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Shaenon: As part of our painstaking research for Skin Horse, Jeffrey and I have been watching a ton of old "X-Files" episodes. I wasn't that into the show when it first aired, even though I was obsessed with UFOs and Bigfoots and government conspiracies. Maybe "The X-Files" wasn't paranoid enough for me. Re-watching the series, though, I'm impressed by how well it's held up, especially a lot of the stand-alone monster-of-the-week episodes. A good monster is forever.

Jeffrey's a fan, too, so we decided to share our top five personal favorite episodes. However! For the purposes of this list, we disqualified the five episodes scripted by the show's best writer, Darin Morgan ("Blood," a.k.a. the one where LCD displays order people to kill; "Humbug," a.k.a. the one in the town full of sideshow performers; "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," a.k.a. the one where Peter Boyle is an insurance agent who can see the future and tells Mulder he's going to die of autoerotic asphyxiation; "War of the Coprophages," a.k.a. the one with the killer cockroaches; and "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'," a.k.a. the greatest episode of anything ever with the possible exception of the "Pete and Pete" where Little Pete forms a band), because otherwise both of our lists would just consist of the five Darin Morgan episodes.

That's not precisely true. Jeff might not put "Humbug" on his list because he's disappointed that Scully didn't really eat the cricket. But there would still be way too much overlap.

Anyway, with that in mind, here are:

JEFF AND SHAENON'S TOP FIVE "X-FILES" NOT WRITTEN BY DARIN MORGAN

Jeff's Top Five:


1. The Post-Modern Prometheus

"The Post-Modern Prometheus" is my favorite non-Darin Morgan episode of the show, and is a near contender for my favorite overall episode. It's got a series-unique style and a framing device quite unlike anything else we see in the seven seasons of this show that actually exist.

(Parenthetically, I know there are rumors out there that this show proceeded on for two more seasons after season seven, to which I say, ha ha, you must live in some sort of alternate universe where they stitched up the "Mulder's Sister" arc in about the least conceivably satisfying way, brought in two entirely new protagonists and proceeded to make episodes in a somewhat epileptic style until the show was finally cancelled for everyone's good. I feel sorry for you, living in that universe.)

Anyway, yes. Post-Modern Prometheus. Shot entirely in black-and-white, framed with a storybook motif and concluding with an absolutely explicit deus ex machina ending, this episode has human-animal chimeras, a delightful mad scientist, a sad monster, and lots and lots of Cher. Don't think too hard about all the non-consensual sex, and you'll do fine.

2. Bad Blood

"Bad Blood" is by far the funniest non-Darin episode, including some series-standout memorable bits. I'm a sucker for the Rashomon style of storytelling, because showing "what a character perceives" will almost always tell you more about him or her than merely showing "what is". "Bad Blood" features Scully feeling hungry for weird things -- in this case the stomach contents of her autopsy case -- which I always find hilarious for some reason. It's also got Mulder playing with a Magic Fingers machine, singing the theme to Shaft, and trying to stop a moving RV by grabbing onto the bumper, all of which he totally would do. Lastly, it includes the most amusing pronunciation of the word "knawed" I have, to date, heard. Thanks, Mitch Pileggi.

3. Soft Light

The always-reliable Tony Shalhoub turns in an outstanding performance as harrowed Dr. Chester Banton, who, because of blah blah technobabble blah blah, has a SHADOW THAT FRIKKIN' EATS PEOPLE, which, I'm sure you will agree, makes for a pretty great Monster Of The Week. Look, I know the science is absolutely off the hook in this one, but if you can muscle through that, it's really an enjoyable episode. Plus, composer Mark Snow is at the top of his game in this one; the quiet, rolling theme that sets up the train station scene is my favorite single musical bit in the series, aside from the Cher tunes in "Prometheus," mentioned above.

4. Beyond the Sea

I'll admit it, I like the Scully episodes. Yes, she can be blockheaded and willfully, almost incredibly, obstinate. Yes, her writing becomes a little spasmodic later on. She's still sorta my baby. What can I say -- I'm a fan of red-haired military brats with daddy issues, I guess.

