Sometimes I gamble. Most of the time it’s only for money and occasionally it’s for something non-monetary. On especially rare occasions I gamble on both, particularly when I’m feeling great about the Giants after a rousing win against the Pats and a seemingly winnable game against the 49er’s next on the docket. This is what happened last week when I wagered, in addition to $100, me having to write for this site multiple times this week if the Giants lost and Emerson having to produce an episode of my podcast East Coast Bias (check us out at www.ecbias.com, we’ve been hemorrhaging listeners so now is your time to get on the bandwagon before everyone else!) if the alternative happened. So you’re stuck with me for a few days this week. I’d make a self-deprecating joke about this but I read this site regularly and know it’s been a week and a half since anything was posted. I may not have the best self-esteem but I’ve got enough to know I’m better than nothing, maybe even dirt, but not that fancy store-bought dirt (got to get that first Simpsons reference out of the way).
So I’m going to try and stick with topics that can be classified as nerdy and I know at least a little about. I’d also like to help better your lives and I know that if you’re a Breaking Bad fan like myself, Sunday nights have not been the same for the past month since the latest season ended. Sure, you could watch The Walking Dead but let’s face it, zombies aren’t nearly enough to make up for a show riddled with plot holes, stilted dialogue, and thinly drawn unlikable characters.
You may not be aware that Breaking Bad’s creator and show runner Vince Gilligan got his first big break working on The X-Files initially as a writer and eventually a producer as well. His work on The X-Files often shines through in Breaking Bad not only in the dark themes both shows touch on but the type of gallows humor they often employ to lighten the mood. Gilligan also clearly respects the “teaser”, or “cold open” segment of a show where it opens with a scene (or scenes) before the title as Breaking Bad has consistently done a phenomenal job of drawing the viewer in within it’s first couple minutes very much like The X-Files was so good at doing back in the day. So for your Sunday Evening viewing pleasure I have composed a list of Vince Gilligan's best writing contributions to The X-Files.
A couple things before we get into the list:
-All of these episodes are available on Netflix Instant Play
-There are essentially two types of X-Files episodes, the “mytharc” or “mythology” ones where the show addresses the ongoing conspiracy/aliens/etc. and “standalone” or “monster of the week” episodes where they tell a self-contained story. I’m only telling you this so you know what I’m talking about when I use those last two terms.
Season 3 - Episode 17
Gilligan’s first episode as a staff writer (he was a freelancer when he wrote the second season episode “Soft Light” which featured one Tony Shaloub) introduced Robert Modell, a serial killer who can convince his victims to do what he says. “Pusher” is as highly regarded as the best X-Files episodes and features the rare case of a villian in a standalone episode who would later make another appearance on the show (Season 5 episode “Kitsunegari”).
Season 4 - Episode 10
A long time plotline on The X-Files was Mulder’s search for his sister Samantha, who was supposedly abducted by aliens in front of his eyes when they were children. The show revisited this thread countless times to varying results but none may have been better than this Season 4 episode where a serial killer Mulder helped apprehend in the past resurfaces claiming that he was responsible for more victims, with Mulder’s sister among them. The always creepy Tom Noonan (you might best remember him from Louie as the doctor who gives an extremely graphic description of the crucifixion) guest stars as the killer, John Lee Roche.
Season 4 - Episode 20
Probably the only other person who deserves consideration for best X-Files writer is Darin Morgan. He was the first person to try to do funny episodes and penned what many consider to be the best episode in the show’s history, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (in which Peter Boyle plays an old man who can see how people will die) in addition to “Humbug” (circus freaks) and “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’”, which de-constructs the entire show better (and funnier) than any blogger could. It also features Alex Trebek and former Governor of Minnesota Jesse “The Body” Ventura as Men In Black, I highly recommend it.
