His television is illuminating Fox Mulder’s tear-stained face, and that can mean only one thing: We’ve conquered Season Four of our X-Files rewatch! And it was a busy one, involving everything from a terminal illness for our heroine to an origin story for our big bad that’s epic and a little depressing at the same time. For this post, we’re joined by our friend and fellow long-suffering fan, KatyBeth, and among the three of us, we have got a lot to say. So let’s say it, shall we? Read on for the best and worst of the season according to us. —Sage
- Favorite Mythology Episode?
Kim: I remember way back when Sage and I were compiling our top fifteen episodes for the twentieth anniversary, I argued against “Memento Mori” making the cut, asserting that we had our shipper glasses on and that we could only see the hallway scene and does one scene a top fifteen episode make?
Obviously, I was wrong ten years ago. I quickly changed my opinion after a rewatch and I haven’t wavered on the episode since. It’s not only the best mythology episode of the season, it’s up there with the best of the entire series. “Memento Mori” goes hard from the get-go, from that first Scully voiceover – which is actually one of the heartbreakingly eloquent love letters to Mulder that she writes in her journal – to yes, that infamous hallway scene and the gentle face-cupping and forehead kiss felt around the world. It’s insane to see just how many bread crumbs they had been dropping for this storyline going all the way back to Scully’s abduction in Season Two. (Thanks again to Gillian Anderson for getting knocked up!) It’s truly masterful storytelling the way Chris Carter, God Himself Vince Gilligan (GHVG), Frank Spotnitz, and John Shiban pull all these threads together, including Betsy Hagopian and the MUFON group we met in “Piper Maru” and “Apocrypha,” clones like we saw in “Herrenvolk,” and the obvious allusions to the “Duane Barry” trilogy. It’s a thrilling episode as we see Mulder, refusing to accept the truth about Scully’s prognosis, doggedly pursuing answers through investigating a shadowy fertility clinic. (More foreshadowing!!) It’s a devastating episode as Scully spends time with a dying Penny Northern and comes to terms with her diagnosis. It’s an overwhelmingly romantic episode that sees Mulder and Scully recommitting to their fight and to each other. It’s The X-Files at its best and Gillian Anderson has a shelf full of awards to show for it.
KatyBeth: “Tunguska”/”Terma” is the most perfect two-parter in the entire run of the series. I love it so much that I contemplated answering every question with something from these two episodes. There are so many things that I enjoy! The return of Krycek? Good. Skinner being involved? Good. That moment when Mulder swaggers into Scully’s testimony to Congress and hugs her, saying “Good to put my arms around you – both of them”? GOOOOOOOD.
But wait! There’s more! This story also contains more information about the black oil, Walter Skinner answering his door shirtless at 3am, the whole thing with Krycek on Skinner’s balcony, David Duchovny outrunning a horse (!!), Mulder and Krycek’s trip to Russia, Mulder sleeping on Marita’s sofa, Scully doing science (in Dustin Hoffman’s costume from Outbreak), Scully in CONTEMPT OF CONGRESS because she’s protecting her partner’s whereabouts, and the deeply interesting and sadly underexplored side plot where The Well-Manicured Man (John Neville, you handsome man) has a May-December romance with the hot horse-riding Dr. Bonita Charne-Sayre. (I would watch a whole episode just about WMM, his Doctor lady friend, and these horses.)
Really, this episode’s impact is unmatched. Mulder’s “What did you get for Halloween, Charlie Brown?” is probably the real reason that It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is the classic that it is today. (Probably.) Scully saying “What I’m worried about is you, Mulder. How far you’ll go. And how I can follow you…” sets up a major conflict she has with Mulder going forward, and punches me in the emotions every time (and they don’t even KNOW about the cancer yet!).
Hilariously, the part that stuck out most to me while I was prepping to answer these questions was Scully sitting alone in her Cell of Contempt and reading to pass the time. Given that I was rewatching while stuck alone in a room with not much to do but read, I felt it on a personal level.
And that ending? Krycek’s fake arm bobbing an infuser of loose-leaf tea? I still think about it EVERY time I make a cup of tea. I’ve made a lot of cups of tea since 1998.
The best part, which gets me every time, is of course the moment in “Terma” when Scully is attempting to read from her prepared statement while the jerk from Congress keeps interrupting her to ask where Mulder is, and from the doorway behind Scully, Mulder’s voice rings out: “What is the question?” Scully spins in her chair, eyes wide, mouth open in surprise. The moment when Mulder flicks his gaze to Scully makes me want to light myself on fire. This scene was the first moment in the series that I rewound my VHS tape (where I taped the episodes from reruns on FX) to watch over and over. I might be rewinding the moment on Hulu as I type this. The century and the technology may have changed, but the perfection of this two-parter remains eternal.
Sage: Things aren’t looking good when Season Four kicks off with one of the most boring mythology episodes in the X-Files canon (if you can stay awake during “Herrenvolk,” more power to you), but fortunately, the energy ramps up considerably by the time we get to the fall sweeps two-parter. And look, “Terma” would have been my pick if the only thing to recommend it were Mulder sweeping into a congressional hearing about his very whereabouts looking like Indiana Jones in a trench coat and nearly sending Scully into a Victorian faint. But there’s so much more to it! We get the continued misadventures of Mulder and Krycek (the Harry/Draco slash crackship of the show) which include Mulder pummeling his ex-partner on the muddy grounds of a Russian gulag and absconding with him in the back of a stolen truck. We get Scully continuing to be the baddest, most unbreakable bitch this committee has ever seen, calling them out for their lies to their faces and then being held in contempt rather than incriminating Mulder. Hell, Krycek loses a whole arm, leading to one of the series’ most iconic shots.
We’re in the stage right now where the conspiracy feels increasingly vast and complex — and in that way, all the more scary — but still comprehensible. The black oil aliens are one of Chris Carter’s most practical inventions, allowing for a tangible alien presence that doesn’t involve little gray men. Their handiwork is still coming back to bite the Syndicate — most directly in this one our beloved Well-Manicured Man, who loses his lover to a KGB assassin. And isn’t it just more fun to know that Krycek is always out there, speaking fluent Russian and doing nefarious shit?
