Now that the return of The X-Files is upon us, it’s the perfect time to revisit all nine seasons and 202 episodes* of the original series before we’re thrust back into the world of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (and Walter Skinner and John Doggett and, yes, Monica Reyes). In the ’90s, there was no better place to get a dose of conspiracy paranoia and nutty sci-fi, not to mention butterflies in your stomach watching David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s tension build. At its heart, the series was about confronting the darkness within ourselves—you know, the crippling doubt of the unknown, the fear of what’s to come. It just used aliens and monsters to explore that in a way that decades later, still resonates with viewers.
As a refresher course for the series we all fell in love with, and then slowly fell out of love with in later seasons, only to love once again once nostalgia kicked in, I’ve ranked every episode. These rankings are based on numerous factors: enjoyability, chemistry of the leads, scariness of the monsters, and effectives of the jokes, to name a just few things (obviously technical factors are at play too). There are a lot of episodes of this show, so try your best to wade through through the downright awful ones (or just skip them, where I’ve suggested).
That said, it’s best to be forewarned that while the post-Mulder episodes of the series aren’t spectacular pieces of television, I find season eight incredibly underrated (and miles better than season seven, where David Duchovny seems as bored as all of us were at that point), and I actually like not only John Doggett, but Monica Reyes, too. Please don’t stop reading. Since every episode is available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, you, too, can revisit the series and decide for yourself. The rebooted X-Files premieres as a six-part mini-series starting January 24 on Fox.
* There were 202 episodes of The X-Files, but for the purposes of this list, I considered two-part episodes a single entry. This equals 182 entries.
182. “Fight Club” (Season 7, Episode 20)
Season 7 is the series' most self-referential season. Every episode feels like one meta joke after the other, until it all collapses on itself in one of the worst hours of television you'll ever experience. Kathy Griffin's attempt to pull off the role of two twins (the product of a sperm-bank donor to two different women) is probably the scariest thing to ever appear on The X-Files.
181. “First Person Shooter” (Season 7, Episode 13)
Cyberpunk heroes William Gibson and Tom Maddock wrote two episodes over the course of the series, which is very awesome in theory. Unfortunately, their second episode is a goddamn mess. Mulder and Scully go into a virtual-reality world, and it's just as late-'90s/early-'00s as it sounds. It's like a bad episode of Freakylinks. Actually, that’d probably just be a regular episode of Freakylinks.
180. “Jump the Shark” (Season 9, Episode 15)
I’ve softened on this episode over the years. When it first aired, I resented killing off the Lone Gunmen as some sort of misguided “screw you” to Fox for canceling the spinoff series. Upon rewatch, I actually find the episode pretty amusing and watchable for a random episode of The Lone Gunmen. Except this isn’t that show. It’s The X-Files, and to kill off three important characters like that on a show where none of the main characters ever die means it should be a big fucking deal. And an episode about shark cartilage and a lame “let’s kill ourselves to save a conference room full of people” episode is beyond rude. Also, you’ve got David Duchovny back for the series finale in four episodes—you don’t get to kill off the Lone Gunmen in an episode without Mulder.
179. “Schizogeny” (Season 5, Episode 9)
A girl's abuse at the hands of her father leads her to the ability to control trees. I repeat, this is an episode about KILLER TREES.
178. “Space” (Season 1, Episode 9)
This episode about an astronaut possibly possessed by an extraterrestrial spirit isn’t just bad. It’s also boring, cheaply made, invokes the Challenger disaster, and is reportedly Chris Carter's least-favorite episode.
177. “Shapes” (Season 1, Episode 19)
I’m not sure why it’s so hard for anyone to craft a good werewolf story. Aside from Ginger Snaps and An American Werewolf in London, most attempts are as depressing as this episode.
176. “Sein und Zeit” / “Closure” (Season 7, Episodes 10–11)
Duchovny does some of his best work in “Sein und Zeit,” where Mulder's mom commits suicide. It's a beautiful, heartfelt episode of television, where the emotional punch feels real. However, this two-part episode’s supposed wrap-up to the disappearance of Mulder's sister forgoes aliens and government conspiracies to say that she became Rainbow Brite or whatever. It's an incredibly disappointing conclusion to a seven-year story that was once engrossing.
175. “The Jersey Devil” (Season 1, Episode 5)
Mulder and Scully come across the monster that inspired the Jersey Devil myth. You're better off reading about the Jersey Devil myth on Wikipedia.
174. “Excelsis Dei” (Season 2, Episode 11)
The show tries tackling rape, only the culprit is a disembodied spirit. It somehow manages to be more exploitative than an average episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
173. “Agua Mala” (Season 6, Episode 13)
A Florida trailer parker and a hurricane monster lead to a pretty offensively bad episode. There's nothing redeeming in it, save for the fact that it's just bad, not offensive, like some of the worse X-Files outings.
172. “Sanguinarium” (Season 4, Episode 6)
A bunch of plastic-surgery victims are dead, and it’s all due to witchcraft. Season four is a really fantastic season of television; it’s a wonder how a clunker like this got through.
171. “Teso Dos Bichos” (Season 3, Episode 18)
Everything about this episode starring feral cats is poorly made. It’s best not to think about it.
170. “Teliko” (Season 4, Episode 3)
A show that deals with race in a nuanced way could’ve handled a script about black people having their skin turned white, but alas, this is not that show.
169. “Underneath” (Season 9, Episode 12)
A man Doggett arrested for murder 13 years earlier turns out to not be the killer -- he actually splits into two people and his other half commits the murders. This episode feels stitched together from a bunch of far superior X-Files episodes, and when it concludes with the innocent man’s death, it’s kind of mean and unsatisfying rather than heartbreaking as it was probably intended to be. Plus, Doggett dealing with a partner who’s corrupt should have made for a much better episode than this.
168. “Kill Switch” (Season 5, Episode 11)
A computer virus is killing people … or something. Nothing in '90s horror involving technology is ever good. This is the other episode written by the iconic cyberpunk duo that also wrote the equally awful “First Person Shooter” (Gibson and Maddox).
167. “Ghost in the Machine” (Season 1, Episode 7)
A computer starts killing humans! Never seen that one before.
166. “3” (Season 2, Episode 7)
This episode is such a disaster that it’s a wonder the series would ever return to the vampire well again. Fortunately, that other vampire episode, “Bad Blood,” is one of The X-Files’ best. But we’ll get to that soon enough.
165. “Badlaa” (Season 8, Episode 10)
Ah yes, the infamous “butt genie” episode. It's completely embarrassing and nonsensical, but it also manages to be a pretty entertaining hour of television. It's far from good, and the ending, where Scully is horrified that she had to shoot a child (the genie in disguise), doesn't feel earned—but it's not boring, which is one of the worst crimes an X-Files episode can commit.
164. “The Truth” (Season 9, Episodes 19–20)
There’s no getting around it: The X-Files finale is not good at all. If you thought Seinfeld ending with its characters on trial and in jail was bad, you haven’t seen this episode, where Mulder is put on trial for the murder of a Super Soldier. Which is, in fact, a farce, because obviously Super Soldiers don’t die. So instead of answering questions about nine seasons of conspiracy—let alone doing something interesting with David Duchovny’s sole appearance in the season nine—the show basically recaps every mythology episode but pretends they made a lick of sense. Kersh helping Mulder in the end makes even less sense, despite the fact that he was maybe on Mulder’s side for a brief moment at the beginning of the season. The series ends with the FBI on the hunt for Mulder and Scully while they lie in a motel bed, reminiscing about their past. He doesn’t even ask about the son of theirs she gave up for adoption. This is misery business and a horrible conclusion to one of television’s greatest series.
