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X-Files Epic Rewatch

My obsession with The X-Files reached its height in Season 4. Every Sunday I’d park myself in front of my TV/VCR combo and record new episodes, keeping the remote handy so I could pause for commercials. Then I would label the tape using my Brother brand label-maker and go on Usenet to read internet spoilers (carefully avoiding all the “Why does Moulder put an X on his window?” posts).

(This was actually not the dorkiest thing I did in Junior High School. I also had a Conan O’Brien fan site.)

That was, of course, a long LONG time ago. How did my beloved Season 4 fare in the epic adult research? Pretty good, all things considered. A few observations:

Skinner Was SO Much Cooler Than You Remember

Moms of the 1990s: You were right. He is the bomb.

Mr. Max says that Mulder is like the Harry Potter of The X-Files, because Harry Potter is the perfect example of a lame hero. Even though the books always made mention of how awesome and “chosen” he was, he 1) never did anything cool or impressive and 2) only ever survived based on luck, not skill or brains. Those books should have been called “Hermione and Ron and that helpless dork who got all the credit.”

In 1996, I loved Mulder. Now that I’m older and wiser, I can see that I was wrong; Mulder is lame and annoying. Skinner is the real hero; he doesn’t take shit from the shadowy conspiracy guys, he sends Mulder home when he’s being a pain in the ass, and he actually knows how fight (not just get beaten up). I can’t help but imagine the show with Skinner as Scully’s partner, and Mulder as a quirky conspiracy nut side character — perhaps the 4th Lone Gunman.

And it would’ve been awesome.

They Should’ve Stopped Trying To Make Marita Happen

Despite ample screen time and low-cut blouses, Mulder’s Season 4 informant Marita is a total snoozefest. It wasn’t Laurie Holden’s fault – all they ever had her do was walk down hallways with a file folder in her hands.

Yes, let’s give her the personality of a file clerk. It doesn’t matter because boobs!

The Scully Thing Was Melodramatic

Back in the day, the Scully-Has-Cancer plotline seemed really intense! and smart! and dramatic! On rewatch, it felt like General Hospital Sweeps Week with aliens. There are also some issues with realism — Scully spends the season oscillating between grave illness and healthful sprinting depending on what’s convenient for a particular episode. I may not be a MEDICAL Doctor like Scully, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works.

Best and Worst

The quintessential X-Files episode for non-fans is Small Potatoes, which details the exploits of a shape-shifting loser with a tail. X-Files white whale writer Darin Morgan even puts in a memorable lead performance as the aforementioned loser, Eddie Van Blundht,

The honor of worst episode goes to El Mundo Gira. You could probably guess from the title that this is one of those X-Files episodes where they crap all over a cultural myth. Like all of the episodes in this genre, it manages to be both boring and offensive.

This particular scene was so borffensive I fell asleep and woke up demanding an apology.

That’s all until season 5!

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Did you know that Season 3 of The X-Files was sponsored by Salon Selectives? Not really, but thank GOD they finally did something about Mulder’s hedgehog hair. Season 3 Scully looks slicker, too — minus the obligatory 1990s Jennifer Aniston-style layer cut.

It’s more of a mullet, really. Well, I guess it’s kind of both. An Aniston mullet?

But that’s enough about hair product. My love for The X-Files blossomed right around Season 3, and it was nice to recapture a little bit of my youthful enthusiasm for the show with these episodes. Frequent Lower Crust commenter Halfwatched LMN also recently went on an X-Files Netflix binge, but opted to stick to remembered favorites instead of doing the full-on soup-to-nut-warts-and-all rewatch.

