The X-Files was such a cultural phenomenon that it's entered our collective understanding of pop-culture. When something is strange, it can be described as an “X-File” anytime. This show tapped into the bitter distrust that coursed through the 90s. But it did so with appealing mysteries, horror, and occasionally comedy. Unfortunately, not every episode is a gem. Given that the series is largely episodic, every new story is like starting from scratch, naturally leading to some missteps. Also, the supernatural elements of the show allow for some truly bizarre ideas that don't always work. Here’s 10 episodes that fans didn’t care for, ranked from least to most terrible. We do this with love, of course. Mind the spoilers, but truthfully, you may want to avoid these 'sodes anyway.
10 Ghost in the Machine
This is an episode all about killer artificial intelligence. That easily makes this the most dated episode of the show, because our understanding of computers was still relatively new. To be fair, so was The X-Files, merely a few episodes into its inaugural season. But it’s clear that the writers had to rely on previous entertainment to realize the computer threat. In fact, the story very distinctly seems to recycle elements of HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sure, household computers had become more popular at the time, so it was surely tantalizing to tap into that shifting terrain. Unfortunately, it’s all very rote and uninformed.
9 Fearful Symmetry
So, you don’t have to be an aficionado of the alien phenomenon to know about cattle mutilations. It shouldn’t necessarily be outside the realm of this show to consider the alien abductions of animals. But the premise is simply mishandled. The intent of the extraterrestrials is so outrageous, and the deaths in the episode are very silly. This is that episode with the elephant and the invisible tiger. They went out of their way to use real animals which avoided the traps of bad CGI, but the whole story is just conceptually weak. Also, the episode tries to discuss the ethics of animal rights, but even that feels wobbly.
Season six was a big shift in tone, and even location, for the series. Moving to Los Angeles, it seemed to lose all of the darkness. Both visually, and tonally. This new season was far more lighthearted than previous stories. In fact, “Alpha” directly follows one of the best comedic episodes of the show. But this terrible selection is about a pseudo-mythological dog, accompanied by corresponding, unbearable puns. The greatest offense is probably the matter of Karin Berquist, who has a crush on Mulder. This causes some friction with Scully, who rightly suspects her. And the twist is that it’s all a were-dog story. The whole ordeal is relatively boring, and silly. Oh, and not in that clever, intentional way that other episodes achieved.
It’s understandable that fans would be pretty frustrated with this episode. Scully was completely absent, and Mulder is really quite different from the way we know him. The show suffered similar criticism when Duchovny himself ended up abandoning the series for a while. That resulted in the pursuit of new leads altogether. Without the dynamic duo though, the whole show falls apart. However, this selection also tried some new touches on the mythology of vampires. And unfortunately, the show incorporated Duchovny’s actual girlfriend at the time, Perrey Reeves. The whole “erotic thriller” tone just didn’t work out.
6 My Struggle III
Ah yes, if there’s one thing that will frustrate an audience, it’s the “it was all a dream” retcon. In this episode, it’s revealed that Scully was still in the hospital and was merely having a vision. She was only foreseeing everything that appeared to actually transpire at the end of the prior season. This does make for a fun ticking clock, but fans will always find that deus ex machina cheap. And, unfortunately, the show seems to be in a very big hurry. Sure, it’s lucky that the revival happened at all. But perhaps a monster-of-the-week should have been sacrificed to allow for more mythology storytelling.
5 First Person Shooter
This is the Tron episode, if you’re trying to place it. At this point, the show just doesn’t have the excuse of existing in the 90s to misunderstand computers so badly. The technical lingo is all over the place, and especially these days, it stands out like a sore thumb. The story tries to delve into virtual reality, and it makes for a lot of goofy sequences. In fact, the episode almost feels like one of those intentionally bad movies on SyFy, like Sharknado. Everything feels over the top, and by season seven, fans were really in the deep end of a tailspinning show.
The revival was always going to be troublesome. No matter how it re-approached the characters and mythology, it wouldn’t please everyone. But in this episode, they finally get Mulder high. Having Mulder dance in a rodeo is one of the most surreal and embarrassing things the show’s ever done. And contrasted with the terrorism in the story, it doesn’t fit whatsoever. That’s a very sensitive topic, and this episode doesn’t handle the conversation very well. And further, by the end of the episode, the protagonists outright voice the writers’ reflection. This show used to thrive on subverted expectations. The revival was far more literal, and less nuanced.
It was pretty ambitious of the show to attempt a story involving the actual space program. In this episode, an astronaut seems to have been possessed by something, and decades later sabotages launches. It’s a half-decent premise, but the entire production is marred by a reliance on stock footage. But the script is also fairly problematic. Mulder and Scully actually accomplish very little throughout the story. They’re merely trying to solve the mystery, which the audience already knows the answer to. And the guest actors simply aren’t up to the task of carrying their weight. Ultimately, the plot is consequently very meandering and unsatisfying.
2 Fight Club
What a perfect title, given that no one wants to talk about this episode. Late in season seven, episodes like these really reinforce the sentiment that everyone is tired of The X-Files. Even the creators themselves. The premise of two women’s proximity inciting violence is just plain uninteresting, and outrageous. Even for this show, and even for an attempt at comedy. The music throughout the episode is unbearable, and even the acting was lackluster. Which is strange, because when firing on all cylinders, the comedic episodes have generally reached pretty high rankings. Comedy may be subjective, but this episode is clearly unable to toe the line between inane and silly fun.
1 Teso dos Bichos
This episode is an absolute mess from beginning to end, muddled with tangents. The consistent ambiguity seems to be some attempt at generating mystery, but it’s just confusing. Nothing ties together properly, and there’s no suspense without coherence. What’s really startling about this season three episode is how lazy everything feels. The guest actors are all miserable to watch. This is truly unfortunate, since Mulder and Scully are essentially sidelined, once again. And the threat is terribly silly, which completely undermines the tone. That’s probably the biggest offense of the episode. The ridiculous concepts are begging for comedy, but the story takes everything seriously.