The Horror Honeys: Sci-Fi Honey's X-Files Retrospective: Part 3!

Sci-Fi Honey's X-Files Retrospective: Part 3!

A Sci-Fi Honey X-Files Series Retrospective

This fall marks the 21st anniversary of the original airdate of The X-Files pilot episode.  To celebrate, Sci-Fi Honey 2.0 is counting down 21 favorite entries in the series.  Parts I and II of this three-part retrospective have already been posted.  See below for the conclusion, which will surely be the blueprint for your next X-Marathon!

7.  Humbug
Season 2 / Episode 20 / Original airdate: March 31, 1995
Written by:  Darin Morgan
Directed by:  Kim Manners
As a huge fan of both The X-Files and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, I always get very excited when there are cast crossovers from one show to the other.  The most notable, of course, is David Duchovny (who played Dennis/Denise on Twin Peaks); but over the years there have been many more X-Files guest stars who had prominent roles on Twin Peaks: Don Davis (who played Scully’s father), Richard Beymer, Michael Horse, and Kenneth Welsh, among others, have all cropped up over the years.  In Humbug, we get a delightful appearance from a Twin Peaks favorite: Michael J. Anderson, aka The Man From Another Place.  His primary scene ranks as one of my favorites in all of Humbug, but the whole episode is jam-packed with funny and wonderfully bizarre stuff in general.  The first truly comedic episode of the series, Humbug is also the first episode written by the Flukeman himself, Darin Morgan.  Investigating murders in a town populated entirely by current and former circus sideshow freaks, Mulder and Scully meet up with a cast of eerie and eccentric characters, many of whom were portrayed by the real-life Jim Rose Circus Sideshow.  Who can forget the puzzle-piece tattooed Conundrum, the lore of the FeeJee Mermaid, Dr. Blockhead hammering a nail into his chest, Jim-Jim the Dogface Boy, or Scully eating a grasshopper?  AHS: Freak Show owes this classic episode a debt of gratitude – bow down before the X-Circus.

6.  Triangle 
Season 6 / Episode 3 / Original airdate: November 22, 1998
Written by:  Chris Carter
Directed by:  Chris Carter
Filmed in real time and edited together with seamless continuous shots designed to look like a single take (inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope), Triangle may be one of the most groundbreaking and directorially ingenious episodes of the entire series – which is interesting, considering what limited experience Chris Carter has at the helm.  From a story standpoint, the episode is also an engaging race against time; Mulder, capsized in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, awakens on a passenger ship in 1939 that has just been invaded by Nazi SS officers.  In the present day, Scully is hounding agents at the FBI and enlisting the Lone Gunmen in helping her find Mulder’s coordinates; but in 1939, we get a saucier version of Scully, clad in a red satin dress and sporting a no-nonsense attitude.  Carter takes us on a fluid journey between the two eras – sometimes simultaneously while using a split-screen effect – and repurposes characters from the present-day world of the show for the 1939 storyline, where the Cigarette-Smoking Man and good ol’ Skinner are portrayed as sinister Nazi villains.

On a personal (and somewhat embarrassing) note, this is also the first episode where Mulder and Scully share a legitimate kiss – and whether it was a dream, an alternate universe, or otherwise, ‘shippers collectively gasped with delight.  I was one of them.  I had just turned 14 years old, and I recorded the moment in my diary that same evening.

