Top 5 'X-Files' Episodes of All Time: A Critic's Take

X-Files Episode Duane Barry - H 2015

X-Files Episode Duane Barry - H 2015

Fox got fans of The X-Files excited with its announcement earlier this week that it would be reviving the show for a limited run, with both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson set to reprise their roles and series creator/executive producer Chris Carter also returning.

With the show set to return next year, THR critic Keith Uhlich took the opportunity to break down the five best episodes from the 1993-2002 series.

1. "Beyond the Sea" (Season 1, Episode 13, aired Jan. 17, 1994)

FBI agents Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) reverse their believer/skeptic roles in this wrenching early episode — written by Glen Morgan and James Wong — about a psychic death row inmate (Brad Dourif) who helps Scully connect with her recently deceased father (Twin Peaks’ Don S. Davis). This is Anderson's first real showcase in the series and she’s extraordinary in her emotional tete-a-tetes with Dourif's terrifyingly deranged psychopath.

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2. "Duane Barry" (Season 2, Episode 5, aired Oct. 14, 1994)

The X-Files' narrative backbone was its ongoing extraterrestrial invasion arc, and “Duane Barry” is one of the greatest of these otherworldly tales. Written and directed by creator Chris Carter, the episode mainly concerns an unbearably tense hostage standoff between Mulder and the eponymous alien abductee (Steve Railsback, scarily unhinged) who has had it with all the off-planet poking and prodding. But then the troubled Barry goes after Scully and the devastating consequences resonate through all subsequent seasons.

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3. "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" (Season 3, Episode 4, aired Oct. 13, 1995)

No list of notable X-Files episodes is complete without a mention of Darin Morgan, who wrote four multilayered, tragicomic teleplays for the series that made him seem like a small-screen Charlie Kaufman. This is his masterpiece, a tale of a sad-sack clairvoyant (Peter Boyle) who has an uncanny talent for predicting how people will die. Humor and melancholy are brilliantly intertwined throughout: "We end up in bed together," the strange psychic predicts to a bemused Scully. Little do they both realize that this premonition will come heartbreakingly true.

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4. "X-Cops" (Season 7, Episode 12, aired Feb. 20, 2000)

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan penned this inventive episode, in which our intrepid agents wander onto the set of the Fox reality show Cops while hunting what appears to be a werewolf. It's a formally dazzling exercise, all handheld long takes that pointedly and humorously tweak the faux you-are-there immediacy of the lowbrow law enforcement series. Then a deeper theme emerges after it becomes clear that the antagonist Mulder and Scully are chasing is fear itself: How do you capture something so amorphous — in reality and on film?

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5. "Via Negativa" (Season 8, Episode 7, aired Dec. 17, 2000)

The later, often Duchovny-free seasons of The X-Files are unfairly maligned, and this stand-alone episode shows how the series could still unsettle in the best ways. Mulder's semi-replacement, John Doggett (Robert Patrick), tracks down a cult leader (Keith Szarabajka) who ax-murders people in their dreams. Unfortunately, he gets so close to the case that the killer tasks him with going after Scully, which leads to an astonishing final act set in a nightmarish otherworld where Doggett must make a horrifying sacrifice.