Anyhow, since I can't very well fill my whole list with Scully-centric episodes, I'm just picking my favorite: Season One's "Beyond the Sea". This is packed full of daddy-issues-y goodness, and features Scully being genuinely open-minded and useful at a time when Mulder's prejudices take him out of the fight as the intuitive member of the team. Also, it's got a hella touching closing scene, one of the best in the series.

5. Drive

I hesitate to put "Drive" on my list, because, frankly, it's not really that great of an episode in terms of objective quality. "Monday" or "Triangle" almost certainly should have beaten it out for my #5 slot, but ...hell, I can't help it. "Drive" occupies a special place in my heart, because I was actually studying inner ear mechanics during the time it was aired, and I like stuff dealing with ELF radiation. Plus, I'm a big fan of constrained, limited-resource stories, and this, combined with the tense and ultimately touching relationship between Mulder and the carjacker, puts this one into my top five X-Files episodes, um, not written by Darin Morgan.


Shaenon's Top Five:

1. The Unnatural

Mulder visits retired agent Arthur Dales' brother, Arthur Dales ("our parents weren't exactly big in the imagination department") and hears a heartwarming baseball story set in 1940s Roswell. At the center of the tale is Josh Exley, an alien invader who defects from his fleet, disguises himself as a black man, and joins a minor league baseball team, all for the love of the game. "The X-Files" was often at its best when it wandered from its established milieu of sci-fi horror, and this episode is unmistakably a departure: a combination sports story, period piece and loving tribute to postwar UFO nuttery (which has its own special flavor distinct from other UFO nuttery). It could stand on its own as a short film. Jesse Martin is great as Exley, and tell me the ending doesn't make you tear up at least a little.

2. Triangle

Another period piece! Mulder disappears in the Bermuda Triangle and gets picked up by a cruise ship that vanished in 1939. In no time he's fighting Nazis, delivering action-hero quips, and meeting unexplained 1930s versions of Scully and other characters (this episode is, among other things, a tribute to The Wizard of Oz). But the real action is back in the present, where Scully has to navigate an FBI building swarming with agents of the Conspiracy in order to rescue Mulder. An unusually action-packed episode, this is one of a handful directed by Chris Carter, who went all-out with the fancy camerawork. The whole episode is designed to look like a series of extended takes in the style of Hitchcock's Rope, and one sequence in particular, with Scully running up and down FBI headquarters for eleven uninterrupted minutes, looks impossible to shoot. Near the end, there's another neat trick: a split screen tracking the 1939 and present-day action, during which the two Scullys pass like ships in the night and switch to the opposite sides of the screen. Also, Nazis get punched.

3. Monday

The show's homage to (or ripoff of, depending on how kind you are) Groundhog Day, "Monday" forces Mulder, Scully, and everyone inside a downtown bank to repeat the same disastrous bank robbery over and over again...and only the robber's accomplice/girlfriend is fully aware of the time loop. A cool idea, nicely executed, with lots of gloomy cinematography and shots of Mulder looking downcast--that's what a solid "X-Files" episode is all about. Plus it ties up the all-important loose end of the waterbed Mulder acquired in the two-part body-swap storyline "Dreamland."

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "How can Shaenon possibly pass up a body-swap episode? Nobody loves body-swap episodes more than she does!" The thing is, "Dreamland" is okay, but Scully is really unforgivably dense in that one, and, more importantly, it's a little too similar to the earlier and far superior...

