Everything You Need to Know Before Watching The X-Files

Dann Albright 08-01-2016

In 2015, Fox made headlines with its announcement that The X-Files would be returning to primetime TV on January 24th, 2016 after a 13-year hiatus. This has a lot of sci-fi fans very excited, but if you’ve never seen the The X-Files, you might not understand what all the fuss is about. And even if you have seen The X-Files, you might need a refresher to help get you back up to speed with this amazing show.


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With nine seasons, 202 episodes, two movies, a spin-off series, and a comic book seriesThe X-Files has a massive catalog of great stories. Which is exactly why it’s going to be difficult to get caught up with what’s going on in such a short space of time.

However, we have done our best to introduce newcomers to the show, and remind everybody else of the important aspects they may have forgotten while The X-Files has been off the air.

Read on for a quick introduction to the show, along with some recommendations for specific episodes you should watch to help prepare yourself for the return of The X-Files.

A quick note on spoilers! The miniseries will likely pique some people’s interest in the entire series, so we have avoided major spoilers in this article. If you want to explore the mythos of the show in more detail, check out the Wikipedia article on The X-Files mythology.


The Basics

Although it spans a number of genres, “sci-fi horror” is probably the best single label—with elements of mystery, thriller, and plenty of drama thrown in, and a dash of goofy humor for good measure.

There are occasional historical elements, a lot of conspiracy-theory-type stuff, and some thoughtful reflections on faith and skepticism. The wide range of mysteries and topics is one of the qualities that makes The X-Files such a classic TV show.


The basic idea behind The X-Files is simple: two FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) agents, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) investigate unsolved cases—the eponymous “X-Files”—centered around paranormal and supernatural phenomena. Aliens, mutants, cryptids, futuristic technology Predicting the Future of Tech Is Hard - Here's How to Do It Anyway Read More , and monsters all feature prominently in the mysteries investigated by the protagonists.


Most of the show is made up of “monster of the week” episodes, which see Mulder and Scully investigating a single mystery (which usually, but not always, includes some sort of monster), but one of the show’s most interesting and enduring qualities is that there’s an overarching plot, only revealed in some of the episodes, that has much wider implications for the show and the world as we know it. This is known as the “mythology” of The X-Files, and it’s what truly separates The X-Files from other, similar shows.

The Characters

Mulder witnessed his sister’s abduction by aliens when he was 12 years old, and he’s been on a search for the truth about extraterrestrial life ever since. Government conspiracies, doomsday scenarios, cover-up operations, and a myriad of other intrigues follow.


His drive to uncover the truth and belief in extraterrestrial life are two of Mulder’s defining qualities as a character, but both agents are deep, complex, flawed, and evolving. Scully’s medical training, skepticism, and detachment place her squarely as the foil to Mulder’s more emotional and credulous persona, though both characters grow over the arc of the show as they learn and experience more happenings.


Mulder’s beliefs and supernatural bent contrast sharply with Scully’s evidence-based focus, and the reversal of typical gender roles is one of the best things about this complex pair. The evolution of their initially platonic relationship also makes for a wonderful story.


Near the end of the show’s run, Scully became the main focus, with Mulder making occasional appearances and agents Reyes (Annabeth Gish) and Doggett (Robert Patrick) joining the fray (both pictured above). Mulder and Scully both play lead roles in the two The X-Files films, but Reyes and Doggett have yet to make it to the big screen. Reyes, however, will make an appearance in the new miniseries.

Walter Skinner is a recurring important character throughout the run of the show; as the head of The X-Files office, he serves as Mulder and Scully’s supervisor. Throughout much of the show, his motives are suspect, and it’s unclear whether or not he serves The Syndicate, an evil “shadow government” that serves as a major antagonist, though he repeatedly saves Mulder and Scully’s lives. Skinner is a surprise fan favorite, and will be returning in the miniseries.



