The X-Files Season 1 Episode 1 Review: “Pilot”

The X-Files

Over the course of the next few months, many of us at TVOvermind will be participating in our summer rewatch project and reviewing some of our favorite series of all-time that have left a major stamp on television and pop culture in general. The series Nick Hogan will be taking a look back at is “The X-Files,” which ran from 1993-2002 on FOX.

It’s been warm outside for a few weeks now, and I’m finally getting around to starting my summer “rewatch” reviews. But first, I must make a confession. This is a part of our rewatch series, but I have never before seen an episode of The X-Files. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking that it’s blasphemy for a TV critic to have never seen this show, but to be fair, the pilot episode aired when I was nearly four and a half years old. In my quest to see anything and everything related to Vince Gilligan, I decided this series would be next for me right around the time that our rewatch series was beginning (and the revival was announced), so I said “why not?” Hopefully, my inexperience will provide some fresh insight to a long existing world. Here goes nothing.

In the pilot episode of The X-Files: Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), a doctor working for the FBI, is recruited to keep tabs on the mission of Fox Mulder (David Duchovny). Mulder believes that “we are not alone,” but Scully is a skeptic. On their first case together, Mulder and Scully head to Oregon to investigate the mysterious deaths of several people who all graduated from the same high school in 1989.

The X-Files starts off with a strong first installment. Knowing that it premiered in 1993, I was absolutely blown away by the sheer visual quality displayed in this episode. Obviously, great care was taken in making sure there was high production value. Since the standard production value is pretty high nowadays, it’s easy to notice when something like that stands out. I mean, sure, you can also tell what year it premiered just by listening to the music or seeing their “technology,” but the show still holds up extremely well.

I’ve not seen a lot of other works by Duchovny and Anderson, but their chemistry is apparent. Duchovny gives a deadpan delivery to many funny lines, but also has conviction and heart behind his dialogue. Anderson fits extremely well into the “skeptic” role. She slides seamlessly into the role of Scully, playing a convincing medical doctor. “Skeptical” isn’t exactly a clear emotion that can be played, but Anderson’s nuanced portrayal leaves nothing to doubt about what her beliefs are, or how they can be shaped in the future. Both characters were wonderfully constructed in a way that set up excitement for their further development.

A lot of great things happened in this pilot episode, but probably the best thing was how the series used these other strong elements to craft the mystery.  When Scully was first assigned to Mulder, the writers crafted it in a way that made it seem like she was supposed to keep an eye on him, making sure that he didn’t waste valuable government resources. I was worried that she’d have to become a believer just for him to keep his job (though in retrospect I’m not sure why I was worried, since there are nine seasons). The X-Files told the story in such a real way that I forgot how long the show goes on and just became immersed in the world that the pilot has created. By the end, you learned that they weren’t keeping tabs on Mulder, but rather trying to find out how much he knows, and whether or not it would come back to them in their cover-up. I was hooked the whole way through, and I can’t wait to get back and watch more.

The pilot episode also created fascinating undertones akin to “don’t trust the status quo.” Are you taught to believe that aliens don’t exist because of science (like Scully) or because society has conditioned you that way? The X-Files really goes into “supernatural mystery thriller” with fantastic amounts of substance behind the story. The pilot alone, in around 47 minutes, creates one of the best visual, substantial, character-driven stories I’ve seen in some time, and I’m very much looking forward to continuing into it this summer.

What are your thoughts? Do you share my views on The X-Files’ pilot episode? Let us know!!

The X-Files Seasons 1 through 9 are currently streaming on Netflix.

[Photo via FOX]

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