Hi all, I’m continuing through my irrefutable rankings of the first season X-Files episodes. Last time, I talked about Space, Shapes, Ghost in the Machines, and The Jersey Devil. Those episodes for the most part were irredeemable. The episodes on this list, while not good, generally do at least something right. They just might do that something while being boring, poorly acted, poorly directed, or overly cliched.
Except for Born Again. That episode does nothing right.
#20. Episode 22 – Born Again (44/100)
I was actually kind of surprised that Born Again ended up only #20 on my list. Most episodes garner at least some sort of emotional response out of me. Even if its a negative response, its something. Not Born Again though. This episode’s crime is that it is filled to the brim with some stifling mediocrity.
Let’s start with the obvious stuff. The acting is subpar by the guest stars, the paranormal aspect is incredibly generic and ripped off about four different episodes from earlier in the season and the tense scenes are comical rather than frightening (the climax of the episode is four adults standing in front of a child bathed in blue light for about six minutes without doing anything other than talking or staring).
However, Born Again‘s biggest issue is that it compounds all of the above by being one of the most run-of-the-mill, bland, derivative, milquetoast episodes that The X-Files ever did. The writing is uniformly bland with the general plot playing out like a really bad police procedural. The direction is mundane. Mark Snow feels like he’s sleeping one off with his repetitive and dull score for the episode. Even The X-Files ace in the hole, the Mulder and Scully dynamic, seemed to have taken the week off. Aside from one argument midway through the episode, they contribute hardly anything of note to the episode. Basically it feels like everyone involved was fatigued. Here we have what was the 22nd episode of the first season of an ambitious new show, the crew was likely spent, and everyone just went through the motions.
#19. Episode 16 – Young at Heart (48/100)
The idea of a de-aging psychotic killer from Mulder’s past stalking him was interesting. This episode could have given us some real insight into what shaped Mulder into the man he is. Instead we get Young at Heart.
What does work here is Reggie Purdue. He’s the rare one off character The X-Files did in Season 1 who worked and had some chemistry with the leads. There was some good character moments and Reggie is a guy that I wish became a recurring character. But the rest of the episode never rose to the level one would hope for such a personal story.
The primary problem with this episode is that it managed to be both rushed and too leisurely. We have about five too many extra plot points thrown in (Government’s involvement, salamander hands, Dr. Ridley’s experiments, Mulder’s past, etc) which never had time to breathe. But we still managed to squeeze in a terribly long scene of Scully wandering around her apartment while Mark Snow randomly plays some gothic organ music with demonic chanting. Or Mulder randomly flirting with the handwriting specialist. Spellbinding.
That could have been forgiven if John Barnett was a strong villain but nope, not even close. He’s cheesy as hell in the flashbacks but I can forgive that. What I can’t get past is his younger version. His taunts and phone calls with Mulder are cringe-worthy (and when things are bad Duchovny usually brings down his effort making those phone calls absolutely terrible). Then after 40 minutes of trying to remain elusive, Barnett just opens fire on Scully in a crowded DC recital Hall with FBI agents everywhere?! Everything with Barnett felt cartoonish.
#18. Episode 12 – Fire (50/100)
Of the four episodes listed here, Fire has the largest peaks and valleys. There is plenty of good to be seen throughout the episode. Mulder and Scully’s banter is fun and playful with both of them reacting to the presence of Phoebe Green. It’s nice to get some more background on Mulder, even if some of it doesn’t work (like Mulder being afraid of fire in this episode which is never mentioned again). The acting from the leads is strong (except when Duchovny has to act opposite Amanda Pays) and Mark Sheppard is really good. This episode is pretty breezy and well-paced which plenty of the poorer, early season episodes struggle with.
Unfortunately, all of this is mitigated by some hideous issues. The ridiculous dialogue given to the British characters is cringe-inducing, particularly in the teaser. Chris Carter has some great ideas (in general, not necessarily in this episode) but his dialogue is often lacking and tone-deaf. It’s hard to watch some of the scenes and not burst out laughing. Plus maybe there was one-too many Sherlock Holmes references?
Speaking of British characters, lets talk about Cecil. He’s great in a gleefully evil sort of way but everything around him is so random. Why did he randomly set fire to the bar? Why does he set the fire at the party where the kids are only to save the kids….only to then set another fire later at the house in the kids room? It’s the same plan! Finally, why does he start laughing maniacally when he sets himself on fire? The special effects were great and Mark Sheppard was fun but much of this was silly.
And how about Phoebe Green? The episode devoted so much time towards establishing her character that you would hope that her acting would be passable and that there’d be some semblance of chemistry between her and Mulder. Sadly there is none. She comes off as a really, really, really second-rate femme fatale. And as for that chemistry between Mulder and Phoebe? Check out that ballroom scene for some sparks.
#17. Episode 6 – Shadows (52/100)
This is a good bookend for this list as Born Again is basically a crappier version of Shadows. Female character with some sort of entity following her around? Yep. Ghostly presence getting revenge? Check. Some laughable paranormal moments? Good lord, yes! A ghost tightening a middle-aged businessman’s bracelet is not enthralling. Plus Scully misses a ghost levitating a man because her seatbelt got stuck……yeah that actually happened. I can only imagine how the meeting in the writer’s room went when they came up with that brilliant idea!
However, I don’t actually consider Shadows a bad episode. It’s pretty mediocre but that’s likely a function of the show is going through some growing pains. The major problem with this episode is the pacing. We just meander from one scene to another following Lauren Kite around. Some of it is good but there is a “Lifetime Movie” vibe I get from the office scenes that derail this episode. I don’t mind focusing on other characters at times and I know the writers were under pressure from Fox to write some episodes focused on normal people but I doubt they wanted it to be this dull.
But perhaps the worst example of pacing is when Mulder and Scully attempt to interrogate Lauren. They all literally sit around in a room for about four minutes, Lauren doesn’t say anything, then they release her and as she is leaving, she decides to suddenly spill the beans. It killed all my interest at that point (though not enough to not rewatch this episode about ten times).
The other problem that Shadows had was bringing in too many superfluous plots. The CIA (or NSA or whatever) counterparts to Mulder and Scully are laughably bad and don’t have any bearing on the plot. Then we have the government contractor selling weapons to a Middle Eastern terrorist cell which was just a colossal waste of time. This could have just been a nice simple ghost story but it ended up too complex for it’s own good.
Its a shame really because some of this episode is really enjoyable. Mulder and Scully have some great banter (which is why it actually hurts me to compare this episode to Born Again) and there are some great paranormal moments. I’m talking about the bathroom scene which is actually scary and the scene where Howard kills the two assassins in front of Mulder and Lauren (this scene was really well executed except for the part with Scully fumbling with her seatbelt). All in all, not a terrible episode but at least some parts of it were enjoyable.