- Favorite Standalone Episode?
KatyBeth: This season has so many stellar episodes that I can’t properly pick only one favorite. Often it’s “The Field Where I Died” (which I hated at 12 and adore 24 years later), for a while it was “Unruhe” or “Memento Mori,” but this time I’m really vibing with “Leonard Betts” – a fine Monster of the Week story that starts out eerily similar to Doctor Who: The TV Movie and ends with a scary twist ending that changes the entire series forever after. Paul McCrane does fantastic work toeing the line between creepy and interesting. His performance as Leonard elevates what could have been successful as a one-note mutant into someone for whom I feel real empathy. He’s sorry, but you have something that he needs.
Sage: This show has a troubling obsession with impregnating/sterilizing women without their consent, but “Small Potatoes” is so much fun that I stop being angry about it for 42 minutes. GHVG crafts a quirky story about a shapeshifting ne’er do well who seduces women by deception, transforming into their beloved husbands, and in one instance, timeless science fiction character Luke Skywalker (he’s what’s known as a Jedi Knight.) He’s only found out because, in a stroke of storytelling genius, people in his Appalachian town start to notice that there are an awful lot of babies being born with the same vestigial tail. I love it when a case that seems to be an X-File for one reason turns out to be in Mulder and Scully’s wheelhouse for another entirely. And it’s endlessly amusing to me that GHVG realized as he was writing the episode that the perfect actor to embody dangerous loser Eddie Van Blundht was his pal, fellow writer Darin Morgan.
But, let’s get serious. This episode lives and dies on David Duchovny’s comedic chops. He transforms into Eddie-as-Mulder so subtly and completely that you can tell which is which simply from his posture or the slightly constipated smile on his face. And every scene is gold, from their awkward meeting with Skinner (“You spelled Federal Bureau of Investigation wrong.” “It was a typo.” “Twice.”) to his disappointment with the state of Mulder’s personal life, which he certainly imagined was much sexier and more exciting. “Small Potatoes” was the episode David submitted when he won his Golden Globe, and it was absolutely the correct choice. It’s a perfectly calibrated performance and probably one that was much more difficult to pull off than even Mulder’s most dramatic moments.
The episode speeds to the only possible climax (or would have, if they hadn’t been interrupted): Eddie-as-Mulder successfully putting the moves on Scully. How mean, you might think, to give MSR truthers exactly what they wanted but with one cruel twist. And it’s true, the last five minutes are so exquisitely uncomfortable that I still can only watch them from between my fingers. The look on the real Mulder’s face says it all – he would have rather walked in to find Scully holding a gun on him than what he actually sees. Surprising absolutely no one, the show does not follow up on this. Ever. Like, how does Mulder process that Scully would, under the right circumstances, let him kiss her? How does she?? Fortunately, that’s a problem easily solved by fan fiction.
Kim: Well, it wouldn’t be one of these recaps if I didn’t name one of GHVG’s standalone episodes as the best of the season. (Spoiler Alert: it’s going to happen again at least twice.) Look, we all know that the base storyline for “Small Potatoes” is problematic and that Eddie Van Blundht is a rapist impregnating women under false pretenses. We can also know that the episode is superbly written and executed perfectly, featuring one of David Duchovny’s best performances of the entire series. Both things can be true and as fans of the show, we can and should be able to separate them. Besides, the episode knows Eddie is a bad guy. GHVG is not asking us to root for him and he does get his comeuppance in the end.
The casting of the great Darin Morgan as Eddie is inspired because GHVG is channeling Darin’s writing in this script while still keeping his signature wit and blatant shipping of our two favorite federal agents. “Small Potatoes” pokes fun at Mulder in the way that only a writer who truly knows and loves the character can. David more than rises to the occasion, playing both OG Mulder and Van Blundht as Mulder, subtly changing his posture and facial expressions to differentiate them.
And then that final scene. Listen, we can never say Vince Gilligan doesn’t do his damn best to give the people what they wanted and get Mulder and Scully together. The result is equally horrifying and exhilarating and embarrassing and enraging. Horrifying because WE know that’s not really Mulder. Exhilarating because by God, Scully GOES with it and was absolutely going to let Mulder kiss her and maybe more. (HER LIPS PART, OKAY.) Embarrassing because of the way OG Mulder storms in on them, seeing the results of Van Blundht doing what he’s never quite had the nerve to do. Enraging because these two emotionally repressed human beings who are irrevocably in love with each other never discuss this moment again. You know it’s good when you know what’s coming and you still scream when it actually happens and that’s why this episode stands the test of time.
- Least Favorite Episode?
Kim: No offense to “Kaddish,” because it’s a tall order for any episode to follow the masterpiece that is “Memento Mori,” but even on rewatch I couldn’t really tell you what happened. And to me, in a season where the bar is set so high, being forgettable is worse than being bad.
KatyBeth: Sorry to this “Teliko.” At least “El Mundo Gira” has funny moments.
Sage: I’ll say this for Season Four: it has an extremely high bangers-to-flops ratio. For that reason, I’m choosing “Teliko” as my least fave. As an X-File, it’s not terrible – interesting baddie, always holds my attention, Mulder and Scully look preternaturally beautiful – but I think we can all agree that a bunch of white men sitting down to craft a supernatural parable about anti-Black racism is a cultural exercise that should be left in the ‘90s.
- Scariest Episode?
Sage: There’s nothing supernatural about “Paper Hearts.” (Even Mulder’s seemingly psychic dreams can be explained by that big, beautiful brain working away in his sleep.) It’s John Lee Roche and his dead-behind-the-eyes lack of remorse that make this one so disturbing. The part was written by GHVG specifically for guest star Tom Noonan, and both of them deliver on it. While the show couldn’t be explicit about the nature of Roche’s crimes, much like Donnie Pfaster’s necrophilia in “Irresistible,” it’s heavily and monstrously implied. And as emotionless as he is, the serial killer sees a golden opportunity to use Mulder’s humanity to his advantage.