4. Small Potatoes

What's almost as good as an episode written by Darin Morgan? An episode starring Darin Morgan! Following a tabloid story about monkey babies, Mulder and Scully uncover the unfortunate case of Eddie van Blundht, a janitor who's been using his shapeshifting powers to trick women into sleeping with him. When the agents show up to shut him down, van Blundht impersonates Mulder and ham-fistedly tries to steal his life. My vote for funniest non-Darin-Morgan-scripted episode, "Small Potatoes" features great performances by Morgan as van Blundht and voice actress Christine Cavanaugh as a Star Wars nerd who thinks she spent the night with Luke Skywalker. But in the last act, David Duchovny steals the show. Duchovny is generally good at comedy, the one area where the poker face helps, but here he goes above and beyond, playing a schlubby loser in the body of a hot FBI agent with total conviction. And of course that loser, like anybody who ever winds up in Mulder's body over the course of "The X-Files," immediately tries to make it with Scully.

5. D.P.O.

If "Drive" is Jeff's guilty pleasure, "D.P.O." is mine. Before I re-watched it a few weeks ago, I'd completely forgotten about it, and I was shocked and a little embarrassed to realize how thoroughly it had wormed its way into my subconscious. It's the story of Darin, a sullen teen who uses his power over electricity to kill people who interrupt his video gaming and hit on hopelessly unattainable older women and oh holy geez this is Nick. There is no getting around it. The body language on this character is so perfect it makes my jaw drop. He is very sullen.

And no wonder, because Darin is played by a pre-"Saving Private Ryan" Giovanni Ribisi, an amazing actor in any role you care to give him but especially if it's someone who's kind of a dick. And Darin's best friend is--can it be?--yes! It's a very young Jack Black! Wait a minute, this episode isn't a guilty pleasure! This episode is awesome! It's true that the whole thing was based on an index card with the words "Lightning Boy" that Chris Carter had pinned to his wall, but that just illustrates how a so-so idea can be elevated by great execution. It even has a patented "X-Files" Ironic Pop Music Counterpoint Scene, when a guy gets lightning-killed to "Ring the Bells" by James.

Also, Darin? Named after Darin Morgan. I rest my case.


P.S. Just one week left to pledge to the publication of Skin Horse Volume Two at Kickstarter.com! Remember, everyone who pledges gets a mention on the Acknowledgments page of the completed book, plus other cool stuff. Do it! Do the deed!

17 comments:
Michael Brewer (wusemajor) says:

My favorite X-Files episode was The Goldberg Variation.  Because, seriously, who doesn't love Rube Goldberg machines and happy endings?

M. Alan Thomas II (crazydreamer) says:

Dang, thanks! Especially to Jeff. His top two are two episodes I've been trying to remember the names of for years. However, I must deduct points for mentioning "X-Files" and "cockroaches" in the same sentence, as now I will have nightmares again.

So It Begins (soitbegins) says: I've never seen the X-files.
Bernard Sheehan (smilodon) says:

Clyde Bruckman is the actual name of the director of several Buster Keaton movies. If you're into classic film comedy (silent or otherwise) that episode is filled with obscure references.

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE: Theme to "Duck Tales", Mark Mueller)

Deep down in the FBI,
It's the ... X-Files!
Skeptic girl and spooky guy,
Using ... their wiles!
They might solve a puzzle,
Or smooch and nuzzle!

It's X-Files!  (Ooh-ooh-ooh!)
Not sure what the show's about there?
X-Files!  (Ooh-ooh-ooh!)
Trust no one, the truth is out there!
X-Files!

D-d-d-danger!  From the heavens!
Won't hook up 'til season seven!
Jumped the shark, they lost the spark in ...

X-Files!  (Ooh-ooh-ooh!)
Creepy Smoking Man is plottin'!
X-Files!  (Ooh-ooh-ooh!)
You can tell there's something rotten!
X-Files!  (Ooh-ooh-ooh!)
Buy them please, on DVDs!
The X-Files!  (Ooh-ooh-ooh!)

Dave Estep (cyaegha) says:

 Sorry folks, but I have to stick with "Home". That was the first episode of anything since "The Night Stalker" that scared me badly enough to leave a light on.

 

 It didn't help that the bed I slept in was a dead ringer for the one they slept in.. and under.

David Harmon (mental_mouse) says:

Cool, even if I've never watched the X-Files (gave up network TV years ago....)

I note that over at Narbonic, Shaenon's wedding guestbook is showing, but the comments form seems to be AWOL.

