Sunday, February 07, 2010

My X-Files Top 10

I wrote this list back in the early 2000s and I can't remember exactly where I originally posted it. It's before I got the DVD sets and was watching (and taping) the shows on TNT.

 I was very much out of X-Files fandom (note that I don't use the terms "Mytharc/Mythology" or "'shipper" and so on). I'd would scan fan groups and sites for information but only occasionally took part in discussions, not being indoctrinated into the various orthodoxies that took hold at a very early date in the fandom.

TV has changed so much since The X-Files was on that if were a new series today you wouldn't have the same demarcation between standalone and mytharc. People expect serialization now. I get it - I wasn't able to fully appreciate the Mythology until I was able to watch the episodes together. Now they're the episodes I watch the most- the standalones seem a bit inconsequential in comparison.

From what I've gathered the plan with the miniseries is to tie in the three standalones into the Mythology in a similar fashion to the way it was done in Season 8. I think that's the only real way to pull it off. 

I'm sure Fox is really leaning on Carter and co. to really wrap up the storyline in a satisfying and dramatic way, though I'd argue that the original mythology had done so at the end of Season 8 and was only dragged back out after Gillian Anderson re-upped her contract. Watching most of those Season 9 Mythology eps you get the sense their hearts were not into it. The contrast between them and the incredible work done the previous season is that stark.

Anyhow, I just wanted to post this since The X-Files seem to be everywhere these days. 

1. Christmas Carol (Season 5)- For me, this is quite simply the finest hour of television fiction in history. The climax doesn't hit you until the end, but the utter tangibility of the paranormal is so immediate that you can't help but be swept away. The show merges phone calls from the dead, Dickensian Christmas past moments and a gripping police procedural and throws in jarring notes of government conspiracy and genetic manipulation. When that climax comes, you are so unprepared that it hits like a cannonball. To call The X-Files "science fiction" is to degrade it and to elevate Sci-fi to a standard it doesn't deserve. (Gilligan/Shiban/Spotnitz)

2. Sein Und Zeit/Closure (Season 7)- The Samantha subplot is dispensed with in such an incredibly unpredictable way that some fans cried foul. But the themes presented here are so bizarre, so foreign, so incredible that it is the only fitting end to a obsession that had consumed Mulder all of his adult life. Anthony Heald steps up to the plate in his portrayal of a police psychic who's so damaged and whose wounds are so brutally visible that only a heartless cynic could sneer. 

The concept of "walk-ins,"  interstellar spirits who save children from horrible deaths, was a brilliant masterstroke because absolutely no one expected it and because it resolved a long-standing mystery by not attributing to something as mundane and ordinary as alien abduction. (Carter/Spotnitz)

3. One Breath (Season 2)- The first ep that showed what a white-hot emotional experience The X Files can be. Plus, it makes the spiritual so present, so credible that you want to believe. The highlight is a scene between a vengeful Mulder and Scully's hippy dippy sister. She dissuades him from walking down a very dangerous path. (Morgan/Wong)

4. Paper Hearts (Season 4) - Aside from the incredible supporting cast, The X Files had a tremendous roster of guest stars. Tom Noonan, one of Hollywood's finest character actors, portrays a child-murdering monster named John Roche in such an amiable way that his evil is all the more terrifying. 

Noonan's presence brought out the best in the always excellent Gillian Anderson and the often-laconic Duchovny. The confrontation between Mulder and Roche in Mulder's childhood home is one of the most intense scenes of the entire series.  (Gilligan)

5. Pusher (Season 3)- To make such an insignificant man so immensely powerful and then to see him use that power in such horrific yet mundane ways, you know only The X-Files could pull it off. Robert Modell, the Pusher, is utterly believable and well-rounded. He won a sort of satanic lottery, and he's taking his winnings for all they are worth. To see the sort of frightening government storm-troopers so familiar to X- Files fans reduced to self-immolating puppets simply by the power of softly-spoken words... well, that's a hell of a lot more frightening than any zombie or slasher film I've ever seen. (Gilligan)

6. This is Not Happening (Season 8)-  In this episode, Carter and Spotnitz throw in another time-honored sci-fi concept: aliens leaving replacement humans behind to colonize Earth quietly and discretely. Into this goes a cult looking to counteract this through means that are too detailed to go into here. What follows are the return of old characters Jeremiah Smith (Roy Thinnes is brilliant, as per usual) and Richie Szalay and new characters Absalom (an archetypal XF cult leader and Special Agent Monica Reyes (which allows another great Anderson acting moment as Scully throws eye-daggers at her partner).

