Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 19, 2017)
One of the most iconic TV series of the 1990s, this package provides the entire first season of The X-Files. This Blu-ray set includes all 24 episodes from the 1993-94 run.
Pilot: “Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is instructed to debunk an FBI project dubbed ‘The X-Files’, paranormal cases that have been reopened by Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny).”
As I mentioned in my handful of prior X-Files reviews, I didn’t watch the series as it aired. I saw the two theatrical films and also checked out a compilation disc called Revelations back in 2008.
This means I had moderate understanding of the characters and situations. Because of that, “Pilot” didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
“Pilot” sets up the series pretty well, and it offers a good story in its own right. I expected it might simply be expository, but the tale in play proves quite interesting, and it sure leads it toward the future in a satisfying manner. All that and Gillian Anderson in her underwear, too!
Deep Throat: “Mulder and Scully investigate the mysterious case of a military test pilot (Andrew Johnston) who disappeared after experiencing strange psychotic behavior.”
For the series’ second episode, X-Files looks at UFOs – or a reasonable approximation. Though the story progresses fairly well, it feels a bit underdeveloped – not surprising, given the series’ infancy at the time. Still, it has some good moments – and we get a fun guest turn from a then-teenaged Seth Green as a stoner.
Squeeze: “Mulder and Scully search for a humanoid killer whose savage murder spree reoccurs every 30 years.”
Both “Pilot” and “Deep Throat” offered elements that introduced/advanced the series “mythology”: its overriding character/story themes. “Squeeze” does nothing of the sort, as it provides a total standalone episode.
I think fans prefer the “mythology” shows, which I get since they build toward something grand, but the standalone programs can be fun, and “Squeeze” works well in that regard. It offers an interesting case and allows us to see the gradual development of the characters’ personalities.
Conduit: “Mulder becomes obsessed with solving a case that closely parallels an ‘encounter’ he experienced as a child.”
“Conduit” occasionally feels too heavily influenced by Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Despite the latter knock-off elements – and a scenery-chewing guest turn from Carrie Snodgress – “Conduit” turns into a reasonably satisfying exploration of the series’ focus on alien abductions. I don’t know how much it advances the “mythology”, but it comes with a provocative tale.
The Jersey Devil: “Mulder and Scully track a legendary creature that has roamed the New Jersey countryside for over 40 years.
With “Devil”, we get a terribly silly episode. The aspects related to the title character seem goofy at best, and a subplot about Scully’s personal life feels forced and artificial. I won’t call “Devil” an awful show, but it’s not good.
Shadows: “Mulder and Scully investigate the deaths of two men believed to have been killed by a powerful psychokinetic force.”
After the weak “Devil”, S1 rebounds with the more effective “Shadows”. It seems fairly creepy and involving, and it comes with some interesting twists. It turns into a pretty good standalone show.
Ghost in the Machine: “On Halloween, Mulder and Scully investigate the death of a corporate executive who may have been murdered by a thinking computer.”
Early 1990s movies/TV shows didn’t handle issues related to computers and artificial intelligence well, and that severely dated quality mars “Ghost”. The whole thing seems too silly to succeed. It’s mildly interesting to see Mulder interact with his old partner, but the story flops.
Ice: “Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate when a team of geophysicists stationed at a remote Alaskan outpost are killed by a parasitic alien life form.”
I can’t be the only one who thinks that plot synopsis sounds awfully similar to the story for John Carpenter’s 1982 update of The Thing, can I? Nope, though it appears fans like to view “Ice” as an “homage”, not a rip-off.
I can’t help but lean toward the “rip-off” view myself – not that this makes “Ice” a bad episode. As derivative as the story might be, the show still generates reasonable drama and tension. Despite the lack of plot creativity, “Ice” works fairly well.
Cast footnote: modern viewers will recognize actor Steve Hytner from his stint as Kenny Bania on Seinfeld. However, when “Ice” first aired, Bania didn’t exist, as the character wouldn’t debut for another year.
Space: “When a space shuttle mission is sabotaged, Mulder suspects it may be the work an alien spirit that inhabits the body of a former Gemini astronaut.”
Like virtually every TV series, X-Files needed time to get into a groove, and “Space” reminds us how inconsistent it could be in its initial season. The use of the “face on Mars” offers intrigue, but the end result becomes campy, silly and poorly-acted. It’s a consistently goofy and weak episode.
Fallen Angel: “The future of the X-Files project is jeopardized after Mulder secretly infiltrates the government cover-up of a UFO crash.”
After the lousy “Space”, S1 rebounds with the excellent “Angel”. This episode simply “feels more X-Files”, and I like the introduction of conspiracy theorist/truth-seeker Max Fenig, as he adds some spark to the proceedings. The show still feels “immature” in the greater scheme of the series, but it demonstrates progress.
Eve: “Mulder and Scully search for two missing girls who disappeared after their fathers were murdered in an identical fashion.”