The main villain of the show is known only as the Cigarette-Smoking Man, a shadowy figure who often serves as the visible face of The Syndicate. His ties to government conspiracies 8 Weirdest Conspiracy Theory Websites On The Planet Isn't it crazy how few skeptic, fact-checking sites there are out there, yet there is such an abundance of crazy, poorly-researched conspiracy garbage sites ? I've decided to share a few of my top selections... Read More , assassinations, cover-ups, and other nefarious activities make him a compelling antagonist that always seems to be around when something goes wrong for Mulder and Scully.

The Mysteries

So, what kinds of mysteries are the heroes and villains mixed up in? A better question might be, “What kinds of mysteries aren’t they mixed up in?” There’s a huge variety of things that make an appearance in The X-Files, and I can only do very limited justice to the creativity and innovation in the show here.


For example, one of the most memorable monsters sought out by Mulder and Scully is the Flukeman, a hybrid man-flukeworm created by post-Chernobyl radiation (pictured above). A later episode includes a silicon-based fungal parasite discovered inside a volcano. Another monster that makes an appearance is a being somewhere between a human and a bat. Yet another memorable “monster” is a human with a genetic mutation that allows him to elongate and contort his body to squeeze through tiny spaces.

Not every monster of the week is a monster, however, there are also some surprisingly inventive science fiction creations as well. For example, one villainess in Season Seven is actually a computer-generated video game character Future Video Game AIs Will Seriously Freak You Out Videogame AI isn't all that great -- yet. However, with recent technological advances, that may soon change. Read More . The agents also encounter a tulpa, a mystical being summoned to Earth in Tibet. Some of the mysteries aren’t even focused on physical villains—one episode sees the protagonists trying to figure out how to extricate themselves from a time loop.


And, of course, there are aliens, from little grey men to more sinister extraterrestrials that take over human bodies. Aliens form a significant part of the overarching mythology of the show, and their appearances often coincide with the revelation of information about the wider issues being investigated.

This mythology shapes the far-reaching mystery that Mulder is trying to crack, and evolves slowly throughout the nine seasons and two movies of the series. Are aliens in contact with humans on earth? How is The Syndicate involved? What do the aliens want? Why has their existence been kept a secret? Do they pose a threat to humanity? These are the sorts of bigger-issue questions that run throughout the show.

What to Watch Before the Miniseries

You’re not going to be able to watch all 202 episodes before watching the miniseries, but you can at least watch a a few. Especially as all nine seasons are currently available on Netflix. Here are 10 of the best monster-of-the-week-type episodes that you should check out:

  • “Squeeze” Season 1, Episode 3
  • “Beyond the Sea” Season 1, Episode 13
  • “Darkness Falls” Season 1, Episode 20
  • “The Host” Season 2, Episode 2
  • “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” Season 3, Episode 4
  • “Home” Season 4, Episode 2
  • “The Post-Modern Prometheus” Season 5, Episode 5
  • “Bad Blood” Season 5, Episode 12
  • “Triangle” Season 6, Episode 3
  • “Roadrunners” Season 8, Episode 4

These should give you an idea of what to expect from The X-Files, and they represent a range of different themes taken on by the show. Getting up-to-date on the mythology side of The X-Files is a bit more difficult, as it’s a complicated, twisting story that requires a lot of explanation.

Wikipedia has a list of mythology episodes that’s rather long, but it’s difficult to recommend another way of getting caught up without watching all of them. You can, however, read the synopsis on that same page to get a quick idea of what’s going on (major spoilers, obviously). I would recommend supplementing the synopsis with these 10 episodes, though:

  • “The Erlenmeyer Flask” Season 1, Episode 24
  • “Little Green Men” Season 2, Episode 1
  • “Duane Barry” and “Ascension” Season 2, Episodes 5 and 6
  • “Anasazi” Season 2, Episode 25
  • “Paper Clip” Season 3, Episode 2
  • “The End” Season 5, Episode 20
  • “One Son” Season 6, Episode 12
  • “The Truth” Parts 1 and 2, Season 9, Episodes 19 and 20

The X-Files movies are also a good way to get some information on the mythology. The second film, I Want to Believe, was generally panned by critics, and many people won’t find it worth watching, but because it was the last thing to come out of The X-Files universe, it might be referenced in the new series.