But as the X Files often did, the most stunning moment is saved for the last few seconds. In what one reviewer called an "operatic" fashion, Scully discovers that Mulder is dead and that her only hope to revive him has been torn away and her only possible response in an almost childish outburst. The power of the moment is that, even if only temporarily, you believe that, yes, he's dead and that's the end of it. (Carter/Spotnitz)

7. Oubliette (Season 3) - Ridiculously underrated episode where Mulder discovers a woman with a psychic link to a kidnapped girl. What makes this episode so great is how un-saccharine it is. Lucy Householder, a victim of the same man who kidnapped the young Samantha look-alike Amy, is not immediately likeable. Oubliette is one of my favorite kind of X-Files;  the psychic phenomena thriller. Again, another heart-rending emotional mugging awaits the viewer at the end. (Craig)

8. The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati (Season 7) - An Alice in Wonderland journey through Mulder's subsconscious that has the feel of a magic spell. As horrifying events unfold in the real world, Mulder is lost in a idyll that has him pursuing a life of cozy domesticity. However the dream ends in horror and only Scully can pull him out. The contrast between the scolding dream Scully and the tender, loving real Scully is almost unbearably poignant. And the episode ends with one of the most tantalizing codas in history, Mulder playing on a beach with a never-identified boy. (Duchovny/Carter)

9. The Red and the Black (Season 5)The always-disorienting alien conspiracy takes another unsettling turn with the arrival of the ruthless alien resistance fighters. A scene of such hideous violence you wonder how it ever got past the censors is told in flashback as a hypnotized Scully recounts how she and her fellow abductees were attacked on a bridge by hideously disfigured men brandishing handheld flamethrowers.

What makes the episode so poignant is one brief moment- as a horrified Scully relives a real nightmare her hand darts out blindly, searching for Mulder's. How so much emotion can be contained in such a simple gesture is a mystery to me. (Carter/Spotnitz)

10. Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose (Season 3)- This is an obvious choice, but again, it hits a mixture of tones that no other show could ever match. And the improved cinematography of the show as it found its sea legs puts the viewer smack dab in the middle of the action. The poignant ending is yet another heart-rending emotional stab, and yet is filled with sweet dollops of humor. (Morgan)

These are the episodes that hit me hard at the first watching; my top 10 has definitely evolved since then. But at the same time, it's not all that different either (and I still love all of these episodes quite a bit).

With Pusher I almost think I like the sequel episode Kitsunegari better, largely because of Diana Scarwid's knockout performance. Clyde Bruckman is great but not connected enough to the overall narrative to matter all that much to me anymore. I still love Oubliette, but it's almost too dark and unrelenting.

One Breath and Amor Fati are episodes that haven't stood the test of time well enough to stay in my top 10. Both have flaws that push them back a few notches, Amor Fati considerably more so than One Breath. But they both really tuned into my wavelength when I was in a more explicitly mystical mood. My theory that the Boy on the Beach was William is giving a huge boost by the psychic power William had over the other godship in Canada in Provenance, which is probably my favorite Season 9 episode.

The Red and the Black still packs a punch but takes a back seat to more recent entries into my top 10 like Anasazi/Blessing Way/Paperclip, Nisei/731 and Tempus Fugit/Max. Those are episodes I can watch over and over again and still be bowled over. TRATB is great but doesn't feel as real as the others.

But it took many, many rewatchings before I could make it through Christmas Carol and Closure without tearing up. Closure especially ripped my guts out. Like many, many others, I bought that Moby album first thing on Monday morning. 

That those episodes are unpopular with some fans tells you why I tend to minimize my involvement with certain corners of the fandom.