With “Paper Hearts,” The X-Files considers for the first time whether it was actually something terribly earthbound and ordinary that happened to Samantha. It’s the first time Mulder faces that possibility too, and we’re left to wonder which fate would have been worse. The fierce battle of wits between Roche and Mulder is gripping, as is Scully in protect-at-all-costs mode. And the case ends with a tense standoff, the resolution of which only provides moderate comfort. For a show about the fantastic, The X-Files does the banality of evil super well, and this is a perfect example of that.
Kim: “Home” is terrifying for many reasons, from the cold open with the birth of the newest Peacock sibling (which is much more horrific and graphic than I remembered it to be) to the grisly reveal of Mrs. Peacock under the bed to the booby traps that make up the house’s security system. But what really pushes it into nightmare territory for me is the cold-blooded and brutal murder of Sheriff Andy Taylor and his wife. As a member of the Unsolved Mysteries and Rescue 9-1-1 generation, home invasion is one of my biggest fears and this one is made all the more disturbing because it’s scored to Johnny Mathis’ “Wonderful! Wonderful!” (Only it’s actually a cover version because Mathis himself was like “Nope, this one is too much for me!”) Don’t get me wrong, this episode slaps, but it’s definitely not one to watch alone late at night.
KatyBeth: “Sanguinarium,” that bloody tale that warns us off cosmetic surgery and the occult, is easily the scariest episode for me. (Runner up is “Tempus Fugit”/”Max,” for making me watch an hour and a half about a plane crash. Yikes!)
- Underrated Episode?
Kim: It’s pretty wild that it took The X-Files four seasons to truly attempt a time travel episode. “Synchrony” is like Back to the Future but if Marty McFly went back to 1955 to kill his parents because George and Lorraine were going to invent something worse than the atomic bomb. It also has a bit of the Doctor Who philosophy of time travel, where there are just some points that are fixed and you can’t do anything about it, as we see that despite Jason Nichols’ best efforts, his freezing compound is going to be invented anyway. It’s brain-wrinkling, and, as a Whovian, I am genetically programmed to appreciate it.
KatyBeth: Back in 1998, when I was a newly-converted X-Phile, I often read about episodes online before seeing them. I read all I could as I tried to piece together who these characters were in between the nightly reruns of Seasons One through Five on FX. The things I read shaped my opinions about the stories I hadn’t yet seen, and I was reading from a very shippy angle. I knew all about how swapping “Never Again” and “Leonard Betts” for the Super Bowl dramatically changed the interpretation of Scully’s actions and very much disagreed with the whole thing in concept and execution.
If you asked me 24, 14, even 10 years ago, I would have told you that ”Never Again” is well-acted but overall terrible. How could Dana Scully, a Medical Doctor™, not immediately go for a CT? How could she fight with Mulder, her One True Pairing™, like this? How could she get a tattoo while drunk and sleep with another man? How how how. But as I got older, I forgot to be mad about how out-of-character it was for Scully to rebel against her life and mortality. It became a thing that simply annoyed me.
And then, sometime in the last decade, I had a medical scare of my own. At first I put off calling to make an appointment because I didn’t want to know. But then because medical care is a mess in the United States, I had to wait a bit for an appointment. In the weeks between the question and the answer, doing things to forget and then lying awake with worry, I finally understood the way this episode’s changed place in the season lineup worked well as a story about Scully’s frustrations, hesitation, and fear. Did she think about Clyde Bruckman’s gleeful comment of “You don’t” when she asked how she would die? Did it give her hope that maybe he saw her cancer and wanted her to know she would survive? Did she wonder if her cancer was the “unrest” seen by Gerry Schnauz? Did she push back against Mulder as a way of protecting him, and reach for a stranger because she couldn’t reach for the person she wanted? How exactly did she avoid having a full scan after being beaten by a suspect, which would have revealed the cancer and certainly changed the final scenes?
I thought about this episode so much in that time, and many times in the years since. I know a lot of people still get stuck on the concept that Scully might sleep with someone who isn’t Mulder and write it off entirely. But Scully has so much going on, and she’s trying desperately to push away what is coming for a few moments more. She knows that Mulder’s half-spoken statement, that her life has become his, is only going to serve to break both their hearts the instant she finds out for sure what is going on inside her body. As soon as Mulder knows what is going on, she can no longer pretend.
Sage: “The Field Where I Died” wouldn’t have gotten such a bum wrap if it hadn’t been for the contentious relationship between Chris Carter and MSR shippers. The latter took it as a bit of a slap in the face that the show would make it canon that Mulder and Scully have a platonic past-life history and that Mulder’s eternal romantic soulmate is some lady we just met instead. But the deep-down truth of the matter is that this episode, another contribution from Morgan and Wong, slaps and always has. Just because Mulder and Scully’s connection in their prior incarnations was friendly or even familial doesn’t mean that they can’t be banging it out in this one. Their friendship is the bedrock of their love story anyway, and with this show’s tenuous grasp of continuity, I give you full permission to take what you want and leave the rest. Trust me, it’s the only way to make it through the series with your sanity intact.
Back to “The Field Where I Died,” a melancholy and poetic episode that our resident newbie Sarah wisely compared to a Wyeth painting. Like so many of the best standalone stories, it takes inspiration from real-life events – in this case, the Waco siege – and supplies a supernatural element. And Morgan and Wong take that element one step further than one might expect. Not only is one of Ephesian’s wives experiencing several of her past lives at once, those lives include Mulder, whose openness to the unknown and tireless search for some kind of family make him incredibly vulnerable to all the feelings that Melissa’s claims bring up.
It’s gorgeously shot, David and Gillian both look stunning, CULT STUFF??, “Even if I knew for certain, I wouldn’t change a day” – sure, it’s a little meandering, but that only works to make it more dream-like. It’s a crime that it’s among the lowest-rated episodes of Season 4 on IMDB, holding just 6.7 stars.
- Best Mulder Moment?
