With the news that The X-Files is returning to television after a 13-year hiatus, FBI Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are back in the spotlight again — and so is their award-winning, long-running series that made everyone believe “the truth is out there.”
Given how long it’s been since the last episode aired in 2002 — and since the last movie hit theaters in 2008 — it’s understandable if your recollection of Mulder and Scully’s adventures tracking aliens, monsters, and strange phenomena is a little hazy (although that could also be the result of mysterious government agencies wiping your memory). Luckily, the full series is primed and ready to launch at your leisure on Netflix, just waiting for you to join, or rejoin the mystery.
In the interest of getting die-hard fans of the series and newcomers alike up to speed, we’ve compiled a list of ten episodes that serve as a nice reminder of both where things left off in the series’ continuity and, more importantly, why the series is so beloved by those who know it. You should really watch them all, but for those who have to leave the house sometime in the next few years, this is a good way to catch up. (Note: We’ve listed the episodes chronologically so you know what order to watch them in.)
Pilot, alien abduction, inbred killers, and more
(Season 1, episode 1 – September 10, 1993)
The episode that started it all is sort of an obvious place to begin getting acquainted/reacquainted with Mulder and Scully, but it also happens to be a fantastic episode to kick things off from a memory-building perspective, too. Along with providing the introduction to David Duchovny as Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully, the episode also does a nice job of introducing the tone, recurring themes, and prevalent mannerisms (and in some cases, outright quirks) that would turn the series into a pop-culture touchstone for a generation. It’s all here: the paranoia, the sense of foreshadowing, the hints of chemistry between Fox and Mulder, and even one of the series’ most memorable supporting characters, William B. Davis’ sinister Cigarette Smoking Man.
(Season 1, episode 3 – September 24, 1993)
This early entry in the series established that The X-Files wasn’t just going to be about alien investigations and UFO sightings. This tone-shifter tells the terrifying story about a killer who can get in and out of any space — no matter how small — in pursuit of his prey. Critically praised, “Squeeze” became the first of many “monster of the week” stories that became one of the hallmarks of the series, and it also took great steps in developing the relationship between Mulder and Scully when the latter becomes the intended victim of the gruesome killer.
(Season 3, episode 2 – September 29, 1995)
Many consider the third season of The X-Files to be one of the series’ very best, with a multitude of episodes that find the happy medium between monster-of-the-week stories and advancing the over-arching alien-investigation mythology of the series. The alien element of the show gets the focus in this episode, tying up some of the loose ends from the previous season’s finale. The episode also brings together many of the conspiracy theories and shadowy government agencies the series has been toying with for the last two seasons in an impressive, layered presentation that concludes with one of the series’ more impressive visual sequences up to that point. (Spoiler: It involves aliens.)
(Season 3, episode 4 – October 13, 1995)
While the previous entry in the list delved into the murky mythology of The X-Files, this episode is an entirely standalone tale that does a great job of showing the potential for truly unique storytelling that the series offered its writers. Peter Boyle won a Primetime Emmy Award for his portrayal of cynical psychic Clyde Bruckman in this episode, which has Mulder and Scully enlisting his help to solve a series of murders. The story was penned by Darin Morgan, who also won an Emmy for his work on the episode.
(Season 4, episode 2 – October 11, 1996)
This grisly, nightmare-inducing episode about an inbred family of killers was so terrifying and controversial that Fox famously decreed that it would never be aired again after its initial broadcast prompted a flood of complaints from concerned viewers. Ask almost any fan of the series to name the scariest episode, and nine out of ten will say “Home” (and then shudder uncontrollably, most likely). This was the episode that truly established The X-Files as a vehicle for horror stories as much as conspiracy theories, urban legends, and sci-fi tales.
Next page: The rest of our top X-Files episodes