Carl Sweeney returns to once again deliver a top ten viewpoint, this time on The X-Files season finales…
I will, eventually, rank something with more than ten possible options. However, a few people got in touch after reading the Top Ten Season Openers piece and requested a follow-up looking at the Season Finales, and who am I to disappoint?
Overall, I think the season-ending episodes are a stronger bunch than the season-opening ones. A low position on this list, then, isn’t necessarily a condemnation in and of itself, with the exception of…
10. The Truth (Season 9)
This is fantastically exciting until Mulder sees his first ghost. Sadly, we’re only a few minutes in by that point. The Mount Weather sequence is promising, but that’s about as good as it gets. The kangaroo court is a poor premise that not even the great Kim Manners can breathe any life into, and it’s all undermined when the gang manage to break Mulder out incredibly easily. It picks up a bit towards the end, but not enough.
9. My Struggle 2 (Season 10)
There’s the basis of a great episode here, but things don’t quite come together. The Tad O’Malley interludes are quite inelegant and don’t really work, for a start. Secondly, the threat feels a bit abstract. Compare this near-apocalyptic scenario with the one that ends the second season of Millennium, then tell me which one feels more compelling and real. On the plus side, I think the way that Scully takes control of things is rather captivating.
8. The End (Season 5)
A curate’s egg of an episode. I really like the sequence where Krycek retrieves the Smoking Man from the snowy cabin, and the last few minutes are stirring. I’ve never much cared for Gibson Praise or Diana Fowley, though, which drags this one down for me. CSM speaking in chess metaphors throughout wears thin, too.
7. Biogenesis (Season 6)
This feels like a bit of an outlier in terms of the finales, but the turn the mythology took here is one I’m quite fond of in retrospect. It’s flawed, certainly. CSM and Krycek feel a bit crowbarred into this one. Mulder’s descent into madness is executed well, though, and the final image, of Scully having found a whopping great alien ship in the sand, is excellent.
6. Talitha Cumi (Season 3)
I probably would never have read Dostoyevsky if Carter (and Duchovny, who assisted on the story) hadn’t named the fast food restaurant in this episode after ‘The Brothers Karamazov’. For that, I’m grateful. The CSM/Jeremiah Smith interrogation is modeled after a sequence in the aforementioned book, a reminder that The X-Files was often a very literate show. I like this episode but I don’t think it’s in the same league as the earlier Season 3 mythology outings. The cliffhanger is a bit perfunctory, too, especially when compared with some of the others from the run of the series.
5. Existence (Season 8)
This would have been a nice place to leave things. The final scene, with Mulder, Scully & baby William, is very sweet. The rest of the episode goes by at a fast-enough pace that it just about papers over any cracks in the story. Krycek’s demise is indelible. So, too, is Reyes breaking into whale song, though not perhaps in quite the same way. The series never got closer than this to ending with a satisfying degree of closure. Of course, the ill-fated Season 9 was around the corner…
4. Gethsemane (Season 4)
‘Gethsemane’ has an impressive sweep to it, coupled with an intimate exploration of faith. It’s Chris Carter at, or close to, his most confident. Duchovny and Anderson have great material to work with her, and are reliably superb. The last scene continues to pack a real punch, no matter how many times I see it. I’m not sure the summer spent waiting for Season 5 could have felt any longer.
3. The Erlenmeyer Flask (Season 1)
This is a great episode because, after a hit and miss first year, it broadened the canvas for the types of stories the show could tell. It’s an episode that has held up fantastically well and never fails to quicken the pulse. The highlights, for me: Mulder finding the men in tanks at the storage facility; Deep Throat’s execution; and the phone call where Mulder informs Scully that the X-Files have been closed down. Carter concludes by going back to the beginning, by reprising a scene from the pilot. He would do something similar later in the series, on a number of occasions.
2. Anasazi (Season 2)
This is brilliant. I don’t think there’s a false note here, really. I take that back, I’ve just remembered Chris Carter’s cameo as an FBI agent. Duchovny deserves particular praise for his performance here. The first half of this episode, where our protagonist is under the influence of poisoned drinking water, offers a convincing portrayal of what Mulder would be like if he was even more paranoid. There’s a lot of other good stuff here, too, but especially terrific is the scene where Scully shoots Mulder to stop him killing Krycek. The final scene is a doozy. ‘The Blessing Way’ doesn’t necessarily follow up on the cliffhanger particularly well, but that’s another matter.
1. Requiem (Season 7)
I’ll confess to finding much of Season 7 quite underwhelming (with some very honorable exceptions). It ends magnificently, though, with ‘Je Souhaite’ and then ‘Requiem’. It’s back to the beginning again, as Mulder and Scully return to Oregon, the scene of their first ever investigation. Some of Season 7 feels very tired, and not in a good way, but here the episode is imbued with a sense of weariness that is, paradoxically, rather wonderful. Your mileage may vary as to how successful the series was after this, but the place our protagonists are left in at the end of this episode was fitting and dramatically promising.
It’s an episode that has great material not only for Mulder and Scully, but also for some of the ensemble who had often been underserved. CSM’s death at the hands of Krycek here (Smokey’s 2nd demise, of the 3 to date) is low-key and entirely effective. Mitch Pileggi is excellent, as well. I’m not sure he was ever better than he was here. This episode was written at an uncertain time for the series, by all accounts. Carter was unsure whether the future of the series was on the small screen or the big screen (or, indeed, whether it had much of a future at all). Given the circumstances, ‘Requiem’ is a bit of a miracle.
I’m very interested to hear other opinions on the finales, so please get in touch via the comments or on Facebook if you have an alternative view.
You can find Carl on Twitter @csweeney758.