Sage: What we actually see of Scully’s truncated birthday celebration in “Tempus Fugit” is charming enough: Mulder with a toothpick hanging fetchingly out of his mouth, loudly singing along with the wait staff serving his partner what looks to be the fancy restaurant version of a Snowball lit up some festive sparklers, not to mention giving her one of his signature enigmatic gifts. (So cute we’ll forgive him for using the words “dog years” to rationalize why this is the first of her birthdays he’s acknowledged in their four years together.)
But think about everything that had to occur to lead up to this moment, and it’s so much worse. In the first place, Mulder would have invited Scully out for a purely social drink or dinner – what many of us might call “a date” – without letting on that he remembered the occasion. Then, he would have either had to call the restaurant ahead or make up some excuse to leave the table to arrange for the dessert and the song. He also would have had to pick out that Apollo 11 keychain, take it to the register, and pay, thinking about how he would be giving it to her. And what kind of keychain comes in a gift box?? He got that somewhere too. He planned this, and in a way that’s much more about her than, for example, securing those NFL tickets in “Irresistible.”
It’s certainly no coincidence that Mulder decides a birthday party for two is in order after Scully is diagnosed with cancer. But it is a birthday party he orchestrated, not a pity party. Just look at his face in that scene: mischievous, flirty, pleased, and way too proud of himself. He isn’t feeling sorry for her or for himself; he just wanted to do something fun and to make her the center of attention, for once not because she’s testifying to Congress or fighting for her life in a hospital bed.
I’d be remiss not to point out that this episode falls somewhere in the middle between “Never Again” and “Small Potatoes,” two episodes that are, at least partly, about Scully’s unspoken desire for Mulder to truly see her. And I think this moment is him taking a step towards showing her that he does. Sure, it’s self-indulgent, but it’s sweet and thoughtful too. And that’s basically Fox Mulder in a nutshell.
Honorable mention (because mention it, I must) to Mulder booping Scully with the motel TV antenna in “Home.”
KatyBeth: “Tempus Fugit” opens on a fun but rare sight: Mulder and Scully hanging out in a bar. Oh hey, it’s that FBI bar that agents hang out in sometimes. And wait, that pink snowball with a lit sparkler is heading for their table. A bunch of agents we haven’t seen before and won’t see again are singing the birthday song to Scully! Mulder is behind it all! He’s even brought a gift: an Apollo 11 keychain that symbolizes their partnership but might also just be something cool he found in the gift shop at the Air and Space Museum.
Beneath all the sparkle and cheer, hidden behind Mulder’s flirty smile, there’s the knowledge that this might be Scully’s final birthday. And as much as he may joke about celebrating in “dog years,” Mulder isn’t going to let Scully celebrate this one without him.
Kim: The “Tunguska” and “Terma” two-parter is one of those mythology arcs where I don’t really know exactly what’s going on. All I know is that the stakes are very high, everyone is hot (and a little horny TBH), and they are incredibly fun episodes to watch. The pinnacle of the episode comes when Scully is set to testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee for the second time, after spending a night in jail because she refused to give up Mulder’s whereabouts. (That’s love, bitch!) It’s looking like she’ll be heading there again with White Man Senator #1 pressuring her to answer his question and then a familiar voice rings out from the back of the room.
“What’s the question?”
Scully spins around (bonus points to Rob Bowman for pushing the camera in tight on her joyous reaction) and in strolls Mulder, slightly mussed with a scabbed over wound on his forehead, his black trench billowing behind him like he’s Mr. fucking Darcy walking on the moors in the mist of the early morn. I can practically hear the bridge of “My Heart Will Go On” in the background as he gives Scully a little smile. As I said to Sage in our rewatch, it would be the most exciting day on C-SPAN of all time.
- Best Scully Moment?
Kim: Scully has put up with a lot of shit from Mulder in their four years of working together, it’s amazing that she’s never full-on snapped. Well, she finally does in “Never Again,” and it is glorious.
Mulder: So you’re refusing an assignment based on the adventures of Moose and Squirrel?
Scully: “Refusing an assignment?” It makes it sound like you’re my superior.
Mulder: Do what you want. Don’t go to Philadelphia, But let me remind you that I worked my ass off to get the files reopened. You were just assigned. This work is my life.
Scully: And it’s become mine.
Mulder: You don’t want it to be.
Scully: This isn’t about you. Or maybe it is, indirectly. I don’t know. I feel like I’ve lost sight of myself, Mulder. It’s hard to see, let alone find in the darkness of covert locations. I mean, I wish I could say that we were going in circles, but we’re not. We’re going in an endless line – two steps forwards and three steps back. While my own life is…standing still.
Honestly, the way Mulder takes for granted that Scully would just do his bidding when he takes a federally mandated vacation, in addition to the fact that he’s never gotten her a damn desk would be enough to send anyone over the edge. But Leonard Betts’ revelation that she has cancer has sent Scully to a completely different place mentally and she just…snaps. And Mulder doesn’t even know what to do other than pout and say maybe it’s good that they get away from each other for a while. (Yikes.)
As great as that mini-tirade is, the Scully moment that sticks out to me the most comes at the end of the episode, post-rumspringa, post-tattoo, post-romp with Ed Jerse, and post-near murder at his hand. The episode comes full circle with Mulder and Scully back in his office, Scully back in her usual chair and Mulder still acting like a petulant child, dragging her for making a second appearance in the X-Files and making snide comments about getting a Yankees tattoo. What kills me is that you see all the fight drain out of Scully; she just sits there and dissociates, not even really listening to Mulder as she focuses on the dried rose petal she had left on his desk days earlier. The room is the same, but she is not. Finally, Mulder attempts to just brush everything aside, pulling out a new case for them, but the weight of Scully’s silence finally gets to him. “All this…because I didn’t get you a desk?” The sheer resignation in Scully’s face, her eyes, and her posture as she looks up at him is fucking devastating. “Not everything is about you, Mulder,” she replies, the weight of the world and her diagnosis on her shoulders. “This is my life.”
