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Revised Top 25 Episodes of the X-Files

In celebration of the show's somewhat spotty revival, here are my 25 favorite episodes of my favorite show of all time.
25Pianos Become the Teeth
Keep You

Piper Maru (Season 3 Episode 15). The introduction of the black oil. Unlike most fans who begin to get bored with it around season 4, I was on board for all the mythos until after One Son. This is one of the best offerings that we get.
24American Football
American Football

One Breath (Season 2 Episode 8). The Duane Barry arc is where the mythology really takes off and the viewer gets hooked on the show for good. There isn't really another episode like this one. While several important characters' lives are in danger throughout the show, when the Mulder/Scully relationship is threatened, even this early, it just feels different. Also this is the first episode where CSM is just straight up evil.
23Glenn Branca
The Ascension

One Son (Season 6 Episode 12). All the best mythos storylines (with the exception of the black oil) come to a close in what would have been one of the best season finales ever. Unfortunately, this is right in the middle of season 6.
22Built to Spill
Perfect from Now On

How The Ghosts Stole Christmas (Season 6 Episode 6). An awesome bottle episode that captures the spirit of the Los Angeles years perfectly. A ton of suburban terror, tongue-in-cheek humor, and romantic tension. Also the cinematography in this episode is damn near perfect.
Disraeli Gears

Unruhe (Season 4 Episode 4). The first Vince Gilligan episode on the list, the show's best writer delivers an absolutely terrifying story with an original concept, blended in with signature X-Files tropes (delusional killer, Scully getting kidnapped, abandoned buildings) and mixing them together really well. This is one of the scariest episodes imo.
20Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Die Hand Die Verletzt (Season 2 Episode 14). In my opinion THE scariest episode (maybe not in overall shock value - that honor goes to Home) but in concept. A lot of the power in this episode is in what you don't see. The episodes ends on an unknown, which is really terrifying and effective.
19Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius

Small Potatoes (Season 4 Episode 20). Vince Gilligan's second entry, starring the show's other best writer, Darin Morgan as one of the most original antagonists this show ever had. The concept is brilliant, the humor is spectacular and the resolution is amazing. The special effects also kiiiinda still hold up.
18Miles Davis
Kind of Blue

Paper Clip (Season 3 Episode 2). Watching the CSM get totally shut down by Skinner is one of the best scenes in the show's history. Everything else here deepens the mystery and gets the viewer even more hooked.
17John Frusciante
Shadows Collide with People

Wetwired (Season 3 Episode 23). One of the most paranoia-inducing episodes of the show. It also contains one of my favorite cold-opens and one of the best Lone Gunmen appearances. This episode also contains one of the most suspenseful scenes in the show's history (if you've seen it you'll know what i'm talking about).
16Red Hot Chili Peppers

Humbug (Season 2 Episode 20). The first of 3 Darin Morgan episodes on the list, Humbug was the first episode to flip the X-Files formula on its head. The show before this point had previously been relentlessly grim, with previous season 2 episodes revolving around satanic ritual killings, ghost rape, alien abduction, necrophilia, etc. This episode likely changed the entire course of the show. Without this one we wouldn't have any other Darin Morgan (or likely Vince Gilligan) classics.
15Green Day

Drive (Season 6 Episode 2). The precursor to Breaking Bad. Bryan Cranston guest stars, written by Vince Gilligan. Other than that, this is one of the series' most suspenseful episodes that features one of the creepiest government cover-ups.
Koi No Yokan

Home (Season 4 Episode 2). Glen Morgan and James Wong's triumphant return to the X-Files. This episode is every bit as gross as you've heard it is, the subject matter as well as the violence. It's also one of the most genuinely satisfying horror stories The X-Files ever told and makes great use of storytelling devices; the use of Johnny Mathis's "Wonderful, Wonderful" in this episode is one of the smartest decisions the show ever made.
13Johnny Cash
At Folsom Prison

Bad Blood (Season 5 Episode 12). Some will be disappointed to see this episode this low, but there's a certain episode that I think does this formula just a bit better. Either way, this is one of the funniest scripts in the show's history ("y'all must be the government people"), and it definitely has the best cold open of any episode.
12Peter Frampton
Frampton Comes Alive!

