The X-Files returned on Sunday with an episode called “My Struggle.” It’s the 203rd episode of The X-Files since 1993, not counting two feature films. That’s not an impossible number to hit, if you’re a procedural like NCIS or Criminal Minds, or an animated comedy like The Simpsons or Family Guy. Last season, Bones and Supernatural both passed the 200-episode mark — and there’s a way of looking at those shows as the twin spawn of X-Files, with Bones emphasizing the nerd/normal rom-com banter and Supernatural find-replacing “aliens” with “angels.”
Still, it’s hard to imagine a show like The X-Files ever running 200 episodes again. This is because it has never been easy to define what kind of show X-Files was to begin with. Even a casual fan knows that the original run of the show was split between Mythology episodes and Monster-of-the-Week episodes, between a long-running serialized story arc and individual one-off episodes.
But those binary definitions don’t really capture the full sweep of the show. In its prime and past it, The X-Files could tell almost any kind of story. Because of its long run, there are whole subgenres of X-Files episodes. “Mulder and Scully get trapped in a remote location with a monster” was always a favorite: That’s the basic structure of “Darkness Falls,” the first X-Files episode I ever watched. (In “Darkness Falls,” the “remote location” is a freaky forest and the “monster” is green bug clouds.) An episode like “The Host” is remembered now for the pure goopy horror of the monstrous Fluke Man.
But the show could be flat-out hilarious when it wanted to be, as in “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” or “Bad Blood.” The former is basically a Mythology episode refracted through Thomas Pynchon’s stethoscope; the latter is a Monster-of-the-Week episode Rashomon‘d into a farce. X-Files ran long enough to essentially become a laboratory for its writing staff. The team of Glen Morgan and James Wong produced “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man,” a paranoid origin story for the series’ most mysterious character, which somehow involves famous political assassinations and a Forrest Gump homage. In later seasons, creator Chris Carter crafted a couple glorious cinematic experiments — the black-and-white “Post-Modern Prometheus” and the long-take time-tossed adventure “Triangle.” In the sixth season, Vince Gilligan wrote an episode called “Drive,” a thrilling action movie-in-miniature (which introduced Gilligan to Bryan Cranston.)
So it’s uniquely challenging — and fun! — to come up with your list of the essential X-Files episodes. On the new episode of Entertainment Geekly, EW’s long-dormant podcast dedicated to all truths that may be out there, Jeff Jensen and I talk about some of our favorite episodes from the original run. We also talk about the new season. (Read Jeff’s recap here and my review here.) Listen to the full podcast below — it will be on iTunes shortly!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to call out some of your favorite episodes of the original show, or offer some thoughts on the new season.