SPOILER WARNING: There will be spoilery summaries of what each season is generally about, but I tried to keep the spoilers as minimal as possible. If you’re trying to keep yourself spoiler-free and virginal from knowing anything about the show, avert your eyes. If you’re curious about the show and want to have an idea of what each season covers, then please proceed ahead. This show may also cause lots of #feels and heavy fangirling/fanboying.
This past week The X-Files celebrated 21 years since it first premiered on our television screens on the FOX network (September 10, 1993). Yes – the show is that old. I’m still a huge fan years later, and I do a marathon re-watch of the entire series and the films once or twice a year. There are lots of passionate fans that love to convert their friends into newer fans of the series, and there are also fans like me that write retrospectives and really awesome & passionate essays of how much the show means to them.
The show is still seen as a major creative influence for future showrunners, and storytellers in general, who want to bring expansive and complex stories to television. TV viewers love cerebral storytelling (for the most part) and want to broaden their horizons past the standard fare that seems to be invading TV channels over the years. There’s so many crime (lawyer, police, forensic investigators), reality, and generic family and raunchy comedies that seem to be mirrors of each other, that’s it’s hard to differentiate between the shows. But there are also lots of great genre shows hitting the airwaves that are giving fans many options in diversifying their DVR schedules.
So, for those of you visiting this blog, raise your hand if you’re new to X-Files! Don’t be shy – we X-Philes are a very welcoming group of fans. The X-Files is a show that is still gaining new fans yearly as people discover it thanks to social media (sites like Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr), which was in its infancy and starting to grow when the show first premiered. For the youngsters in the crowd: in the Internet Dark Ages, we had America Online (AOL) as one of our Internet Service Provider’s (ISP), and connecting to the Internet with a speed of 28K was a miracle. Oh, how I don’t miss dial-up and its many disadvantages. Full-content websites and webpages were coming to fruition, and we spent most of our time chatting with fellow fans through the AOL message boards or ICQ, or local conventions that were slowly cropping up in the early and mid-1990’s.
The X-Files was the first show to really utilize the Internet in sharing info about the show and bringing fans together. I remember reading and seeing some of the fansites in the early and mid-90’s and looking at various scans of magazine articles and newspaper clippings as my fellow X-Philes shared every bit of info about the show that they could. At one time I even ran an ancient fansite dedicated to episode reviews of The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer called Aliens in the Graveyard many moons ago. Oddly enough, I happened to run into those long-lost website files recently and it brought a smile to my face ‘cause that was the first time I actively participated in a fandom and shared my thoughts about it on a global scale.
X-Philes were also among the first to coin the words “relationshipper” and “’Shipper” to describe a fan who loves the relationship (canon or fanon – non-canon) between two or more characters. We also coined the term Unresolved Sexual Tension (UST) to describe that heavy sexual tension & attraction that can occur between two characters that shouldn’t be together, but we secretly wish that they were. For many of us, Mulder’ and Scully’s UST was so thick at times that a cold shower was almost always required immediately after each episode because it was that heavy. I admit that I wasn’t a fan of them getting together initially because I loved the UST between them, which was a very important part of the show for many years. Fans who were against them hooking up were dubbed “NoRomos” or “NoRomance.” Their partnership was perfect and they shared excellent chemistry with one another, but a romance would break up their friendship and that unique partnership that they had with each other, some would argue. Whether you were an MSR or NoRomo, we all shared in a common love for Mulder and Scully.
One of my favorite things about the show was how opposite in personality Mulder and Scully were to one another. Mulder was a true believer in all types of phenomena, yet he wasn’t particularly religious – I’d say agnostic, based on his many conversations with Scully about faith and religion in the series. Scully, on the opposite end, didn’t believe in extraordinary phenomena but was a religious believer – a Catholic scientist (she believes in evolution and is a pathologist/medical doctor). There were many cases were Mulder and Scully would passionately argue their stance on any of the phenomena that they encountered, but they tried to be open-minded too. This popular “Believer/Skeptic” combo is almost a requirement for every TV show since The X-Files first hit the air, and it works so well and is fun to watch.