I think Halfwatched LMN may be on to something; even though I love(d) the show… it IS hella uneven. There’s great stuff but the bad episodes are really bad — like Sliders bad. Now that I’m more than 50 episodes in, I’ve gotten pretty good at separating the wheat from the chaff. The rules are simple:

How to Tell if an Episode of The X-Files will be Good Based on the Netflix Description

Don’t Auto-Reject the Mytharc

The Mytharc — the long form conspiracy plot — gets a lot of hate, mainly because Chris Carter started pulling crap out of his ass in the last few seasons. But — believe it or not! — the early Mytharc episodes are kind of great. They’re well-written and successfully weave real-life depressing historical stuff (like the WWII-era atrocities of Unit 731) into supernatural storylines – and not in a corny “ancient aliens” way. Howard Zinn would be proud. Give the Mytharc a chance (at least for a few seasons).

Just Say No to Anthropology

If you see any of the following words in the description, do NOT watch the episode. Go watch @Midnight on OnDemand or something.

Artifact
Reservation
Anthropologist
Tribe
Ancient Culture
Native American
Archaeological Dig

Why? Because for whatever reason The X-Files just can’t do “cultural” storylines. The minute someone starts retelling a South American myth or a Native American healer shows up, the whole thing goes to Lame Town (but not before making a pit stop at Cultural Insensitivity City).

Evidence: Teso Dos Bichos (the evil housecat one) Hell Money (the goofy Chinatown one), every episode in every season that fits the above description.

Serial Killer Episodes Are Good
Season 3 is heavy on traditional cop drama plots — kidnappings, murders, and serial killings — with a side of the supernatural. Even though this kind of thing isn’t normally my bag, it works for The X-Files. Plus it’s nice to have Mulder actually solve a case every once in a while.

Offbeat Episodes are USUALLY Good

The semi-comedic episodes (typically written by Darin Morgan) are definitely worth a watch. Fan favorites Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose and Jose Chung’s From Outer Space are two of the best in the entire series.
BUT sometimes it goes wrong. Like when the writers decide it’s hilaaaarious to have Scully act like a jealous schoolgirl for no reason (Syzygy, War of the Coprophages). I suspect they started doing it to make Mulder seem like a cool sexy dude or something. Anyway, it’s really annoying and out of character. And a little bit sexist. Pro tip: Just hit the remote if Mulder starts sidling up to a sexy lady side character. You won’t miss anything.

Season 4, here I come!

Last week we wrapped up season 2 of the 2013 Epic X-Files Rewatch and – good news! – it’s waaaaay better than season 1. This season has got it all: a darker tone, slightly better acting from David Duchovny (I said slightly), and even some much-needed humor courtesy of offbeat writer Darin Morgan. Take note, my friends — this is the beginning of the show’s golden age.

Some important observations:

1. They didn’t fix the opening sequence

Lame first season openings are forgivable. New shows don’t usually have a big budget and there’s only so much you can do with footage from the pilot. You’d think the X-Files people would have taken the opportunity to snazz up the opening for season 2, but short of adding a little reverb on the score, they left it the same (i.e., BAD).

And WHAT is going on with the still images? It’s television, not a bar mitzvah slideshow.

Mr. Max still think the most egregious part is the descriptive overlaid text. Text should be used for credits, not a random word salad of related nouns. It’s like if Friends opened with this:

2. They got money for lighting but not for wardrobe
An important indicator of the show’s increased clout (and budget): moody set lighting. Money well spent because season 2 looks like a real one hour drama, not a New Zealand soap opera. Still no money for suits, though.

The costume department? Oh, you mean the dumpster behind Sears.

3. They made the aliens scary
In the pilot, Mulder described the aliens who abducted his sister as a mere “presence in the room,” which makes it sound like he’s talking about a fart or something. In Duane Barry, we learn that aliens are basically evil dentists.

Is there anything scarier?

4. Chris Carter had it bad for David Duchovny

In 99.9% of TV shows the female actress is the one who gets objectified. Even serious, well-written dramas usually have to have one scene per episode designed to showcase the sexiness of a leading lady. But The X-Files is different — instead of Gillian Anderson getting the piece of meat treatment, it’s David Duchovny. You can pretty much count on some kind of gratuitous Mulder semi-nudity in every episode.

I would love to know what Chris Carter’s justification was for setting this scene of expository dialogue between two FBI agents at a swimming pool. “I just think this would be happening poolside. Definitely.”

