The Post-Modern Prometheus (Season Five, Episode Five)
Original airdate: November 30th, 1997
Written & Directed by Chris Carter
By this point in the series, the mythology episodes were becoming more prominent and had a more significant effect on the overall direction of the show. To balance that out, the Monster of the Week episodes became a little wilder and tonally jarring in a good way. The Post-Modern Prometheus is one of the biggest stylistic shifts for the X-Files being shot in black & white with a wide-angle lens. Additionally, the tone throughout is comedic with appropriate touches of melodrama.
Mulder and Scully get brought to a rural town where a bizarre disfigured person has been visiting the homes of citizens for at least twenty years and has sired children with local women. One of the children believed to be the son of this person has created a comic book character based on the legend titled The Great Mutato. The agents eventually meet Dr. Pollodori, a geneticist who lives nearby and is likely responsible for creating Mutato. However, things get complicated as the townspeople seek to use this oddity to bring Jerry Spring to town and become famous.
I was delightfully surprised as this was the first time I saw this episode, or I had forgotten it from my youth. The use of Cher’s music throughout is this beautiful oddball touch, and the singer was asked to make a cameo and turned it down. She later regretted that decision after seeing the final product. Dan O’Herlihy (J. Peterman from Seinfeld) plays Pollodori, and his comedically stentorian delivery matches perfectly with the Young Frankenstein-esque tone of this episode. This is one of the more absurd episodes I’ve seen with townspeople being made to physically resemble and show the mannerisms of farm animals. This is definitely not the first episode you show someone being introduced to the show, but it would surely help emphasize how wildly this program can change over time.
Field Trip (Season Six, Episode Twenty-One)
Original airdate: May 9th, 1999
Written by Frank Spotnitz, John Shiban, & Vince Gilligan
Directed by Kim Manners
Now I definitely remember this episode and it’s become one the later classics in the show’s run. By this point, the X-Files feature film had been released, and this was the season that followed. Mulder and Scully are very well defined by this point, and the mythology was overtaking the program. Field Trip cleverly sets itself up as potential development of the alien abduction storyline but then pivots brilliantly. I got a very Lovecraftian vibe from the Monster that we meet in this one, and I love how there’s little attempt to explain what it is. All we need to know is what it does, and that propels the story along.
Mulder and Scully investigate the discovery of a skeletonized couple in the North Carolina mountains. They were alive and fully intact days ago but are found embracing and stripped to the bone. Their skeletons have a strange yellow slime on them. The agents split up and go on a mind-bending journey to keep the audience wonderfully confused about what is going on. I suspect viewers will figure out the truth during the second act, but it doesn’t make the rest of the story any less entertaining.
Vienen (Season Eight, Episode Eighteen)
Original airdate: April 29th, 2001
Written by Steven Maeda
Directed by Rod Hardy
By this point, I had stopped being a regular viewer of The X-Files. I was in my sophomore year of college and didn’t really have friends who watched much. I also felt less interested in seeing the program when casting changes began. Mulder was written out of half this season and replaced with Agent Doggett (Robert Patrick). I didn’t really have an interest in watching the adventures of a character I hadn’t spent years getting to know, so it became uninteresting to me. However, with this episode, we have Mulder back and really getting to know Doggett, which is what makes it more engaging.
The plot of this picture revolved around the black oil, a plot device introduced in season three, and it is the object’s last appearance until the series finale. Mulder seems much more confident in his knowledge of the more massive conspiracy. This is almost a reversal of the Mulder/Scully dynamic. Mulder has the confidence in his abilities and knowledge that when he and Doggett are stranded on an oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, he can avoid the hazards. Doggett also has his moment of coming to see the truth, being put in the front seat at revelations of things he rolled his eyes at earlier.
I couldn’t help but think of season one’s Ice, another isolation scenario that allowed Mulder & Scully’s dynamic to develop. The same thing happens here, as well. This would be one of the last significant episodes of The X-Files. The following season Scully would be written out for a portion and replaced with Annabeth Gish. At that point, the show didn’t really have an established endpoint, and it felt like the mystery was being stretched out beyond its capacity. No one wanted to watch a show about these two other agents, they wanted Mulder and Scully. Without them, it’s not really the X-Files. A feature film would follow in 2008 that was not well received and then a revival on Fox that was met with enthusiasm from the old fans. There is a good chance I will do a second run on the Best of The X-Files, and that time around incorporate some of those revival entires.