Conclusion Time! To break down all nine seasons of the show in a non-fan friendly format is quite the daunting task, but like many others before me – I am definitely up to the task. Or about 75% prepared with some slight trepidation. The show is incredibly complex and detailed with its own immersive mythology arc (mytharc) that is played out through all of the seasons, as well as the two feature films that premiered in the middle of and at the end of the series. It’s better to sit down and invest many hours of binge-watching the series than have a fan like me describe it in so many words. While there were so many storylines launched in all nine seasons, I’ll be covering the gist of the vast shadow government / alien bounty hunters / alien colonists’ mytharc’s. There are also many stand-alone episodes that don’t contribute to the overall mythology. Many of the standalone episodes are amazing and have won many awards for the show, and they sometimes gives the viewer a break from all of the crazy storylines being thrown at you at once. The show was the first to coin the term Monster of the Week to describe that week’s stand-alone episode. This term is popularly used with many TV shows that have aired or are still airing when an episode has its own storyline separate from the main one.
While you’re reading through each of the season summaries, I’ve included some background music to properly set the mood. One of the most iconic theme songs of all-time, the X-Files theme was written by Mark Snow and was partially inspired by the Smiths’ song “How Soon Is Now?” It’s a surreal, ambient, mysterious, and dreamy piece of music that perfectly illustrates the overall feel of the show.
The original opening credits for the show featured just David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. In later seasons it would also include Mitch Pileggi, who played “Assistant Director Walter Skinner.” After David Duchovny left the show and returned for only a few episodes at the end of the series, the credits were changed to include Robert Patrick’s “Special Agent John Doggett” and Annabeth Gish’s “Special Agent Monica Reyes. Here’s a super-cut of all the opening credits, from the beginning to the end:
Season One Promo
“The Truth Is Out There.” This famous tagline perfectly describes The X-Files and the many cases that our heroes Fox Mulder and Dana Scully tried to and mostly successfully solved during the show’s nine season run. The show almost didn’t survive after its first season, but word-of-mouth support from fans helped generate the audience needed to keep it on the air. But even before Mulder & Scully were such a tight-knit duo (and eventual lovers), they were foes at one point.
At the beginning of the series, we see Gillian Anderson’s “Dana Scully” entering the FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., and meeting with Section Chief Blevins on a new assignment. This assignment? To try and refute the work of Special Agent Fox Mulder, who runs an obscure division of the FBI called The X-Files. X-Files are cases that are largely left unsolved due to their unusual and unexplainable circumstances. Dana Scully – as a scientist and a skeptic who doesn’t believe in the paranormal or extraterrestrial phenomena – is the perfect person to use to try and end Mulder’s work through scientific methods to explain so-called “unexplainable phenomena.” But as Scully quickly learns, there’s more to the X-Files than she realizes, as well as a vast government conspiracy that’s trying to hide the existence of extraterrestrials from the general population.
Even for being an introduction into the show, the first season covers a lot of future plotlines and leaves you wanting more. Scully learns why Mulder is so obsessed with the X-Files, how far the government will go to cover up their secrets, and she will have her faith (as a scientist, a skeptic, and a religious woman) tested several times as she is involved in situations that she never imagined. Mulder eventually trusts Scully and includes her as an equal partner in the X-Files. He also learns a few hidden secrets about his family, and exposing the shadowy Syndicate that is behind a lot of the conspiracies can lead to the murder of those trying to expose them while working for them.
The first season of The X-Files is dramatic, intense, complex, and introduces the mythological arc that becomes the foundation of the series. FOX almost cancelled the series after the first few episodes aired because it was struggling to find an audience, and executives thought that the show was too complex and weird for viewers. Growing fan support helped stop it from reaching an early end. While this hasn’t always worked for such beloved cancelled series like Firefly, at least it shows that fans do have some power and can bring a show back to life or add an additional season.
Some of the Monsters of the Week from the first season are: creepy human liver eater Eugene Tooms (“Squeeze”), the Jersey Devil (“The Jersey Devil”), murderous artificial intelligence – A.I. (“Ghost in the Machine”), Cecil L’Ively (“Fire”), murderous glowing insects (“Darkness Falls”), reincarnated cop’s soul-in-a-little-girl (“Born Again”), and murderous Arctic parasites (“Ice”).
Season Two Promo
At the end of the first season, the X-Files is shut down. Mulder and Scully were getting themselves involved with people and situations that were causing issues with members of the Syndicate, a shadowy group of individuals from different government branches around the world. The Syndicate has some association with aliens, and when Mulder and Scully threaten to expose the conspiracies that they created, they are immediately threatened with professional ruin and their very lives.