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

@mental_mouse: It's under the center of the page image.  Scroll down until you can just see the bottom of the image, then pan left and right until you see the comments.

Too bad you missed the good part: I had a great filk based on Shaenon & Andrew's wedding night, but they made me delete it.  (p.s. I'm lying.)

Kay Gilbert (kaygilbert) says:

I have to vote with Dave Estep on "Home", as the most memorable X-Files.  Hearing Johnny Mathis sing Wonderful, Wonderful still gives me the yips.  I've often wondered if "Home" inspired the equally disturbing "Countrycide"ep  from Torchwood's first season.

Diane Castle (deecee) says:

@Dave Estep: I have to agree that "Home" was a powerful ep, but I'm voting for one of the creepiest episodes, and the one that convinced me to watch the series for a while: "Squeeze".  Eugene Victor Tooms (Names To Run Away From Really Fast) is back after 30 years.  Or is that 60 years?  And it has my very favorite line from all the X-Files:

[Scully: Genetics might explain the patterns. It also might explain the sociopathic attitudes and behaviours. It begins with one family member, who raises an offspring, who raises the next child...]
Mulder: So, what is this, the anti-Waltons?

Brian Stinson (brians) says:

I'm a little sad that Jose Chung's From Outer Space was disqualified, but I'm glad at the same time; it gets it out of the way early to spotlight the others for a change.

Seriously. PECAN PIE.

Paul Gadzikowski (pgadzikowski) says:

That's a phallacy, you know. Bruckman was speaking of his own death.

Trivia: It was during Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space' that the first ever promo for the 1996 Doctor Who movie was aired.

Corgi (corgi) says:

I so totally agree with why Darin Morgan's episodes had to be excluded because OH YEAH.  By the way, where is he, that he's been depriving us of his twisted mind?

I was a little surprised to see "Squeeze" left off the lists (as excellent as they were).  Doug Hutchinson plays antagonists brilliantly (see also: Space Above and Beyond), and with optimum creepy.

Also, Mulder's line about how to get Tooms's bile off his hand is the perfect encapsulation of his whole character, just in that one delivery.

Kate Cunningham (katfairy) says:

While I'm with you on the mythical final two seasons, I must admit that the finale had one very satisfying moment involving the CSM and a missile.

Dirk Tiede (dirktiede) says:

I absolutely agree with every choice on your list.  When you add in the Darin Morgan ones, these are hands down the best episodes the series had the offer.

Shaenon-- Interesting how most of your choices were from Season 6.  These were the episodes that made that season worth rewatching. Too bad the conspiracy arcs just never could reach a satisfying conclusion.

Still, as I hear it, it still beats out how they ended 'Lost.'

Zoreta D (zoreta) says:

My favorite episodes are Eve, Our Town and How the Ghosts Stole Christmas.

 

However, Hungry, Home and The Amazing Maleeni will always have a special place in my heart, as they were the first episodes I ever saw.

Jacob Haller (jwgh) says:

Hey, you know what I found out?  X-Files is available on Netflix on demand.  This combined with the fact that I never watched it when it was originally broadcast will mean that I have no reason to leave my apartment this week.

If anyone else comes across this discussion and is interested for some reason, here's a list of all of the episodes from both lists, plus all of the Darin Morgan episodes, plus a couple of other episodes mentioned in passing.

 

s1e13 - Beyond the Sea

s2e03 - Blood

s2e23 - Soft Light

s2e29 - Humbug

s3e03 - D.P.O.

s3e04 - Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose

s3e12 - War of the Coprophages

s3e20 - Jose Chung's From Outer Space

s4e20 - Small Potatoes

s5e05 - The Post-Modern Prometheus

s5e12 - Bad Blood

s6e02 - Drive

s6e03 - Triangle

s6e04 - Dreamland

s6e05 - Dreamland II

s6e14 - Monday

s6e19 - The Unnatural

 

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The education bestowed on Shaenon K. Garrity by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged. ... full profile