If you’re like me, the conclusion to season four of Breaking Bad has left a hole in your TV-viewing schedule—and, perhaps, a “Breaking Bad-sized hole” in your heart. Where to turn?
The X-Files. Specifically, the nearly thirty episodes written by the creator of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan. Gilligan spent seven years on The X-Files, from 1995 to 2002, writing, producing, and eventually directing a couple of episodes. The entire series is available to stream on Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus, and you can find out which episodes Gilligan wrote on IMDB.
Of the twenty-nine Gilligan episodes, where to begin? The obvious starting point is “Drive”: It’s the fourteenth episode Gilligan wrote, but the only one that guest stars Bryan Cranston. In fact, Cranston’s performance here paved the way to his lead role on Breaking Bad. (And yes, the title of the episode is now an amusing coincidence.) “We had this villain, and we needed the audience to feel bad for him when he died,” Gilligan told The New York Times Magazine. “Bryan alone was the only actor who could do that, who could pull off that trick. And it is a trick. I have no idea how he does it.”
In the episode, Cranston plays Patrick Crump, a poor and seemingly paranoid man in Nevada who's experiencing something like the world’s worst migraine. The horrendous pain (caused, of course, by a secret military project) can only be ameliorated by driving westward at high speeds. The episode’s cold open bears more than a passing resemblance to the first few minutes of Breaking Bad:
If you enjoy “Drive,” try “Pusher” next: It’s an earlier but better Gilligan episode with some similar elements. Again, there’s something wrong with a man’s brain. This time, it gives him a strange, superhuman power to persuade people of whatever he wishes—and he uses that power for evil. This episode has some candy for X-Files “shippers” (if that term is new to you, read this), but it’s also a solid 44 minutes of suspenseful entertainment for the non-shippers among us.
Gilligan’s best X-Files work, though, is almost certainly “Bad Blood,” which may also be the funniest episode of a series that could be surprisingly humorous. Agents Mulder and Scully head to Texas to investigate possible vampire attacks. Things go horribly wrong, and they must explain to their supervisor what happened. The episode is told through flashbacks: First, we get the events as remembered by Scully, then as recalled by Mulder. Gilligan milks this structural gimmick for all its comedic worth (with help from guest star Luke Wilson). As he explains in the short video below, he lifted the idea from an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show (specifically “The Night the Roof Fell In,” which you can watch in full on YouTube):
A few years ago, Rebecca Traister described “Bad Blood” as “possibly the best X-Files episode of all time.” I wouldn’t go quite that far. As good as Gilligan’s work on the show is, the very best episodes of the series were written by Darin Morgan—in particular “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (guest starring Peter Boyle) and the brilliant “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.”
Come to think of it, when will AMC give that guy a television show? Soon, I hope.
(Further reading: A four-part interview with Vince Gilligan about each episode of Breaking Bad season four.)