The Truth Is Out There

The X-Files is one of the best science fiction shows of all time 10+ Brilliant Sci-Fi TV Shows That Aren't Star Trek [Stuff to Watch] The best sci-fi movies are often cherished by fans and placed up high upon the mantle, but it's TV shows that make up the bread and butter of any geek's media diet. A good TV... Read More , and its return is a really big deal in the science fiction community. Whether you’re a long-time diehard fan or a complete newcomer to the series, I highly recommend watching The X-Files from start to finish.

Will you be watching the new miniseries of The X-Files? What will you be doing to prepare? Do you have a favorite episode of the show? If so, let us know all about it in the comments below, or simply tell us what you think of The X-Files in general.

Related topics: Geeky Science, Television.

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  1. BDauterive
    January 16, 2016 at 1:33 am

    How can you mention episodes and not mention JADE BLUE AFTERGLOW ?! I mean...C'mon !

    If there was ever an episode where every male viewer sat up and took notice...it was that one.

    • Dann Albright
      January 17, 2016 at 9:28 pm

      I did consider adding that episode, but not because it appeals to men (we do, after all, have a wide variety of people reading this website). I believe I mentioned it in passing at some point, though. It's certainly an interesting concept!

  2. Rachel
    January 15, 2016 at 4:33 am

    Oh my goodness I don't think I can pick a favorite episode, they were so many excellent ones. I am loving the idea of the mini-series and I am hopeful that it leads to more X-Files episodes beyond the mini-series. I am totally bummed that they are bringing the characters back and suggesting they simply broke up, it just doesn't seem legitimate writing. I guess we will have to wait and see.

    • Dann Albright
      January 17, 2016 at 9:28 pm

      You're bummed that they're bringing the characters back? So you think they should have started over with new characters? That would be very interesting.

      I'm curious to see whether this might lead to a revival of the weekly show as well. If the miniseries does well—which is certainly seems like it will—I'd say there's a good chance.

      • Rachel
        January 18, 2016 at 4:50 am

        No read the rest of that, I am bummed that they are suggesting the couples simply broke up. In the movie Mulder and Scully were in a relationship. CC wants us to believe that something happened after the movie to make them break up and that is what I am bummed about, not that they are bringing the characters back.

        • Dann Albright
          January 23, 2016 at 7:00 pm

          Yeah, it'll be interesting to see what kind of story they come up with for that. That seems to be a pretty common theme lately in returning franchises.

  3. Saurabh
    January 12, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    “The Host” Season 2, Episode 1 this should be S02E02

    • Dave Parrack
      January 13, 2016 at 1:09 am

      You're right. Thank you. Fixed.

    • Dann Albright
      January 13, 2016 at 3:19 am

      Oops! Thanks for that one.

  4. Eric
    January 10, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    My favorite episode of X-Files is Conundrum. Where else but in FL could such a cirque du freaks exist?

    • Dann Albright
      January 13, 2016 at 3:20 am

      That's a good one, too. It was difficult to pick a shortlist!

  5. Anonymous
    January 10, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    "...there’s an overaching plot..." Really? Aching? #corrections #d'oh!

    • Dave Parrack
      January 13, 2016 at 1:09 am

      Oh bum. Thanks for pointing that out. Fixed.

  6. Anonymous
    January 8, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    The best show ever. I only have seasons 1,2, and 6, it's the only thing I ever ask for as a birthday present or Christmas present. I've been through all those seasons about four times now. I'm an X-Files freak, I know I'm prepared and can't wait for the few season!!

    • Dave Parrack
      January 9, 2016 at 11:46 am

      Is there a part of you that worries the new series won't recapture the magic? Personally, I think it all comes down to a) the quality of writing, and b) the chemistry between Mulder and Scully.