5.  The Post-Modern Prometheus
Season 5 / Episode 5 / Original airdate: November 30, 1997
Written by:  Chris Carter
Directed by:  Chris Carter
In a previous installment of my X-Files retrospective, I discussed Season 3’s Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ and how it was one of two notable episodes that can seriously be considered “out-there,” even by X-Files standards.  The Post-Modern Prometheus is far and away the other episode that earns that weird and wonderful distinction.  Another episode from the Chris Carter canon, Prometheus springs to life from the pages of a comic book and is shot in luridly gothic black-and-white.   Mulder and Scully head to a pastoral Indiana town to investigate a woman’s claim that she was mysteriously impregnated by an humanoid creature with two mouths, who always plays Cher on her stereo and eats all the peanut butter in the house.  I would have LOVED to be in the room when this idea was pitched; but it was Carter’s all the way and he ran with it, making the entire episode as bizarre and Lynchian as possible.  Indeed, between the black-and-white aesthetic and the mutated individual at the center of the story, you could draw numerous comparisons to Lynch’s The Elephant Man, as well as the old-world feel of 1930’s horror – most notably, James Whale’s Frankenstein.   Plug in a Cher-heavy soundtrack and a cameo by Jerry Springer, and you have the ingredients for what could have been a sure misfire of an episode.  Somehow, though, Carter and co. manage to take us beyond the limits of our suspension of disbelief until we’re right there on stage, dancing to “Walking in Memphis” with Mulder and Scully, and loving every last minute of the absurdly awe-inspiring Prometheus.

4.  Squeeze / Tooms 
Season 1 / Episode 3 & 21 / Original airdate: September 24, 1993 / April 22, 1994
Written by:  Glen Morgan & James Wong
Directed by:  Harry Longstreet (Squeeze), David Nutter (Tooms)

Ask any X-Files fan: who is the greatest villain in the history of the series?  You will undoubtedly hear this often: one name, three words – Eugene.  Victor.  Tooms.  He’s so frightening and intriguing, in fact, they brought him back a second time in the first season alone – which is why both Squeeze and Tooms make a dual entry on my list.  A centuries-old serial killer with a penchant for devouring human livers (he could share a delightful meal with one Hannibal Lecter, in fact), Tooms spends a majority of each episode practically blending into the background, living a secluded single life of the Average Joe.  In reality, however, he is anything but average – fueled by his consumption of bile, he is able to hibernate for decades at a time, only to reemerge and stalk his victims by “squeezing” his body into the smallest of spaces.  Actor Doug Hutchinson – who is known nowadays for being creepy in other ways – plays the part of Tooms with hair-raising finesse, channeling Norman Bates with his deceptively harmless-looking demeanor.  There were many frightening and complex villains that followed Tooms’ lead, but he’s the one that started it all – and had us jumping at any noise coming from inside even the tiniest ventilation duct.

3.  Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose
Season 3 / Episode 4 / Original airdate: October 13, 1995
Written by:  Darin Morgan
Directed by:  David Nutter
Never has a single episode of The X-Files made me laugh hysterically and shed a tear in the same 60-minute stretch of time; thus, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose takes the number three slot – and a special place in my heart – on the list of my favorite episodes of all-time.  The late great Peter Boyle is the titular character of this Season 3 entry, in which Mulder and Scully look into a series of murders committed against purported psychics and palm-readers.  Bruckman is an insurance salesman afflicted with the curious ability to see how people are going to die – information which he delivers in sometimes odd but often spot-on ways, such as describing the moment in which Mulder will have his throat slit by an unknown assailant after he steps in a pie, and gets stuck on the detail of what kind of pie it might be.  Boyle is pitch-perfect in his portrayal of Bruckman, who is encumbered with the burden of this unwanted gift, but demonstrates genuine warmth beneath his wry and cynical exterior.  His growing relationship with Scully, engendered by their many hours in the isolation of protective custody, is one of the most heart-wrenching emotional connections the series has ever wrought.  Between the funny and poignant story, Nutter’s poised direction, and an inspired guest star turn by Boyle, Bruckman is an essential viewing experience not only for fans of the series, but for fans of great television in general.

