Revisiting the X-Files: Seasons 1-4



Spanning over 11 seasons, ‘The X-Files’ was one of the most iconic shows of the ’90s. Today we look at the first four seasons.Photo courtesy of Wired


What to make of The X-Files? Carrying an enduring legacy that pioneered the sci-fi genre far ahead of its time, the beloved sci-fi hit show was also deeply behind it, marked by many episodes that aged well and others, not so much. Despite this, I’ve tried to watch every season and present an honest look at how they hold up. In this case, I’ll start with the first four seasons, the ones generally considered the best. This is when the show was at its most popular, and while there was quite a bit of filler, there was also a lot of quality, too. 


Season One (1993-1994)

The first season is the portion of the show that I remember the most fondly.  In late January and early February of 2020, I was sick with a stomach bug and had to stay home. I remember that the day before the Super Bowl, I asked my mom if there was a show we could watch to take my mind off my sickness. We decided on The X-Files, and from its opening minutes I was hooked. I have an interest in UFOs, and though I believe most sightings are fake, one of my favorite movies of all time is Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so enjoying The X-Files was really no surprise. Because it was my first experience with the show, I have the most nostalgia for this season, but I have to say it’s not the best. Those going into the show should note that there are two types of X-Files episodes: those that follow the overarching alien storyline (“Mythology” episodes) and those that don’t have much effect on the rest of the series, (“Monster of the Week” episodes). This season only has five mythology episodes, and while they’re all solid, most of the season is made up of forgettable and bad monster episodes. It’s a shaky start to the series, with only a handful of excellent episodes, but it is worth watching, albeit with some skipping.


Best Episodes (in order of release): 

  • “Pilot”
  • “Deep Throat”
  • “Squeeze”
  • “Ice”
  • “Fallen Angel”
  • “Beyond the Sea”
  • “Lazarus”
  • “Tooms”
  • “The Erlenmeyer Flask”



“Squeeze” was the first “Monster of the Week” episode, and it’s one of the best. Eugene Tooms is one of the show’s greatest villains and would be one of the few to return for a second appearance. “Beyond the Sea” is one of my all-time favorite episodes of the show, and it may even be my favorite in general. It’s a harrowing and emotional episode to watch, dealing with the death of Scully’s dad (played by Twin Peaks actor Don Davis). It also stars the incomparable Brad Dourif, in an unhinged portrayal of a psychic serial killer. It’s a grim episode but one that shouldn’t be missed. 


Season Two (1994-1995)

With this season, The X-Files really hit its stride. We begin with a shocking transformation of the X-Files formula, with Scully and Mulder being split up. It’s starting here that the mythology steps into high gear, and so do the monster episodes. Both are in top form here, and several characters besides Mulder and Scully are introduced or elevated from the first season. In particular, Mitch Pillegi’s Walter Skinner becomes more of a person this season, and so does the infamous Cigarette Smoking Man. Behind the scenes, three new writers entered the creative team which would change the show forever. 


Vince Gilligan wrote his first episode this season, and he would eventually go on to create Breaking Bad, considered by many to be the greatest TV show of all time. Darin Morgan also debuted here, and though he only wrote a handful of episodes, they would leave a massive mark on the style of the show. His episodes were funnier than anything else in the series, and often featured meta elements as well as introspective scenes inspired by philosophy. He and Gilligan would only pen one episode this season, but Frank Spotnitz, another new recruit, would write two. Spotnitz would be one of the main architects of the mythology storyline from this season onwards. He and Carter would become successful writing partners and both he and Gilligan would stay with the show until the bitter end. 


Best Episodes: 

  • “Little Green Men”
  • “The Host”
  • “Sleepless”
  • “Duane Barry”
  • “Ascension”
  • “One Breath”
  • “Irresistible”
  • “Die Hand Die Verletzt”
  • “Colony”
  • “Endgame”
  • “Humbug”
  • “F. Emasculata”
  • “Anasazi”



My favorite for this season is probably “Duane Barry”. It’s a perfectly paced mini-movie that revolves around the titular character, who is holding up a travel agency. But Barry seems to believe that he has been visited by aliens, and Mulder happens to agree with him. It’s suspenseful, well directed and well acted, and so is its second part, “Ascension”. Both are must-watches.


