Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Sci-Fi Fanatic BIG 10: The X-Files Season One

"Dana, after all you've seen, after all the evidence, why can't you believe?"
-Fox Mulder-
"I'm afraid. I'm afraid to believe."
-Dana Scully-
-excerpt from Beyond The Sea-
In the spirit of the 20th Anniversary celebration of all things The X-Files we return with The Sci-Fi Fanatic BIG 10: The X-Files Season One.

The X-Files debuted on September 10, 1993 and changed television as we knew it. After looking at Season One here and a closer look at Season One, Episode 13, Beyond The Sea here it seemed a good opportunity to lay down my ten personal favorites of that inaugural first season that started it all.

It was a pleasure to look back at both Season One and Season Two of The X-Files. Perhaps a more thorough analysis of that powerful, game-changing first season is in order, unfortunately it is unlikely to happen for me any time soon and thus a retrospective seemed the appropriate antidote.

Each episode of Season One is memorable and yet despite some flaws it's clear it was entirely successful in what it set out to achieve. David Duchovny felt there were some good episodes in that first season, but ultimately saw Season Two as the moment The X-Files became "the best show on television."

Season One does feel as though it is "groping in the dark" with "a real grab-bag of different kinds of episodes," as Chris Carter described it in The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide To The X-Files (p. 31), but these outstanding shots in the dark laid the foundation and framework for The X-Files approach. It may be an imperfect season, but first seasons are rarely this memorable or this good at being effectively and refreshingly creepy and original while touching upon classic horror tropes and reworking conventions or classic material into the unconventional and unexpected.

Writer/producer Frank Spotnitz noted quite accurately in SciFiNow #84, "You can go back and look at the pilot and it says very clearly what the show is." Chris Carter added, "You can actually see the whole mythology in three episodes in the first season, and that really sets up the entire mythology" (p.61). Season One does just that, it established the mythological foundations of the beloved series.

As I enjoy my look back at all nine seasons of The X-Files over time I'll make efforts to deliver my personal BIG 10 for each season.

Selecting ten of the best isn't easy because The X-Files Season One is an exceptional first season by any standards. It is dark, well-choreographed, wonderfully creepy and beautifully compelling science fiction with that wonderful UFOlogical-based mytharc. It really doesn't get much better than that.

So here we go with The Sci-Fi Fanatic BIG 10 for Season One of The X-Files.

10. Squeeze (Glen Morgan, James Wong).
9. Deep Throat (Chris Carter).
8. Eve (Kenneth Biller, Chris Brancato).
7. Ice (Glen Morgan, James Wong).
6. E.B.E. (Glen Morgan, James Wong).
5. Fallen Angel (Howard Gordon, Alex Gansa).
4. Darkness Falls (Chris Carter).
3. Pilot (Chris Carter).
2. The Erlenmeyer Flask (Chris Carter).
1. Beyond The Sea (Glen Morgan, James Wong).

Chris Carter enthusiastically underscored the strength of the first season from a writer's perspective by noting its all-star cast of scribes. "Those hires ended up becoming a big reason the show was a hit. ... They were smart, they understood the show, they understood the genre, and they helped me and the show get onto its feet," referring to Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon (Homeland), Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) and of course Morgan and Wong (Space: Above And Beyond). "We were crawling in the beginning and... all those writers were fundamental to the show's success and existence" (SciFiNow #84, p.63).

It's interesting to note that four selections each belong to Morgan and Wong and five to Chris Carter. If you frequent Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic you know my affection for the work of both Glen Morgan and James Wong. If you are looking to get more insight into the minds of these wonderful writers, Chris Carter included, you can discover more in analysis and interviews in the fabulous publication Back To Frank Black: A Return To Chris Carter's Millennium (2012) with a heavy emphasis on the work of Morgan and Wong who were instrumental in Millennium Season One and as show runners for Season Two of that aforementioned series.

What exactly is happening here in Ice? Something about this feels a little hot.

Regarding The X-Files' Season One there are other episode selections that have so many redeeming qualities here that while imperfect deserve honorable mention for being solid on many fronts from performances to endings including Gender Bender (Larry Barber, Paul Barber), Tooms (Glen Morgan, James Wong), Young At Heart (Scott Kaufer, Chris Carter), Conduit (Howard Gordon, Alex Gansa), Fire (Chris Carter) and Roland (Chris Ruppenthal).

There is a genuine homage throughout The X-Files Season One taking classic images and ideas and reworking them into something classic and entirely original in its own right.

That is my take on the very best of The X-Files Season One. There is plenty in this first season of television that welcomes revisitation just as soon as the aliens return me home.

For a series wide overview of the best and worst check out this list from SciFiNow here.


Roman J. Martel said...

A great list you compiled there. I tend to agree with most of your selections, but I might end up with "Eve" a bit higher on the list. Love that episode.

John's retrospective got me to revisit the show. I hadn't sat down with some of the episode in years (but I collected the series voraciously on DVD). What struck me about the first season was that the tone, atmosphere and look of the show was fully formed in that first episode and carried all the way through the season.

Not since "Twin Peaks" had I seen a series so complete in it's execution in that first season and so cinematic. The writing, the acting, everything in that first season just clicks. And as you said, as far as first seasons go, this has got to be one of the best out there. Very few rough spots. Compare it to something like "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and its painfully uneven first season and... well there isn't any contest really.

You're string of images really captures that cinematic feel of the series, and how it delves into that darker side of things, while also being a bit of time capsule for the 1990s.

Still one of my favorite shows. :)

le0pard13 said...

The X-Files certainly changed network TV as we knew it when it debuted. Great list, G. Makes me want to see them all over again. Thanks.

El Vox said...

Funny you should post about this as I just started watching some of the first season too. I just finish watching The Jersey Devil, which was a fun episode.

I recently found seasons 2 and 3 in a pawn shop cheap so picked them up too. What I wonder though is how you felt about season 7, 8, & 9 (of course I'll follow your post to find out. My interest started to wane around that time, and I missed many eps. from those seasons as well as the network changed time slots iirc, plus I was working a 2nd trick and missed many of them.

John Kenneth Muir said...


Great selection of top ten episodes, and my goodness, I can't believe it has really been twenty years since this set of (exceptional) episodes.

I can't find anything to quibble with in your selections. These are all great shows, and ones that have held up well.

One of my personal favorites of the whole run has been "Darkness Falls." With its isolated setting and glow-in-the-dark monsters it's just a perfect little horror show.

"Beyond the Sea" is an incredible and emotional episode, that really gets down to the nitty-gritty of what you believe, and what you are willing to believe in times of grief.

Great list, and great look back!


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Roman - Eve is terrific. You are right.
John- Darkness Falls works, much like Ice or Carpenter's The Thing. It's a terrific, claustrophobic horror entry.

And honestly, I think I enjoyed Season One more the second time around.

Gosh 20 years, where does the time go. It seems like yesterday I was watching this show on live television eating Dove Bars.

Oh and El Vox, really loved the later seasons just as much. They felt different in some ways with the acquisition of Robert Patrick but still retained the excellent cinematic style and feel of the entire series.

It never once disappointed me. I think much has been made of Duchovny's departure. He was great, but those final seasons hold up incredibly well. Some of my favorites are from that period.

Cheers all.