KatyBeth: Special Agent Dr. Dana Katherine Scully, MD, versus a congressional committee investigating the location of Fox Mulder (really something else actually important, but all they care about is where her partner went). This woman takes on Congress, tells them exactly what she thinks of them, and doesn’t flinch when they throw her into a cell for contempt. She has a backbone of steel and I want to be her when I grow up.
Sage: It is very important to me how vulnerable Scully allows herself to be in “Memento Mori,” and not just because those moments guaranteed Gillian taking home the Emmy and the Golden Globe that year.
Scully handles the confirmation of her diagnosis – and a glimpse into her almost certain future through the loss of every last woman in the Allentown chapter of MUFON – in a way that is quintessentially her. She can share the facts of her bleak prognosis with Mulder without breaking down. She puts off seeking the comfort of her own mother until she can “get all the answers.” (Impossible.) When Skinner offers his heartfelt (and work-appropriate!) condolences, she stresses that she doesn’t want things to be “awkward” at the office. The woman is a vault.
But every case needs a report, and Scully puts pen to paper as she begins her treatment. She tells Mulder in the infamous hallway scene that she had decided not to give her diary to him when she decided that she was going to survive, meaning that her original plan was to spill her last, dying thoughts out to him on those pages. “That you should know my heart, look into it, finding there the memory and experience that belong to you, that are you, is a comfort to me now,” she writes, and ummmm, hello?? Scully, who keeps her heart so protected, is like, “Here. Here’s everything. Also, it’s yours. It’s all you.”
And she doesn’t take it back. There’s a moment of something resembling embarrassment, but it quickly evaporates, and then Scully just…lets it ride. I think she realizes in the course of the episode that she needs Mulder’s support more than she ever has. As we learn in “Gethsemane,” her faith is no longer something she can fully lean on. And while her mother is easily the most present, loving, and not-evil parent on the show, the Scully family is still grieving and a little bit broken. She also realizes that she can’t shield Mulder from this, and that it will hurt them both more if she tries. There’s no more plausible deniability anymore about how their lives are intertwined, and while she will backslide – they both will – it’s a relief in this moment that she lets her guard down while also doubling down on that strength that makes all of us (Mulder included) respect her so much.
- Best Shipper Moment?
Sage: Once again, I did not have the strength to narrow this down any further than to two finalists, and we’re entering borderline romance novel territory now, so I don’t expect the process to be any easier for the next few seasons. What I’ve got for you for Season Four is one moment from Mulder’s end and one from Scully’s, which I hope you all agree is quite fair considering how ass-backwards in love with each other they are.
Case in point: when Mulder brings up Scully’s thesis in the pilot, he’s still teasing her and feeling her out. (“Now that’s a credential, rewriting Einstein.”) He read it because he wanted to know what he was in for, and where else is a profiler to start? What kills me is that he’s still quoting it – verbatim – four years later in “Synchrony.”
Mulder: ‘Although common sense may rule out the possibility of time travel, the laws of quantum physics certainly do not.’ In case you forgot, that’s from your graduate thesis. (smiling at her) You were a lot more open-minded when you were a youngster.
Eidetic memory aside, this is so freaking loud, Fox. In the academic world, this is the equivalent of showing up at her door with a dozen red roses, a teddy bear, and a heart-shaped box of chocolates. We get it. You have a crush on her.
Meanwhile, Scully is in no better shape. Their encounter with John Lee Roche leaves Mulder emotionally spent. Not only was this another instance of someone exploiting his unbreakable promise to his sister, but he also feels as though he’s failed Roche’s still unidentified victims and their families. Scully assures him that they will find the real owner of the heart the killer claimed belonged to Samantha, and Mulder softly asks her how. “I don’t know,” she says, “But I do know you.” And then he does that thing he does sometimes when she says something nice about him, which is to look a little stunned. As cocky as Mulder can be, I think it’s perpetually surprising to him that Scully believes wholeheartedly that he’s heroic and noble and good. Almost like they should be together or something, I don’t know.
KatyBeth: Listen, this season has forehead kisses and long hugs in public and Mulder and Scully BOTH rescuing the other from a lobotomy, but I have to admit that the moments in “Synchrony” where Mulder quotes Scully to Scully while defending his theory about time travel fill me with the shippiest of feelings. Sometimes I daydream about someone reading my Master’s thesis and reciting it back to me to win an argument. (Idk how you use a thesis about The Scottish Play in this manner, but I’m happy for someone to try.)
Kim: Okay, listen. “The Field Where I Died” was (and still is) a highly divisive episode in the fandom, with the noromos using it as canonical evidence that Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are not and will never be hopelessly, irrevocably, desperately in love with each other. I can understand how some shippers could be sore about Melissa Ephesian’s existence, but not me! Because when I watch Mulder’s past lives regression scene, I can’t comprehend anything other than Mulder saying that Dana Scully has been tied to him from lifetime to lifetime. That she has always been his constant and most trusted companion. That their souls always find each other, no matter the circumstances. They are ACTUAL SOULMATES. I can just picture Chris Carter getting the script from Morgan and Wong and being like “Aha! This will shut the shippers up! Mwah ha ha!”
Joke’s on you, Chris! This episode made me ship Mulder and Scully even harder, and quite frankly, it’s one of the most romantic notions the show has ever entertained.
As if that weren’t enough, we also have Scully confirming that there’s no place else she’d rather be in this life than by his side.
MULDER: Dana, if, um… early in the four years we’ve been working together…an event occurred that suggested or somebody told you that…we’d been friends together in other lifetimes…always…wouldn’t it have changed some of the ways we looked at one another?
SCULLY: Even if I knew for certain, I wouldn’t change a day. (She heads for the door then looks back.) Well, maybe that Flukeman thing. I could’ve lived without that just fine. (She smirks and walks out. He smiles.
Do you mean to tell me that after EVERYTHING Scully has been through, from the risk to her professional reputation to her own abduction to her sister taking a bullet for her that she wouldn’t change a day that they’ve spent together other than the Flukeman? She. Wouldn’t. Change. A. Day. Get the fuck out of here.
- Thirstiest Moment?
