Right now, The X-Files has it all: big top 20 ratings and hip cachet, a fanatical following and a prestigious reputation. The paranormal brainchild of a California surfer with a gift for making millennial paranoia seem like a logical 9 p.m. programming strategy, The X-Files has rendered its creator, Chris Carter, the best-known producer of otherworldly TV since The Twilight Zone‘s Rod Serling. It’s also turned the show’s stars, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, into something more than celebrities — their embodiments of FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are now pop-culture touchstones, late-’90s litmus tests of ironic power.
What follows is in keeping with the paradoxes of The X-Files itself: a primer for those just getting hooked, featuring a graded, annotated list of every X episode to date. For diehards, there’s a guide to what X-Philes call the ”mythology” theme of the series, the mind-boggling governmental-conspiracy subtext that runs through the best of the episodes. And we offer some speculation on the meaning of Mulder and Scully’s knotty relationship. Like that unlikely but perfectly matched duo, we’re just trying to get at the truth.