Season Two continues on in a frenetic pace that keeps viewers on their toes as they try to keep track of all the new informants, enemies, creatures, and conspiracies that are revealed. Shadowy government figures hate it when you try to expose their conspiracies to the world. Especially if one of the people trying to expose the truth is as headstrong and obsessed as Fox Mulder. At the beginning of the season, Mulder & Scully are forced apart and are reassigned – Scully to teaching at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Maryland, and Mulder on crappy surveillance gigs. When one of Mulder’s Senate contacts tells him about extraterrestrial signals being picked up at the famous Arecibo Observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico (birth country shout-out!), Mulder immediately travels to the site to investigate, without official FBI permission (of course). He only has so much time to gather as much data as possible before the government and military can track him down and kill him.
The FBI pairs up Mulder with a young agent named Alex Krycek, a fan-favorite anti-villain who secretly reports about Mulder’s action to the infamous Cigarette Smoking Man (CSM), the main villainous character in the series and a high-ranking member in the Syndicate. Krycek is a two-timing bastard who will switch sides to achieve his own personal goals, and he will screw over anyone to accomplish them. Along with dealing with a new partner, Mulder also learns more about his sister and has a surprise encounter with her, and she has quite the tale. As Mulder learns several shocking truth from her – about her abduction, a mysterious alien cloning project, and her own clones – he discovers a new and very powerful adversary who is very Terminator-like and tries to destroy the cloning project. The infamous alien bounty hunter is introduced in this season, and his purpose will be revealed later on, but he is part of a group of alien bounty hunters who oppose the alien colonists.
Agent Scully isn’t having the best season either. When she’s not teaching fresh-faced Academy recruits at Quantico, she’s being abducted; it’s a common theme for her and Mulder in the show. In the midst of all of the chaos with being taken off the X-Files and separated from Mulder, Scully is kidnapped by a broken & tormented escaped mental patient named Duane Berry (a former FBI Agent), who claims to have been abducted numerous times by aliens and experimented on. After Duane kidnaps her, she quickly discovers that the alien abductions are true as she is taken herself by a mysterious ship. Mulder goes on a desperate mission to find her. He also learns more about his sister Samantha’s abduction and a decades-old government conspiracy involved alien colonists and clones. But finding out the truth can be deadly…
Select “Monsters of the Week” from the second season: Flukeman! (“The Host”), deadly digital appliances (“Blood”), suspected Transylvanians (“3”), volcanic parasites (“Firewalker”), ghostly senior citizens (“Excelsis Dei”), creepy death fetishist (“Irresistible”), murderous circus sideshow act (“Humbug”), murderous shadows (“Soft Light”), and cannibalistic poultry workers (“Our Town”).
Season Three Promo
This season delves into a darker theme (that will continue through the next few seasons) with a story-changing death that will shake up our agents, along with the ever-expanding alien conspiracy really starting to gain traction. Some of the best dramatic moments and stand-alone episodes are featured in this season, which also includes my favorite episode written by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan (“Pusher”). If you’re looking for some of the best hours of dramatic television ever, this is definitely a season that showcases many.
At the end of the last season, Mulder narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Cigarette Smoking Man and those that serve with & under him in the Syndicate, including our own military personnel. Mulder came into possession of very some dangerous and highly-classified information regarding the existence of aliens and the cataloging of many American citizens as part of a secret chicken pox vaccination program that features some familiar names in the massive collection of files. Mulder’s sister Samantha and Scully were two of the people singled out to be cataloged and introduced into a collaboration program between the Syndicate and the alien colonists. What was the purpose of the program? It involved cloning, the removal of all eggs from female hosts, and many other experiments carried out on innocent civilians who were abducted by the aliens. The Syndicate threw a lot of people under the bus to save themselves from a potential alien invasion that would wipe out all humanity – by sacrificing the family members that were singled out for experimentation and abduction. Mulder himself was originally chosen by his father (!) to be taken, but a last-minute switch made Samantha the target. Mulder’s father was part of the Syndicate but tried to find a way out of it. As we have learned continuously in the series, you can’t escape the fate you already made for yourself by aligning with people who have secret & deadly agendas for the human race.
It’s Scully’s turn to have a family member murdered (Mulder’s father was killed in Season Two) as her sister Melissa is mistakenly assassinated by a Syndicate gun-for-hire, who was sent to kill Scully. A huge blow to her, Scully is hell-bent on finding the man responsible for killing her, but in the middle of her search for the killer, she also learns some truths about her own abduction from a group of women she encounters who are “alien abduction survivors. Unfortunately, their numbers are dwindling because of a mysterious cancer that is afflicting them, and Scully could possibly suffer the same fate if a cure isn’t found soon. Scully has to deal with both the indifference and lack of movement on her sister’s murder (due to Syndicate interference in the FBI) and dealing with a health scare she was unprepared for. The man in the thick of it all, CSM (Cigarette Smoking Man), might have the answers that Mulder and Skinner need, but not without great personal sacrifices on their end.
