We loved the first three seasons of The X-Files. Do seasons 4 through 6 hold up as well?
The X-Files, currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu Plus
FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) continue their investigation of cases involving unexplained phenomena and the ongoing government conspiracy to aid the alien colonization of Earth. During this time, Scully struggles with illness (directly related to her abduction in season 2) while Mulder questions his belief in aliens. The agents face additional challenges when the FBI shuts down the X-Files and reassigns them to other projects.
These were the three highest rated seasons of The X-Files. The 1998 motion picture of the same name (released between seasons 5 and 6) was a huge success, noted for fitting seamlessly within the show’s alien conspiracy mythology while managing to entertain new viewers.
What’s to Love Now
As visually stunning, creative and well written as its earlier seasons, these three seasons of The X-Files obviously came with a bigger budget. It looks gorgeous. Season 5’s fifth episode, “The Postmodern Prometheus”, may be the most striking example. Beautifully shot in black and white, this contemporary send up of James Whale’s Frankenstein looks way more like a movie than a TV show.
The character development is the other major advancement in this part of the series. In the mythology arc, certain dramatic events cause Mulder to lose faith just as Scully opens herself to accepting facts she cannot explain. Having been so staunchly opposed to each other’s belief systems in prior seasons, this is a fun change. In the “monster-of-the-week” episodes, we learn more about the agents’ sad personal lives. Neither one is any good at relationships or dating. Mulder devotes all his emotional energy to his pursuit of The Truth and obsessively consumes porn in his spare time. Part of Scully yearns to be a mother, though she’s even worse than her partner when it comes to dealing with her feelings. Oddly, all this contributes to their ongoing sexual tension. Mulder and Scully are so dedicated to their bizarre work and have made so many sacrifices to it, that they can’t really be understood by anyone other than each other. As the series progresses, it becomes obvious that these two very different dysfunctional souls are meant for each other.
What Makes Us Groan
The mythology becomes so complicated with drones, clones, black oil, alien rebels and cancerous chips that keeping track of it all is quite difficult. After repeat viewings and prodigious amounts of online research, I am still very confused. At the same time, the monster episodes become more silly, lighthearted, meta and full of overt sexual tension. The tonal shifts from one episode to the next are sometimes quite jarring. Especially in season 61, The X-Files starts to feel like two very different shows in one.
One other weird note – there’s an odd pregnancy theme running through these seasons. I don’t want to give too much away, but many of these cases involve female characters being forced to undergo reproduction without their consent. Sometimes this is treated as rape2. Sometimes it’s treated humorously. Sometimes both. Sometimes these women characters are so eager to get knocked up that they decide their horrifying experience was okay in the end. Hmm… while I still consider this show to be extremely well written overall (not to mention that some of these specific episodes are among my favorite), this theme reflects an ignorance that’s embarrassing to witness. Not surprisingly, all the episodes I have in mind3 were written by men. This points to a larger issue concerning a lack of diversity in TV writers’ rooms. Even on the best shows, no level of talent can overcome myopia.
Seasons 4-6 are binge-worthy for sure. If you want to commit to the whole thing, you may even have a chance of understanding everything that happens with the alien invasion.
You’ll probably want to watch all the mythology episodes if you want to have a clue (focusing especially on finales, premiers, and multi-part midseason episodes). The following is a list of recommended monster episodes.
Season 4 – E2 “Home” is one of the most disturbing and best episodes of the series, about a family of inbred brothers and the mutant infant found buried near their house. In E20 “Small Potatoes”, we get a close-up glimpse of Mulder’s sad personal life by way of a born loser who has the ability to shapeshift. This is the seventh of twenty nine episodes written by Vince Gilligan, who would later go on to create Breaking Bad. It is quite funny. Mythology Note: E12 “Leonard Betts” is mostly a very good monster episode. Stay tuned for the twist that will affect the larger story arc.
Season 5 – E4 “Detour” features an anti-sprawl swamp monster in a rapidly developing part of Florida. E5 “The Postmodern Prometheus” is both problematic (see the pregnancy theme written above) and an outstanding episode. The Cher soundtrack4 is your first indication that this series is getting decidedly weird. E12 “Bad Blood” is a Rashomon-style vampire tale, in which we see Mulder and Scully retell events from their very different points of view. Luke Wilson guest stars as a Texan sheriff who is dreamy in Scully’s account and bucktoothed in Mulder’s version of the story.
The Movie – Watch it, if nothing else. The movie is so, so good.
Season 6 – E8 “The Rain King” is a fun tale about bottled emotions controlling weather, and features a post-Saturday Night Live/ pre-public insanity Victoria Jackson as a very confused heroine. E19 “The Unnatural”, a flashback to the 1940s, features Law and Order‘s Jesse L. Martin as a promising Negro League baseball star who may also be an alien5 Mythology Note: E4-5 “Dreamland” parts 1 and 2, are a great mix of mythology and humor. Plus, they feature Michael McKean as a skeevy Man in Black. E11 “Two Fathers” and E12 “One Son” are big time game changers, as far as the conspiracy is concerned.
- perhaps it is no coincidence that this was when the production moved to Los Angeles ↵
- I’d argue that most instances are something akin to rape ↵
- Season 4 E2 “Home” and E20 “Small Potatoes”; Season 5 E5 “The Postmodern Prometheus”, E6 “A Christmas Carol” and E7 “Emily” ↵
- Worth noting – this episode was broadcast a year before the release of her comeback hit “Believe”. Cher was not cool in late 1997 ↵
- HOT. HOT. SUPER HOT. ↵