2.  Home
Season 4 / Episode 2 / Original airdate: October 11, 1996
Written by:  Glen Morgan & James Wong
Directed by:  Kim Manners
Here it is, horror hounds: the most gruesome, unnerving, and flat-out frightening episode of the X-Files universe – and the only episode at the time that aired with a viewer discretion advisory for graphic content.  Beginning with a grisly case of infanticide, Home goes on to portray some of the most violent scenes in the series history – including decapitation, gunshots, bludgeoning, and amputation – all situated within the narrative framework of “family values” set forth by the Peacock clan at the center of the episode.  Without spoiling the unique nature of the family’s various relationships, let’s just say that Home explored some taboo subjects rarely considered appropriate for R-rated horror, let alone network television.  Beneath the shock value, however, lies an episode that’s expertly crafted for the genre, featuring some of finest camera work and setpieces for any episode of the series that is rooted squarely in horror.  Touring the dilapidated manse of the Peacock family, one expects Leatherface to make an appearance at the dinner table, and he would be completely at home in Home.  Watch at night with all the lights turned off – if you dare.

1.  Bad Blood
Season 5 / Episode 12 / Original airdate: February 22, 1998
Written by:  Vince Gilligan
Directed by:  Cliff Bole
Alas, we’ve reached the end of my X-Retrospective – and it may be a surprise to many that my all-time favorite episode of The X-Files is not primarily sci-fi, nor horror … but comedy.   Mulder and Scully can seem at the outset to be difficult characters to empathize with; spouting highfalutin language and embroiled in dark and supernatural realms, the world of The X-Files and the characters that embody it can sometimes be a complete downer.  David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, however, are supremely gifted actors – not just in creating a well-developed sense of who these two individuals are, but also in the nuances of their ever-evolving personal and professional relationship.  There is no better episode that captures the essence of that relationship than Bad Blood, which tells the story from each character’s perspective, revealing exactly how they view the other – and lets the actors’ comedic skills shine.

Mulder has inadvertently killed a teenager that he thought was a vampire (haven’t we all made that mistake), and he must explain himself to the Bureau.  Bad Blood takes place moments before the briefing, when Mulder and Scully each give an account of the exact same events leading up to the incident.  These accounts differ wildly depending on whose perspective we are witnessing: Mulder sees Scully as a skeptical, whining harpy doing her best to kill his investigative buzz, while Scully sees Mulder as irrationally enthusiastic about preposterous theories and unfocused on anything outside the realm of the paranormal.  Viewing the same events back-to-back, but with the biased perspective of two clearly unreliable narrators, reveals how Mulder and Scully feel about each other better than any single storyline the show could muster.  Add Luke Wilson and his hilariously oversized bucked teeth to the equation, and you have pure comedy gold.  For deftly exploring the complexities of the Mulder/Scully relationship and doing so in a witty and lighthearted manner, Bad Blood takes the top prize in this Sci-Fi Honey’s heart as my most favorite episode, worthy of exploration and repeat viewings.

Epilogue:  If you’ve been following my three-part series retrospective from the beginning, you’ll notice I did not include any episodes on my list that were from seasons 7, 8, or 9.  Robert Patrick did a remarkable job playing a dynamic and formidable character in the wake of Mulder’s departure, when the odds were already stacked against him that fans would rebel (and rebel, they did).  Let’s face it: Doggett and Reyes are no Mulder and Scully.  With some exceptions, it is well-known that the quality of the show declined in some respects throughout season 6, culminating in David Duchovny’s departure in season 7 and the unrestrained sobbing of many a young girl who dreamed of one day becoming Mrs. Spooky Mulder.  This girl was one of them, and I’ll admit, my viewership was less than enthusiastic during these waning years.  For that reason, I have decided to focus my list solely on the seasons that got me passionately enraptured with the show, primarily the heyday of the first five years in the adventures of Mulder and Scully.  I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t give an honorable mention to some standout episodes in seasons 7 – 9: here’s to, X-Cops, The Goldberg Variation, Deadalive, Via Negativa, and, of course, The Truth.

That’s the conclusion of this Sci-Fi Honey’s three-part X-Files series retrospective.  Love it?  Hate it?  Want to discuss?  Send me a tweet, #AlienBees!