Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Season Three, Episode Four)
Original airdate: October 13, 1995
Written by Darrin Morgan
Directed by David Nutter
This was the period where X-Files was reaching its sweet spot. The show was firmly submerged in the pop culture zeitgeist, so the writers started to play around with the one-off Monster of the Week episodes. This might be the best episode the series ever produced. It has a tightly written, clever plot with genuinely surprising & well-earned twists. Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein, Everybody Loves Raymond) guest stars as Clyde Bruckman, an insurance salesman who gained the ability to see every person’s death. He becomes caught up in a case where Mulder & Scully are chasing down a serial killer who targets psychics and fortune-tellers. This entry into the series is incredibly dark & bleak while still injecting big doses of sly humor. Little touches like the injection of celebrity psychic the Stupendous Yappi and revelations about Mulder’s extracurricular activities help lighten a weighty & poignant study. The conclusion of this episode is just so satisfying and bittersweet.
Pusher (Season Three, Episode Seventeen)
Original airdate: February 23, 1996
Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Rob Bowman
Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, got his start on The X-Files, and he gave us an impressive number of slimy manipulative Monsters of the Week. This episode presents us with Robert Modell, a man with the ability to force people to physically commit acts their mind would never allow them to do. In the cold open, we watch as Modell “pushes” the cop who has just arrested him to drive into oncoming traffic, enabling the criminal to escape. Gilligan does an excellent job of playing up the arrogance of Modell as he taunts Mulder & Scully. At one point, he uses a piece of paper and his power to walk right into FBI headquarters and get the files on the FBI agents to know them better. What makes Modell such a fantastic villain is how unassuming Modell is. This is just a plain-looking average guy, and television critics have remarked that he showcased the mundanity of evil. Monsters aren’t always externally grotesque, and some of the worst are charming and handsome.
Home (Season Four, Episode Two)
Original airdate: October 11, 1996
Written by Glen Morgan & James Wong
Directed by Kim Manners
This episode burnt itself into my brain when I was fifteen years old and saw it air initially. Home became the first X-Files episode to be banned from reruns because it was such a dark story. Mulder & Scully arrive in Home, Pennsylvania, to investigate after a fatally deformed newborn is discovered buried in a field. The field is next to the farm of the Peacocks, a local family notorious for their century-long incestual habits. The episode was most definitely influenced by the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Hills Have Eyes. But writers Morgan & Wong have also cited media like the fantastic documentary Brother’s Keeper & an anecdote about a limbless boy from Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography. The result is one of the most harrowing entries in the series. There is a disturbing level of body horror and violence in this episode to the point that some fans questioned continuing watching the series. No episode ever topped Home for the intensity it was able to generate in forty-five minutes.
Small Potatoes (Season Four, Episode Twenty)
Original airdate: April 20, 1997
Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Cliff Bole
This is another Vince Gilligan entry featuring another slimy manipulator. This time around its Eddie Van Blundht, a man born with a vestigial tail. His schemes get discovered when almost a dozen women in Martinsburg, Virginia, give birth to babies with tails. Initially, they target the fertility doctor the women went to whom they assume implanted them with someone else’s sperm, but Mulder uncovers the real culprit. The plot is obviously influenced by a news story around the time of a real fertility doctor implanting patients with his own sperm. The twist here introduces a supernatural element in the form of a shapeshifter. The comedic highlight is when Eddie takes the form of Mulder and proceeds to wreak havoc in his personal and professional life. This conceit allowed Gilligan to explore the sexual tension between the l special agents that was such a draw for so many viewers at the time. In a season of really dark, bleak content, Gilligan managed to bring a much-needed comic touch to the show.