TV Lists

The X-Files: Chris Carter’s best episodes

Following Chris Carter's birthday, Tony Black looks at his best writer/directorial efforts on The X-Files...

The Post-Modern Prometheus (S5, E5)

For many, ‘The Post-Modern-Prometheus’ is The X-Files at its very best. Early on in Season Five, with the show at the height of its critical and commercial popularity, with a movie very soon on the way, Carter was very much able to indulge and experiment, and boy does this one tick that box – a love letter to Mary Shelley, to 1930’s Frankenstein movies, and the bizarre quirks of small-town Americana, Carter tells the emotive, eccentric story of a modern Frankenstein and films the whole thing in arresting black and white. It’s a remarkable achievement many shows simply wouldn’t get away with.

Many accuse Carter of dubious sexual politics for many reasons and ‘The Post-Modern Prometheus’ is pointed to as an example of that – whatever your feelings, the episode has a great deal going on. Not just in terms of the unique nature of how it was filmed, with some beautiful cinematography bringing out Mulder & Scully’s investigation in new lights, but a script which by turns is elegant, ponderous, romantic and philosophical as it explores the sad tale of The Great Mutato, a ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ who loves the music of Cher. Carter reached out to Cher to appear in a final sequence in which Mulder & Scully attend a concert of hers, and sadly she later regretted declining to appear given she was a fan of the show – that would have set off a climax where Mulder & Scully dance romantically to ‘Walking in Memphis’ which many ‘shippers’ point to as a moment deepening their eventual bond from the platonic to romantic.

Carter does manage to top ‘The Post-Modern Prometheus’ for creating something truly vivid and unique, but only just. Think of another TV show that honestly ever made an episode like this, and you really will be hard pushed. A true X-Files great.

Triangle (S6, E3)

If ever an episode of The X-Files should not have worked, it’s ‘Triangle’. Taking place early on in the show’s sixth season, following a change from filming in Vancouver to Los Angeles, riding off the success of the movie Fight the Future, it sets the stall out for a season which would experiment potentially more than any other year with the show’s traditional format. Carter throws everything but the kitchen sink at ‘Triangle’, both in terms of storytelling and how he shoots the episode, and it’s both marvellous and utterly utterly fan pleasing and indulgent. There had never been, and never will be, an X-File quite like it.

The story is simple: Mulder, searching for a lost cruise ship in the Bermuda Triangle, ends up finding the vessel but in the year 1939–having fallen through a time slip–as its boarded by Nazi’s on the eve of WW2 looking for a weapon of mass destruction. Here’s where it gets bonkers, though – everyone on board are facsimiles for all of the people in  Mulder’s life; Scully, the Smoking Man, Skinner, Spender, Kersh. They all both appear as strange 1939 people on the ship *and* in the present as Scully races around the FBI in a farcical hunt to track Mulder down. Sounds ludicrous, right? Totally. Carter knows that, though, and plays it beautifully for comedy, with a glorious Mark Snow score backing up his weird, comedic and fast-paced script.

‘Triangle’ stands out mostly, however, for how Carter shoots; not only does he frequently use split-screen in order to tell his story, sometimes even winking a little to the audience (such as when the two Scully’s pass each other in the same hallway in two time zones), but he uses long hand-held camera tracking shots, barely breaking for cuts, which allows for the episode to have a completely distinctive style which sweeps you along for the mad ride. It’s a joy – plus, at the end, Mulder even tells Scully for the first time that he loves her. Oh, brother!

Are you a fan of The X-Files? What is your favourite Chris Carter script/directorial effort? Let us know!

1 comment

  1. I have become quite the fan of “Improbable,” Chris Carter’s season 9 foray into numerology, probability, and God in the person of Burt Reynolds. I avoid almost all of season 9, but “Improbable” has improved after multiple viewings, particularly accompanied by Chris Carter’s commentary track, which offers a lot of insight into his thinking and extends thematically beyond this episode into the wider X-Files world. I at first thought “Improbable” was a shallower version of Darin Morgan’s “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” and “Clyde Bruckman” certainly handles the themes of fate, chance, pattern perception, and choice more naturally in the story. However, as an exploration of how people perceive (or not) and act (or not) in accordance with patterns in the world and in human psychology and the idea of degrees of freedom in action, it’s a great thought piece. In addition, the quirkiness hits the level of celebration without being over the top. I think “Improbable” is one of Chris Carter’s more cerebral efforts, and it works for me in terms of intellectual stimulation even if the emotional tone is rather dry. It’s also one of the few instances of non-Mulder & Scully intellectual discourse that I truly enjoy in the series.

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