Season Three (1995-1996)

So far, season three is my favorite that I’ve watched. It perfectly mixes the mythology and monster episodes and even throws in some more comedic asides for good measure. Most of the episodes here are at least watchable, and the ratio of good to bad is nowhere near as mixed as other seasons. Each episode fluctuates between concepts and tone but because of the consistent artistic direction, it never feels like tonal whiplash. We can safely go from a grim serial killer tale to an action-packed alien episode, and then segue into a comedic episode about robotic cockroaches seamlessly. It’s a testament to the show’s directors and art department that every episode maintains the classic chilly atmosphere and sci-fi aesthetic, despite some of them lapsing into horror or comedy. There’s not much to say about season three that hasn’t been said before. It’s a nearly perfect run of 24 stellar episodes, and the show arguably reached its peak during this portion. 


Best Episodes: 

  • “The Blessing Way”
  • “Paper Clip”
  • “D.P.O” 
  • “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”
  • “Oubliette”
  • “Nisei”
  • “731”
  • “War of the Coprophages”
  • “Syzygy”
  • “Piper Maru” 
  • “Apocrypha” 
  • “Pusher” 
  • “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”
  • “Quagmire”


Stand Out: 

“Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is a hilarious and poignant episode that also serves as a comment on the show itself, satirizing the serious tone of the series as well as the typical alien abduction plotline. Really, any episode written by Darin Morgan could be the stand out but this is the one I personally enjoy the most. I also have a soft spot for “D.P.O.”, which stars a young Jack Black. It’s about a teenager who can control lightning, and while it’s pretty cheesy at times, it’s also genuinely affecting at points, conveying the dying nature of the American small town with perfectly observed detail. 


Season Four (1996-1997)

This season almost achieves the greatness of season three, but it just falls short, mostly because of the increasingly tangled mythology and some questionable plot points. Without spoiling anything, there’s a twist midway through the season that feels important but is shrugged away almost immediately, leaving the status quo unchanged. However, among these episodes are two of the greatest episodes the show ever produced: the chilling serial killer story “Paper Hearts” and the shocking and funny “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”. After leaving temporarily in season three, writers Glenn Morgan and James Wong returned to the staff, but they only penned four episodes. Half of these episodes are frustrating, almost achieving greatness but never quite getting there, while the other two are some of the greatest episodes ever produced for the series. 

The first, “Home”, is a fantastic piece of filmmaking and writing, spinning an incredibly intense and gripping tale inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The other, the aforementioned “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”, is a humorous and deeply sad story about the show’s greatest villain that places him within the JFK assassination and the death of MLK. We never learn whether or not he’s telling the truth, and that makes it all the better. For a show that stumbles over itself many times in order to over explain things, sometimes not knowing and leaving it up to the audience is a far better strategy. This season was also the highest rated thus far, and contains the most-watched episode of the series ever, that being “Leonard Betts”, which aired after the Super Bowl. “Leonard Betts” is perhaps the prototypical episode of the series, containing a gross monster, witty banter, and a twist ending, but that also means it’s also slightly generic. Season four is an excellent season of the show, containing some of the most iconic episodes.


Best Episodes: 

  • “Home”
  • “Unruhe”
  • “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”
  • “Paper Hearts”
  • “Tempus Fugit”
  • “Max”
  • “Small Potatoes”
  • “Demons”


Stand Out: 

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan was the MVP of the season, as he wrote two of the best episodes here, those being “Paper Hearts” and “Small Potatoes”. “Paper Hearts” stars the always excellent Tom Noonan as a charming but unnerving serial killer, in an episode that has no supernatural elements whatsoever. It’s a gripping story, and one that proves the series didn’t need to rely on gross creatures or aliens to succeed. The other, “Small Potatoes”, is tonally opposite, instead, being a hilarious story starring former series writer Darin Morgan as a shapeshifter, a power that leads the viewer into several hilarious moments. Of course, the previously mentioned “Home” and “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” are excellent. In truth, not all of the mythology episodes are terrible, with the two-parter “Tempus Fugit” and “Max” being excellent and uncomplicated.

Well, that’s all for the first four seasons. Although I have done some skipping, and long breaks between seasons, it’s been more than a year since I started. So expect it to be another year before I review Seasons five through eight.-8. My journey with the X-Files has been messy but consistently enjoyable. Sometimes, the weird and odd episodes are just as interesting as the good ones, so while there isn’t much consistency, watching the series is a wild ride filled with many twists and turns. It’s currently available on Hulu, so if you have a lot of time to spare, dive into the mysterious world of this wonderful and groundbreaking show.