Disclaimer: I’m an avid fan of The X-Files series. Through good times and bad, I faithfully followed Mulder and Scully’s search for the truth. And trust me, there were some pretty bad times. Not just for the characters but for the show, too. However, there were far more good times than bad. Like any other long-running television show, The X-Files is not perfect, but it is THIS close to perfection. With a phenomenal cast and an amazing revolving door of guest stars, The X-Files series is a cult classic worth sinking your teeth into.
Binging The X-Files is no easy feat. It’s currently 10 seasons of alien mythology, monsters, and romance. Oh, and did I mention the mythology? It is one of the longest-running science fiction series in network television history. It premiered in the early ’90s. However, the overarching themes of The X-Files are timeless. The series plays on our darkest fears of government conspiracies and monsters hiding in plain sight. Fear of the unknown, of differing beliefs, and advances in science. These fears are as relevant today as they were “back then.”
Instead of reviewing each episode or season, I decided on a series overview. I wanted to highlight those aspects that make The X-Files series worth watching. If you’re on the fence about whether to check-out this sci-fi classic out, keep reading. I bet I can change your mind!
The X-Files Series Review
In my opinion, Seasons 3-6 are the best of The X-Files series. If you focus on these seasons, you’ll get the bulk of the conspiracy. Although, you may need to add a few episodes from Seasons 7-9. However, don’t discount Season 1. It was solid. Unlike most freshman seasons, Season 1 was very, very good. It serves as the foundation of the entire series. It is slow and that is a good thing. The X-Files took their time introducing and developing characters central to the series. Furthermore, The X-Files hooked viewers with monster-of-the-week (MOW) episodes.
From the beginning, The X-Files pushed boundaries. It explored normally taboo topics, exposing the ugly side to humanity in graphic detail.
Season 3 was one of the darkest seasons, exploring public distrust in government as well as the evil that resides in unexpected places. Yet, to counter the darkness, it pulled on classic monster movies to give us fun and ridiculous MOW episodes. Season 4 refocused on the conspiracy. Consequences from events in earlier seasons catch up to Mulder and Scully. Season 4 is an emotional roller coaster. In particular, Scully’s story arc is fantastic and in the hands of Gillian Anderson, breathtakingly beautiful.
Seasons 5 – 6 are the last entirely good seasons of The X-Files. Season 7 limped along, although there are a few episodes worth the watch. Such as “Requiem.” Seasons 8 and 9 are a struggle. In part, this is due to Mulder’s absence. Also, the mythology struggled with continuity issues.
Last, despite excellent performances by the actors, the show did an arguably terrible job introducing new characters. Still, there are episodes worth watching. This is largely due to Gillian Anderson’s always amazing performances.
The Cast of The X-Files
The X-Files series assembled an incredible cast of actors for very specific roles. Especially for the mythology storyline. The Syndicate was made up of a number of nameless individuals, such as Deep Throat, First Elder, or Mr. X. Being nameless heightened their menacing yet absent presence. In addition, guest stars for MOW episodes were cast with equal care. For a fun article on actors, you didn’t know were in The X-Files, click here. Actors such as Giovanni Ribisi, Jack Black, Michael Emerson, Felicity Huffman, and CCH Pounder all appeared in episodes of The X-Files.
However, it’s the characters played by David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, and William B. Davis, that are synonymous with The X-Files. Although, do not underestimate the importance of recurring villains such as Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea), Marita Covarrubias (Laurie Holden), the Well-Manicured Man (John Neville), or Alvin Kersh (James Pickens, Jr.). Each of these recurring characters were significant in Mulder and Scully’s journey. Of course, I must mention The Lone Gunmen. This loveable trio are your stereotypical conspiracy theorists.
The Cigarette Smoking Man and Special Agent Walter Skinner
As Cigarette Smoking Man (CSM), or Cancer Man, William B. Davis is the face of the conspiracy and Syndicate. He is also one of Mulder’s primary antagonists. It’s CSM the audience first meets. From his coldly calculating stare to the mocking tone of his voice, CSM is chilling. He knows something no one else knows and he revels in his position of power. He’s a character you love to hate because just when you think he’s defeated, he rises like a phoenix. Davis really embraced this character, constantly adding small touches that added to his ominous presence.
