The X Files Revisited: 1.01 Pilot

The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. Now eight years after the second movie The X Files: I Want To Believe, the show is returning for six new episodes in 2016. Here at The Digital Fix, we are going to work our way through each season, reviewing some of the big episodes – and both movies – across the years in the build up to season ten. With 202 episodes, there is simply too much to cover every episode; instead we’ll pick the story highlights of each year, starting with the original pilot from 1993…

Re-watching the pilot episode now, it is surprising how many of The X Files archetypes are here in the very beginning. Mysterious goings on in the lush green Vancouver forests at night. Microchips of unknown origin uncovered in the bodies of abductees. Mulder witnessing a paranormal event while Scully remains in the distance. Mysterious government conspiracies. The Cigarette Smoking Man observing in the shadows. Mulder and Scully debating scientific facts versus the abnormal. It is all there neatly wrapped up in one forty-five minute episode and more than two decades later it still stands up to the test of time.

What is perhaps so surprising is how strong the relationship between Mulder and Scully is from the very start. In her initial interview with Section Chief Scott Blevins – the Smoking Man observing the proceedings – she speaks with great admiration for the man she has been assigned to on The X Files and while he views her with suspicion from the word go, there is a sense that Mulder equally respects her medical, scientific background. He almost views her scepticism as a challenge, something that will fuel many a passionate debate over the years. That first meeting in his basement office is electric; “The answers are there. You just have to know where to look.” Scully tells Mulder as they examine their first case – the death of fourth victim in Oregon. By the time the audience leaves the FBI offices, we are hooked.

The pilot episode could have focused purely on Mulder’s search for the unexplained and Scully attempts to ‘debunk’ The X Files. But while these character motivations are key to the episode, is the mystery that drives it, and it is a good one. A class of teenagers who have been abducted; four are dead, one is comatose, the other wheelchair bound and mentally disturbed. Something horrific has happened to them and the previous FBI agents assigned to the case have been mysteriously recalled, causing the case to be relegated to the FBI archives and filed under X. It gets better when the decomposing body unearthed from the grave resembles something alien – or at least as Scully calls it, an ape – bear mysterious markings and have microchips embedded in their nasal passages. Adding in the obvious cover-up and it is a tantalising mystery for the audience to get its teeth into.

The episode also plays a great double bluff half way through when Mulder and Scully venture into the rain swept Oregon woods at night to find out what the teenage victims were up to. Scully is confronted with a blinding white light – just like the episode opening – before being confronted by a shady sheriff (his headlights the source of the disturbance), trying to derail the FBI agents in their investigation.

This leads to the tense moment where Scully thinks she has discovered the same mysterious markings on her own body – a clever piece of foreshadowing? – and a strangely tender moment between the two agents as Mulder examines her body. Even at this early stage, Mulder and Scully let their barriers down, leading to the other great moment where Mulder discusses the motivation for following The X Files; the abduction of his own sister. It is a huge piece of series mythology and I like how it isn’t shoe-horned in; rather it comes at the moment they have both absorbed themselves in the case and have found a quiet moment to reflect. As for the talk of aliens, it isn’t explicitly mentioned though it is assumed, particularly after Mulder tells Scully he believes the teenagers have been abducted by aliens. Again, I like how it comes at the mid-way point of the episode rather than spearheading the investigation; Mulder looks to test Scully first on her own assumptions, only rewarding her with his outlandish theory when he thinks she is ready for it.

The government conspiracy runs seamlessly throughout the pilot episode too; from Mulder’s talk of the agency blocking him to the Cigarette Smoking Man himself. The chip that Scully presents to Blevins at the end then finds its way into the hands of this shadowy figure, filed away from other similar chips in a huge, mysterious warehouse in the Pentagon itself. I also love how Scully regards him with suspicion too when she crosses him at the hall in the end.

The pilot episode of The X Files is a very strong introduction to the show. Both characters are in their element from day one, Mulder filled with enthusiasm as he encounters paranormal events while Scully scrutinises the facts and finds herself unable to find all the answers. The only thing that felt a little too far at this stage was Mulder identifying the comatose Billy Miles as the culprit stealing bodies from graves, but perhaps that is because the audience hasn’t spent enough time with him to believe in him. The mystery is never really resolved but by the end we're hooked regardless. Quite simply, the pilot episode of The X Files is one of the finest series introductions in television history.

Next up, episode two Deep Throat and the introduction of Mark Snow’s iconic theme tune…

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