163. “Dæmonicus” (Season 9, Episode 3)
The first monster-of-the-week episode of season nine is even worse than the premiere (see: No. 161). While it has some gruesome moments and an awesome sequence where Doggett gets vomited on long enough for it to be a gag on Family Guy, the plot about a demonic possession is boring and drawn out.
162. “The Calusari” (Season 2, Episode 21)
How many evil-twin stories did this show manage to pull out of its ass in nine seasons?
161. “Nothing Important Happened Today” (Season 9, Episodes 1–2)
This episode officially starts the Doggett and Reyes era, but it’s so boring and all over the place that it does away with the goodwill we had for the characters in season eight. Doggett is a madman barking at his superiors like Mulder on Adderall. Reyes is saddled with a dumb sexual harassment plot with Cary Elwes. Oh, and Lucy Lawless shows up as a Super Soldier who’s mostly naked half the time, and drowning people the other half (what a weird way to kill people you can crush with your bare hands). Everyone’s allegiances shift so many times in this episode, you’ll get a migraine trying to figure out which side Kersh is actually on, or how Doggett manages to keep his job after continuing to ignore orders.
160. “Aubrey” (Season 2, Episode 12)
This episode starts out well enough, but the concept about genetically passed-down murderous traits ultimately falls apart in its final act.
159. “Young at Heart” (Season 1, Episode 16) X-Files does its very best Benjamin Button! We’re supposed to care about all of these people retconned into Mulder’s life, including an archnemesis.
158. “Blood” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Another. Episode. About. Electronics. Killing. People. The only truly great thing about this episode is the ending, where the monster of the week sends Mulder a message on his cell phone that reads: “All done. Bye bye.”
157. “Trevor” (Season 6, Episode 17)
Mulder and Scully are barely in this prison-camp episode with a monster that can walk through walls. It's merely forgettable.
156. “Fresh Bones” (Season 2, Episode 15)
Haitian refugees and voodoo zombies? No thanks. The X-Files had a tendency to mine foreign cultures a little too much, and in ways that feel othering.
155. “Hell Money” (Season 3, Episode 19)
Speaking of inappropriately mining foreign cultures, here we have an episode of the Chinese mafia gambling with human body parts. At least Lucy Liu guest-stars in this episode, which gives it a few bright spots.
154. “Alpha” (Season 6, Episode 16)
You're better off watching Cujo if you want to watch a story about an evil dog.
153. “Kitsunegari” (Season 5, Episode 8)
A really unnecessary sequel to the excellent episode “Pusher,” bringing back Robert Patrick Modell, the man who can control people with his mind. But this time, we’re supposed to imagine his sister is the real villain, despite the fact that we saw Modell murder a bunch of people in his first appearance. Just watch “Pusher” and forget about this one.
152. “Provenance” / “Providence” (Season 9, Episodes 9–10)
The mythology episodes in season nine are really bad. This one forgoes the Super Soldiers nonsense for a cult that wants to kill Scully’s baby, or Mulder, or both. Ultimately, they kidnap William and use him to turn on a spaceship so they can leave Earth. If you’re wondering why that needed to be two hours, it’s because 80 percent of the episode is the FBI lying to Scully, Doggett, and Reyes for no discernible reason other than the fact that everyone’s supposed to be “in on the “conspiracy, whatever the hell the conspiracy is at this point in the series, with only ten episodes left.
151. “Chinga” (Season 5, Episode 10)
Stephen King lends his writing skills to The X-Files! Sadly, we learn that Stephen King is much better at writing books than he is at writing television.
150. “Elegy” (Season 4, Episode 22)
The less said about this One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ripoff, the better.
149. “Fearful Symmetry” (Season 2, Episode 18)
This is the much-derided episode about (don’t laugh) invisible elephants and other zoo animals.
148. “Signs and Wonders” (Season 7, Episode 10)
A mysterious church and Satanic rituals are basically X-Files Mad Libs, but at least the snakes are scary as hell.
147. “Fire” (Season 1, Episode 12)
David Duchovny even hates this episode, which cooks up a fire fear for Mulder and introduces a villain with pyrokinesis. The X-Files doesn’t really do well with introducing backstory in these early episodes.
146. “The Walk” (Season 3, Episode 7)
A quadriplegic killing people by astral projection. It’s not as offensive as it sounds, but it’s certainly not great either.
145. “Two Fathers”/”One Son” (Season 6, Episodes 11–12)
The promo for this two-parter promised “the answers you’ve been waiting for.” Nah. Mostly Jeffrey Spender finds out he’s Cigarette Smoking Man’s son (and possibly Mulder’s half-brother), then he gets shot in the head. As far as the mythology of the series, the Alien Rebels kill the entire Syndicate, so you’d think the government conspiracy is over, and we don’t have to worry about alien colonization anymore. You’d be wrong. The mythology manages to somehow drag on for three more seasons.
144. “Lord of the Flies” (Season 9, Episode 5)
The best parts of this episode are its pre-fame appearances from Jane Lynch and Aaron Paul. Otherwise, the plot—about a teen who can control insects only to realize that he’s half-insect just like his mom—is a lame one that relies on kids who mostly can’t act, carrying out a ludicrous story built around a Jackass parody. How 2001.
143. “Shadows” (Season 1, Episode 6)
Written after the writers were asked give Mulder and Scully more plotlines where they help people, this hokey supernatural episode comes off like a by-the-book procedural.
142. “The List” (Season 3, Episode 5)
A death-row inmate claims he’ll be reincarnated and kill five men. The attempt to flesh out the man’s story and actually give it weight pretty much falls flat, and so this episode is kind of dull as a result.
141. “Brand X” (Season 7, Episode 18)
Not one of the better episodes about killer bugs (and there were plenty).This one also tries to take on the big tobacco industry, but it fails to create a real metaphor for the harmful effects of smoking. Granted, the series mostly lives and dies on the chemistry between the leads and the creepiness of the monster of the week, but if you’re taking on a “smoking kills” storyline, have something new to say.
140. “Chimera” (Season 7, Episode 16)
The X-Files excels when it digs deep into fears of America's past—cities without modern technology, towns where frontier justice reigns supreme. That's why an episode like “Home” succeeds, where an episode like “Chimera” falls flat. The show never really found much to say about the suburbs, save for season six's “Arcadia.” Also, the running joke where Scully is stuck on a stakeout isn't as funny or interesting as the show thinks it is.
139. “Miracle Man” (Season 1, Episode 18)
The X-Files would get better over time at mining religious themes to craft really creepy episodes, but this story about a faith healer misses the mark on too many levels and ultimately ends up feeling like a generic procedural.
138. “Firewalker” (Season 2, Episode 9)
This is a retread of season-one episodes like “Ice” and “Darkness Falls.” Skip it, and just rewatch those.
137. “The Host” (Season 2, Episode 2)
The episode itself isn’t too spectacular, but damn, the Flukeman is a creepy as hell monster.
