Soldiers" segue), and many hated that the Mulder/Scully pairing was gone, but there are a few aspects that are universally positive, and there aren't many complaints about their replacements, Agent Doggett and Agent Reyes (Annabeth Gish). In fact, many feel that the show could have easily continued if the show's writing had been better. The final episode was more or less a 90-minute recap of the X-Files phenomenon. After "The Truth" ended, disappointed hardcore fans couldn't help but feel it was a set-up for an upcoming movie, but casual fans should find the episode very helpful in linking together the mythos that entranced and confused viewers for years. It may not be up to par with the first six seasons, but season 9 is still a lot better than most television shows. If you have the nerve to revisit this season, you will be pleasantly surprised. --Rob Bracco
The X-Files: Fight the Future
The definitive American television series of the '90s comes to the big screen with an anticlimactic whimper. And how could it be otherwise? Why should material so perfectly realized in one medium necessarily translate well into another? The series is crisply and thoughtfully executed in just about every detail, but the heart of its appeal lies in the elegant handling of complicated and evolving ongoing story lines, which is not something movies are especially good at. The big-screen drive for closure cramps the creative style, though it may also help nonfans get a grip on the proceedings. We do get some invigorating thrills and chills, however, and a more satisfying sense of the scale of an all-enveloping human-alien conspiracy than ever before, but there's no more plot development here than in an average two-part season-ending. FBI black sheep Mulder and Scully have been temporarily transferred from the X-Files project to an anti-terrorist unit to investigate an Oklahoma City-style bombing. They uncover a new wrinkle in the Syndicate/Cancer Man conspiracy--basically an attempt to help one bunch of (benign?) aliens fight off another bunch who want to colonize Earth. A spectacular, ice-bound finale thrillingly staged by series-veteran director Rob Bowman offers Mulder (but not a conveniently unconscious Scully) his first clear look at a You Know What, which in some quarters qualifies as an epochal event. Martin Landau offers the agents some crucial clues, and several familiar TV faces (including the Lone Gunmen and Mitch Pileggi's indispensable Assistant Director Skinner) turn up briefly to wink knowingly at faithful fans. --David Chute