“I want the truth.”
The X-Files had a significant impact on my teenage years. Every Sunday I settled in front of the TV with my dad and we watched the latest episode in joyful expectation of what unsettling mysteries Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully would investigate. In between episodes, we chatted theories about hidden truth behind the aliens, government conspiracies, and other oddities the show revealed.
The X-Files fed my fascination for the paranormal, weird, creepy, and strange. In particular, I was a fan of the stand-alone episodes over the mythology ones, as I was less interested in aliens than in other weirdness, such as ghosts, deadly AI, and pyrokinetic and other mental abilities.
When reruns aired, I rewatched all the same episodes over and over again. I read the novelizations and tie-in novels. I bought X-Files-themed magazines and general swag. In other words, The X-Files filled much of my waking thoughts for a number of formative years. In fact my love for The X-Files was such that my grandmother began to believe I had an unhealthy fixation (something that still amuses me to this day).
I’ve been wanting to rewatch The X-Files for a while — a hefty task considering the series consists of 209 episodes (not to mention the movies), with highs and lows in regards to seasons and individual quality.
A couple of years ago, I made my first attempt at a rewatch, and tried to binge them all at once—something I don’t recommend. Produced long before the advent of streaming services, The X-Files was not designed for binging. I quickly burnt out on some of the repetitiveness of the series.
So, here I am, back for another rewatch attempt. As I launch into the series now, my plan is to pace myself by watching no more than an episode or two a week. This means that the Great Rewatch will take me quite a while, but I accept that.
For each episode I watch, I’ll provide a recap of the episode (full spoilers), along with some of my personal thoughts and whatever else amuses me at the time.
So, here we go. Let’s launch into The X-Files.
Pilot Episode Recap
A terrified teenage girl runs through the woods in her nightgown, while wind and light whip through the trees. She falls into a clearing and stares up at a glowing figure — before being consumed by a flash of light.
Her body is discovered the next day.
Meanwhile at the FBI headquarters, Dana Scully — our redheaded, scientifically minded queen — attends a meeting with Section Chief Scott Blevins, where she is informed that she is being assigned to work with Agent Fox Mulder, nicknamed Spooky Mulder at the agency. Throughout the meeting, the cigarette smoking man hovers silently at the peripheral.
Tucked into the corner of the FBI’s basement, Scully enters a tiny office — crammed with file cabinets, chaotic piles of papers, photos of UFOs, and the infamous “I WANT TO BELIEVE” poster.
Scully introduces herself to Mulder — lanky, six feet tall with amazing hair. They discuss the case of the girl found in the woods, who has two strange marks on her back that are comprised of an unknown chemical compound. Two other teenagers from the same graduating class have also been found dead.
The first sparks of the push and pull of their relationship are revealed in this discussion. “Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?” asks Mulder in a teasing voice. They intellectually parry, with Mulder arguing for something more and Scully firmly rooted in the need for scientific evidence.
Their banter continues as they travel to Oregon to investigate the case of the dead teens. While driving down an empty tree-lined road, their conversation is cut off when the radio goes haywire. Mulder stops the car and marks the spot, spray painting a large red “X” on the ground — much to Scully’s confusion.
In town, they join other officials in the exhumation of one of the bodies. An accident causes the coffin to tumble down hill and split open, revealing the body inside — a body that is clearly not human.
Mulder’s excitement blooms during the autopsy. He is already half convinced the corpse is an alien, as he eagerly snaps photos. Scully, being ever the purveyor of logic, points out that the body is likely an Orangutan or some other primate. While this turns out to be true, x-rays of the corpse reveal a strange metal object in the creature’s nasal cavity.
At a state hospital, Mulder and Scully attempt to speak with two students who are being cared for — however, Billy is catatonic, while Peggy is lost in her own mental world. Neither are able to provide viable information.
As the agents are about to leave, however, Peggy gets a sudden nose bleed and falls out of her wheelchair in a panic. While she’s struggling with the orderlies, her shirt hikes up, revealing two marks on her back, matching those that have appeared on the other victims.
Scully strides out, frustrated that Mulder has been holding information back from her.
Scully: I’m here to solve this case, Mulder. I want the truth.
Mulder: The truth? I think those kids have been abducted.
Scully: By who?
Mulder: By what?
Continuing their investigation, they travel to the crime scene in the woods, where Scully finds a strange ash-like substance on the ground. Before they can search any further, however, the agents are confronted by a sheriff, who threatens to arrest them if they don’t leave. Mulder and Scully reluctantly back off.
Driving back to their hotel, they experience a flash of light. The car shuts down and rolls to a stop. Mulder, who checked his watch just before the light flash, declares that they’ve lost nine minutes of time — a common occurrence in alien abduction scenarios. He is delighted by the experience, while Scully remains resolutely skeptical.
However, the moment must have gotten to her, as later that night, when she discovers bumps on her back, she rushes to Mulder and asks that he check to see what they are — bug bites.
That moment of fear and trust provides a space for Mulder to open up to her. He tells her about the loss of his sister when he was a child, his use of hypnotism to discover that her disappearance is related to aliens, and his belief Scully is part of the conspiracy designed to keep him from the truth. She listens and asks him to trust her.
Their conversation is interrupted by a phone call, which informs him them that Peggy (the girl from the hospital) is dead.
At the scene of the accident, they learn that Peggy somehow ran in front of a moving truck (despite being paralyzed) and that her watched stopped at 9:03 pm (the same time as the flash of light they experienced).
