Thursday, June 24, 2010

RyHo's Favourite Episodes of The X-Files

When I was a kid I was at a friend's house on a Friday evening, 1993. I was 10 years old and we were playing video games in his basement. It was late – remember, I was 10 - and I was on my way home when I came upstairs and found his mother watching a TV show. It was The X-Files. I watched a few minutes of the show and instantly became hooked.

From that day forth I had to catch The X-Files every week. It eventually made its way to Sunday night TV with the likes of The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, and many other great shows. Sunday was a ritual for me. The weekend was winding down. I'd make a snack and sit back and watch two hours of great TV, which included my favourite TV show of all time.

Here are five of my favourite episodes. I'd like to say on this occasion that these are in order, but I think my top ten shifts now and again. I haven't purposely avoided "mytharc" episodes here, which is a whole other can of worms, but none appear in the list. I've just always been more into the "monster-of-the-week" episodes when I look back at the series as a whole.

5. Paper Hearts: Season 4 - Episode 10

This episode is an interesting one because in it we have Mulder and Scully investigating a child- killer, played by Tom Noonan. It’s an odd duck of an episode because we have a seemingly real-world killer, with no real supernatural affiliation.

If you don’t know Tom Noonan, he’s been in some different films that you may have seen, such as The Monster Squad as Frankenstein’s Monster, RoboCop 2 as Cain and Heat as Kelso. I know him mostly from Manhunter, which was another Michael Mann film – like Heat – based on the Thomas Harris novel “Red Dragon”, which was remade in 2002 starring Ed Norton. Noonan played Francis Dollarhyde in the film – the role reprised by Ralph Fiennes in the 2002 version – a creepy, psychopathic serial killer that believes he is evolving into a god-like beast, the Red Dragon. I find him to be a really good character actor, even though his appearance and height, at 6’6, probably keep him out of a lot of roles he would be great in.

Regardless, he once again plays a fantastic “monster” in this episode of the X-Files. His character is a serial killer by the name of John Lee Roche, who killed little girls for many years as he traveled the country as a vacuum salesman, evading the police. He would take little cut-outs of hearts from their clothing as a souvenir.

The supernatural aspect of this episode is that Mulder is having dreams that lead him to Roche and through the investigation for one of Roche’s victims, whom Roche claims is Mulder’s little sister, Samantha. One of the driving forces of the show, in case you don’t know, is that Mulder witnessed his sister’s abduction by aliens when he was a boy, resulting in his fascination with aliens, UFOs, and all things “X-File”.

I think the characters and the acting drive this episode, Noonan playing a great villain. Again, it’s an interesting episode because it isn’t really “mytharc” – an episode that follows the backbone alien invasion arc throughout the series – but involves Samantha, shedding doubt on Mulder’s experiences as a youth. It is also a great episode for Duchovny, who’s pushed off the deepend with Roche and the possibility that this man did abduct his sister – which could completely negate his life’s work, in a way - and voraciously hunts this final victim both in the real world and in his dreams.

4. Jose Chung's From Outer Space: Season 3 - Episode 20

This episode is one of those kismet moments in the series where everything just comes together. It’s an excellent script, perfect acting and timing as well as fantastic characters. The episode is also strewn with inside jokes and homages that make it a must-see for anyone that’s into The X-Files.

Occasionally throughout the series there would be these tongue-in-cheek episodes where the show takes some time to make fun of itself. Whenever these sorts of episodes come along it’s a nice breath of fresh air from the usual conspiracy and straight-forward monster-of-the-week stuff, and are always memorable. For me, none are as memorable as Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.

In this episode we have an author, Jose Chung, played by Charles Nelson Reilly – an American actor known for his comedy roles – who is consulting with Mulder and Scully as he’s trying to write a book about alien abduction. They speak to him about a specific case of theirs involving a young couple who both had conflicting stories about their alleged alien abduction.

The episode goes from crazy to full-on insanity as it advances. In the beginning we have the two teenagers being found, the girl with her clothes on inside out, which leads to Scully thinking she was a victim of rape by her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, however, claims they were abducted by aliens, which the girl corroborates after a hypnosis session. This snowballs into a conspiracy involving the government and an apparent witness that claims a giant, Harryhausen-themed alien, by the name of Lord Kinbote, took the teenagers. At one point Mulder is confronted by Men in Black, played by Jesse Ventura and, wait for it, Alex Trebek...

