The X-Files premiered twenty years ago today. That feels like an incredibly long time ago for a show that’s still so relevant, whether it’s the gentle allusions on Breaking Bad, the omnipresence of supernatural shows, or the current spate of will-they-or-won’t-they couples that seem like shabby knockoffs of Mulder and Scully. The X-Files is hardly the first FBI show, or the first odd-couple law-enforcement partners show, or the first aliens-are-real show, or even the first conspiracy show. But it did define the modern incarnations of those themes, and it paved the way for the elaborate serialized storytelling that rewards obsessive fan attention — something that’s become a major part of today’s high-end dramas.
Also, I love The X-Files. Deeply and fully, the way you love something before you’ve developed the skills to know better. First love kind of love. Which means there are episodes of The X-Files that occupy that most wonderful category known to the TV fan: The Favorite Episode[s] of Your Favorite Show.
For some shows, this isn’t that big a distinction, either because there just aren’t that many episodes, or because the episodes are all alike enough, or because one episode alone does not have a huge impact. But The X-Files has both a ton of episodes — 202! plus two movies! — and a huge range of styles. Some fans like the “mythology” episodes, or just the ones that included Cigarette Smoking Man (I preferred Well Manicured Man, myself), or the ones that focused on aliens in particular. Some fans like only the monster-of-the-week episodes. My favorites are the ones that are a little bit funny and a little sweeter than the “holy shit, the government made a baby from your stolen ova” stories. Ones with moments of romance between Mulder and Scully, with sarcasm, with brightly imagined oddball stories.
My favorite episode is “The Post-Modern Prometheus,” a black-and-white episode from season five. It’s shot like a B-movie, complete with an evil scientist, pitchfork-wielding townsfolk, and a science-experiment-gone-wrong known as the Great Mutato. Stylistically, it’s a complete departure, and I remember thinking when it aired in 1997, Wow, this is so cool. I’ve seen it dozens of times since then and that hasn’t gone away. (I have, however, become disappointed that the Great Mutato is portrayed as a super-lovable rapist.) The closing moments of the episode, where Mulder and Scully dance together at a Cher concert, are my favorite 30 seconds of television ever. “Post-Modern Prometheus” continues to bring me joy in ways that more “important” X-Files episodes — those with bigger reveals, more intense conspiracies, shocking deaths, etc. — just do not. I like those episodes, too, and I respect them, and on the occasions when I rewatch the series soup-to-nuts, I don’t resent them or skip them. But if I had to pick just one episode I could watch again, or one episode to go in the time capsule with me, there’s no question which one I’d choose.
Is it possible to pick out a favorite episode of Friday Night Lights? Does one episode of The Wire really stand out above the rest — not just for quality, but in how deeply it’s lodged in your TV heart? Is there a Friends or a Buffy the Vampire Slayer you watch over and over? Let’s hear it: What’s your favorite episode of your favorite show?