When they return to their hotel room, they find it burning — all the evidence inside destroyed.
A young woman, Theresa Nemman, contacts them and asks for their protection. They all go to a diner, where she confesses that she’s afraid she might be the next one to die. Her father, Dr. Nemman, has been trying to protect her, but she doesn’t believe he can.
Suddenly, her nose starts bleeding and her father and the sheriff (who we learn is Billy’s father) come to whisk her away. it’s obvious to both Mulder and Scully that they know something about the deaths—something they’re covering up.
They decide to investigate the other two murdered teenagers and go to the graveyard, where they find both graves empty.
Mulder explains that Billy must be the one responsible, that his catatonic state and ability to act in killing the other teenagers would be the result of an alien abduction. Scully becomes wrapped up in the story, working out the details with him, but ultimately ends up laughing at the absurdity of it all.
They return to the hospital to look into the possibility of Billy being the killer and discover his feet are covered with the same dirt and ash from the crime scene in the woods. The evidence convinces Scully that Billy is somehow responsible for the murders, but they decide that they need to return to the woods so they can gather new sample and gain more complete proof.
When they reach the woods, everything immediately goes awry. Scully is knocked to the ground by the sheriff, who then confronts Mulder at gunpoint.
Screams resound through the trees, causing both the sheriff and Mulder to go running toward the sounds. They find Billy, holding Theresa up to the the light like an offering
When the light passes, Billy and Theresa begin to wake up as if from a dream. The markings have disappeared from Billy’s body. The events of the past few weeks apparently over.
Later, Billy is interviewed about the series of events at the FBI headquarters — but even this provides no clear answers.
Scully discusses the case and her report with Section Chief Blevins. She notes that while there is not much that she can substantiate about Mulder’s claims, she managed to hold on to a single piece of evidence — the metal chip found inside the ape corpse, which a laboratory reveals to be made of a material that could not be identified.
Later, we see the cigarette smoking man depositing the metal chip into a box within a warehouse containing a multitude of boxes — the kind of place where things are left to be forgotten (a la Raiders of the Lost Ark).
And end episode.
(Holy hell! I know I said I’d do recap of each episode but wowza was that hard.)
The pilot episode of The X-Files masterful— tightly weaving a complex storyline, introducing Mulder and Scully, and dropping hints of the mythology that will be explored throughout the series. We are provided with all of the staples: aliens, strange events, and governmental conspiracies. As viewers, we know exactly what this world is supposed to be and the kind of people who live in it.
The plot is immediately compelling, providing a punch of intrigue before weaving together a multitude of details and characters. It also provides and introduction to a theme that will continue through most of the X-Files investigations, in that it leaves Agents Mulder and Scully in a state of frustration, piecing together theories based on little evidence—while simultaneously providing the viewer with enough information to infer what’s happening and achieve their own sense satisfaction.
One of the most important elements, however, is how it lays the groundwork for Mulder and Scully’s relationship. From minute one, the argument of science versus the paranormal comes into play, with banter that is intelligent and lively. Though they disagree with each other, these discussions are also layered with an element of respect.
Two of these interactions stand out for me. The first is when Scully’s fear overtakes her and she becomes terrified her back has been marked like the other victims. When she goes to Mulder to have him inspect her back, she pulls off her robe, appearing in only her underwear and bra. It’s a moment of pure vulnerability and trust.
Mulder is briefly surprised, but focuses solely on inspecting the bumps. When he realizes they are only bug bites, Scully is relieved and embarrassed.
Whereas other shows might have turned this into a moment of teasing and/or flirting, this instead becomes a moment of mutual trust and respect between colleagues. At no point is the scene sexualized, nor does Mulder tease her about being afraid. Instead, he gives her a moment to process her fears — and her trust in him allows him, in turn, to open up to her about his own past, telling her the truth about his sister and his belief in aliens.
The second moment that fascinates me is when Mulder and Scully are leaving the hospital for the second time. Scully, having discovered the ash on Billy’s feet, is convinced that he is responsible for the murders — despite the seeming impossibility of him taking such an action.
It’s a momentary reversal, Scully is ready to dive headfirst into a theory that seems to break with scientific probability. At this point, it’s Mulder that asks her to take pause, suggesting that they need to gather more evidence before taking the leap.
Mulder: Alright, but I just want you to understand what it is you’re saying.
Scully: You said it yourself.
Mulder: Yeah, but you have to write it down in your report.
Scully (pausing to think): You’re right. We’ll take another sample from the forest and run a comparison before we do anything.
Knowing all the future conversations to come, all the times Mulder asks her why she can’t just believe, and all the times Scully demands more evidence before leaping to conclusions, I find this reversal interesting. One would think that Mulder — the king of wild theories — would be happy to finally have Scully believing in the possibility of such strange events. Yet, here he reminders Scully of her focus on scientific evidence. In a way, he helps to bring her back to center, to the focus on rationality she believes in.
A reason for this might be that Mulder knows what happens when you present theories outside of the norm to the FBI. He’s been ostracized and made an outcast for his theories and beliefs. If he knows that, if Scully to go too far down that rabbit hole without the evidence to back it up, then she could face the same situation. So, having her take a moment to consider what she’s jumping into is a way of protecting her from what he’s experienced.
Because of my previously attempted rewatch, I noticed certain amusing repetitions. So, I’m planning to keep track of them (to the best of my ability).
Dana Does an Autopsy: 1
Mulder Eats Sunflower Seeds: 1
Mulder is Called Spooky: 1
Appearance of Cigarette Smoking Man: 1