After winning an Emmy for “Bruckman” and being responsible for some of the best episodes of the show’s third season, Morgan left the show for a brief stay with creator Chris Carter’s other series Millenium, and eventually stopped writing altogether until somewhat recently. Morgan did return to The X-Files one last time in this episode where he plays Eddie Van Blundht, a schlubby janitor at a fertility clinic who can shapeshift and impersonate those around him. I won’t get into plot specifics but eventually he uses his ability to impersonate Mulder and seduce Scully, sort of giving many long time fans what they always wanted. This episode is Gilligan’s first attempt at humor and he does not disappoint, giving the man who injected much needed levity into the show in the first place a chance to show he can bring it in the acting department as well.
(Note: Morgan also played the very memorable “Flukeman” in the Season 2 episode “The Host”. This role did not give Morgan much of a chance to prove his humor chops)
Season 5 - Episode 12
Vampires are the monster of the week in what is essentially The X-Files meets Rashomon. In this fan favorite, Mulder and Scully give differing accounts of what happened when they investigate a death by exsanguination in Texas. Notable guest stars are abound as Luke Wilson plays the town sheriff and the fat ginger from The Sandlot and The Big Green shows up as a pizza delivery boy with OCD. If for some reason you are actually choosing to watch these episodes but you are not a regular X-Files viewer I recommend checking out a few other episodes beforehand if only to get a feel for the Mulder/Scully dynamic that Gilligan does a great job of sending up here.
Season 6 - Episode 2
If you’re truly in need of some sort of Breaking Bad fix this one is probably the way to go as Walter White himself Bryan Cranston plays Patrick Crump a “seemingly deranged” man (according to the IMDB description) who forces Mulder to drive west at high speeds, claiming that he only has so long to live and will die otherwise. So not only do you get Cranston playing a deranged man with a death sentence, he rocks a mustache giving his performance a Season 1-era Walter White touch.
Season 6 - Episode 14
If “Bad Blood” was The X-Files meets Rashomon, “Monday” is The X Files meets Groundhog Day as Mulder is forced to relive the same Monday over and over again until he can stop a bank robbery from going wrong and resulting in a bomb killing everyone in the building. Not much else to add about this one except that it’s a solid entry from what is my opinion a very underrated season. It also features a fantastic call-back to the waterbed that Michael McKean’s character acquires for Mulder in Dreamland 1 & 2.
Season 7 - Episode 3
Rob Roberts is a man who is addicted to eating human brains. Before you get the wrong idea this is by no means an X-Files take on zombies...thankfully. This episode is noteworthy in that it’s the only one where the story is told from the point of the view of the show’s monster of the week.
Season 7 - Episode 12
I remember hearing that The X-Files was going to do a crossover episode with Cops and not understanding how it would work at all, much less be a decent episode. Not only was the end result a very funny X-Files episode, it’s simply a strong episode in general with a concept that would probably have worked well if it were just a normal episode of the show. The fact that we get to hear Mulder unintentionally and unironically repeat a generic meathead cop’s “this is why they pay us the bucks” line is only icing on the cake. An extremely underrated episode from late in the show’s run, this one also comes highly recommended.
Season 8 - Episode 4
Sidenote: Don’t you hate it when you read lists on the Internet and the writer squeezes in an episode that doesn’t necessarily fit the criteria because he wants to make a point or write about it anyway.
There a probably a couple episodes that could take this one’s place on this list (“Folie a Deux” and “Unusual Suspects come to mind) but I wanted to include one after David Duchovny was no longer on the show fulltime which brings us to “Roadrunners”. Scully goes off to investigate a murder in Utah without letting Mulder’s replacement, Agent Dogget (aka Robert Patrick aka the T-1000!!!) know and ends up in over her head with some weird townsfolk. This episode left a strong impression on me for two reasons, it’s kind of gross (if you watch you’ll see what I mean) and it marked the first time I started coming around to Dogget’s character. I also vividly remember my dad making a joke when this episode first aired about (SPOILER jump to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know) Scully no longer needing Mulder anymore after Dogget saves her in the end. My mom, who was not nearly as big a fan of the show as my dad did not appreciate this.
Yep, I used to spend my Sunday nights in high school watching The X-Files with my parents. I was about 16 at the time, lay off.