The X-Files: Where Do I Start?

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(image by The Gorgonist)

Unless you’ve been hibernating for the past thirty years, you’ve likely heard the news that The X-Files is being revived for 6 more episodes to begin shooting in Vancouver this summer. Many attribute the show’s lasting popularity to its emergence on Netflix, allowing for a whole new generation of X-Philes. As a die-hard fan as old as the show itself, I’ve spent a good chunk of my time seeking out fellow conspiracy theorists and truth seekers, in addition to trying to convince friends to start watching the show. However, the concept of starting a nine season long show with over 200 episodes can be a bit overwhelming.

As a rabid, I mean avid, fan of The X-Files I will admit that the show isn’t for everyone. However, it is my favorite television show of all time and I want to believe that it’s highly rated and referenced for a reason. Although I’m usually one of those people who is insistent on starting a show from the very beginning, there are a few reasons why the pilot may not be the best episode to dive in with. Thus, I’ve tried my best to focus on five main themes present in the show; pick your favorite trope and in turn pick the episode that will serve as your gateway drug into Chris Carter’s wonderful world of cigarette smoking men in black, little gray men, and deep-seated government conspiracies.

If You Like Classic Sci-Fi…

Start with a Monster of the Week episode. The X-Files has its share of hokey yet terrifying creatures. My favorite of these abnormalities is Eugene Tooms, an ageless man who stretches his body in unnatural ways, eats livers, and gave me an irrational fear of mall escalators. Not to mention that the actor who plays Tooms, Doug Hutchison, is an infamous creep in real life, known for his marriage to Courtney Stodden. Tooms is first introduced in the Season 1 episode, Squeeze, but comes back later that same season in the episode Tooms. Other episodes with nightmare inducing monsters include The Host, Ice, and Quagmire.

If You Like Horror…

As a small child I remember being terrified of The X-Files. I would run out of the room every time I heard the start of theme song, which is fittingly on most Haunted House and Halloween mixes. The particular episode that I find to be the most terrifying is Home. In this episode, Mulder and Scully investigate an inbred family living on the outskirts of Pennsylvania. Home is known for having a TV-MA rating. In fact, Fox refused to reair this episode because of it’s unsavory content. Other truly creepy episodes include Die Hand Die Verletzt, Leonard Betts, Chinga, and Roadrunners … I usually don’t recommend episodes past Season 7, but this is an exception.

If You Like Comedy…

Start with an X-Files episode that is more light-hearted. These are more prevalent in the later seasons, but there are a few stand alones to get you started on. I personally recommend Bad Blood (known in the fandom as Gillian Anderson’s favorite episode AKA the only one she remembers…). The episode follows Mulder and Scully’s differing accounts of a case gone wrong. Other episodes that will make you laugh include Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space,’ Humbug, and The Post-Modern Prometheus.

If You Like Villains…

The X-Files draws a lot of similarity to famous psychological thrillers, such as Silence of The Lambs. In fact, Dana Scully is very much based off of Jodie Foster’s portrayal of Clarice Starling, and many of the show’s villains give Hannibal Lecter a run for his money. The X-Files isn’t just about aliens and monsters, sometimes its about truly terrifying human beings …who may or may not have supernatural abilities. One of my personal favorite villains is Robert Patrick Modell, from the season 3 episode Pusher. Other episodes with eerie villains include Beyond The Sea, Duane Berry, Irresistible, and Orison #ceruleanblue

If You Like Scene Stealing Guest Stars…

In the vein of other 90’s shows like Seinfeld, Fraiser, and Friends, it seems like everyone who’s anyone has stopped by for a guest slot on The X-Files. Guest stars include Seth Green, Jack Black, and Felicity Huffman, to name a few. However, my all-time favorite guest stars are Peter Boyle in Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, Bryan Cranston in Drive, and John Hawkes in Milagro. In a way, you have The X-Files to thank for Breaking Bad because this was Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston’s first time working together, and as to be expected it’s really great.

Whether you’re starting The X-Files for the first time or about to begin your first (or second, or twelfth) rewatch, I recommend checking out comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s podcast, The X-Files Files. It’s a great companion piece that goes into behind the scenes aspects of each episode. Also it has some great guest stars including composer Mark Snow, writer and co-executive producer Glen Morgan, and actress (though, never on The X-Files) Aisha Tyler.

Clearly, there is some overlap between these categories because monsters are villains and villains are scary, but hopefully my categorizations have helped you to decide on your first X-Files episode. Let me know in the comments which one you pick. Or, if you’re already a fan, give some more suggestions of episodes to start on or let me know what your first episode was. Furthermore, if you ever need someone to chat with about The X-Files, I’m your gal. We’ll get through this hiatus together, because we can officially refer to it as a hiatus now.

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