Season Three also introduces one of the most visual and volatile pieces of the mytharc – the mysterious black oil that can infect any biological host (human or animal) who comes into contact with it. An alien parasitic substance, the oil is easily transferred from one host to the next and has survived for thousands and thousands of years. The black oil will make several appearances in the series, and it also has a larger role as a huge part of the storyline of the first X-Files film – The X-Files: Fight the Future.
Select “Monsters of the Week” from the third season: teen “Thunder God” (“D.P.O.”), fat-sucking Casanova (“2Shy”), phantom soldier (“The Walk”), human-devil hunting stigmatic’s (“Revelations”), murderous cockroaches (“War of the Coprophages”), arrogant jerk mindbender (“Pusher”), Canadian Nessie (“Quagmire”), and deadly subliminal messages (“Wetwired”).
Season Four Promo
While Season Three has many outstanding episodes that really delved into the main conspiracy the series is revolved around, it’s Season Four where the show really shines with award-winning performances and writing. Season Four is also my favorite, narrowly beating out Season Three, for several reasons: the Monsters of the Week are at their creepiest, the drama is heightened to dangerous levels of potentially unstable fan emotions, and truly emotional and career-defining performances by David and Gillian. There’s so many memorable moments in this season that fans still talk about many of the episodes years later, and critics remember it as one of the best seasons of any television show.
The various mysterious informants who have helped Mulder and Scully during the first three seasons tend to suffer from a permanent & fatal condition called “Murdered by their Former Associates.” When our Syndicate jerks find out that they have people on the inside sharing info with Mulder and Scully, those characters usually don’t last long in the series. Cheers to you, Steven Williams (“X”), for surviving longer than Deep Throat in the first season! We’re introduced to our third informant in Season Four, and she’s got some mad government cred: she’s a liaison at the United Nations, working as the Special Representative to the Secretary General (SRSG). Marita Covarrubias makes several appearances in Season Four and sporadically through the rest of the series – sometimes at the most inopportune moments for our agents. She, like Krycek, is also a double-agent who works for the Syndicate. Yes – the group of really shady government officials and other important higher-ups who are trying to prevent alien colonization on our planet, and led and created by our “friend” CSM. She tends to help out agents more than hinder them, but she also her own agenda too. And like Krycek – her bosses’ sure love to screw with her often, and even use her in future experiments…
One of the most powerful story arc’s in Season Four is the escalation of Scully’s cancer, which has quickly progressed since she discovered she had it in the previous season. Scully starts to examine her own mortality and struggles with her inevitable death, after we discovered in Season Three the high mortality rate of the aggressive form of cancer that has struck her and other alien abductees. What she doesn’t realize is that her cancer is not of a wholly earthly origin, and Mulder and Skinner go to personal extremes to try to find a cure. One of them also sells their soul to CSM, who won’t let the person forget the huge debt they now owe to him for finding a cure to Scully’s terminal cancer.
Another key visual piece of the ever-expanding conspiracy is also introduced in the form of a critter that most people fear it’s somewhat painful sting (unless you’re allergic to them, then it’s much worse): the alien virus-infected killer bee. First seen in several pivotal scenes in the opening episode “Herrenvolk,” the bees make several appearances throughout the series and also play a major role in the first feature film, along with the black oil. The bees can instantly infect and kill a human in seconds, but they also have another fatal purpose – to kill the alien bounty hunters who have been hunting down alien colonists, clones, and alien/human hybrids. The alien-ized killer bees are just one of the methods that can be used to kill the bounty hunters; they can also be killed by being ice-picked in the back of the skull, at the top of their spine. Of course, the attacker has to quickly step away after death, because they emit a very deadly toxic agent that’s carried in their blood. Think of the acidic blood of the Xenomorph’s from the Alien movies.
Select “Monsters of the Week” from the fourth season: the ‘infamous’ inbred members of the Peacock family (“Home”), black magic-practicing plastic surgeons (“Sanguinarium”), the Chupacabra! (“El Mundo Gira”), cancer-eating man who can regrow limbs – and his own head (“Leonard Betts”), murderous tattoo ink (“Never Again”), and a futuristic senior citizen killer (“Synchrony”).