136. “Sleepless” (Season 2, Episode 4)
Mulder meets Krycek and the shadowy man known only as X (who would become his new Deep Throat), plus you get a stellar performance from Tony Todd. It’s kind of a shame that black actors like Todd, Joe Morten (from “Redrum”), and Steven Williams (X) would play such amazing side characters on the series and never occupy lead roles.
135. “Soft Light” (Season 2, Episode 23)
The first episode written by Vince Gilligan is kind of a clunker, but at least you get killer black holes and a guest appearance from Tony Shalhoub.
134. “Rush” (Season 7, Episode 5)
The cast of characters here is a bunch teenagers who can barely act, while the plot centers around being able to move really fast. Miserably, the episode drags.
133. “Kaddish” (Season 4, Episode 15)
A Hasidic Jew is resurrected as a golem and kills the people who killed him. The special effects and storytelling are top-notch, despite an altogether lackluster whole.
132. “All Souls” (Season 5, Episode 17)
Scully investigates the death of handicapped girls while grappling with the loss of her daughter Emily. It's hardly a memorable episode, but it’s a great showcase for Gillian Anderson.
131. “Synchrony” (Season 4, Episode 19)
This is a lame time-travel episode that doesn’t stand up to the test of logic on a plot or character level.
130. “The Rain King” (Season 6, Episode 8)
In the script that earned Jeffrey Bell a spot on the X-Files writing staff, a con man claims he can control the weather. Bell would later become a showrunner on Angel, and churn out several amazing pieces of television, but this is not one of them.
129. “Milagro” (Season 6, Episode 18)
Chris Carter's penchant for monologues and voice-overs are out of control in this episode about a creepy writer who's obsessed with Scully.
128. “Invocation” (Season 8, Episode 5)
A kid goes missing for ten years and returns exactly how he was when he vanished, only now he's creepy. The concept is good, but the follow-through is less than exemplary, only made better by Scully and Doggett's interactions. In that respect, it's just like a regular mediocre X-Files episode; there's no evidence that the presence of Mulder would make it any better.
127. “Salvage” (Season 8, Episode 9)
A man turns to metal and seeks revenge on the people who turned him into a monster. He stops his rampage because of a “flicker of humanity.” The monster of the week largely has nothing to do with whatever Doggett and Scully are running around town trying to figure out, which feels off.
126. “Hellbound” (Season 9, Episode 8)
I like Monica Reyes. However, there’s no denying that the episodes focused on her are the weakest ones of season nine. Doggett gets a classic like “John Doe,” and even two great season-eight episodes, like “The Gift” and “Via Negativa.” But Reyes gets episodes where she has “visions” and “feelings” that are tangentially related to cheesy, pseudo-religious arcs. This episode is grisly as hell, which is to be expected when you have a killer skinning people alive. But the reasoning behind the deaths—the killer is hunting the reincarnated souls of his murderers—bogs the episode down in boring past-lives nonsense.
125. “Our Town” (Season 2, Episode 24)
An episode about a town of cannibals that, after some pretty gnarly scenes at a chicken-processing plant, is perhaps a pro-vegan episode.
124. “Unrequited” (Season 4, Episode 16)
An invisible assassin kills high-ranking military officers because the government is covering up Vietnam POWs who are still being held. Oddly enough, the episode doesn’t really do much justice to veterans. Who’d have thunk?
123. “Empedocles” (Season 8, Episode 17)
Connecting the murder of Doggett’s son to such a lame X-File about an evil that hops from body to body is ... well, lame. The squabbling between Mulder, Doggett, and Reyes while a pregnant Scully has pizza-ordering woes is funny, so the episode works on a pure character level. Too bad the plot’s lackluster.
122. “Død Kalm” (Season 2, Episode 19)
This is the ghost-ship episode that attempts some pretty shoddy old-people makeup on Mulder and Scully.
121. “El Mundo Gira” (Season 4, Episode 11)
Ah, the requisite Chupacabra episode of a supernatural show. It’s not that good.
120. “2Shy” (Season 3, Episode 6)
Hey, did you know that internet dating can be dangerous? Thanks, X-Files!
119. “Born Again” (Season 1, Episode 22)
Soul-transference episodes are not a thing that this show excels at.
118. “Lazarus” (Season 1, Episode 15)
Slightly better than “Born Again,” but only because that episode’s basically a second chance at this one.
117. “Roland” (Season 1, Episode 23)
An autistic janitor gets possessed by his evil twin, Arthur. It’s as embarrassing as it sounds, but for the most part, it’s a chilling and effective hour.
116. “Scary Monsters” (Season 9, Episode 14)
Making the scared kid with the overactive imagination the villain is a nice twist, but having Doggett’s lack of imagination be the reason he solves the case is an even funnier one.
115. “The Beginning” (Season 6, Episode 1)
What a disappointment this episode is, coming after the season-five finale and the first movie. After everything that's happened, Scully remains a skeptic, while the show itself is still spinning its wheels when it comes to any sort of conclusion for the overall mythology. Agent Jeffrey Spender ends up being important to the series later (he’s Mulder’s half-brother), but from this point forward (save Mulder's disappearance), it's mostly about the stand-alone episodes.
114. “The Sixth Extinction”/”The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati” (Season 7, Episodes 1–2)
Seven seasons in, more convoluted-mythology episodes are the last thing you want to see—especially when they're as overwrought as this one. While it does feature some beautiful moments between Mulder and Scully, this two-parter mostly feels unimpressive. Mulder's “illness” never really goes anywhere beyond a cheap cliff-hanger.
113. “4-D” (Season 9, Episode 4)
Reyes’s throat gets slashed and Doggett is shot in the neck in what Reyes believes is a parallel universe. The killer is stopped and everything goes back to how it was, but the reasoning behind the creation of these universes is never explained. It’s a cool concept that’s mostly effective, but the follow-through leaves a lot to be desired.
112. “Surekill” (Season 8, Episode 8)
This Of Mice and Men story about a brother controlling his slower brother is pretty by-the-numbers. In moments, it inches toward a noirish atmosphere, but it never quite gets there.
111. “Orison” (Season 7, Episode 7)
Eugene Tooms is really the only villain on this show who’s managed to have a sequel episode that isn't a mess. Just like Robert Patrick Modell's return in “Kitsunegari,” Donnie Pfaster's return here offers no further insights into a villain from an incredibly scary one-off. Pfaster seems only to have returned for Scully to kill him in the end, and to question whether she's “losing control.” She's not.
110. “Dreamland” (Season 6, Episodes 4–5)
Mulder swaps bodies with Michael McKean in a fun yet bloated episode that's a pale imitation of the Eddie Van Blundht business at the end of the superior “Small Potatoes.”
109. “Tunguska” / “Terma” (Season 4, Episodes 8–9)
Mulder goes to Russia with Krycek, while Scully defends Mulder in a congressional hearing. Separating the two doesn’t do wonders for this mythology episode.
108. “S.R. 819” (Season 6, Episode 9)
Skinner is poisoned, dies, and gets resurrected. This is never the show where any main character legitimately dies, so it's pretty mundane, as far as suspense goes. But making Krycek the man behind Skinner’s poisoning at least made things interesting.
