The Great X-Files Rewatch Begins – S1 E1 Pilot

The X-Files

Then

The X-Files had a significant impact on my teenage years — not surprising since I started watching the show when I was thirteen.

Every Sunday I settled in front of the TV with my dad and we watched the latest episode. In between episodes, we chatted theories about what was really going on with the aliens, government conspiracies and other oddities the show revealed.

With Fox Mulder and Dana Scully — its two charismatic and attractive leads — The X-Files fed my fascination for the paranormal, weird, creepy, and strange. In particular, I was a fan of the stand-alone over the mythology episodes, as I was less interested in aliens than in other weirdness, like ghosts, deadly AI, and pyrokinetic and other mental abilities.

When reruns aired, I rewatched all the same episodes over and over again. I read the novelizations and tie-in novels. I bought X-Files-themed magazines and general swag. The X-Files filled much of my waking thoughts for a number of formative years.

In fact my love for The X-Files was such that my grandmother began to believe I had an unhealthy fixation (something that still amuses me to this day).

Now

I’ve been wanting to rewatch The X-Files for a while — a hefty task considering the series consists of 209 one-hour long episodes (not to mention the movies). A couple of years ago, I made my first attempt and attempted to binge them all at once.

I don’t recommend this.

The X-Files was not really designed for binging, and I quickly began to burn out on some of the repetitiveness of the series.

As I start the rewatch now, my plan is to pace myself by watching no more than an episode or two a week. This means that the Great Rewatch will take me quite a while, but I can accept that.

For each episode I watch, I’ll provide a recap of the episode (full spoilers), along with some of my personal thoughts and whatever else amuses me at the time.

So, here we go. Let’s launch into The X-Files.


Season 1, Episode 1 – Pilot  – Recap

A terrified teenage girl runs through the woods in her nightgown. Wind and light whip through the trees. She falls into a clearing and stares up at a glowing figure — before being consumed by a flash of light.

Her body is discovered the next day.

Meanwhile at the FBI headquarters, Dana Scully — our redheaded, scientifically minded queen — attends a meeting with Section Chief Scott Blevins, where she is informed that she is being assigned to work with Agent Mulder, nicknamed Spooky Mulder at the agency. Throughout the meeting, the cigarette smoking man hovers silently at the peripheral. 

Tucked into the corner of the FBI’s basement, Scully enters a tiny office — crammed with file cabinets, chaotic piles of papers, photos of UFOs, and the infamous “I WANT TO BELIEVE” poster.

The X-Files

Scully introduces herself to Mulder — lanky, six feet tall with amazing hair. They discuss the case of the girl found in the woods, who has two strange marks on her back that are comprised of an unknown chemical compound. Two other teenagers from the same graduating class have also been found dead.

The first sparks of the push and pull of their relationship are revealed in this discussion. “Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?” asks Mulder in a teasing voice. They intellectually parry, with Mulder arguing for something more and Scully firmly rooted in the need for scientific evidence. 

Their banter continues as they travel to Oregon to investigate the case of the dead teens. While driving down an empty tree-lined road, their conversation is cut off by the radio going haywire. Mulder stops the car and marks the spot, spray painting a large red “X” on the ground — much to Scully’s confusion.

In town, they join other officials in the exhumation of one of the bodies. An accident causes the coffin to tumble down hill and split open, revealing a body inside — a body that is clearly not human.

Mulder’s excitement blooms as he eagerly snaps photos of the autopsy. Scully, being ever the purveyor of logic, points out that the body is likely an Orangutan or some other primate. While true, x-rays of the corpse reveal a strange metal object in the creature’s nasal cavity.

At a state hospital, Mulder and Scully attempt to speak with two students who are being cared for — however, Billy is catatonic, while Peggy is lost in her own world. Neither are able to provide viable information.

As the agents are about to leave, Peggy gets a sudden nose bleed and falls out of her wheelchair in a panic. While she’s struggling with the orderlies, her shirt hikes up, revealing two marks on her back — like the others.

Scully strides out, frustrated that Mulder has been holding information back from her.

Scully: I’m here to solve this case, Mulder. I want the truth.

Mulder: The truth? I think those kids have been abducted.

Scully: By who?

Mulder: By what?

Continuing their investigation, they travel to the crime scene in the woods, where Scully finds a strange ash-like substance on the ground. The agents are confronted by a sheriff, who threatens to arrest them if they don’t leave.  Mulder and Scully reluctantly back off.

Driving back to their hotel, they experience a flash of light. The car shuts down and rolls to a stop. Mulder, who checked his watch just before the light flash, declares that they’ve lost nine minutes of time — a common occurrence in alien abduction scenarios. Mulder is delighted by the experience, while Scully remains resolutely skeptical.

However, the moment must have gotten to her, when she discovers bumps on her back she becomes frightened and asks Mulder to see what they are — bug bites.

That moment of fear and trust provides a space for Mulder to open up to her. He tells her about the loss of his sister when he was a child, his use of hypnotism to realize that her disappearance is related to aliens, and his belief Scully is part of the conspiracy designed to keep him from the truth. She listens and asks him to trust her.

Their conversation is interrupted by a phone call, telling them that Peggy (the girl from the hospital is dead).

At the scene of the accident, they learn that Peggy somehow ran in front of a moving truck (despite being paralyzed) and that her watched stopped at 9:03 pm (the same time as the flash of light they experienced.

