Five 'X-Files' episodes to watch this weekend before the revival premieres
If you wanted to binge-watch 200-plus episodes of the original X-Files before the miniseries revival, well, uh, sorry, you're out of time. The new adventures of Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) begin Sunday night on Fox around 10 p.m., after the NFL's NFC championship game and post-game show; the second episode (which several critics have suggested is better than the premiere) airs at 8 p.m. Monday. But even if you don't have time to watch all nine seasons on Netflix and sniff out two feature films, you can still dip your toes in the water.
Now, if you've got the time, you can watch through any number of top 10 or top 20 lists better than anything I could give you. Vulture has, in fact, ranked every single episode from worst to best. But c'mon, dude, you've only got two days, and who wants to waste time on an episode where you might not get what anyone is talking about? (Trust me, there are quite a few of those episodes even if you watch them all start to finish.)
So I've got another proposal for you: Get just a taste of the many sides of The X-Files.
The X-Files has always been a mishmash of several different styles — horror, sci-fi, mystery, comedy, romance — applied within two distinct episode types, standalones (known as "monster of the week") and conspiracy arc (known as "mytharc" or "mythology"). Herewith, how to relive The X-Files quickly with a handful of episodes from different styles.
Okay, so it's not really an episode type, but really, you should know (or be reminded of) where it all began. The pilot sees Dana Scully, a medical doctor and avowed skeptic of just about everything, being assigned to "the X-Files," unsolved and unexplained cases, in order to debunk the work of top-notch criminal profiler but alien fanatic Fox Mulder. Ostensibly the powers that be are worried Mulder is throwing away a great career to follow a bunch of nonsense, when in reality the conspiracy members want to see Mulder's work discredited. Marvel at Scully's suits and Mulder's glasses and how long ago 1993 really was while getting to know or re-know the characters as well as the alien abduction theories and the lurking villain Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis).
Scary monster episode: Squeeze (Season 1, Episode 3)
In this category, I almost went with "Ice" (Season 1, Episode 8), which features the protagonists and a group of scientists trapped in a remote Alaskan outpost with a parasite that turns the infected murderous. But for all of the cold tenseness in "Ice," waiting on edge for someone to go crazy can't beat the wide-eyed terror of "Squeeze," which features a monster that squeezes down chimneys and climbs up walls in a quest to eat human organs every 30 years. In fact, the character is so scary that he returns later in the season to haunt Mulder and Scully (and your dreams). Scully-in-peril scenes get a little old in the early seasons, but the one in this episode will make your skin crawl every. single. time.
Comedy episode: Humbug (Season 2, Episode 20)
This isn't the most famous of The X-Files' humorous episodes (that'd be "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," one of the show's most meta and best regarded eps), but it was the first, and it's my favorite because of its Tampa Bay connection. It features Mulder and Scully investigating a series of murders in our very own Gibsonton, home to many sideshow performers. The episode features a sheriff who used to be a "Dogface Boy" till he lost his hair and an underdeveloped conjoined twin (think more of a large growth on someone else) who turns out to be a very creepy independent creature when he wants to be. What's not to love?
Shipper episode: Redux 1 and 2 (Season 5, Episodes 1-2)
No X-Files list would be complete without acknowledging the on-screen relationship that gave us the now ubiquitous fandom term shipper (short for a "relationshipper" who wants folks to get together on screen, for those not in the know). Honestly, every time I randomly decide I need to rewatch The X-Files, I gravitate back to the "Redux" two-parter that really packs things in, hinged on the relationship between Mulder and Scully. It starts off a bit shaky, but in the course of the episodes, you'll doubt the conspiracy, Mulder will lie to the FBI about killing somebody, Scully's cancer tests everyone, Mulder's long-lost abducted sister reappears, Mulder infiltrates a DoD warehouse full of fake aliens, a traitor in the FBI is outed and the Smoking Man is killed (one of only like a million times). IT'S A LOT. And it highlights the series' wildly swinging mytharc and Chris Carter's ability to make you doubt any and everything he's already made you believe. Trust no one, X-Files viewer. But all the massive mytharc aside, this episode at its heart has a ton of Mulder and Scully really relying on one another, even when Scully's brother rants at Mulder and Mulder asks Scully to tell everyone he's dead, plus there's a heartbreaking scene where Mulder breaks down crying at Scully's bedside. If you don't get the shipper feels here, something is wrong with your wiring.
* Honorable mention here goes to "All Things" (Season 7, Episode 17), which begins with Mulder naked in Scully's bed and ends with Scully falling asleep on Mulder's shoulder as he tells her fate brought them together. Too bad the ep is so spacey (not the sci-fi way) in between.
Mythology episode: The Truth 1 and 2 (Season 9, Episodes 19-20)
I don't pretend to call this the best mytharc episode, but you can't go into Sunday's episodes without knowing where things left off in 2002! (We're not counting the awful 2008 movie I Want to Believe. Because it shouldn't exist.) Also, this episode features Mulder and Scully spelling it all out, the entire conspiracy, as Mulder is on trial. You can skip all the back and forth and get the final version of what's happened and who's involved. Even though, yeah, it doesn't make that much sense. You'll also get the all-too-X-Files annoyance of hearing aliens are supposed to invade Earth on Dec. 22, 2012, and watch the Smoking Man die again ... just for there to be no aliens and a live Smoking Man in the new episodes. Welcome to the club.