107. “Trust No 1” (Season 9, Episode 6)
The weird thing about this episode is that it plays better in 2015 than it did in 2001. The NSA tracking Scully’s every move might have seemed ludicrous when it first aired, but now it’s all too real. That aspect of the episode, along with the overall plot of a Super Soldier plant in the NSA trying to murder Mulder, works. What doesn’t work is … pretty much everything else. Much like the Angel episode “The Girl in Question”—where the plot revolves around Buffy without Sarah Michelle Gellar even being present—this episode tries to pull off a Mulder-centric plot without David Duchovny in tow. It mostly works, until you have a body double running through a quarry and leading Scully to a bunch of red rocks that can kill Super Soldiers. None of this Super Soldier business makes any damn sense and at this point; it’s incredibly boring, to boot. As much as I love Mulder and Scully, with Duchovny gone, the show really should’ve been moving on to anything else.
106. “Biogenesis” (Season 6, Episode 22)
Mulder becomes ill from some mysterious artifact, and a new component to the mythology is introduced (enough already), but Mulder and Scully mostly wander around accomplishing nothing. Everyone else's allegiances change, as usual, because that's the only thing keeping these conspiracy episodes going. The only truly awesome moment is when Scully goes to the Ivory Coast and finds a huge-ass alien ship buried on the beach.
105. “En Ami” (Season 7, Episode 15)
That Scully could be this naïve in falling under the Cigarette Smoking Man's spell this far into the series is laughable, but if you ignore logic, this is a pretty good episode that lets Scully confront her own cancer again, as well as her desire to help others.
104. “Patient X” / “The Red and the Black” (Season 5, Episodes 13–14)
A jam-packed episode gets bogged down by Mulder's sudden disbelief in aliens, when we're all perfectly aware that aliens exist on the show. A crisis of faith is always a great move for a hero, but this borders on asinine. The idea of an all-out alien war is introduced into the series as well, but the mythology episodes were pretty much running into a wall by season five.
103. “Terms of Endearment” (Season 6, Episode 7)
Bruce Campbell shows up as the father of a demon baby in this entertaining but not very memorable Rosemary's Baby riff.
102. “Mind’s Eye” (Season 5, Episode 16)
Lili Taylor is a blind woman who can see her father's murders. It's better than The Eye, that 2008 Jessica Alba movie with the same plot, I guess.
101. “Travelers” (Season 5, Episode 15)
This is a period episode surrounding Mulder's dad's involvement in the series’ conspiracy. It definitely works as an episode, but it's far less exciting than “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man,” which it tries to rival.
100. “The Field Where I Died” (Season 4, Episode 5)
This Heaven’s Gate–esque cult episode is pretty good and affecting, but it never crosses over into excellent. The past-life stuff is interesting, and Duchovny is great at portraying Mulder’s obsession with it, but the ending grows predictable by trying too hard to break your heart.
99. “Redux” (Season 5, Episodes 1–2)
This episode is two hours, but it doesn't need to be. Scully's cancer gets cured, and the Cigarette Smoking Man “dies,” but not really because, like I just told you, he’s still alive 11 episodes later. “Redux” is a great name for this episode because the same mythology engine keeps getting rebooted and rebooted.
98. “Medusa” (Season 8, Episode 12)
Not being a fan of Boston, I was already on Scully and Doggett's side when they came up against whatever task force was assigned to cover up a potential biochemical threat in the subway system just so a bunch of angry people wouldn't have their rush-hour service interrupted. First of all, try relying on the L train if you really want something to whine about. Second, the episode creates some good atmosphere by thrusting Doggett into the subway's underground tunnels, with Scully only catching glimpses of what's happening on a television screen. But let’s be honest, this episode loses points in the eyes of city-dwellers for pretending that any subway system is as clean and somehow rat-free as this one.
97. “The Amazing Maleeni” (Season 7, Episode 8)
This episode is a classic for the final scene, where Scully pulls off a magic trick and twists her hands around 360 degrees. The rest of the episode is a quirky twist on a bank-robbery scheme that thrives on Mulder and Scully's top-notch banter.
96. “Hungry” (Season 7, Episode 3)
Having most of the episode be from the killer's perspective is an interesting move that makes you start to actually feel bad for Rob Roberts's character—before you remember he's a murderer. The episode's writer, Vince Gilligan, would later use the same technique to make you feel for Walter White on Breaking Bad.
95. “All Things” (Season 7, Episode 17)
Written and directed by Gillian Anderson, this was also the first X-Files episode directed by a woman—and it shows. Scully’s conflicting emotions as she attempts to save the life of a college professor she once had an affair with feel very real and palpable. Anderson clearly knows her character so well, and the episode feels small and intimate as a result. When Scully finally reaches closure from the affair, it goes a long way in showing how much she had grown over seven seasons.
94. “Patience” (Season 8, Episode 3)
Doggett's first X-File involves a half-human, half-bat creature that preys on the relatives of the man who caught him. Thrusting Scully into the role of the believer and Doggett as the skeptic is a breath of fresh air, but the case itself is by-the-numbers. However, this episode is all about establishing Scully and Doggett's chemistry, which is a lot stronger than fans might remember. Back then, they still held out hope that Mulder would return and rescue their favorite show.
93. “Three Words” (Season 8, Episode 16)
Once again, the dynamic in the series changes. Now Doggett, Mulder, and Scully are thrown into the alien conspiracy, and Mulder obviously doesn’t want to trust Doggett. Any episode with the Lone Gunmen is fun enough, but seeing Doggett running to save Mulder really makes you glad that this big, crazy FBI family is back together.
92. “Wetwired” (Season 3, Episode 23)
This is one of the stronger episodes of the series, and deals with technology controlling people and creating carnage along the way.
91. “F. Emasculata” (Season 2, Episode 22)
An exceptionally dark episode that puts Scully inside a prison with a rapidly spreading disease while Mulder chases after escaped convicts. This is by-the-numbers X-Files, but done extremely well.
90. “Little Green Men” (Season 2, Episode 1)
This was the first episode of the series to show a live extraterrestrial. This is also the first instance of the agents trying to get an X-File reopened after it’s been closed (this happens nearly every other week from here on out), so it does a lot to continue to drive Mulder’s devotion to the paranormal, and Scully’s devotion to him.
89. “Christmas Carol” / “Emily” (Season 5, Episodes 6–7)
Here’s the thing about Emily. The idea of Scully being determined to protect her dead sister’s daughter, who turns out to be her own daughter, is a fascinating one. But the story, boiled down into two episodes, never really amounts to anything but an idea. There’s also the fact that there’s scant mention of Emily when Scully has her miracle pregnancy three seasons later, but that’s not this episode’s fault.
88. “Quagmire” (Season 3, Episode 22)
Of course this show did a Loch Ness monster episode. But what’s surprising is how the episode manages to actually be about Mulder and Scully’s relationship, using the monster as a metaphor. Episodes like this are beautiful treasures.
87. “Nisei” / “731” (Season 3, Episodes 9–10)
You can’t really get better than a mail-order alien autopsy video, Scully meeting with abductees, and Mulder jumping on a goddamn train in a mythology episode.
86. “Piper Maru” / “Apocrypha” (Season 3, Episodes 15–16)
The first appearance of the black oil is a doozy of a mythology episode that focuses on Scully’s hunt for her sister’s killer. She’s left without justice in the end, however, because that’s how all of these conspiracy episodes tend to work. This episode is also a joy because of Krycek’s return and subsequent entrapment in an abandoned missile silo. He’s the Wile E. Coyote of The X-Files.
