The X-Files Season 5 was the show at its peak. David and Gillian established themselves as household names and the show gained a faithful and loyal following from both critics and fans. It propelled the show from an underground cult status to a new height of popularity. The season earned sixteen Primetime Emmy nominations (which was a record) and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series.
The fifth season saw an episode reduction from twenty-two to twenty episodes due to production on the feature-length X-Files film. However, the shortened season did not diminish the overall quality of the show. In fact, it enhanced it with arguably some of the most memorable MOTW/standalone episodes and a progressive mythology that left our iconic duo facing an unknown future.
‘Mind’s Eye’ might raise a few eyebrows. In comparison to the other episode heavyweights, it might be viewed as unspectacular but for a series that is no stranger to strong guest stars, Lili Taylor smashes it with a phenomenal performance. It was so good, she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. The episode was written by Tim Minear and inspired by the concept of remote viewing, a sixth sense of seeing beyond your normal range of vision.
What’s magical about ‘Mind’s Eye’ is that personal journey that Marty Glenn goes through. Behind the fierceness and her constant battle against society, there’s an element of sympathy for her, even when she’s admitting to a crime she didn’t commit. The whole case is a struggle and the only one who refuses to turn against her is Mulder. Her battle becomes his battle for the truth and while a form of justice is served in the end, both characters share a mutual acknowledgement and respect. That all boils down to the performance Lili Taylor. She captures the psychological pain that comes with Marty’s blindness and the connection she shares with her tormentor. Without that all-round performance, it would have been average.
While William Gibson and Tom Maddox were responsible for the terrible seventh season episode ‘First Person Shooter’, in season five they were responsible for one of the best. Of course, some elements look like a dated concept considering how far technology has advanced, but Gibson and Maddox tapped into a prominent cyberculture, exploring themes of alienation, paranoia, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. It’s also backed by one of the most awesome uses of music of The Platters with ‘Twilight Time’.
For something so technologically geeky, it’s great to see Mulder and Scully become involved in that. Invisigoth provides the tension but both characters experience the pitfalls of technology gone mad thanks to the AI and the Kill Switch payload. Scully becomes a target of a laser firing satellite and Mulder sees AI Scully kick some body amputating nurses.
Rogue technology has been handled before in season one with ‘Ghost in the Machine’ but ‘Kill Switch’ is the next level improvement but it was not without a cost. It became the most expensive X-Files episode filmed in Vancouver due to the logistics and number of explosions incorporated. But the cautionary tale of being watched, tracked and a possible digital afterlife, makes ‘Kill Switch’ a compelling watch and as relevant today as it was when it first aired.
‘The Post-Modern Prometheus’
When The X-Files hits all the right marks, it ends up becoming a unique classic. This episode is no different. Stylistically filmed in black and white, ‘The Post-Modern Prometheus’ is a light-hearted affair, filled with dark humour and acts as a playful homage to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
There’s lots to enjoy about Chris Carter’s episode and credit must be given to Dr. Anne Simon. As the science advisor for the show, she helped realise Chris’ vision of a Frankenstein inspired story and genetic engineering with a fly growing legs out of its mouth. Mark Snow’s music Is a joy to behold because of its whimsical, fairy tale quality set within a graphic novel. The townspeople looking like farmhouse animals. Jerry Springer, Cher and lastly, a monster that longs for companionship and to be accepted within his community.
Mulder and Scully respond to reports about women who have fallen pregnant by a mysterious creature called The Great Mutato. While the subject matter flirts with a difficult matter (easily drawing comparisons to Gilligan’s season four episode ‘Small Potatoes’), Carter manages to keep a balance that captures all sides of the story. Under heavy make-up and prosthetics, Chris Owens (Jeffrey Spender, young Cigarette Smoking Man) delivers a memorable performance as The Great Mutato. He was supposed to be a mistake, created as a scientific experiment by a modern-day Frankenstein Dr. Pollidori. When abandoned he was taken in by Pollidori’s father and found comfort in the music of Cher and the movie Mask to make sense of the outside world. For a show that relies on the habit in displaying the manifestation of evil with monsters to scare its audience, ‘The Post-Modern Prometheus’ reverses that, creating the emotional context for the creature. He’s not the real monster of the town.
Because the episode blurs reality and a surrealist fantasy, the ending is a beautiful send off where Mulder changes the fate for The Great Mutato and dances the night away with his partner.
Imagine a scenario where Mulder and Scully couldn’t get their stories straight and ended up reciting different versions of the same incident. That’s ‘Bad Blood’ in a nutshell. Not only one of the best episodes of the season but one of the best of all time in the show’s history.
Vince Gilligan drew inspiration from an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show and it works out brilliantly with both David and Gillian on fine form.
‘Bad Blood’ breaks up their usual case routine and it’s a fantastic way in examining the Mulder and Scully relationship with all the dysfunctional aspects of their work. It ends up as a personality clash in how they view each other. Scully sees Mulder like an exuberant and insensitive man-child while Mulder sees himself as misunderstood and polite in contrast to Scully’s dismissive attitude. Scully’s version sounds the more plausible, but it is how the stories complement each other that draws out the comedy and it is hilarious. Mulder for example makes light of the situation by adding that Scully was falling in love with a Sheriff who had buck teeth (played by Luke Wilson).
‘Bad Blood’ cleverly plays around with the classic vampire imagery. We’re so use to the Dracula stereotype that ‘Bad Blood’ pokes fun at their nature. In the episode, they suffer from obsessive compulsive behaviour, they pay their taxes and want to keep a low profile. That’s until Ronny Strickland broke rank.
This was The X-Files at its best, crossing genres and having enough flexibility to tell a clever story. When it’s Gillian Anderson’s favourite episode, it’s hard not to argue with that!
Season five was full of amazing mythology episodes but ‘Redux II’ is the most underrated and brilliantly executed. It’s the mythology building towards an inescapable tipping point where the fates of our favourite characters and their futures were hanging in the balance.
But it’s not just the ‘race against the clock’ aspect in finding Scully’s cure for cancer that makes ‘Redux II’ so compelling. It is the emotional relationships that are put under the microscope (Scully’s family, Cigarette Smoking Man, The FBI). It becomes a personal affair with the conspiracy taking a slight back seat. But ‘Redux II’ is the epitome of what The X-Files stands for – faith, trust and loyalty. It is those persistent values that Mulder and Scully desperately hold onto, despite the odds stacked against them. It also represented the beginning of a slight dynamic shift between the agents with Mulder questioning the truth with certain revelations. Given how Scully’s cancer was given to her on purpose and his “sister” taken away from him once again becomes another painful heartbreak and eventual sacrifice for the character.
When you add that to the last ten minutes of the episode, it becomes one of the best and most gripping moments in the show.