We’ve arrived at the top of my list for Season 1. This is going to be so different from my prior rankings because of the huge bump in quality on display here. Before I could poke fun at the flaws in other episodes but with these episodes it’s going to be a hefty dose of gushing.
First world problems at their finest….
#4. E.B.E (79/100)
E.B.E. is the The X-Files really embracing the whole “Mulder and Scully can’t trust anyone” thing. Sure, it had been given lip service in prior episodes but never did it feel like it truly affected the characters too much. In this case, everything we (and Mulder) thought we knew is upended by Deep Throat’s and his antics.
The journey to getting to all that good stuff is a bit clunky. There’s only so much of Mulder and Scully chasing a truck while warding off inept tails that one can take before rolling one’s eyes. But damn, those character moments…. Deep Throat had been essential viewing up to this point but he goes to a new level in E.B.E. His motives are completely unclear and all of the dialogue scenes between him and Mulder are really well done. Plus we get some great insight into what Scully thinks about Mulder’s propensity to trust almost everyone at face value.
And to top it off, this is the episode where The Lone Gunman get introduced, Mulder thinks Scully is hot, and where Deep Throat cops to killing a freakin’ alien! Damn, a lot of good stuff happened here.
#3. Ice (91/100)
Blatantly ripping off a movie is usually not a good thing. It usually speaks to a lack of creativity and my expectations will generally be pretty low. However, when a rip-off is done as well as Ice is, it really doesn’t matter. This is The Thing but with Mulder and Scully…and it’s awesome.
Ice is one of the most tense hours that The X-Files would do in it’s entire run. Every scene feels essential which is not something one can say about most of the first season. The side characters are as good as they get with each individual having a remarkable amount of development in such a short amount of time. The episode is thick with dread and paranoia, inducing a feeling of claustrophobia. Some of the best set-pieces of the first season are found in this episode and not one moment falls flat.
But the defining moment of this episode is Mulder and Scully pulling their guns on each-other. What a fantastic moment…still gives me chills every time Mulder yells “PUT IT DOWN!” They really knocked it out of the park with this episode…
#2. Beyond the Sea (92/100)
If Ice showed that The X-Files could create an incredibly effective, tension filled hour of television, Beyond The Sea is proof positive that, even at this early point in the show’s run, the writers are capable of some AMAZING character-work.
This is a very Scully-centric episode and Gillian Anderson carries it masterfully. From her child-like innocence in the early scenes with her parents to her raw vulnerability when dealing with Brad Dourif’s Luther Lee Boggs, she is on top of her game. Scully really goes through the ringer in this episode and its heart-breaking. A lot of people have to deal with the cruelty of losing a parent or loved one in a sudden manner but rarely do they then go back to work and immediately have their next assignment upend their entire belief system. But damn, without all that, we wouldn’t have gotten possibly my single favorite Dana Scully moment. Good lord man, she is awesome.
All of the character work with Scully is great but Brad Dourif is phenomenal. Every time he is on screen, its hard not to be mesmerized and by the end, I was completely on Team Boggs (an impressive feat by all involved considering the guy used to be an unrepentant murderer) . That final scene of him walking to his execution is one of the most emotional “non-main-character” a show could do. His devastation and utter fear was so palpable that I wanted to scream at Scully for not showing up as his witness.
This episode is a masterpiece and is one of the best, purely character, non-mythology episodes. And its all the more stunning that this is just the 13th episode and half of the dynamic duo is basically relegated to the background.
#1. The Erlenmeyer Flask (94/100)
Here it is, the essential episode of the first season. In a season this shaky, its a testament to Chris Carter and co that The Erlenmeyer Flask is one of the best episodes not just of the season but of the entire show. This is basically The X-Files firing on all cylinders…
Everything about this episode is basically perfect and informs so much of how the show is going forward. This has, by far, the best music of the first season with Mark Snow really nailing that X-Files ambiance that became so ingrained in the show’s DNA going forward (just listen to this). The writing, acting and pacing is top-notch with The Erlenmeyer Flask being a great example of how the show can work when Mulder and Scully are simultaneously investigating different aspects of the same case. That’s not something they did often in the first season and when they did it in later seasons, it was rarely as successful.
The revelations in The Erlenmeyer Flask basically formed the entire skeletal structure of the future of the show. Somehow, in 45 minutes we have Mulder seeing tanks of possible alien-human hybrids, Scully learning of a potentially alien virus, Mulder being kidnapped, Scully breaking into a government lab, Deep Throat orchestrating a trade of an alien fetus for Mulder, Deep Throat being murdered, and CSM taking control of the fetus at the end. This doesn’t even touch on the fact that at the end of the episode, the X-Files are closed, turning the entire status quo on its head. This episode is one of my favorites of any show and demands to be watched and re-watched until the end of time.