85. “Alone” (Season 8, Episode 19)
Leyla Harison joins The X-Files as Doggett’s new partner (for one episode), serving as an opportunity for the writers to playfully satirize their fans. Obsessed with the X-Files but completely unequipped to be in the field, Harrison gets herself and Doggett held prisoner by a horrible CGI reptile monster. That aside, this episode is pretty funny and gives almost everyone something to do that’s in their wheelhouse. Mulder even completely comes around on Doggett in this episode, not only saving him, but welcoming him into the fold.
84. “The End” (Season 5, Episode 20)
The image of Mulder's office burning has stayed with me since I first watched this one as a teenager, but the episode itself isn't as much of a classic. It's sort of the death knell of the idea that the mythology episodes would ever reach any sort of satisfying conclusion. There would be glimmers of life in subsequent episodes, sure, but you basically just have to be along for the ride.
83. “Millennium” (Season 7, Episode 4)
This dark and creepy episode serves as closure to the canceled horror series Millennium. The whole zombie thing comes off as mostly uninspired, but this episode shines because it features the first actual kiss between Mulder and Scully.
82. “William” (Season 9, Episode 16)
This episode is all over the place, but in the end, it ultimately works. A horribly scarred Jeffrey Spender returns, pretending to be Mulder in order to inject Scully’s son with the iron needed to take away his special abilities. The fact that anyone would believe Spender to be Mulder, even with a DNA test, is, frankly, nonsensical. But the conclusion that Scully has to give William up for adoption in order to keep him from being pursued by men who want to hurt him is appropriately heartbreaking.
81. “Theef” (Season 7, Episode 14)
A doctor's father-in-law is brutally murdered, and the word theef is written on the wall in blood. This leads to a straight-up horror show of an episode that excels in the way only “scary” episodes of The X-Files can.
80. “Within”/”Without” (Season 8, Episodes 1–2)
Doggett's introduction to the show is actually quite seamless. The series is “rebooted,” in a sense that the new mythology arc is hunting for the missing Mulder. The new man in charge, Kersh, is kind of an over-the-top asshole, but it works to put some fire in the investigation. By episode's end, Doggett is assigned to the X-Files, while Mulder is naked (looking fine, I might add) on an alien ship full of Bounty Hunters.
79. “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” (Season 6, Episode 6)
Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin show up as a pair of lovers who committed a murder-suicide pact in the ’70s and have been haunting their home ever since. This episode should be mentioned more in the canon of great television Christmas episodes because it's easily one of season six’s most entertaining moments.
78. “Three of a Kind” (Season 6, Episode 20)
Mulder doesn't appear in the episode, so it's Scully’s turn to team up with the Lone Gunmen in a kind of unnecessary yet really funny sequel to the Gunmen origin episode “Unusual Suspects.” The scene where a drugged Scully asks a room full of men to light her cigarette is one of the funniest scenes Anderson has ever played.
77. “Syzygy” (Season 3, Episode 13)
Two teenage girls kill fellow high-schoolers, thanks to a rare planetary alignment. What’s oddly noteworthy is that this episode aired the same year the teen slasher Scream was released.
76. “Conduit” (Season 1, Episode 4)
This episode goes a long way to show exactly how obsessed with finding his sister Mulder is, not to mention clueing in Scully on his quest. While the Samantha search would ultimately have an unsatisfying payoff, the setup is solid.
75. “The Goldberg Variation” (Season 7, Episode 6)
This twist on the “monster of the week” episode is funny on its own, but Willie Garson is absolutely fantastic in the role of a hapless doof with incredible luck who runs afoul of the mob. There's also an appearance by a young Shia LaBeouf!
74. “Red Museum” (Season 2, Episode 10)
This was a pretty good monster-of-the-week episode that perhaps would’ve been better if network squabbling between Fox and CBS hadn’t kept it from being a crossover with David E. Kelley’s Picket Fences.
73. “Gender Bender” (Season 1, Episode 14)
Nicholas Lea’s first appearance in the series isn’t as Alex Krycek, but as the would-be-victim of a gender-bending shape-shifter. Exploring sexual themes is rarely something The X-Files tackles—religion, government paranoia, and mysticism are usually its go-tos—but this is one of its better episodes, where the social commentary of sexual repression surprisingly still packs a modern punch. It’s an often-maligned episode, but it’s one of the earliest indications of how spooky and atmospheric The X-Files was capable of being.
72. “Unruhe” (Season 4, Episode 4)
This is one of the many episodes that relies on Scully being kidnapped, but the plot involving psychic photographs and a man who abducts and lobotomizes women is dark and terrifying.
71. “Essence” / “Existence” (Season 8, Episodes 20–21)
This episode is full of insanity, from the fact that Scully somehow has enough female friends that her mom can cobble together a baby shower, to Billy Miles chasing the agents across the Eastern Seaboard. The whole thing is basically a never-ending chase scene, with alien replicants (who are now revealed to be Super Soldiers, because things weren’t convoluted enough) in pursuit of Scully’s baby. The episode makes little to no sense once we get to the end, but Scully has her baby, Doggett and Reyes are officially partners, and it’s certainly a fun thrill-ride that perfectly caps off a fantastic season with the mythology arc’s last sputters of life. The most important part of the episode, obviously, is that big kiss between Mulder and Scully. A final scene eight seasons in making, how satisfying.
70. “Release” (Season 9, Episode 17)
The nonsense about an evil force killing Doggett’s son (see: “Empedocles”) is completely ignored in this episode, which finally offers an explanation. It’s not a neat conclusion, by any means, but it’s a logical one that serves to finally let Doggett lay his son’s memories to rest.
69. “Anasazi” (Season 2, Episode 25)
If you actually think Mulder gets killed off at the end of the episode, you’re about as smart as the writers think you are. However, this is a pretty great mythology episode.
68. “Beyond the Sea” (Season 1, Episode 13)
Scully gets to confront her father’s death in an unusually emotional episode for the series’ first season. This was the first sign that Gillian Anderson was destined for some truly amazing work on this show.
67. “War of the Coprophages” (Season 3, Episode 12)
I promise you, the killer-cockroaches episode is not as bad as you might have heard. In fact, it’s actually pretty damn entertaining.
66. “Improbable” (Season 9, Episode 13)
This Scully and Reyes episode is goddamn hysterical. The hunt for a killer driven by numerology is just an excuse for Burt Reynolds to show up singing in Italian, playing Checkers, and dancing around the exasperated FBI agents while they’re trapped in a parking garage with the killer. The bonkers musical sequence at the end is the icing on the cake.
65. “Talitha Cumi” (Season 3, Episode 24)
When Mulder's mom has a stroke, he hunts for a mysterious healer. As such, this episode is a fantastic showcase for Duchovny.
64. “Zero Sum” (Season 4, Episode 21)
Skinner puts a bunch of people’s lives at stake to save Scully, which doesn’t at all fit his character, but it’s a great episode, so let’s try to ignore all of that.
63. “Demons” (Season 4, Episode 23)
Mulder undergoes therapy to get pieces of his past memories, but a post-hypnosis blackout leaves him in a hotel room with two dead bodies and no memory of how he got there. This is a fun, twisted episode that doubles as a dark exploration of who Mulder is as character.
62. “Vienen” (Season 8, Episode 18)
The black oil is back for one last hurrah, and this time, Doggett and Mulder are trapped on an oil rig with it. Blowing up the oil rig and stopping the offshore drilling of the alien substance is done in a spectacular fashion, with both FBI agents leaping to safety in a fiery climax.