5. Smells like teen spirit the 90s

If you haven’t seen Humbug in the last 20 years, get ready for a major attack of 90s nostalgia. In this episode, Mulder and Scully investigate a murder in a circus community (info for young readers: in the 90s people thought circus freaks were cool and it was really counterculture to have more than one tattoo). I know this is going into a Portlandia-esque rant, but – dude. The 90s were totally a thing, amiright? Okay, now I feel old.

6. They shot their wad with the Krycek thing

Alex Krycek was introduced at the beginning of the second season as Mulder’s new partner, an energetic (and kinda dorky) young agent. Mulder treats him like an annoying gnat buzzing in his face but (natch) Krycek is actually a double agent working for the scary conspiracy guys.

The problem is that the audience learns this fact in the very first episode, and Krycek’s tenure with the FBI lasts about 3 weeks. For a show that dragged out the whole “Where is Samantha” thing for basically forever, I’m surprised they tied up Krycek’s plotline so quickly. Slow down, people. Slow down.

Full speed ahead to season 3! Here’s hoping they finally fix Mulder’s hair.

For everyone’s sake.

I’m taking the risk of polluting my childhood memories forever by re-watching the entire run of The X-Files twenty years after it originally aired. (Yes, it’s really been TWENTY YEARS.)

Background: I loved The X-Files as a kid. LOVED it. I built my schedule around new episodes. I read Internet message boards. I owned the overpriced VHS tapes that only had two episodes on them. I got into an epic fight with my mother when she made me miss the beginning of Jose Chung’s From Outer Space. I dyed my hair red.

I was that girl.

Of course, that was a long time ago and now I’m (mostly) a grown-up. Re-watching season 1, I learned some things:

Sad Adult Realization #1: Mulder is Not as Cool as You Remember

He’s just not.

Being Cool: The Mulder Way
Step 1: Borrow Jerry Seinfeld’s jeans


Step 2: Mumble with as little inflection as possible
Step 3: Run away (seriously, he runs away from something in like every episode)

Sad Adult Realization #2: The Title Sequence is Unfortunate

Primarily because it’s made up entirely of grainy public domain graphics with overlaid text.

Proof:

Sad Adult Realization #3: Some Episodes are Really Bad

As a young fangirl, I would’ve defended every episode to the death because OMG TEH CANON. Now that I’m older I can admit that a few of them are pretty wretched. Highlights include:

FIRE
Basically the worst thing ever. I guess they thought giving Mulder a phobia would add depth to his character or something? (Hint to writers: Mulder does not need any more neuroses. He believes in aliens – that’s enough.)

Best-worst moment is a three-way tie between Mulder explaining that his phobia developed after guarding a burned house against looters as a child (?), our hero crawling AWAY from innocent children trapped in a burning building, and the climactic house fire scene where the fire only burns on the paintings for some reason.

Why?

SPACE
Come at me with pitchforks and torches if you must, Internet, but this is NOT the worst episode of the X-Files (that honor belongs to Fire). Still pretty bad, though.

SHAPES
The Native American werewolf episode. Definitely worse than Space and reminds me a lot of that first-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that was kind of racist.

SHADOWS
“I’ve got a great idea – it’s about an office ghost…”
STOP RIGHT THERE.

Of course, if’s a lot more fun to watch some of these episodes with a drink in your hand. Ladies and gentlemen, I present:

The Season 1 Drinking Game

Go ahead and have a swig every time:

1) Mulder runs away
2) There’s a scene in a divey local bar
3) The camera focuses on an inanimate object in the foreground while someone is eaten or attacked in the background
4) Anyone in the room with you laughs at a special effect that’s supposed to be scary
5) David Duchovny lists a bunch of conspiracy theories in a row as “dialogue”
6) Scully’s suit pants have visible pleats

I only kid because I love. Despite the duds, the first season DOES have a few gems — including one of my all-time favorites, Beyond The Sea. I was pleased to find out that one still holds up after all these years.

Stay tuned for reflections (and snark) on Season 2!