Here we are with my five favorite episodes of Season 2. It’s classics like these which remind me of just how good this show could get. Whether through compelling plotting (Colony and Anasazi), characters being put through the emotional ringer (Irresistible and One Breath), or incredible set pieces (End Game), these five episodes deliver some fantastic television.
And just a note, its next to impossible to get a 100 with my rating scale. So when you see my number 1 episode here being a 95, please realize I’ve never rated anything higher than that.
#5 – Colony (90/100)
Mythology episodes up to this point had been good, sometimes great, but undeniably raw. The Pilot was clunky just by the nature of being the first episode. The Erlenmeyer Flask is one of the best episodes ever but didn’t have quite the cast of characters to pull from as later episodes. The Scully abduction arc was great but was clearly a matter of writing around a real-world issue (Gillian’s pregnancy) rather than organic storytelling. It wouldn’t be till Colony that The X-Files mythology would take on a life of its own.
This is where the shackles are thrown off by the writers–where they begin to realize the potential in long-form storytelling with the introduction of the colonization and alien clone plot. It’s where the show would start regularly throwing its main characters into globe-trotting, life-threatening situations. It’s where we are introduced to a nemesis for our intrepid duo who–both by his actions and his resemblance to a certain Austrian bodybuilder–calls to mind the Terminator.
This is where the mythology became fast-paced, blockbuster television. The music, the acting (Duchovny in particular is in top form), the action, the story–all amazing. Colony moves at a breakneck pace but all of the components work to near perfection.
And I’ve just spent 200 words raving about this episode and I haven’t even mentioned the introduction of Mulder’s sister or one of the greatest cliff-hangers in the history of cliff-hanging cliff-hangers! All of this grants Colony a spot in the Season 2 pantheon.
#4 – Irresistible (91/100)
How would a non-fan of The X-Files describe the show? Probably some combination of sci-fi, a healthy dose of believer/skeptic dynamic, and shady governmental shenanigans. And that description wouldn’t be wrong. But this show is so much more than that.
Irresistible has nothing related to government conspiracies. There is no sci-fi gobbly-gook. Mulder and Scully are here but Mulder isn’t psychotically pushing his latest insane theory and Scully isn’t blatantly ignoring her own eyes just to contradict Mulder. Instead, the two are working a very real, very human, and very evil case.
That evil comes in the form of Donnie Pfaster, played by Nick Chinlund. Donnie is one of the best villains to grace The X-Files. His odd mannerisms and methodical speech gives this non-paranormal case an other-worldly vibe while maintaining the gritty atmosphere. His crimes are not as bad as some of the more outlandish monsters in the show but there’s something so bleak and dark about his fetish and that’s a credit both to Chinlund and to Chris Carter’s writing. And speaking of his writing, Carter really does a good job showing the emotional trauma a more realistic case could cause.
The impact the case has on Scully is compelling and Gillian Anderson puts out a performance that rivals her stuff from Beyond the Sea. So many iconic scenes–her therapy session, the conversation with Mulder in the jail (one of my favorite “Mulder and Scully speak in weirdly intimate whispers that only Mulder and Scully can pull off without sounding like they are starring in softcore porn” scenes), and that breakdown at the end are all the stuff of legends. And it helps things that Mulder is right there with her. He notices how shaken she is and David Duchovny really helps ground the episode with his emotional support.
Irresistible is exactly the type of episode that has driven me into being a raging super-fan. It’s not the prototypical episode a casual viewer would expect but it has that emotional resonance that first gripped me 22 years ago and still has me in its grasp. This is one of the most emotionally powerful episodes The X-Files would do. It only does one thing wrong…
#3 – End Game (92/100)
…and that’s come in between Colony and End Game in these rankings. If those had been next to each other, I could have just written one giant blurb for both episodes. Instead, I have to dip back into my dwindling well of creativity and write something new. Here goes nothing…
Colony did much of the story-telling legwork to set things up for a fabulous finish. End Game doesn’t squander a single second nailing those moments. Everything here works. The resolution to the cliffhanger where we see “Mulder” tossing Scully around a hotel room is shocking in how brutal it is (and a good look at how their chemistry works even when they are enemies). The bridge exchange where Mulder trades Scully for “Samantha” is the perfect marriage of nail-biting tension and emotional stakes. The revelation that the “Samantha’s” are clones and have been using Mulder is perfectly revealed (and Duchovny plays anger tinged with betrayal very well here). The Skinner/Scully/Mr. X confrontation takes three of my favorite characters, throws them into a blender, and spits out one of the greatest scenes in the history of the show. And the finale between Mulder and the Alien Bounty Hunter/Terminator on the submarine is the perfect marriage of nail-biting tension and emotional stakes (pretty sure I used that line before but then again, I did mention that my well of creativity was dwindling…).
End Game is just a finely crafted episode of television. It’s fast-paced, exciting and filled to the brim with character beats and plot revelations. This is the first episode written by Frank Spotnitz and it’s a great debut. Any episode where Mulder has a “Sophie’s Choice” moment between Scully and Samantha is immediately must-watch television. Plus, its helped by the incredible direction from Rob Bowman which is one of the major reasons I prefer this episode to Colony. Both the bridge sequence and the submarine climax are perfect examples of how a director’s touch can enhance an already amazing episode.