61. “Fallen Angel” (Season 1, Episode 10)
The introduction of Max Fenig, a frequent UFO abductee who will become important to Mulder, is a doozy of a conspiracy episode. It drags Mulder and Scully into a mystery involving a UFO crash that the Air Force is covering up. This is one of the first indications that the conspiracy is far-reaching, with every part of the government involved.
60. “Gethsemane” (Season 4, Episode 24)
Pretending that Mulder might actually die after multiple instances of “Did Mulder die?” cliff-hangers is such a wheel-spinning moment that it’s one of the first signs that the mythology episodes had no clear endgame in sight. Despite that, it's a great episode of television.
59. “Leonard Betts” (Season 4, Episode 12)
A cancer-eating mutant known as Leonard Betts is scary enough as a monster, but when he targets Scully, it’s the first indication that she’s infected with cancer. It’s the kind of episode that this show does best: a stellar monster of the week that morphs into an unexpected emotional arc.
58. “John Doe” (Season 9, Episode 7)
When season nine is still worried about Mulder’s disappearance and Super Soldiers, it’s a mess. But when it focuses on what the season should be about—the new agents—it can actually be fantastic. Doggett, already the center of two great episodes (“Via Negativa” and “The Gift”), is the subject of an X-File once again. This time, he wakes up in Mexico without his memory while his partners try to find out where he is. Doggett regaining his memory and having to relive his son’s death is a beautiful and powerful conclusion.
57. “Oubliette” (Season 3, Episode 8)
In this episode, which dials up the creepy, a kidnapped girl shares a psychic connection with a fast-food-chain employee who was kidnapped by the same man years earlier. This installment’s strength lies in the older woman’s sacrifice to save the girl from the same fate she suffered. It breaks Mulder, as his strong connection to kidnapping cases drives his very being.
56. “Tempus Fugit”/”Max” (Season 4, Episodes 17–18)
The tragic alien abductee Max Fenig returns in this episode, which takes much longer than it needs to, but it’s a worthy successor to “Fallen Angel,” and features the show’s first abduction by aliens.
55. “The Blessing Way” / “Paper Clip” (Season 3, Episodes 1–2)
Mully escapes certain death, Skinner has a showdown with the Cigarette Smoking Man, and Scully is an all-out badass in this awesome season-three opener. This season has the series’ best mythology episodes, back when the villains were still scary and the conspiracy seemed like it was building to something sublime.
54. “Drive” (Season 6, Episode 2)
This episode is a part of television history, because it brought Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston together for the first time and led to Cranston's casting in Breaking Bad. But more than that, it's also an incredibly thrilling episode, starring Cranston as man who'll die if he doesn't keep moving at a certain speed. It's like Speed done with a human, and it's more brilliant than it sounds, largely because of Cranston's performance.
53. “Never Again” (Season 4, Episode 13)
A man’s life is being controlled by his talking tattoo named Betty, voice by Jodie Foster, who rears her jealous head when Scully begins investigating him. This episode was originally set to be directed by Quentin Tarantino, but a DGA dispute kept him from being able to. The episode is just as fine without his vision, however; it’s plenty twisted and funny enough.
52. “Roadrunners” (Season 8, Episode 4)
This is a hard episode to love because it feels like it's punishing Scully for not fully embracing Doggett as her new partner. But it's also a hella creepy episode about a cult that worships a big-ass slug and inserts it into the bodies of hitchhikers. A stranded Scully trying to escape the cult while Doggett hunts for her cements these two as partners you want to keep watching, which contributes to my theory that season eight is a lot better than people want to give it credit for. Plus, the body horror in this episode is some of the series' best (and grossest) work.
51. “The Pine Bluff Variant” (Season 5, Episode 18)
Mulder goes undercover with a group of bioterrorists and lies to Scully about it because he’s kind of an asshole, but we still love him anyway.
50. “The Unnatural” (Season 6, Episode 19)
This one can seem a little hokey, but it’s actually a pretty affecting episode about a friendship between a human and an alien baseball player posing as a black man in the ‘40s. It gets bogged down in some ridiculous notions about race in America and how we’re “all the same,” or whatever it is David Duchovny thought he was was getting at when he wrote and directed this episode. And to be honest, Jesse L. Martin and Frederic Lane seemed like they were in love with each other the entire episode (that would’ve taken this story to much better heights), so it was their chemistry that sold the whole thing. The episode could’ve taken a few more turns that weren’t by-the-numbers for a “white person and POC become friends during times of racism” story, but as-is, it’s a perfectly enjoyable piece of television that could’ve reached a bit higher to truly be great.
49. “Grotesque” (Season 3, Episode 14)
Mulder's old mentor turns out to be evil and tries to frame him for murder. The main thing this episode has going for it is that it succeeds where “Young at Heart” (a similar episode about a nemesis from Mulder’s past) failed.
48. “Herrenvolk” (Season 4, Episode 1)
It’s a huge strength of the series that this episode features the death of X, but manages to make it as shocking and important as Deep Throat’s death three seasons earlier. It’s a great kickoff for season four.
47. “Deep Throat” (Season 1, Episode 2)
Same as the pilot, as most second episodes of a series are, but this time, we get introduced to Deep Throat and give Mulder a man on the inside. The series only promises to get better from here, and it definitely does.
46. “Avatar” (Season 3, Episode 21)
Don’t you just hate when you’re accused of murdering a prostitute? Skinner sure does. This deep dive into Skinner’s life is much-needed, plus a scary episode, to boot.
45. “Per Manum” (Season 8, Episode 13)
Introducing Mulder as the potential father for Scully's baby finally kicks the season's mystery into high gear. Gillian Anderson is fantastic as a woman determined to protect her child, find her partner, and also save another pregnant woman who might be killed by shadowy doctors. The bond between Scully and Doggett is finally solidified when he learns the truth about her pregnancy and does everything he can to save her in an intense final-act showdown.
44. “Squeeze” (Season 1, Episode 3)
The first monster-of-the-week episode truly sets the bar for all future stand-alone episodes. Eugene Tooms is a creepy, horrifying villain, and his nesting—along with his elongating himself through an air vent—still haunts nightmares more than two decades later.
43. “This Is Not Happening” / “Deadalive” (Season 8, Episodes 14–15)
Alien spaceships are dropping abductees’ near-dead bodies from the sky, where they act as incubators for aliens. When Mulder finally returns after his abduction, he’s presumed dead—until Skinner has his body exhumed. From there, it’s a race against the clock to keep Mulder from turning into an alien. The climax of Mulder’s disappearance story line is as thrilling as the mystery’s been, and it also opens a new angle to the alien conspiracy. As tired as the conspiracy has become at this point, Mulder’s return is enough to keep the mythology engine moving. Bonus points for being the episode that introduces Special Agent Monica Reyes, because I am probably the only fan of this character that exists.
42. “Je Souhaite” (Season 7, Episode 21)
This kind of historical-fiction episode is something I love. The idea that a genie was behind Mussolini and Nixon's rises to power is hilarious, and equating them with a bunch of down-and-out hicks who want things like a really big boat and the power to turn invisible is an awesome send-up of the clichéd “genie grants you three wishes” story. Even the ending, which you can see coming from a mile away, manages to be satisfying.