With “Eve”, we get another good show, and like “Angel”, it’s one that fits the series’ MO well. It gives us the spooky weirdness we want from X-Files and find a compelling story in this solid show.
Fire: “Mulder and Scully join forces with an inspector from Scotland Yard when a man with pyrokinetic powers stalks members of the British aristocracy.”
After two consecutive strong episodes, S1 sags with the mediocre “Fire”. I like the glimpse of Mulder’s ex-lover, but the rest of the story seems trite – especially when it sticks Mulder with a fear of fire. This isn’t one of the season’s worst shows, but it’s wholly forgettable.
Beyond the Sea: “Scully believes that the psychic predictions of a death row inmate are the only hope in apprehending a vicious murderer.”
In a twist, Scully buys into the paranormal side of things while Mulder becomes the doubter. That creates an involving subtext, and the use of Scully’s dad adds drama to the proceedings. This turns into a solid show.
Gender Bender: “A religious sect member capable of changing gender becomes the prime suspect in a murder spree.”
Outside of some creepy atmosphere, “Bender” fizzles. It lacks much of a story to maintain our attention and simply seems to plod along as it meanders toward its finale. The visual design gives it some positives but the end result becomes a bore.
Lazarus: “The consciousness of a dangerous criminal possesses an FBI agent who is also Scully's ex-boyfriend.”
After the tedious “Gender Bender”, S1 bounces back with “Lazarus” – but only to a minor degree. The story feels contrived and awkward, as it telegraphs too many points and also suffers from some poor guest acting. It’s not a terrible show but it’s mediocre at best.
Young at Heart: “A criminal believed to have died in a prison years earlier wages a vendetta against Mulder.”
I can’t call “Heart” the most original episode, as it feels like something that would’ve formed an 80s horror movie. Still, it works considerably better than the last couple of shows, and I like the manner in which it puts Mulder on the defensive. That’s enough to turn this into a mostly winning program.
EBE: “Mulder and Scully become the focus of a misinformation campaign when they attempt to trace the government's secret transport of an alien life form.”
“EBE” stands as a significant episode if just because it introduces “The Lone Gunmen”, supporting characters popular enough they earned their own (briefly-lived) spinoff series down the road. Even without the Gunmen, “EBE” delivers a solid show. It creates an intriguing alien mystery and tells its tale in a rich manner.
Miracle Man: “The agents investigate a ministry led by a man whose son possesses the power to heal, and to kill, with a touch of his hand.”
So-called “faith healers” offers an easy target, but “Miracle” manages to create an interesting story around them. The episode avoids most of the campy pitfalls related to the subject and even manages to tie in the narrative to the series’ “mythology”. All of this adds up to a solid show.
Shapes: “A creature, possibly from Native American lore, is suspected of killing a man, bringing Mulder and Scully to the Indian reservation where the attack occurred in order to uncover its identity.”
One fun aspect of the show comes from its connection to “the very first X-File”, as Mulder tells us of that history. Other than that, though, “Shapes” seems fairly lackluster. It essentially acts as a twist on the wolfman legend and it fails to become anything memorable.
Darkness Falls: “A group of loggers working in a remote forest unearths thousands of deadly insect-like creatures that paralyze and cocoon their victims.”
“Darkness” offers a reasonably good show. It doesn’t advance the series’ overall narrative but it delivers a fairly creepy “monster episode” with some solid chills.
Tooms: “Eugene Tooms, a supernatural killer whom Mulder helped incarcerate, is released on parole.”
We first met Tooms back in the season’s third show – it sure didn’t take him long to get paroled! “Squeeze” was a solid episode, so I’m fine with a sequel via “Tooms”. It also introduces the Skinner character and lets the Cigarette Smoking Man speak for the first time, factors that make it important in the series’ mythology.
Born Again: “An 8-year-old girl is the prime suspect in a series of bizarre, seemingly unrelated deaths.”
Shows with spooky kids can be overdone, but “Born Again” offers an intriguing twist on the theme. It goes down unexpected paths and becomes a winning program.
Casting footnote: just as “Ice” brought us a pre-Seinfeld Steve Hytner, “Born” lets us meet Maggie Wheeler before she played the grating Janice on Friends.
Roland: “When scientists at an aeronautics lab die under mysterious circumstances, the agents suspect a mentally challenged janitor may be the culprit.”
While the inclusion of a mentally-disabled character makes me fear this will become “a very special episode of X-Files”, “Roland” manages to overcome its potential pitfalls. From the start, we can tell that something unusual is afoot, and the program develops its themes well.
The Erlenmeyer Flask: “Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) tips Mulder to a critically important case involving a missing fugitive and the cloning of extraterrestrial viruses.”
Season One ends with “Flask”, a fairly good finale for the year. It can be a bit meandering at times, but it brings affairs to a head and creates enough intrigue to send us toward Season Two.