Duane Barry (Season 2 Episode 5). Where many of the best plot threads begin. Scully's abduction, the Syndicate, you name it, it started here. An unbelievably tense hour of television.
11Fleetwood Mac

Beyond the Sea (Season 1 Episode 13). Season 1's best episode, featuring one of my all-time favorite guest performances by Brad Dourif. This is the first truly Scully-centric episode, and the first where her and Mulder's roles are reversed. Brings up a ton of questions about the human condition while also remaining terrifying; that freaky vision in the beginning of Scully's father gives me the creeps just thinking about it. Also, there are a ton of serial killers on this show, but the two in this episode are among the most frightening.
10The Gaslight Anthem
The '59 Sound

Folie A Deux (Season 5 Episode 19). Vince Gilligan brings us into the top 10 with one of the freakiest standalone episodes ever. The concept sounds hilarious on paper; a freaky bug monster turns his subordinates into zombies, and only one of them can see it. However, that's where Gilligan makes this incredibly terrifying; the danger is in front of everyone's face and no one believes it. The feelings of madness and delusion really ratchet up the intensity here.
9Smashing Pumpkins
Siamese Dream

The Post-Modern Prometheus (Season 5 Episode 5). One of the show's weirdest hours, and one of its most successful. This episode takes a ton of strange, unrelated elements (Cher, Jerry Springer, genetic experimentation, Frankenstein, peanut butter sandwiches) and makes them into a spectacular hour of television.
8Modest Mouse
The Lonesome Crowded West

Tithonus (Season 6 Episode 10). Darin Morgan's "Clyde Bruckman" with a Gilligan twist. Alfred Fellig is Bruckman without humor, optimism or energy. He's exhausted and will do anything to just have a face-to-face with death itself. This is an amazing, deeply moving episode that is home to one of the show's most popular fan theories and features some awesome writing and camera work.
7Sufjan Stevens
Carrie and Lowell

Redux II (Season 5 Episode 2). The best mythology episode finds our characters at absolute rock bottom. This is by far one of the most action-packed episodes. More happens in this episode than in all of season 4's mythos put together, and it leads us into one of the most exciting times for the alien conspiracy story which lasts through the middle of season 6.
6The Menzingers
Rented World

Paper Hearts (Season 4 Episode 10). This centers on the series' longest running storyline, what happened to Mulder's sister, and it handles the situation beautifully. David Duchovny gives in my opinion his best acting performance in the entire show in this episode, and Tom Noonan's guest performance is top-notch as well. This is a prime example that Gilligan could do serious writing better than anyone else on the staff.
5Boards of Canada

Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose (Season 3 Episode 4). The first entry in the top 5 is widely considered the show's best episode, and for good reason. Darin Morgan tells an incredible story through the eyes of a psychic whose only special insight is being able to tell when and how people will die. It's an incredible, fatalistic, moving story that begins as an examination of Mulder's desire to believe and ends as an invitation for Scully to accept the truth. Fantastic writing.
4Led Zeppelin
Houses of the Holy

Leonard Betts (Season 4 Episode 12). This is The X-Files at the height of its powers. Repulsive visuals, tight storytelling, an original antagonist (and a morally ambiguous one at that), and the most shocking plot twist in the history of the show.
In Rainbows

Field Trip (Season 6 Episode 21). I had to think really hard about which episode would be third and which would be second, and as much as I love this one (it used to be my #1), it got knocked down. This is the most mind-bending episode of The X-Files, featuring horrifying alterations of reality. You'll be questioning until the very end what's real and what's not.
2Pink Floyd
The Wall

Pusher (Season 3 Episode 17). The X-Files at its most intense. Robert Wisden gives an incredible guest performance as a man coercing others into suicide for sport, searching for a worthy adversary. This is Vince Gilligan's first true success as an X-Files writer, and he never topped it. He never needed to either; this episode's perfect all on its own, and while it may not be #1, the Russian Roulette sequence might be the best 5-10 minutes that this show has to offer.
1The National

Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space' (Season 3 Episode 20). Darin Morgan's final episode until the revival series is a condemnation of everything this show is about, and yet it emerges as the best hour that The X-Files ever produced. The whole mission statement of this episode is to subvert the assertion that 'the truth is out there', and it does this pretty damn well ("truth is as subjective as reality"). In my subjective opinion, there's no better episode of The X-Files than this one, and for several reasons; its Rashomon-style storytelling (a device I believe it uses better than Bad Blood), amazing characters (The Men In Black, Blaine, Jose Chung, Roky Crikenson, Lord Kinbote, the return of The Stupendous Yappi) and the funniest jokes that the show has to offer (the pie sequence, Alex Trebek, the planet Venus, and the censorship of the police chief). I can't think of a single thing that would improve this episode. It's perfect, and the #1 X-Files episode of all time.
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