Season 2 of The X-Files is a great season of television and it shows by how good things are this low on the list. Season 1 felt like a slog at times….not Season 2 though. These are supposed to be middle-of-the-pack episodes but I could watch them endlessly. I mean there is a reason that these rankings are coming 2.5 decades after the episodes aired.
#13 – Little Green Men – 78/100
This episode has two sides to it. On one side, we have Mulder having quite the crisis of faith with Deep Throat dead and The X-Files shut down. Its a fascinating watch as we see him coping with his loss the best he can (in classic Mulder fashion, this is going quite poorly) and the conversation in the garage between him and Scully is amazing on so many levels. It shows how close the two have gotten and how much respect/unhealthy reliance there is between our lovable duo. Phenomenal acting.
Mulder’s existential grief leads him to his Congressional contact and then on to Puerto Rico where we see him start asking himself important questions about what he would do if aliens actually did come to pay him a visit (he probably should have thought of this before using up all his vacation time going to PR). Its meaty emotional work and David Duchovny is on the ball…his transition during his recording from trying to be an impartial observer to having a full-on therapy session with virtual Scully is incredible.
And how could I mention Little Green Men without mentioning Walter Skinner? That moment where he sends CSM scurrying out of his office is a defining moment for Skinner in a season full of defining moments.
Sadly I said this episode had two sides….that bad side rears its ugly face in the comical series of misadventures Scully has while dealing with some bumbling governmental surveillance. Gillian Anderson is fine/great in these scenes…the scenes themselves are just executed terribly and its because of how bad CSM’s goons are at their jobs.
How bumbling are these idiots? Well Scully hacks into Mulder’s computer with barely no effort while these guys do nothing. They have one job and that is to monitor Mulder’s apartment…and they casually allow Scully to escape with evidence by mistaking a printout of critical information as “a self-test that the computer does”. Finally they need to follow Scully at the airport and not only do they send the most conspicuous looking agents who Scully spots with no effort but they also fall for the ol “Scully leaves fake travel plans on Mulder’s voicemail that they should know she knows that they are monitoring but let’s fall for it anyway” trick. Damn, these scenes are supposed to make Scully look good but I just find myself smirking through them.
So now we move from one episode that scored only a 78 because of some poor Scully-related material…
#12 – F. Emasculata – 78/100
…to another episode that scored only a 78 because of some poor Scully-related material. However, unlike in Little Green Men, my problem here is with Scully the character. F. Emasculata is that X-Files episode where Scully gets a man killed.
Seriously, shes just running around a prison under quarantine because she doesn’t like that the CDC/Pink Pharmaceuticals is keeping her and Mulder in the dark. She breaks standard medical procedures left and right by barely wearing any protective gear while handling bodies housing an unknown pathogen. Meanwhile, poor Dr. Oswald goes to stop her and gets sprayed and infected by the nasty boils that would have fatally infected her if he had been a few seconds late. Seriously, the only reason why Oswald got killed is because Scully was ignoring the quarantine and it bothers me during every one of her scenes that she doesn’t seem to give a shit until Oswald reveals that Scully may also be infected. It goes against everything I know and love about Dana Scully’s character.
So what does F. Emasculata do well? Everything else! I mean there’s a reason it scored a 78 despite my trashing it above! This episode moves briskly from one set-piece to another and no other episode in Season 2 (other than End Game) benefits more from Rob Bowman’s incredible direction than this one. There is a high level of tension throughout the episode that isn’t always present in even the better X-Files episodes. We race from scenes of Mulder running around trying to stop an outbreak with Dean Norris to quieter, more terrifying moments where we see the fallout from the infection. Both types of scenes work extremely well and give the episode a big-budget feel. The music has this steady drum-beat that makes everything feel apocalyptic. And there are nice character beats along for the ride, including a moment where a Mulder and CSM argument ends with me not knowing who I’d side with. Most of the time, CSM is played like a straight villain but its good to see that he has some principles here.
Its too bad Scully’s stuff wasn’t handled with more nuance.
#11 – Aubrey – 81/100
Why is Aubrey not talked about more? If you like creative story-lines, Aubrey has that. If you want dark, scary imagery and direction, Rob Bowman’s got that handled here, with all the chest slashings and razor attacks you could ever want. If you’re after some really strong guest performances, well Terry O’Quinn and Deborah Strang have got you covered (though Strang’s overreaction to a little girl tripping is a bit laughable). We even have some really solid Mulder & Scully banter! How often do we get to see them eating during a case? When was the last time they had a cute chuckle together while gently making fun of each other during those long car rides? When do we ever see Mulder casually make blowjob jokes to Scully and snicker like a little boy afterwards? When??
Seriously, this episode is just a strong outing. Right from the opening shot, I was completely invested. Rarely do I actually care about guest characters but both BJ Morrow and Lt. Tillman are a cut above the generic riff-raff that you might get in an episode like Dod Kalm. And no idea if the twist worked or not (I’ve seen this episode so many times that I can’t remember if it surprised me) but the gradual build-up to the reveal is well-executed. Honestly, the only thing Aubrey does wrong is that it’s followed up immediately by Irresistible and Die Hand Die Verlezt, two episodes that are just more iconic than this one.
With that said, Aubrey is the kind of episode that The X-Files did so well throughout Seasons 2-5. Just a solid, scary, well-written Monster of the Week that does its job nice and efficiently. Aubrey is The X-Files on autopilot and that is not a bad thing.
#10 – Soft Light – 83/100
Soft Light is kind of ridiculous. I mean, a shadow that can kill people is a stretch even for a show like The X-Files and its played so completely straight that it could have easily become a ridiculous cheese-fest. But somehow…it isn’t. All of the scenes dealing with Chester’s shadow are very effective and there is some serious tension generated during the various set pieces. Soft Light is so much fun.
Tony Shalhoub is awesome and he really carries this episode on his shoulders. There had been some really strong guest characters up to this point in the show’s run (Donnie Pfaster, Eugene Tooms, Luther Boggs) but Chester Banton is the first time a guest character is made the protagonist of an episode and is actually effective. (I’m comparing him to Lauren Kite from Shadows so that’s not much for competition). You really feel for Chester’s plight throughout the episode and there is this feeling of inevitability that Shalhoub projects very well. Plus he gives David Duchovny a run for his money in terms of looking like someone murdered his puppy.
We have some awesome Mulder/Scully banter as well, particularly in their first scene. This being Vince Gilligan’s first script, I have no idea how much of this dynamic was written by him and how much was touched up by other writers. But Mulder and Scully are fun to watch in this episode…
…as is Mr. X. He gets some captivating developments in this episode as he makes it clear here that he is not a Deep Throat facsimile. He’s his own man with his own agenda and he’s not just there to placate Mulder. His scenes are always excellent and its not different here in Soft Light.
And I’d be remiss to not mention the soundtrack by Mark Snow. Just listen to that…