Like all forms of popular media, who make lists to fill pages on a slow news day, I hereby present what I feel are the top ten X-Files episodes:
The 'cancer trilogy'. Though "Leonard Betts" was your typical monster-of-the-week, a walking-talking cancer that could regrow new limbs and heads and had the innate ability to detect cancer in others in order to feed himself, the pay-off in this episode came with the chilling revelation at the end when Leonard had Scully cornered in the ambulance and told her "You have something I need". It was truly ominous to have something like this come from out of nowhere. "Betty" involved hallucinogenic tattoos, the voice of Jodie Foster, Scully going on a date, and a great visual gag of a murder victim lining the gerbil cage with a copy of Entertainment Weekly with Duchovny on the cover (if you pause your VCR, you'll catch it). Like "Leonard Betts", the pay-off for the episode came at the very end, when Mulder and Scully were talking in their basement office. The conversation becomes truly significant in the context of the revelation in "Leonard Betts" and the events in the following episode. "Memento Mori" was a beautifully written and directed episode that dealt with Scully being diagnosed with cancer and her subsequent search for answers, tying in nicely with the overall mythology arc with the series. One cannot help but be moved by the eloquent and poetic monologues and their juxtaposition with Mulder in the field trying to find answers to help her. The look on Mulder's face when he races back to Scully's room in the hospital only to find she isn't there and the tender moment between Mulder and Scully shortly after show that although the love they have for one another is merely platonic, it is deeper than any romantic love. In a world surrounded by conspiracies and paranoia, to love someone is to be able to say "I trust you". It's too bad they returned to chasing monsters the following week.
Though it is a derivative of "The Thing", with Mulder, Scully, and some geologists investigating murders and suicides at a remote northern outpost and discovering an ammonia-based lifeform living underneath a glacier, it is one of the most memorable non-mythology episodes (i.e. monster-of-the-week) of the first season. At this point in the series, the relationship between the two FBI agents has still yet to gel, and so the tension is high when the paranoia gets the best of them, and the next thing you know, they're pointing their guns at one another. A good high tension thriller.
Proof that when you watch "The X-Files", you never know what to expect. With its twisted sense of humor, shifting points-of-view leading to multiple interpretations, tie-in with the overall mythology arc, and Alex Trebek (!), this is one of my favorites. As Mulder and Scully investigate an apparent abduction, they find that the stories from those involved get weirder and more contradictory the further they get. Scully's facial expressions are priceless as she puts up with all the inane nonsense going on around her, the alien autopsy spoof is priceless, and don't forget the plug for "Space: Above and Beyond" by the UFO-geek that said "I didn't spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons without learning anything about courage" (that same week, Duchovny appeared as an A.I. on "Space").
From the same twisted mind that wrote "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" (Darin Morgan, whose first gig on the X-Files was dressing up as Flukeman in "The Host"), this hilarious spoof of B-movies is over-the-top. A town suffers from mass hysteria when it is believed that killer cockroaches have invaded. Leave it to Mulder and a comely entomologist named Bambi ("Her name is Bambi?" an incredulous Scully asks Mulder over the phone) to try and save the day. Fortunately, Scully does show up in time to help Mulder, because "this is no place for an entomologist". And I bet on that night in January, a lot of people got off their chairs to see what it was that had run across their television screens halfway through the episode.
Was Gillian Anderson leaving the series? This trilogy certainly made you wonder as Scully was abducted by former FBI Agent Duane Barry, who believed that she would be taken by 'them' instead of himself. Mulder then goes out to find his partner with the mischievous Krycek in tow, only to find Barry by himself on a mountaintop, with Scully nowhere in sight (Duchovny did his own stunts for the tram sequence). Mulder returns to Washington, still hanging onto the hope of finding Scully, and the X-files are re-opened by A.D. Skinner. Skipping the incomprehensible Scully-less episode "3", the story picks up again when Scully reappears in a Washington hospital vacillating between life and death. This trilogy had many truly memorable moments: Mulder deciding to be with Scully in what may be the final moments of her life, instead of exacting revenge on the men responsible for her condition; the line "I've watched Presidents die" uttered by Cigarette-Smoking Man, a story thread which would later be picked up in "Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man"; Duane Barry driving with Scully bound in the trunk and "Red Right Hand" playing on the radio; the metaphor of Scully in a rowboat being tethered to shore; and the in-joke of Scully buying pickles and ice cream in a supermarket, alluding to Anderson's pregnancy.
"Would you say your hair is normal, or dry?" A nice departure from the monster-of-the-week, with a non-paranormal (but would you call collecting hair and fingers from corpses normal?), yet frightening antagonist in the form of Donald Pfaster, an escalating death-fetishist. From the moment you see Pfaster, you know he's a serial killer, with the shirt buttoned all the way to the top. Though this episode suffers from the 'Scully-gets-abducted-and-Mulder-comes-to-the-rescue' syndrome, it connects nicely with the abduction story arc when Scully begins having flashbacks while she is Pfaster's prisoner.
This two-parter had a movie-look to it, with plenty of action, plot twists, and a complete turning-upside-down of the whole mythology (are aliens really abducting people, or are they merely radiation experiments being carried out by the government?). It begins with a train car full of Japanese scientists doing what appears to be an alien autopsy, only to be cut down by automatic weapons fire by a Blue Beret retrieval team, and ends with Mulder being carried out of a locked train car by Mr. X, moments before it explodes. Wow.
Mulder and Scully investigate murders in a Florida town populated by circus freaks (Darin Morgan wrote this one, surprise surprise). Featuring Jim Rose's Circus, this was a truly bizarre and funny episode. And Gillian Anderson actually ate that bug, to the astonishment of the X-Files cast and crew. And I know the guy who owns the pool where they filmed the opening sequence to the episode.
This three-parter had Mulder going postal and punching Skinner, the murder of Mulder's father, Mulder being left for dead in a burning railway car, the murder of Scully's sister, Scully finding a metallic implant in her neck manufactured in Japan, a further exploration of the Shadow government, a West Virginia mineshaft full of medical files ("lots and lots of files" as Scully said), Scully and Skinner pointing guns at one another, Krycek going rogue, and Skinner finally telling CSM "here's where you pucker up and kiss my ass!". Talk about edge-of-your-seat TV that generated its share of talk around the water cooler that summer (in addition to "Who shot Mr. Burns?"). This set of episodes also introduced the smallpox aspect in the mythology arc.
This episode made you ask the question "Has Mulder lost it?", especially when he falls asleep on the bed of a serial killer. A very psychological story that made you wonder if Mulder, having studied the mind of a serial killer, had actually become one. With its creepy cinematography, this episode also served as a dry-run for a new dark television series called "Millennium".