It was unclear whose “side” Skinner was on as Mulder and Scully’s supervisor. In early episodes, CSM appears in Skinner’s office quite often. That normally would be a clear sign. But it’s not. Because, more often than, not, Skinner’s actions spoke louder than his words. What I love about Skinner is that he is a curmudgeon. He’s the grumpy father constantly in damage control mode. His stern visage often sets his agents to squirming. Especially when he leans back in his chair and eyes them from across his desk. It’s no wonder Skinner can reduce Mulder and Scully to “teenagers” shifting uncomfortably as they confess to stealing the car keys.
Fox Mulder and Dana Scully
Mulder and Scully. It’s the only way to say it. Mulder, then Scully. Rarely do you ever hear their first names. It’s always Mulder and Scully. They are as amazing together as they are apart. Their relationship is the stuff of dreams……but more on that later. First, let’s focus on them individually.
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Tall, dark, and handsome, Mulder is brooding, intelligent, and stubborn. Yet, he is also quirky and extremely charming. Mulder’s singular focus is to prove the existence of extraterrestrials. He believes his sister was abducted by aliens. This is why he focuses so intently on a conspiracy. He is a rebel. He is also mocking and can be a jerk. In turn, Mulder is also incredibly loyal. Oh, and did I mention tall, dark, and handsome? Yes….swoon-worthy appeal in so many ways!
Mulder’s dogged determination to reveal the conspiracy earns him many enemies. It also makes the Syndicate nervous. So much so, they bring in a scientist to debunk his work. Hello there, Dr. Scully.
Scully is the skeptic. She constantly challenges Mulder. In theory, this should have made the character “annoying.” However, Gillian Anderson handled this aspect of Scully perfectly. It was always the right amount of genuine interest and honest debate, and/or pure exasperation. Scully is complex and without pretense. She is as intelligent as Mulder but without his ego. Scully also expertly straddles her faith and her background as a scientist. Unlike Mulder, she understands that their work requires the support of science, of strong, incontrovertible evidence.
One of many things fascinating about Mulder and Scully is their belief in the existence of something science can’t prove. Mulder believes in the existence of aliens; his belief grounded only in faith. Scully, despite her crisis of faith, believes in God. Her faith is a contributing factor in her journey with Mulder and the mythology. Together, Mulder and Scully are nearly unstoppable. Which is probably why the Syndicate pretty much tortures them emotionally and physically throughout The X-Files series.
The X-Files Mythology
Complicated doesn’t even begin to describe it. Simply put, the mythology revolves around a government conspiracy to hide the existence of aliens from the public. Yet, it’s so much more. It covers alien abductions, unidentified flying objects, lost time, alien hybrids and viruses, and even a “doomsday” plan to save the chosen few in case of an alien invasion.
The mythology can be confusing. It’s a tangled web that gets progressively worse. Yet, it’s engrossing. It’s like you can’t help but want to untangle the story. The first six seasons really hit the mythology perfectly. This kept the storyline from stagnating. More importantly, it keeps viewers from growing frustrated with Mulder and Scully’s constant chase of the truth. But the last few seasons of The X-Files, it stuttered and led to some confusing, head-scratching moments.
What I loved about the mythology were the emotional beats. Such as Mulder’s family story, and his missing sister. Scully’s an alien abductee. Yet, she denies the very existence of aliens. So, she struggles with this “label.” These episodes center so closely around Mulder and Scully that they tend to be heartbreaking. In their quest for the truth, Mulder and Scully suffer greatly. Yet, these tests of character only strengthen their resolve. It also draws them closer. As a result, The X-Files is simply simmering with a very delicious romantic tension.
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There are all sorts of guides out there to walk you through the mythology. Or, you can pick and choose a few to watch from each season. This will give you a general feel for what the conspiracy entails. You can find a list of mythology episodes here.
The X-Files series reinvented MOWs, taking their cue from shows like The Twilight Zone. As result, The X-Files elevated this television trope to new levels. In particular, the camera work and film direction were instrumental as was the music. Unfortunately, lighting, always a problem with The X-Files series, was terrible. Still, there were some seriously creepy and truly vile MOWs. For example, Eugene Tooms, a genetic mutant serial killer in Season 1’s “Squeeze.”