Please, folks. Even if you don’t watch X-Files, but can appreciate a fun, comedy piece, do yourself a favour and watch Jose Chung’s From Outer Space, from Season 3 of The X-Files.

3. Ice: Season 1 - Episode 8

Ice is an oft-cited episode by horror buffs because the storyline is very reminiscent of a widely popular horror film by John Carpenter. This episode most definitely takes cues from the short story “Who Goes There?”, by John W. Campbell, which was the inspiration for the Howard Hawk’s film The Thing From Another World (1951) and its subsequent remake by Carpenter, The Thing (1982).

In the first season of the show creator Chris Carter and his go-to writers, Glen Morgan and James Wong, wanted to set the tone as a “monster-of-the-week” series. (I’m sorry I keep using that term, but if you were to search anything X-Files, you’d see it’s the most prominent buzzword for the series, next to the term “mytharc”, which I explained above.) As this was the first season, and the backbone of the series would really be developed in the next few seasons, we were treated to lots of these mini-horror films.

In this episode we have Mulder and Scully traveling to a desolate location in the North. Several researchers are working in Alaska drilling for ice cores and when a very distressing transmission is received from their base, the FBI and several other researchers and scientists are sent in to see what’s wrong. Much like in The Thing we have Mulder and Scully trapped in the research bunker with several other individuals, which are one-by-one being taken over by some entity long-forgotten in the ice.

Again, like The Thing, the isolation and confinement of the research bunker play a great role in this episodes success, as does the acting and characters. This episode actually has Xander Berkeley, whom you’d remember from countless TV shows including The A-Team, The Twilight Zone and 24, as well as films like Terminator 2, Candyman, Heat – oddly enough - and most recently Taken and Kick-Ass. He’s just one of those guys that end up in everything.

This episode was actually intended to be a “bottleneck show”, which is a term used for an episode that costs the least amount of money, in this case due to the one, small location. However, it ended up being one of the most costly with the special effects used.

It might be due to the short story it’s based on, but this episode is considered not only one of the best from Season 1, but one of the best the entire show has to offer and I think stands up just as well – although on a much lesser scale – with a film like The Thing. Horror fans should at least check this one out.

2. Detour: Season 5 - Episode 4

With all of the different monsters that have made their way into X-Files episodes, the creature featured in the episode Detour is one the most memorable, in my opinion, and you don’t ever really even see it.

The premise is that Mulder and Scully are on their way to a team-building exercise, much to their chagrin, but fate steps in as they are stopped en route and become involved in the case of a missing hunter in the forests of Florida, which remarkably look like British Columbia.

In the search for the missing hunter, Mulder, as usual, starts to figure out what’s going on, and surmises that they’re dealing with an invisible hunter; a species of creature, divergent from human evolution, that has remained unseen and unnoticed in the forests for thousands of years.

What makes this episode stick clearly in my mind is the visual effects. In showing us the creatures they use what I’d call a poor man’s Predator effect. You know when they show the Predator in cloak? Well, it’s like that, but on a TV show budget. This is blended, very well, with dark scenery and the eerie landscape of the forest and it comes out as a great effect.

The landscape itself is fantastic as well. As is often the case in X-Files episodes, the location is almost a character in and of itself, creating a great atmosphere that helps the show deliver as much scary as it could.

1. The Host: Season 2 - Episode 2

My number one episode, by far, must go to The Host, from Season 2.

I remember the first episode of The X-Files I ever saw very well. It was called Fallen Angel and aired mid-way through Season 1. Although I hold this memory near and dear, in a way – even though it’s odd to say that I remember something like a TV show so fondly – there was never such an episode that scared me like The Host.

This episode is a brainchild of series’ creator Chris Carter. Carter didn’t actually write all that many episodes, mostly being involved as the show’s producer and the major backbone storylines for the series, but when he did do an episode, they were pretty much always great. The Host came about from several topics ranging from his dog having worms to Chernobyl. It’s amazing how this sort of thing can come together.