#2 – Anasazi (94/100)
So if it wasn’t clear by now, I have quite the unhealthy affinity for the mythology episodes. You will regularly see these episodes at the tops of my rankings but its saying something about Season 2 that Anasazi is only my second favorite episode of the season. Which is unbelievable because Anasazi is close to television perfection.
Mulder’s family life was brought into the spotlight in Colony/End Game but its here that we learn just how intimately involved in the conspiracy they were. Anasazi upends the black-and-white view of the Mulder clan as victims and shines an unflattering light on William Mulder. We learn that he was an active member of the conspiracy and it is a shocking revelation to Mulder. But then just as Mulder is dealing with the image of his father being shattered, Krycek returns just in time to murder William. This is not one of Mulder’s better days…
But its not all about Mulder and his daddy issues here–the Cigarette Smoking Man has his own issues to deal with. We get to see CSM as just another link in the chain rather than being the head honcho when we watch him putting out fires with his international colleagues. We watch him and William Mulder just chatting it up and drinking which is a major change from the standard “CSM lights up menacingly and looks all mysterious and shit” template the show ran with for almost two seasons. And then when things aren’t working out for him, we see CSM at perhaps his most villainous when he orders the boxcar that Mulder is hiding in to be burned. This is the first time CSM has felt like an actual, fully formed character rather than an archetype.
All of that is great and fun but what really pushes this episode to a close second-place finish is the simmering tension throughout. We have a Mulder/Skinner fight that comes seemingly out of nowhere, we have Scully nearly being shot, we have the aforementioned assassination of Mulder’s father, we have an EPIC Mulder/Krycek fight which ends with Scully shooting Mulder, and we have the finale in the boxcar with so many revelations. And it’s all interlaced with Mulder being pushed to his breaking point (thanks to some drugs in his system) and Scully going all out to keep him safe. This episode is so damn good it leaves me breathless.
But maybe being breathless is what kept this from the number one spot because….
#1 – One Breath (95/100)
….One Breath edges it out by a point and perhaps, by just one breath?
All of the episodes in this list are incredible but One Breath is special in a couple of ways. To me its the most focused of the group (with the exception of Irresistible). There is one coherent through-line and that is Mulder dealing with his guilt and rage over Scully’s predicament. It’s such a strong theme and it permeates through every second. He’s faced with dilemma after dilemma, chasing after something intangible (whether it be revenge or justice) and he’s unable to quite process that just being there for Scully would be enough.
Thank goodness for us he doesn’t realize that till the end because we are graced with some of the finest character scenes put to film. The transition from Mulder’s depression-fueled porno binge to his frantically arriving at Scully’s bedside gives me chills every time. We have my favorite Mr. X scene during the sweaty confrontation in the parking garage (this scene always makes me feel like they shouldn’t have killed X off for another season or two). There’s the iconic scene of Mulder pointing a gun at CSM while CSM coolly shrugs it off (variations of this scene would crop up till even the revival series but none of them really match this one except maybe the quick confrontation in Talitha Cumi). Somehow, we have time for Skinner to calmly and coolly talk to Mulder about his own fears, flaws and insecurities in a scene that could have been too much (how often does a male authority figure like Skinner show this kind of vulnerability and not come off as artificial) but the writing, Mitch Pileggi’s acting, and the notable lack of music all help nail that scene. And of course, we have that three-scene masterpiece. I’m talking about the scenes where first Melissa Scully berates Mulder about his self-destructive anger which Mulder follows up with finally choosing to just be there for Scully rather than try to fix every goddamn thing in the world (a common male problem). And of course, this holy trinity of scenes is concluded with Mulder breaking down in his apartment. This episode may be David Duchovny’s finest.
All of the above is super emotionally draining which is fine but what One Breath deftly accomplishes is it infuses a steady stream of hope into the story. This is accomplished with Scully, who is sidelined and comatose throughout the episode. The dream/angel sequences with the rowboat are so beautiful and poetic. They portray an image of a choice between life and death but it never appears to be a dark, morbid affair. Rather its portrayed as peaceful and natural which juxtaposes her internal dilemma with Mulder’s bleak external dilemma. Likewise, Scully’s father’s heart-breaking conversation with her is emotional and melancholic but, again its tinged with hope. And finally, all of that hope and light breaks through the darkness that Mulder is fighting through and Scully comes out of things alive and well.
And what better time to praise Mark Snow’s score? Like Duchovny, this might be one of this best efforts and he mixes all of the themes and emotions together magnificently.
One Breath expertly balances out Mulder being a broken shell for most of the episode with the hopeful, spiritual side of things with Scully. Even as I write that, it sounds cheesy but it works beautifully. Very few shows could accomplish one of it’s main characters coming back from the brink of death through a literal visit by an actual angel but The X-Files is not a normal show. (Also, few shows could accomplish having it’s other main character watching porn at the beginning and make it heart-breaking but again…its The X-Files.)
Thanks for reading guys! I plan on continuing these rankings into Season 3 but I’ve got plenty of other ideas for X-Files content. I already started some statistical reviews which I write to satisfy the nerd in me that loves graphs and numbers. But I’m considering mixing up these seasonal rankings with some character rankings (ie ranking my favorite Mulder episodes and my favorite Scully episodes). Stay tuned!