41. “Redrum” (Season 8, Episode 6)
Scully and Doggett are only bit players in this episode, which borrows heavily from The Twilight Zone to tell the story of a man accused of his wife's murder, who keeps traveling backwards in time until he can right one wrong that set him on this tragic course. The concept could've fallen flat on its face, but Joe Morton (Papa Pope from Scandal and Robert Patrick's co-star in Terminator 2: Judgment Day) is a phenomenal actor, and sells every bit of it. This is an episode that deserves more recognition among the classic X-Files episodes that step outside the procedural box and try something different.
40. “Requiem” (Season 7, Episode 22)
Mulder gets abducted! Scully is mysteriously pregnant! Krycek is back—and he shoves Cigarette Smoking Man down a flight of stairs! The cliff-hangers in this episode are fantastic, and so is the rest of the spooky, chock-full-of-aliens hour. If this had been the series finale of The X-Files, it would've left fans hanging, but damn, what a final episode it would be. Unfortunately, Duchovny split as a main character after this episode and forever upended the dynamic of the show.
39. “Tithonus” (Season 6, Episode 10)
Scully takes the reins in a fantastic Final Destination–esque episode where a crime-scene photographer can see people's deaths before they happen.
38. “Revelations” (Season 3, Episode 11)
Just trust me when I say that an episode about Stigmata is actually one of the better episodes of this series.
37. “Audrey Pauley” (Season 9, Episode 11)
Reyes ends up in a car accident, and Doggett doesn’t want to take her off life support while she struggles to send him a sign from the limbo world she’s trapped in. This is a heartfelt episode that continues to build the emotional bond between Doggett and Reyes. If the series continued on with more episodes like this one, “4-D,” and “John Doe,” it might have worked out its kinks in order to take them to the heights that Mulder and Scully reached in seasons two through four.
36. “Irresistible” (Season 2, Episode 13)
Donny Pfaster, a death fetishist, is kidnapping women, and he has his eyes set on Scully. Aside from this being another “Scully in peril” episode, the scares here are some of the series’ finest, thanks in large part to Pfaster as the truly terrifying villain. Like I said before, though, skip the sequel episode, “Orison.”
35. “Arcadia” (Season 6, Episode 15)
This is a fan-service episode that cooks up a plot for Mulder and Scully to go undercover as a suburban couple. Shipping fantasies aside, the mystery is obvious from the cold open and never really goes anywhere unexpected. But years before Desperate Housewives hit the air, this satire on the insidious nature of the suburbs played pretty well.
34. “One Breath” (Season 2, Episode 8)
Scully is in a coma following her kidnapping by Duane Barry. Mulder tries to figure out what happened to her, believing the Cigarette Smoking Man to somehow be behind it. Meanwhile, a mysterious nurse speaks to Scully while she’s in her coma. The mysticism in this episode all hangs on the relentless lengths Mulder goes to to find out what happened to his partner.
33. “E.B.E.” (Season 1, Episode 17)
Our first introduction to Deep Throat’s motivations is a fun, engrossing conspiracy episode that also introduces us to the Lone Gunmen. The early days of Mulder’s obsession with the paranormal are still pretty fun to watch, even years later.
32. “D.P.O.” (Season 3, Episode 3)
Giovanni Ribisi can control lightning. I think that’s all you need to know.
31. “Eve” (Season 1, Episode 11)
The most important thing about this episode—to my generation, at least—is probably that it inspired the name of the band Eve 6. But this creepy installment about clones committing grisly murders is a really well-done monster-of-the-week ep, too.
30. “Folie à Deux” (Season 5, Episode 19)
Folie à deux is a term meaning “madness shared by two people.” When a man believes his boss to be a monster and takes his office hostage, Mulder and Scully step in. The man is killed, but Mulder believes the boss is a monster, too, and gets locked up in a psych ward. Scully’s determination to save him is why you love watching these two fight for one another.
29. “Darkness Falls” (Season 1, Episode 20)
I have a special place in my heart for this episode because it’s the first-ever episode of The X-Files I saw, and it gave me nightmares for weeks. It’s mostly a redux of “Ice,” but the forest setting and the visuals of green bugs feasting on victims shows what the series can do in a nature setting, as the superior “Field Trip” would build upon.
28. “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)
The very first episode of The X-Files is one of its best. It introduced the characters of Mulder and Scully and thrust us into its '90s-paranoia dialed up to 11 at the same time. It sets the tone for the entire series well, even despite all the twists and turns it would take throughout the years.
27. “X-Cops” (Season 7, Episode 12)
The stereotypes in this episode are a bit much, but back in 2000, when everyone was watching Cops, this episode was pitch-perfect. I wonder how anyone who didn't grow up watching Cops would view this episode now, but for anyone in my generation (late '80s) or older, this is satire at its best.
26. “Die Hand Die Verletzt” (Season 2, Episode 14)
The series’ best meditation on faith and Satanism pits Mulder and Scully against the devil-worshipping PTA at an East Coast high school.
25. “Hollywood A.D.” (Season 7, Episode 19)
Scully running in heels in the background of “Hollywood A.D.” may be one of The X-Files’ greatest moments. It battles for the top spot, obviously, with the glorious three-way split-screen bubble bath between Scully, Mulder, and Skinner. This episode doesn't always make sense, but it's hella funny.
24. “Unusual Suspects” (Season 5, Episode 3)
The Lone Gunmen’s origin episode was devised, oddly enough, because Duchovny and Anderson were still busy filming the X-Files movie when production began on season five. What resulted is a hilarious, paranoia-drenched episode about the series’ greatest supporting characters.
23. “Tooms” (Season 1, Episode 21)
Tooms is the only monster of the week whose return manages to surpass his original outing, upping the stakes by framing Mulder for assault. The climax, set in a mall where Tooms has built his latest nest, is one of the series’ greatest setpieces.
22. “Field Trip” (Season 6, Episode 21)
An amazing mindfuck where it's all a dream, thanks to hallucinogenic mushrooms. When you ask people about their favorite X-Files episodes, they're always certain to mention “the one with the killer shrooms.”
21. “Via Negativa” (Season 8, Episode 7)
The X-Files does A Nightmare on Elm Street. Dripping with atmosphere and dominated by Doggett, this monster of the week is further proof that season eight is better than people give it credit for. The creeping fear that Doggett's trapped in a nightmare and might end up murdering Scully is palpable in Robert Patrick's performance. This episode knocks it out of the park.
20. “Detour” (Season 5, Episode 4)
Mulder and Scully are stuck in a car with two random FBI agents, en route to a “team-building” seminar. They end up running into a mysterious forest monster and delivering a well-done monster-of-the-week episode.
19. “Duane Barry” / “Ascension” (Season 2, Episodes 5–6)
In the episode, which sends us down the “mysterious Scully health issues” rabbit hole, Scully is kidnapped to service Gillian Anderson’s real-life pregnancy. This installment has a lot in common with “Irresistible” and other Scully-kidnapping episodes, but none is as thrilling as this one.
18. “The Erlenmeyer Flask” (Season 1, Episode 24)
This is an amazing end to a spectacular debut season. Scully finally getting her hands on proof of extraterrestrials but having to trade it to save Mulder’s life is the mission statement of this show in a nutshell. Deep Throat’s death also feels like a new and important moment, before setbacks like this would become part of the show’s rhythm.