When they return to their hotel room, they find it burning — all the evidence inside destroyed.

Theresa Nemman asks for their protection. They all go to a diner, where she confesses that she’s afraid she might be the next one to die. Her father, Dr. Nemman, has been trying to protect her, but she doesn’t believe he can.

Suddenly, her nose starts bleeding and her father and the sheriff (who we learn is Billy’s father) come to whisk her away. it’s obvious to both Mulder and Scully that they know something about the deaths, something they’re covering up.

They decide to investigate the other two murdered teenagers and go to the graveyard, where they find both graves empty — the bodies stolen.

Mulder explains that Billy must be the one responsible, that his catatonic state and ability to act in killing the other teenagers would be the result of an alien abduction. Scully becomes wrapped up in the story, working out the details with him, but ultimately ends up laughing at the absurdity of it all.

They return to the hospital to look into the possibility of Billy being the killer and discover his feet are covered with the same dirt and ash from the crime scene in the woods. This evidence convinces Scully that Billy is somehow responsible for the murders, but they decide that they need to return to the woods so they can gather new sample and gain more complete proof.

When they reach the woods, everything immediately goes awry. Scully is knocked to the ground by the sheriff, who then confronts Mulder at gunpoint.

Screams resound through the trees, causing both the sheriff and Mulder to go running toward the sounds. They find Billy, holding Theresa up to the the light like an offering.

When the light passes, the markings have disappeared from Billy’s body. The events of the past few weeks apparently over.

Later, Billy is interviewed about the series of events at the FBI headquarters — but even this provides no clear answers.

Scully discusses the case and her report with Blevins. She notes that while there is not much that she can substantiate about Mulder’s claims, she managed to hold on to a single piece of evidence — the metal chip found inside the ape corpse, which a laboratory reveals to be made of a material that could not be identified.

Later, we see the cigarette smoking man depositing the metal chip into a box within a warehouse containing a multitude of boxes — the kind of place where things are left to be forgotten.

And end episode.

(Holy hell! I know I said I’d do recap of each episode but wowza was that hard.)

My Thoughts

The pilot episode of The X-Files is masterfully put together — tightly fitting together plot, character development for Mulder and Scully, and hints of the mythology that will be explored throughout the series.

The plot is fascinating. It manages to cram in a multitude of details and characters (which is what made it so difficult in writing a synopsis).  And, like much of the X-files investigations, it manages to leave Agents Mulder and Scully somewhat frustrated in terms of the evidence and conclusions they are able to draw, while simultaneously providing enough information for the audience to be to infer what’s happening and achieve their own sense satisfaction.

In addition, the way the episode hints at the overall mythology, which will involve a mixture of aliens, strange events, and governmental conspiracies. As viewers, we have a clear sense of the kind of world that we’re buying into while watching the show.

One of the key aspects of this episode, however, is how it lays the groundwork for Mulder and Scully’s relationship — the banter of science versus paranormal possibilities initiated even in their first introduction. In particular, two moments stand out for me.

The first is when Scully becomes afraid she might have been marked with two dots on her back in the same way as the abducted students. When she comes to Mulder to have him inspect her back, she pulls off her robe, appearing in only her underwear and bra — a very trusting act.

Although Mulder is briefly surprised, he focuses in on the bumps, inspecting them, and informing her they are only bug bites, much to Scully’s relief.

Whereas some other show might have turned this into a moment of teasing and/or flirting, instead this becomes a moment of mutual trust and respect between colleagues. At no point is the scene sexualized, nor does Mulder tease her about being afraid. Instead, he gives her a moment to process her fears — and her trust in him is what likely allows him to open up about his own past, putting his own trust in her.

The second moment that fascinates me is when Mulder and Scully are leaving the hospital for the second time. Scully, having discovered the ash on Billy’s feet is convinced that he is responsible for the murders — despite the seeming impossibility of it.

It’s a moment of momentary reversal, in which Scully is ready to dive headfirst into the theory, while Mulder is suggesting they take a pause to gain more evidence.

Mulder: Alright, but I just want you to understand what it is you’re saying. 

Scully: You said it yourself.

Mulder: Yeah, but you have to write it down in your report. 

Scully (pausing to think): You’re right. We’ll take another sample from the forest and run a comparison before we do anything.

One would think that Mulder — the king of wild theories — would be happy to finally have Scully believing in the possibility of such strange events. Yet, here he is reminding Scully of her focus on scientific evidence, and even suggesting that they not get too far ahead of themselves.

A reason for this might be that Mulder himself knows that he has be ostracized for his theories and beliefs. If he allows Scully to go too far down that rabbit hole without the evidence to back it up, then she would face the same fate. So, having her pause and consider what she’s jumping into is a way of protecting her.

It’s fascinating to me knowing all the future conversations to come — all the times Mulder asks her why she can’t just believe, and all the times Scully demands more evidence before leaping to conclusions. If he had said nothing here, would Scully have been more open to improbable possibilities in the future?  Maybe, maybe not. But I’m having and interesting time thinking about it.

Series Stats

Because of my previously attempted rewatch, I noticed certain amusing repetitions. So, I’m planning to keep track of them (to the best of my ability).

Here are the stats from this episode:

Dana Does an Autopsy: 1

Mulder Eats Sunflower Seeds: 1

Mulder is Called Spooky: 1

Appearance of Cigarette Smoking Man: 1