Hi all, get ready for #13-16 in my rankings of the Season 1 episodes of The X-Files. I promise that this post will be at least as mediocre as these episodes.
#16. Episode 4 – Conduit (53/100)
Conduit is a strange beast. On one hand, it accomplishes a ton of essential character work for Mulder. This is the first time we see how personally invested he can get when dealing with cases that hit close to home and Conduit does a good job of effectively showing Mulder when he’s a bit frayed at the edges. There is some meaty drama here where Mulder keeps wanting to push on with the case despite anything that Scully or Darlene Morris say and we get a sense of how driven and emotionally wounded he really is. The episode also closes on a strong note with the image of Mulder breaking down in a church (I’ll chalk Mulder being at church up to this being just the fourth episode) while Scully listens to his hypnotic regression tape.
All of that above makes it sound like this episode is strong but just about everything else is terrible and cheesy. The character of Tess is awfully handled, both in the hilariously ridiculous clandestine meeting at the library and in the melodramatic interrogation where Mulder plays the unconvincing bad cop. The story goes down several paths, all of which are equally dull and none that end up amounting to anything. What do biker gangs, a teenage pregnancy, and the NSA all have in common? They are all haphazardly stuffed into Conduit with no rhyme or reason.
Also, there is a scene where Mulder and Scully solve a murder when Mulder makes eye contact with a random wolf.
#15. Episode 14 – Genderbender (57/100)
Genderbender is an example of a relatively poor episode being elevated by the fact that it is a part of The X-Files. Being a part of The X-Files (particularly after early Season 1), you come to expect great atmosphere, fantastic music, good acting, and strong direction. All of that is present to various degrees in Genderbender. A lot of the credit has to go to Rob Bowman in his directorial debut for the show. All of the scenes at and around the Kindred farm are shot phenomenally and really emphasize the effect of a quality director. Plus, the scene of Mulder scurrying through the caverns beneath the barn is enhanced by one of my favorite Mark Snow musical bits from the first season.
However, the story surrounding all of this is a bit middling. The Kindred are interesting and I wish the entire episode took place at their hideaway because the scenes dealing with Marty clubbing and sexing people to death are not nearly as good. Plus, I can’t get past how stupid Scully is in this episode. She clearly got mind-fu**** when she first meets Brother Andrew at the feed store so its infuriating that she isn’t more guarded when he takes her up to his room.
And I have no idea how to feel about that last-second twist…
#14. Episode 18 – Miracle Man (61/100)
Miracle Man is a very inoffensive and unmemorable episode of The X-Files. The episode does have some solid bits such as Scott Bairstow’s portrayal of Samuel and a couple of conversations between Mulder and Scully and Samuel. I thought the episode handled Reverand Hartley very well – he could have been an over-the-top religious figure but instead he feels well realized and not like a caricature. However, none of those solid bits end up being anything more than solid. Likewise, the episode is littered with some mediocre-but-not-quite-bad bits like the fairly obvious twist that an evil looking guy wearing a black fedora and a black trench-coat who had his face burnt up by God-knows-what would end up being the villain.
Structurally the episode is flawed as well. Samuel is already dead by the time Mulder and Scully finally decide to investigate how locusts got into the courthouse which just doesn’t track with how they normally investigate things (ie somewhat competently). Miracle Man also doesn’t want things to end and decides to have Samuel rise from the dead with about five minutes left in the episode. Mulder and Scully then launch into this portion of the investigation like its the beginning of a normal case and they have a solid forty minutes to get to the bottom of things. THERE WERE FIVE MINUTES LEFT!
Maybe they felt bad that they dropped the ball on the whole courthouse investigation….
#13. Episode 15 – Lazarus (64/100)
Being the best episode of the bottom half of the first season feels like an appropriate spot for Lazarus. It does a lot of the things that poorer episodes did but in not as boring of a fashion. We follow a dull secondary character that we don’t care about at all (a la Lauren Kite in Shadows) and a random friend from Mulder and Scully’s past returns just to die in this episode (hello Jerry from Ghost in the Machine). Lazarus really could have been better if Jack Willis wasn’t a one-off character or if the actor is better.
However, Lazarus also nails certain things that makes it better than it really has any right to be. David Nutter directed this episode and instills a sense of grittiness and real tension into nearly the entire episode which helps elevate things. The search for Scully has some really urgency and that’s a credit to the direction and David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s acting. The character development of Scully is handled gracefully as we learn that she was involved with Willis who was her instructor at the Academy. This character trait of her being drawn to older men in positions of authority is revisited time and time again in later seasons and does not feel arbitrary. (Contrast that to Mulder’s fear of fire in Fire which is never once mentioned again). Basically, Lazarus is a run-of-the mill episode that does enough good to make it #13.