201 Days of X-Files – Season 1 Episode 1 – Pilot

As the new mini season of The X-Files is fast approaching, I’ve been wanting to do a rewatch but I’ve also been wondering how to do it. Luckily, Fox has done the timing for me, and is having an unofficial rewatch. They aren’t airing these episodes (they want you to buy the DVDs or do Netflix), but it is a nice idea to get fans back into the thing.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been wanting to do a rewatch and possible review series for a good long while now, but now seems as good a time as any to do so.

Reviewing a pilot is an interesting thing. There are so many considerations that go into making a pilot that it’s hard to treat it as a normal episode of television. It’s made to entice TV executives to order more episodes, but it’s also made to get TV watchers to keep watching the show. It’s supposed to be the start of the story but also is supposed to show what a typical episode might look like. Pilots are also notoriously shaky – some of my favorite TV shows have pilots that I would flat out tell people to skip, or insist “no it gets better, believe me.

With all that being said, The X-Files actually has a fairly remarkably good pilot. While it’s not a perfect episode (I think the “this is based off of true events” angle is a bit hokey), and there are certainly much better episodes throughout the series run, it does a pretty fantastic job of introducing the basic premise of the show and getting across the general feel of the show. The firs meeting of Mulder and Scully, for example, has dialogue where he’s explaining why he’s a believer and why she’s a skeptic, and it perfectly conveys what their interactions are going to be.

Pilot1

The scenes featuring just Mulder and Scully, in particular their first meeting and when they bond in his hotel room, are the strongest scenes of the episodes. The chemistry between the two of them is already there in full force, which makes their partnership relationship wonderful to watch. Honestly, their relationship works almost TOO well right away; it feels like they are already trusting each other from the getgo, which doesn’t quite work with the narrative.

Pilot2

The rest of the plot is pretty typical X-Files, but again goes a long way in establishing the tone of the show. Possible abductions! Lost time! Possible conspiracy! While the merit of the entire mythology arc has been debated a lot (I personally like them but I understand that there are serious flaws with the mytharc), this episode does a fantastic job of getting to the core of the mytharc and Mulder’s journey.

It’s also almost remarkable how the visual tone of the series is established. This show still looks great, and in part that’s because the cinematography (in particular the lighting) still looks wonderful. When I took a film production class in college, The X-Files was used as an example of effective lighting, and that’s not wrong. The use of shadows and chiaroscuro lighting gives The X-Files some unique visuals, and it looks great.

Pilot3

The acting is pretty solid for the most part. Gillian Anderson is the always wonderful and David Duchovny manages to hold his own with her. Some of the guest actors aren’t too great (Theresa Nemman’s actress is a little shaky) but, for being a TV show in the early 90s (before film actors and production started to migrate to TV) the acting is solid.

Ultimately this episode (and most of The X-Files) holds up remarkably well for being over 20 years old. The strong writing, characters and cinematography make it work really well. There are a few elements that feel dated (certainly the technology they use is quite dated), but as a show this holds up. I first became an X-Files fan in late 2005 – early 2006, and the show worked well on first watch then, but it still works now.

While there are definitely better, more ambitious episode of The X-Files, this is just about a perfect pilot episode and a great introduction to a great series. 8/10.

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