KatyBeth: There are too many thirsty moments to choose from during the course of this season, so let me just spin the Wheel of Thirst… Looks like the wheel has landed on “Naked Mulder wrapped in a motel blanket while Scully checks him for injuries” in “Demons.” It’s hotter because of the inconvenient timing.
Kim: I’m sorry, I don’t know how I am supposed to say anything other than Assistant Director Walter Skinner in his tighty-whities, especially when the camera is like…looking UP at him? Those thighs, my GOD. They are like tree trunks and I would let him snap my neck Sayid Jarrah style with them.
Bonus points to Skinner answering the door shirtless in the middle of the night and then promptly wrestling Alex Krycek to the floor in “Tunguska.”
Sage: I’m somewhat shocked Fox let them get away with Scully being so obviously turned on by the pain of getting her tattoo in “Never Again,” which I’d wager kick-started many a sexuality crisis. Hot.
- Grossest Moment?
Sage: As I said during our rewatch of “Sanguinariam,” I’ve been afraid of liposuction ever since Cher Horowitz told us that her mother died in a freak accident during a routine procedure. But whatever image of that my 12-year-old brain conjured at the time couldn’t possibly hold a candle to the liposuction murder in that episode. “Sanguinariam” is the most disgusting episode of the season by a longshot (and the most improbable — how was that hospital still operating after multiple gruesome deaths?), and that possessed plastic surgeon going to town on an unconscious patient with a suction tube cannot be unseen.
Kim: Look, I’ve never seen “Nip/Tuck” but you can’t tell me that Ryan Murphy didn’t watch “Sanguinarium” and see those smarmy plastic surgeons and all of those horrific surgery scenes and think, “Hey, I could make a TV show out of this.” It’s the stuff of nightmares, and now I can understand why Cher Horowitz’s mom could have died in a freak accident during a routine liposuction.
KatyBeth: The evil doctor in “Sanguinarium” peeling off his face so he can change his identity is so disgusting. Excellent work, makeup team!
- Funniest Moment?
Kim: David Duchovny is one of those super hot guys who also happens to be a comic genius, which is really just infuriating and unfair because the man can do it all. He gives a tour-de-force performance in “Small Potatoes,” channeling his nemesis Darin Morgan’s Eddie Van Blundht. It reaches peak when Van Blundht as Mulder explores Mulder’s apartment, judging everything from his lack of a bed to the answering machine message from the Lone Gunmen to the message from Mulder’s favorite 900 number. Look, we all know Mulder is a bit of a loser, and that’s why we love him. But it’s pure genius to see Mulder being judged THIS way. And then Van Blundht turns to the mirror and whips out Mulder’s badge, holding it upside down and doing his best federal agent impression. The whole sequence ends with a series of facial expressions that show just how much David studied Darin Morgan’s performance and honestly, it’s criminal he didn’t win the Emmy for this.
KatyBeth: The Cigarette-Smoking Man quoting his terrible novel while deciding to not shoot Frohike? Art.
Sage: That would be Mulder’s crowning achievement of a dad joke: pointing to a broom propped up against the house of a nurse he suspects of controlling doctors with witchcraft and quipping, “Probable cause.” I’m still giggling about it.
- Best Monster/Villain?
Sage: I wouldn’t want to run into the Peacock brothers at a highway rest stop, I’ll tell you that much.
Kim: Leonard Betts was already a Eugene Tooms-level X-Files villain with his regenerative powers reaching maximum gross-out potential. But then a single sentence uttered to Dana Katherine Scully in the back of an ambulance ascended him to the top spot in the monster pantheon and made it very difficult for me to look at Paul McCrane with anything other than distrust, which made his six seasons on ER very difficult. “I’m sorry…but you’ve got something I need.” It’s been twenty-six years and I am still shook to my core.
KatyBeth: The real villain of the show is always “middle-aged/old white men”, but I suppose I can narrow it down to just one and say John Lee Roche, the child-killer from “Paper Hearts” who taunts Mulder by suggesting it was he who kidnapped and murdered his younger sister Samatha way back in the 1970s.
- Right in the Feels Moment?
KatyBeth: The hospital hallway scene from “Memento Mori” is the most pure, honest, loving moment between Mulder and Scully. The episode is full of big emotions and quiet affection, but keeps them apart for much of the runtime, while she seeks treatment and he seeks answers. When they come together again at the end, both are deeply affected and cling to one another. Their journey might be reaching an end, and they’re going to hang on to every moment while it lasts.
Sage: I can’t elaborate on all the reasons why “Scully…I never saw you as a mother before” is such a devastating line, nor do I want to. Going down the list gets my blood pressure up.
All I’ll say for now is that I think Scully appreciates that Mulder expresses that to her, both that it hadn’t really occurred to him before and also that he could picture it, once he knew it was something she wanted. As I keep saying, a big theme of this season is her needing him to acknowledge every side of her that she’s willing to show him, and this is a major, reverberating shift in his understanding.
Kim: The episodes post-“Memento Mori” do a great job of balancing the cancer storyline without hitting us over the head with it. We get a nosebleed here and there and a rogue mention of Scully undergoing treatment to explain why Gillian is missing from an episode, but otherwise, it’s pretty easy to forget that she’s sick. It’s almost like they lull us into a false sense of security because surely nothing is going to actually happen to Scully, only for the show to rise up and slap us in the face with what goes down in “Elegy.” It’s painful to hear Mulder casually theorize that Harold can see dead people because he too is dying and it’s devastating when we realize along with Scully that’s why she saw the fourth victim. But it really goes to the next level in the final scene of the episode, where Scully actually confesses to Mulder about what she saw in the bathroom. At first, they do the very Mulder and Scully thing by talking around what they are actually talking about, all the meaning layered in subtext, but then, to all of our surprise, Mulder actually cuts to the heart of the matter.
Mulder: Why can’t you be honest with me?
Scully: What do you want me to say? That you’re right, that, that I believe it even if I don’t? I mean, is that what you want?
Mulder: Is that what you think I want to hear?
Scully: (softly) No.