Then, there is Donnie Pfaster from Season 2’s “Irresistible.” He has a death fetish and robs graves to satisfy it. That’s putting it mildly. Very mildly. “War of the Coprophages” from Season 3 is pure campy fun. Yet, it’s disgusting because, ew, cockroaches! But, speaking of campy MOWs….Season 4 gave us “Small Potatoes.” It involves a shape-shifter that takes on the form of Mulder with amusing results. “Bad Blood” from Season 5 is one of the best MOWs to date and features Luke Wilson. Told in flashbacks, Mulder and Scully’s impression of each other is particularly funny.
The Mulder/Scully Relationship (MSR)
There is no romance in The X-Files series. None. At least, that’s what creator and executive producer Chris Carter originally claimed. Mulder and Scully were never meant to develop feelings for each other. The show was never to include a romantic storyline. (In other interviews, he says it was love at first sight for the characters…) Still, romantic tension always bubbled beneath the surface. This is primarily due to the instant chemistry between the leads. Casting David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as Mulder and Scully was like striking gold at the height of the California Gold Rush.
With a chemistry that practically melted screens, it was inevitable that Mulder and Scully would become involved. There were certainly enough teases to make fans wonder. Still, throughout most of The X-Files series, it remained an unanswered question. However, viewers were too savvy. After being betrayed, hunted, and threatened, Mulder and Scully always turned to each other. Kidnapped, poisoned, and surviving cancer brought them even closer. It did not matter what the Syndicate threw at them. They never broke faith with each other. They were “the constant” in each other’s lives.
You can also hear just how much Mulder and Scully care for each other in the way they talk. It’s not the words, but rather, how they speak to each other. Their tone and inflection reveal more than what they are actually saying. Mulder and Scully set the gold standard for gazing into each other’s eyes. They perfected the art of silent communication and the unspoken message in the touch of a hand or a hug. They made the forehead kiss unbearably romantic. Mulder and Scully are everything other television couples aspire to be. They are “iconic.”
Final Thoughts on The X-Files Series
Last, but certainly not least, I cannot say enough about the writing. They tackled subjects normally off-limits and handled tragedies with surprising sensitivity. Especially when it came to Scully. The delicate manner in which the writers handled Scully’s personal tragedies was perfection. I also enjoy their subtle nod to the relationship forming between Mulder and Scully. You could always tell who wrote what episode based on Mulder and Scully’s interactions.
For those of you who were kids when The X-Files series originally ran, suspend reality. Pretend today’s advances in technology don’t exist. Oh, and just ignore the chunky shoulder pads of Scully’s boxy pantsuits! The X-Files series is creepy, outlandish, and funny. It also has just the right amount of romantic tension between two actors whose chemistry never goes out of style. So, dig into The X-Files and fall in love with truth, the myth, and the legendary Mulder and Scully.
Season 11 premieres in January so get over to Hulu and stream for free with your membership!
Content Note: TV-14. There are a few violent episodes.
Where to Watch: You can stream on Hulu, rent on Amazon video or buy on DVD.
Are you an X-Phile? What’s your favorite mythology or MOW episode? Sound off in the comments below!
“You had me at hello.”
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.
I have loved none but you.”
(Scroll down for the Full Old-Fashioned Romance Breakdown!)
2 thoughts on “The X-Files TV Series Review – A Cult Classic that Transcends Generations”
Oh man, first year of university — first time away from home — living in the city where The X-Files was filmed. We’d hold X-Files parties Friday nights to watch the latest episode, noting where they were shooting, what locations, who’d we know who was an extra (-: Fun, fun times. And yeah, that stretchy MOW episode was really creepy…I lost the plot after awhile and didn’t really watch anymore when they moved it to LA. I enjoyed the dark and wet of the Canadian west coast, but then I’m a west coast Canadian girl (-:
This was the first show I religiously watched. Also the first show I ever “shipped” a couple. I loved the darkness and unexpected bouts of humor. I also loved how much they played up the alien conspiracy, pulling articles from real world reports of flashing lights, crop circles, and other strange phenomena!