17. “Humbug” (Season 2, Episode 20)
How could anyone ever have watched American Horror Story: Freak Show after seeing this master class on how to tell a hilarious, creepy, and dark story about circus freaks?
16. “The Gift” (Season 8, Episode 11)
Ignore the retcon that Mulder would ever hide a brain disease from Scully, and this is a perfect episode of The X-Files. Using Doggett's still-murky allegiance to Scully and Skinner to great effect, he investigates a town that Mulder kept visiting in secret. Turns out there’s a soul-eater there who consumes human diseases, which the town uses to its own benefit. Mulder tried freeing the soul-eater from his captivity, just as Doggett attempts to do before he's shot and killed. When the soul-eater consumes Doggett's death, it's able to save him and finally free itself. This an incredibly affecting episode that will make anyone a John Doggett fan, unless you have a heart of stone.
15. “Monday” (Season 6, Episode 14)
Mulder keeps getting blown up in a bank robbery gone awry in this Groundhog Day–inspired episode. While the concept is one you've seen before on TV, the acting, script, and mystery behind the repeated Monday are all strong enough to make this a bona fide classic X-Files episode.
14. “Ice” (Season 1, Episode 8)
Inspired by John Carpenter's The Thing, this episode isolates Mulder and Scully with a small team of doctors as they investigate a mass murder-suicide of physicists in Alaska. The paranoia present in every episode of The X-Files is driven to all-time heights in this installment, where Mulder and Scully are at the brink of insanity.
13. “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” (Season 4, Episode 7)
This excellent flashback episode might not even be true, given the unreliability of its narrator. But diving into the Cigarette Smoking Man’s background and showing how he’s been at the center of conspiracy after conspiracy in America really expands the series’ mythology, and shows the far-reaching grip of the forces Mulder and Scully are up against.
12. “Small Potatoes” (Season 4, Episode 20)
Eddie Van Blundht (the h is silent) is the character at the center of this episode. He’s a shape-shifter who tricks the women in a small town into thinking he’s their husbands or their ultimate fantasy (Luke Skywalker, for one woman). This smart script by Vince Gilligan is one of the series’ funniest.
11. “Paper Hearts” (Season 4, Episode 10)
So “Closure” is awful because it actually wants us to buy its lame wrap-up to the Samantha Mulder abduction. But this episode, where Mulder believes that a serial killer might be responsible for his sister’s death, is a beautifully rendered piece of television. The episode leaves Mulder unsure of whether his sister was actually this man’s victim, which ultimately turns out not to be true (if it had been the real conclusion to Samantha’s abduction, it would be the series’ greatest arc). As it stands, it’s still one of the series’ best.
10. “Triangle” (Season 6, Episode 3)
Long takes, à la Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, are used in an episode where Mulder is trapped on a luxury liner invaded by Nazis in 1939. Scully and the Lone Gunmen rush to save him with the help of Skinner. Written and directed by Chris Carter, this episode was marketed as a television event—and it's actually as good as we were led to believe. The series would go on to have more near-excellent episodes after this one, but this is the last time The X-Files would reach glorious, iconic heights.
9. “Sunshine Days” (Season 9, Episode 18)
Doggett: “Why is everyone still watching a 30-year-old TV show?”
Reyes: “Because they’re the family everyone wishes they had.”
Mulder lost his sister, father, and mother. Scully lost her sister and her child. Doggett lost his son. Reyes has always had paranormal connections to loss. Ultimately, The X-Files is a show about finding whatever you believe your family is. The series’ mission statement is never as beautifully summed up as in this episode written and directed by Vince Gilligan, where Michael Emerson (Lost’s Ben Linus) plays a man who turns his home into the Brady Bunch house because he’s never truly had a family. When his doctor finally claims him as a son, it’s hard not to feel all of that emotional weight. Scully also receives irrefutable truth that the paranormal exists, and Reyes and Doggett clasp hands, realizing their family is now one another. If the series had ended on this episode, canceled before it could reach a “proper” conclusion, it would have been one the best series finales in television. As it stands, this penultimate episode of the The X-Files is simply just one of the series’ finest big-picture moments.
8. “Pusher” (Season 3, Episode 17)
Scully saying to Mulder “Please explain to me the scientific nature of the whammy” is probably the best line in the series. Robert Patrick Modell, a man who can control people with his mind (or “put the whammy” on them, as Mulder describes), is sort of an early version of Kilgrave from Jessica Jones. The final showdown between Mulder and Modell, playing a game of Russian roulette, is one of the most tense scenes ever attempted by the series.
7. “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (Season 5, Episode 5)
This episode is a classic, not only for its quality but for its piece in television history. Two roles in the episode were designed for pop-culture icons: Roseanne and Cher. Roseanne was unavailable for filming, and Cher turned down a cameo where she’d merely be singing at the end (she wanted to act in the episode), only to regret it when she saw how beautiful the episode was. It’s easy enough to pull off a Frankenstein’s-monster episode in this day and age, but to do it with such artful cinematography (the episode is entirely in black-and-white) is where The X-Files put its own spin on a classic story.
6. “Memento Mori” (Season 4, Episode 14)
Scully seeks cancer treatment, while Mulder nearly goes insane trying to find out what happened to his partner when she was kidnapped. This episode rightfully earned an Emmy nomination and won Gillian Anderson a lead-actress Emmy.
5. “Colony” / “End Game” (Season 2, Episodes 16–17)
When the mythology episodes are bad, they’re really bad. But when they’re excellent, they’re as transcendent as this two-parter that pits Mulder and Scully against the Bounty Hunter. Scarier than those Super Soldiers could ever be, the Bounty Hunter morphs into Mulder. Scully realizes she’s in danger when she hears the real Mulder’s voice on the telephone, at which point there’s no way you won’t get chills.
4. “Jose Chung's From Outer Space” (Season 3, Episode 20)
Much has been written about this episode, to the point where there’s nothing much to add. Except this: What makes it so brilliant is actually what keeps it from being the all-time-best episode. This is the series at its most meta, poking fun at the genre and The X-Files as a whole. But for a show that changed the genre game (and television in general), it just doesn’t seem right to give the very top spot to an episode that satirizes itself.
3. “Home” (Season 4, Episode 2)
Hands down, this is the scariest episode of The X-Files. So twisted and demented that Fox has never reaired it, this episode about a bunch of inbred killers banging their paraplegic mother whom they keep squirreled away underneath a bed in her room is one of the most sickening things that’s ever aired on television.
2. “Bad Blood” (Season 5, Episode 12)
On the flip side, this is the funniest episode of The X-Files. The setup is simple: Mulder drives a wooden stake through the heart of a teenager he believes to be a vampire. But he might actually be human. How Mulder arrived at that conclusion is brilliantly told through Mulder and Scully’s own differing perspectives. No episode has ever gotten to the core of how much the two love each other, despite their differences, than this one.
1. “Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose” (Season 3, Episode 4)
The X-Files could be thrilling, scary, heartbreaking, and funny. This episode takes every element that made the series so iconic and throws them all into one heartbreaking installment. A man who can see the future aids Mulder and Scully in stopping the murders of psychics and fortune-tellers. It took Scully years to finally come around on the supernatural, but in that moment where she finds Clyde Bruckman dead, she takes his hand, and you can see it in her eyes that she’s finally ready to take this journey into the paranormal with Mulder. This isn’t just the best episode of The X-Files, it’s one of the best episodes of television ever.