Examining ‘The X-Files’: Which Episodes Work Better, Mythology Or Monster Of The Week?

With the six-episode X-Files revival upon us, an old division has resurfaced, the one between those who prefer episodes dealing with the show’s overarching mythology, and those who primarily enjoy the monster-of-the-week episodes. To shed further light on these factions, Uproxx writers Jamie Frevele and Andrew Husband discuss the merits of both.

Andrew: Many fans of The X-Files like the mythology and monster-of-the-week episodes equally, but I’ve always preferred the former. It’s not that I dislike one-offs like “Squeeze” or “X-Cops,” but I guess I’m way too fascinated with Chris Carter’s fictionalized alien conspiracies and little green men.

Jamie: I definitely acknowledge that the ongoing stories about Scully and Mulder give the characters depth and take us into more intimate, emotional territory. But I love the “monsters of the week” — “Home,” for starters. They get to head into really creepy territory and tell a unique — or classic — story. We could be watching an urban legend come to life, or something truly original.

Andrew: Sure, but did you ever get the impression that one-off episodes like “The Jersey Devil” were just a bit too far removed from the central arc of the show? I always felt like they were more of a distraction than an addition to the central story of the series. Maybe they added to Mulder and Scully’s character development, but at what cost to the former’s search for his sister, the conspiracy and so on?

Jamie: Eh, if we had never known about Mulder’s sister, I would have been fine with that. I’m kidding. That was, yes, a very intriguing part of the series. But I think what happens with serialized plots like that is that they become so convoluted and complicated that it loses people. I specifically remember towards the end of the series, around the time Mulder left, that I couldn’t keep track of what was happening when I missed a week. You know, back in ye olden tymes of having to record a show on a VHS tape and watch it in between reports, drama rehearsals, fan-fiction writing, etc. Otherwise you missed that episode until summer reruns.

Andrew: That’s a good point, especially with so much new television being about binge-watching — whether it’s all of Jessica Jones being dumped on Netflix at once, or the first season of Angie Tribeca airing on TBS in a single day. The X-Files stems from an older era of television in which viewers — be it the hardcore fans or semi-regular watchers — weren’t always able to follow along every week. Then again, this begs the question: Does the mythology become too much to keep up with when we try to bingewatch it today, or was it manageable when it originally aired week-to-week?

Jamie: I definitely think I’d be singing a different tune if I was binge-watching today. A great example is Lost, which had ridiculous mythology involved, but makes for a fantastic bingewatch. You didn’t have to wait or commit anything to memory — it was all happening right when you needed it to. I think the same thing would happen with The X-Files today, and we would be treated to a really interesting story. But I will still stand by the one-off episodes. Plus, those episodes let Scully and Mulder lighten up a bit. Like the episode told from a witness’ perspective: “Her hair was red… a little too red.” That episode has stood out for me since I watched it on the air.

Andrew: You’re talking about “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space,'” which is totally unfair because it’s a fantastic episode, one of the best episodes ever written for the series. Besides, where else will we ever see Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek partnered together as nefarious men in black? But, I digress… standalone episodes like “Jose Chung’s” really do add a significant amount of panache to The X-Files.

But here’s some food for thought: Being that it still covers the show’s alien mythos to a slight degree, can we legitimately consider “Jose Chung’s” a monster-of-the-week episode?

Jamie: Maybe I need to re-watch (stupid question because of course I need to re-watch), but I feel like those episodes, despite dealing with aliens, are still set apart from the Mulder/Scully-alien saga. Don’t get me wrong, because I do like that part of The X-Files as I mentioned before, but man, these episodes are what stand out to me the most. I mean, “Home,” man! I feel like watching that episode as a teenager defined exactly what kind of sicko adult I was going to be. That was a seriously amazing horror episode that gave me crazy, crazy creeps and I loved it. And I know there were other scary ones because I would watch them before going to bed on Sundays and my mom would refuse.

Andrew: I often wonder if that’s why I’m not the biggest fan of the monster-of-the-week episodes. What it boils down to is, the mythology delves more into the show’s more science fiction elements, whereas the standalones really dig into the series’ more horrific narratives. And I’m a bumbling, fickle mess when it comes to horror. I hate scary movies, television shows, and pretty much any other entertainment that involves terror of any kind. “Home,” “Tooms,” and the like are classic X-Files episodes, no doubt, but I’m still too much of a scaredy cat to re-watch them. (Confession: I skipped most of them when I recently binged the series in preparation for the revival.)

Jamie: That is adorable. But then again, I’m the kind of girl who grew up on some f*cked up entertainment because my parents didn’t know any better. Actually, no, I can’t blame my parents. I can thank them.

The whole kidnapping aspect of what happened with Mulder’s sister was scary, I just never scared easily. I do distinctly remember getting frustrated with the whole story by the end, even when Mulder’s father was revealed and everything started going to sh*t for him. I was tired of it. But mostly because it had gone beyond my understanding at that point. Same thing happened with Alias. I was like, “I can’t. I didn’t study.”

Andrew: Okay, so you’re saying that there was a particular point when the mythology became so convoluted that you weren’t able to keep up? That you didn’t feel like trying to keep up with its progression? Or both? (Or neither?)

Jamie: What I’m saying is that I was a lazy teenager.

However, that doesn’t mean I still didn’t appreciate the creativity that the one-off episodes could have. I needed a refresher, so I browsed the internet to jog my memory (I know, I’m terrible) and was reminded of “Triangle,” the episode that took place on a ship in the Bermuda Triangle and was shot in four real-time acts and there was time travel. And also of “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” in which Peter Boyle plays a guy who can see how everyone dies, including himself. That was probably just one of many introductions to extremely dark comedy that really piqued my interest as a weird teenager. There was drama in the serial, but there was fun in the one-offs.

Andrew: I’m fairly certain we were all lazy teenagers, just like we all breathe oxygen and not underwater (unlike the human-alien hybrid in “The Erlenmeyer Flask”). And I buy your suggestion that The X-Files was much freer in its monster-of-the-week episodes. However, there’s something to be said for a show that was able to carry its central arc across nine seasons and two feature films. Especially the first seven seasons and movie, which Carter originally tied off with the season-seven finale, “Requiem,” which was supposed to be the series finale.

Arguments and preferences aside, you’re right to applaud the monster-of-the-week episodes just as much as I am to fawn over Mulder’s search for his sister. Both made The X-Files what it was and what it will hopefully remain — great television.

Do you prefer The X-Files’ mythology episodes, or its monster-of-the-week entries? Let us know in the comments, especially because the new miniseries will feature ample samplings of both types in its six-episode run.

The second episode of The X-Files revival, “Founder’s Mutation,” airs on Monday, Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

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