The plot follows Mulder who is sent by Assistant Director Skinner to look into the case of a Russian sailor found half eaten in the sewers of New Jersey. An interesting aspect of this episode is that in the first few episodes of the show, Scully actually acts as a sort of spy. She’s sent in by the powers-that-be to look into Mulder’s work on the X-Files, which sets up her skepticism in the majority of the series. In this particular episode she’s decided to leave the FBI to go back to being a medical doctor - her former profession - and Mulder feels that this case is a form of punishment against him and his work. After talking Scully into performing an autopsy on the Russian man’s body, the two become intrigued with the case and pursue it.

On the Russian’s body Scully finds a fluke worm, which couldn’t have caused the damage to the man’s body and raises Mulder’s suspicions that something out of the ordinary is afoot. As the episode progresses there are other deaths in the sewers of Jersey, which some people think are a result of the old urban legend of alligators in the sewers. What they find is much more sinister than that... the Flukeman.

The Flukeman is an awesome use of monster special effects. The idea here is that a fluke worm was radiated, possibly by Chernobyl, and evolved into some kind of new man-like species. This monster, guys, is so creepy and gross. I saw this thing in my nightmares for weeks. There’s just something so placid in its eyes and so jarring in its appearance. If you’re ever looking for a good scare, check out Season 2’s The Host.


kingshearte said...

The Host turned me off the X-Files for the longest time (more or less permanently, actually). Why? To start, it was the first episode I ever watched, I was pretty young, and it scared the crap out of me. But what really turned me off is that, after that, *every single time* I happened to come across the X-Files on TV, that episode was on. Seriously, this happened, like, 6 times. I started to wonder if it was actually the only episode of the show.

Don didn't believe me, and then one day, he's all, "Hey, X-Files is on. Let's watch it." Sure enough, it was that episode.

I have since seen others, since the ex-roommate bought & watched through the whole series, but I just can't do it. That episode seriously wrecked the entire series for me.

But I'm glad someone likes it.

RyHo said...

I can see being haunted by an episode turning anyone off of a TV show.

Oddly enough, maybe 6-7 years back, Space - I think - syndicated the show and at the time I didn't have the DVD sets. I thought it'd be a great opportunity to see it again, but every time I put the show on it was the episode "Home".

I'm sure you haven't seen that one, but it's usually on people's top lists and is easily the horror hound's favourite episode. It's their version of an "inbred killer family in the woods/mountains" show that actually received a graphic warning when it was originally aired. It's a very disturbing episode.

Anyway, long story short, I didn't watch the series again until around 2-3 years ago when I started picking them up on DVD because I was haunted by "Home".

Cole D'Arc said...

yeah, ive seen Home like four times. I think my favourite episodes are that two-parter where Mulder somehow switches bodies with some annoying guy. Mostly it's just really goofy but I always remember it fondly.

Cole D'Arc said...

kingshearte> you were "turned off" the series because the episode scared you? i'm not certain i understand. is it because you took this to mean the show was just really scary?
i like how Don is like someone we all just know.

kingshearte said...

Oops, sorry. I sometimes forget that the people I'm talking to don't necessarily actually know me or my life. Don is my husband, if anyone cares.

And yes, that episode scared me, and did so young enough that it did turn me off the series. It also really grossed me out, and made me freaked out of showers because of one scene.

If I'd only seen it once, maybe it wouldn't have had such an effect. But it was that I saw it a few times, and then enough of it to realize what it was and turn it the fuck off every time it appeared.

At this point, I'm simply not interested.

Cole D'Arc said...

Psycho freaked out an entire generation regarding showers but i think it's still appreciated.

but yeah, it seems that The X-Files just really had it in for you. it didn't WANT you to like it - it just wanted to GET you.

Shane Patenaude said...

This was a very interesting list and it makes me really want to watch the x-files. Despite my taste in movies and books and how much I'm interested in the genre, I pretty much never watched the X-files besides one or two episodes.

But this has been a long standing tradition with me: never watching TV series that are hugely popular. After never watching the X-files, I went on to NEVER watch any episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, the Sopranos, OZ, Sex and the City, 24, Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Heroes, Prison Break, Entourage, Dexter, 30 Rock, Nip/Tuck, Glee, Mad Men, ... the list goes on.

For the most part I don't think I'm missing out, but the X-files is an exception. Strangely enough, I saw the X-files Movie in theatres. Apparently I could make time for that. I was a little lost, however. lol

Cole D'Arc said...

shane> it's a tradition we've always shared. but i finally broke it with Dexter. although i am yet to see the second half of the latest (fourth) season.