Mulder: You can believe what you want to believe, Scully, but you can’t hide the truth from me because if you do, then you’re working against me…and yourself. (his voice softens) I know what you’re afraid of. I’m afraid of the same thing.
Scully: The doctor said I was fine.
Mulder: I hope that’s the truth.
Scully: (whispers) I’m going home.
It’s SO MUCH, okay? It’s how Mulder’s jaw clenches as he tries to rein in his emotions. It’s how Scully uses her favorite word, “fine,” even as her voice wavers and she can’t really look at him. It’s how she still tries to stay strong in front of Mulder, not allowing herself to break down and cry until she’s alone in her car. And it’s how she sees Harold’s ghost in the back of her car as the ambulance passes her by. She’s really fucking sick, y’all, and it HURTS.
- Best “Mulder, You’re Lucky You’re So Cute” Moment?
Kim: Mulder’s behavior in “Never Again” is pretty deplorable, from his “I always assumed that that was your area” comment when his partner of FOUR YEARS questioned as to why she didn’t have a desk to the snarky comment about how they could play Battleship if she DID get a desk because there would be no room in the office unless they arranged the desks to be facing each other. (Which is categorically false, look at the size of the office.) But where he really gets my goat is the way he treats Scully like she’s his patsy, chiding her for checking out mentally during one of his late night shadowy meet and greets and acting like he’s her supervisor giving her homework to do while he’s away on his federally mandated vacation. Not once does he utter the words “please” or “thank you” in that entire scene. HE’S LUCKY HE’S CUTE.
Sage: Aware as I am that this is also the season in which Mulder utters the sentence, “I always assumed that that was your area,” that’s not the moment that grinds my gears the most. It’s annoying enough that he casually sinks a three-pointer in “Paper Hearts,” but then in “Elegy,” he tosses off a perfect strike while they’re investigating a mysterious happening in a bowling alley. It’s like, fuck off, you know? Tragic backstory aside, no one should be allowed to be brilliant and gorgeous and good at everything. Making the rest of us look like clowns, smdh.
KatyBeth: My love for “Demons” (and guest star Chris Owens, here again as Young CSM) is probably well-documented by now. But can we just take a moment to examine this episode? Fox Mulder has been a rock for Scully since that 180 he did between “Never Again” and “Memento Mori.” He’s the one who called Maggie about the cancer diagnosis. He broke into a facility with the boys to look into the doctor performing Scully’s cancer treatment and rescued her frozen ova. He’s looked after her on cases and handed over hankies for nosebleeds and even done cases solo so she can rest. But caregiving is tough work. He was bound to break down from the strain sometime.
And his breakdown method is to go away for a weekend to get a frontal lobotomy. A LOBOTOMY. Because the moment your best friend and partner is actively dying of cancer is the best time to deal with your childhood trauma with an unauthorized medical procedure, waking up from a blackout covered in someone else’s blood, and getting accused of multiple murders.
At least he looks cute in that hotel shower?
- Best Guest Star?
Sage: Since we don’t have a Most Egregiously Unfair Death category, this one goes out to Brendan Beiser’s Agent Sean Pendrell, too pure for this world (aka the writers didn’t have a clue what else to do with him). To sacrifice our sweet, geeky lab tech to the conspiracy at all was already unnecessary, but to have him struck down in the moment he finally shoots his shot with Scully is truly cruel. He’s never replaced with anyone half as memorable or endearing, and did anyone really think that Scully needed another galvanizing loss after her sister’s murder and her own cancer diagnosis? Informants do what they do at their own immense risk, so killing them off poses no such questions. But it sucks to lose another valued, albeit ever-so-slightly on the fringes, member of the team.
Kim: Considering how The X-Files had been cemented as a television phenomenon by the end of Season Three, it’s kind of crazy that there weren’t really any flashy guest star spots with well known actors in Season Four, other than the voice of Clarice Starling herself, Jodie Foster in “Never Again.” That’s one of the things I love the most about The X-Files though, that they always gave lesser known character actors the chance to shine. In light of that, I gotta give the Season Four award to Chris Owens for his pitch-perfect portrayal of a young CSM in “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” (with an additional cameo in “Demons”). I THINK that young man might have a future on this show…
KatyBeth: I promise I did not choose this season so I could talk about Chris Owens as bb CSM in “Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man” but I’m not mad it worked out this way. In the first of three (!!) separate roles he plays over the course of the series, the third of which earned him the status of being one of my favorite character crushes, here he’s the man who is not yet the man we all know and despise. I love flashback episodes where a guest star plays a younger version of a character because so much hinges on that casting and it can be exceptional when done right (Kirsten Nelson in “Two Cathedrals,” I’m looking at you!).
Here Chris Owens is introduced to us as an Army Captain who likes to read, doesn’t smoke, and happens to occupy the bunk next to one William Mulder, who is bragging that his one-year-old just said his first word. (Feels slow for a future genius but whatever.) In a few scenes set in multiple time periods, he shows us who CSM once was and how he became who he is thirty-some years later. By the time the episode jumps back to the familiarity of William B. Davis, it feels like Chris Owens has always been part of the show.
- Favorite ’90s Fashion?
KatyBeth: Remember when low-cut cardigans were worn as tops with nothing underneath? Dana Scully remembers – and she looks great wearing one in “Small Potatoes.” (She wears the same cardigan again in “Demons” but that time she opts for a shirt underneath. Cardigans: so versatile in 1997!)
Sage: It’s a dead tie between the soft gray cardigan Scully wears to dinner at her mom’s in “Gethsemane” (the cozier, more family-friendly version of her “Small Potatoes” sweater – is it chenille?) and Krycek’s beat-up leather jacket.
Kim: I feel like Season Four started to give us a lot more casual looks for our fave agents, from Scully’s demure yet sexy silk cardigans to Mulder forgoing his jacket and tie and rolling up his shirtsleeves in multiple cases. (Both equally hot.) Out of all of those casual looks, I have to go with Mulder’s oatmeal sweater from “Gethsemane” because there’s nothing I love more than a sad boi in a cozy sweater. Bonus points for how he layered it with one of his smedium black tees like any true 90s fashion plate.
