S1, E1 – “Pilot”,dir. Robert Mandel, written by Chris Carter,
originally aired September 10, 1993
A small town in Oregon has a series of kids from the same graduating class of ’89 disappear into the forest to be killed in a flash of light.
As the pilot of the series, the episode focuses less on the weekly mystery and more on establishing the main characters, F.B.I. Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), and their relationship to their superiors. We first see Scully, but before we know much about her we have her describe Mulder’s reputation, notably his being obsessed with the paranormal. Scully’s role as dictated by her commanding officers is to debunk Mulder’s attempted solutions to the X-Files, a series of unsolved cases relating to the unexplainable. When we first see Mulder, he introduces Scully as the scientifically-driven straight arrow, clearly there as his foil. It’s this tug-of-war between the two, Fact versus Gut Feeling, Science versus Faith, that underlies much of the show.
One deceptively minor scene that tells so much about both characters is when their plane to Oregon experiences major turbulence; Scully clutches her armrest in panic while Mulder lays back nonchalantly, accepting his fate.
It’s the first episode to kick off the ‘Mythology’ arc that the whole series falls back upon—are aliens real?—and many other side plots are subtly set into motion throughout the episode, notably Mulder’s missing sister. The main theme of the episode (and the Mythology arc as a whole) is the idea that you can trust no one. It’s a conspiracy-driven show that aired in the perfect time: America wasn’t involved in many major conflicts and the events of 9/11 were still years away. The idea that everyone, from the small-town paraplegic to the U.S. government is working in the shadows—it’s a scary and captivating concept. Most important to the series though, is we as the audience see the scientifically unexplainable, yet the evidence for it always disappears, leaving us caught between Mulder’s insistence and Scully’s skepticism.
S1, E2 – “Deep Throat”, dir. Daniel Sackheim, written by Christ Carter,
originally aired September 17, 1993
A military test pilot in Idaho goes missing amidst a series of unexplained phenomena.
The beginning of the episode introduces Mulder to a mysterious ally, the titular Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin), another seeker of the truth. It quickly becomes clear to Mulder and Scully that the Idaho military base is the source of strange goings-on in the town nearby, from mentally crippled pilots to UFO-like lights flying by at night. What’s interesting about this episode is that while it’s inferred the government is suppressing the agents in the first episode, here the military takes on an active, oppressive role against Mulder and Scully’s investigation. There’s even a scene of Mulder’s capture by the military, which plays out eerily similar to what one would think an alien abduction would be like.
In an especially chilling scene, the wife of a former pilot calls the agents to her house, screaming “That man’s not my husband!” The husband, meanwhile, seems confused by the sudden outburst—he shows very little sign of change to those besides his wife. It’s unnerving, and as Mulder says, ‘deliberate and insidious’, while also upping the tension behind the recurring ‘evidence versus word’ debate.
The central idea of the episode is the government possessing advanced alien technology and the ethical question of progression weighed with the human cost. When their investigation leads to an intense reaction from the military, we’re left with the disturbing reality that it’s Mulder and Scully who acted inappropriately; the military were following a cold protocol.
It’s much darker and bolder than the first episode, and the central mystery is fleshed out through a much more creative plot. Also, there’s Seth Green as a stoned, teenaged witness.
S1, E3 – “Squeeze”, dir. Harry Longstreet, writers Glen Morgan & James Wong
originally aired September 24, 1993
A series of gruesome murders take place in locations where no physical entry or exit for the murderer seems possible.
Distinct from the story set in the ‘Mythology” episodes, we have our first “monster-of-the week” episode—stand-alone stories similar in style to a show like “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. It’s these episodes where the writers really have to flex their creativity, sometimes to great effect. This is a fine episode, but for me it was the interactions between Mulder and Scully that outshone the actual mystery, which unfolded somewhat weakly.
When Scully is approached by Agent Tom Colton, a friend from her academy-years, she learns she’s become a laughingstock for taking part in Mulder’s paranoid theories. It’s an important episode for her partnership with Mulder, as she’s forced to put aside her own doubts (and workplace politics) to support him. Another interesting aspect of this episode is that while Mulder’s theories are typically the focal point of the plot, Scully’s own medical and scientific investigations seem to win out. The suspected monster, Toom, is played so creepily by Doug Hutchison, it’s a shame more of the episode didn’t focus on him—he goes down in an intense but admittedly lazily written showdown… Using fist-flying action to solve any mystery is usually the least-interesting climax you could think of.
Luckily for us, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Toom, as we leave him in a very “Psycho”-esque shot of him sitting in a jail cell, unperturbed by his defeat.
Read my thoughts on Episodes 4-6 here