Sum up your feelings about the season.
Sage: The X-Files is in its stride, y’all. Season Four takes creative risks, pulls more interesting guest stars, and gives its leads the kind of material that wins multiple awards. That said, the mythology arc is inconsistent. “Herrenvolk,” “Tempus Fugit,” and “Max” plod through storylines that we don’t much care about and will have little impact moving forward. But to balance them out, we’ve got intense, emotional masterpieces like “Memento Mori” and “Gethsemane,” the giddy action of “Tunguska” and “Terma,” and show-sponsored fanfic about The X-Files’ heretofore most mysterious character in “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man.” As for the standalones, we’re blessed by the return of Morgan and Wong and their big swing “Home,” while GHVG continues to crank out the season’s best thrillers and comedy. BTS lore has it that the decision to give Scully cancer wasn’t universally popular in the writers room, but who can argue with the lose-your-breath impact of the reveal in “Leonard Betts,” watched live by 29.1 million people after the Super Bowl? I personally relish any opportunity to get in Scully’s head, especially with an episode like “Never Again,” an unflinching look at her unhappiness and unfulfilled desires that was ahead of its time.
It was also during Season Four that I started to watch the show live, so I have a lot of fond memories – mostly of being a feral teenager devouring every last thread on alt.tv.x-files and frequenting all of the best David Duchovny fan sites. It’s impossible to separate my feelings about the show from my first experience with fandom, and I’d never want to do that anyway. If anything, rewatching the show always proves to me that I wasn’t wrong to be so taken by it the first time.
Kim: I feel like Season Four is The X-Files in its prestige era, with the show sweeping the TV Drama category at the Golden Globes and Gillian going on to run the table, adding an Emmy and a second SAG award to her mantle. The show is in its prime, earning the one of the highest and most pressure-filled honors in the television landscape in the post Super Bowl slot and they fucking nailed it. The budgets are bigger, the costumes are nicer, the production values are sleeker. The movie has been green-lit and is in pre-production. Everyone has reached peak hotness. This is my X-Files. I think what I appreciate the most about Season Four is that it takes risks. Episodes like “Home,” “The Field Where I Died,” “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man,” “Never Again,” and “Small Potatoes” swing for the fences and what I like the most about them is that they trust the audience to go there with them. Even if the episodes are divisive, no one can say they aren’t superbly executed. I feel like I may have other seasons that I go back to more for comfort watching, but I would argue that Season Four is the overall best season of the series. For now, anyway. Talk to me when we get to the end.
KatyBeth: It’s wild to realize that this season starts with “Herrenvolk” (maybe the least compelling mytharc episode to date!) and ends with “Gethsemane,” the first in a trio of absolute barn-burner episodes. The front half of the season has strong standalone episodes, leading to “Tunguska”/”Terma.” “Watching those two and not considering what comes next, one might wonder how the show could possibly maintain the upward motion. Samantha clones? Bees? Black oil, smallpox scars, “the test”? Every new piece of The Project is contributing to a worse puzzle image.
And then Scully gets cancer. With one little line from Leonard Betts and one horrified reaction from Scully, the whole trajectory of the series changes. The focus of the mytharc is no longer only what happened in the past with Mulder’s sister’s disappearance and his father’s job: it’s the life and death stakes of Scully’s illness. The show shifts and grows in unexpected and interesting ways by bringing Scully to the center of the mytharc. They build on the Samantha clones with the Kurt Crawford clones. There’s the reveal that tests are being done in multiple countries, on people young and old. The Syndicate seems to be everywhere, all-knowing, and isn’t that just as scary now as it was back then?
Mulder and Scully’s relationship, already strong at the start, continues to grow as they lean on one another through his mother’s stroke and yet another Scully kidnapping. They stumble into an argument that grows into petulant silences and harsh words in “Never Again,” but the very next episode reminds them of Scully’s mortality and they seek comfort in the continued existence of each other. (And whew, that alternate take of the hospital hallway scene, where Mulder casually and confidently kisses Scully on the mouth instead of the forehead, has only served to fan the flames of my personal head canon that they were definitely sleeping together in this season. Puts “Never Again” in a fun new light, doesn’t it?) They support each other as Scully returns to work and Mulder spends the rest of the season watching her carefully, waiting for things to get worse. How could you not ship them? (And don’t forget that Skinner is out here making a deal with the devil to protect them both.)
From the non-story angle, EVERYONE is hot this season. Gillian Anderson has never looked more gorgeous. David Duchovny is a total babe at all times but also in a black turtleneck, which I cannot see without thinking of Sterling Archer. Mitch Pileggi, becoming more handsome by the episode, does a scene where Skinner answers his door at 3am wearing nothing but tighty-whities, and suddenly everyone in their late twenties/early thirties realizes he is very attractive. (It’s a thing! Growing up he is just Mulder and Scully’s Dad Friend and then all at once he is Walter Skinner: Hot Man.) Meanwhile Nic Lea reappears dressed like A Celebrity Going for Groceries (plain ball cap and leather jacket that is too nice for the circumstances) and inspires a lot of people to lust after him again. Seriously. If you were not there, large parts of the fandom were very into Alex Krycek and his vibe with Mulder. Truly, there is something for almost everyone in this season.
With the highs of Season Five right around the corner, sometimes it feels like this season gets overshadowed (just like “Never Again” existing between “Leonard Betts” and “Memento Mori”). It can feel like something to be pushed through to get to the “Reduxes” and all that comes after. But really, it’s a joy to watch the growth of the writing and the acting, the stories and the characters, especially if you know what is coming. There are a few stumbles (“Herrenvolk” is so boring! “Elegy” is a thing that happens! “Teliko” exists!), but overall the season is interesting and compelling, and that is promising for the future of the show.
And ending a season on the unexpected death of Fox Mulder when the show has spent 13 episodes focusing on Scully dying of cancer? Absolutely iconic.
Agree? Disagree? Want to fight us? Let us know you really feel about Season Four and our answers in the comments!
Featured Image Source: 20th Television