September 2013 sees the 20th anniversary of the first airing of The X-Files. To celebrate this on The Hex Dimension, I’ll be providing you with retrospectives on episodes and I’ll also be covering the films at the points that they fit into the series’ chronology. Paul Blewitt will also be providing additional commentary, so, without further ado… welcome to the “Pilot”.

In the dark woods

A young woman is running through some woods in the middle of the night and she’s not even dressed for a midnight run, her nightgown emphasises how vulnerable she is there and then. She’s scared, terrified even. We don’t see who or what is pursuing her. And then it’s all over. The following morning, Courier style font on the screen, and local law enforcement are in the woods and a corner of Oregon seems just that bit less tranquil. There’s a ark on the dead woman’s body. An officer asks, “Would that be class of ’89, detective?”The X-Files Pilot retrospective 4

What’s most important about the pilot episode is that in it the key mainstays of the show are laid down in it. The main platform of Mulder and Scully’s professional relationship, the quirky position of the viewer who knows more than both Scully and Mulder a great deal of the time – the locals that avoid them or are hostile. And most importantly of the X-Files tropes: the involvement of – seemingly – extraterrestrial forces, metal implants, and dubious federal intentions. It’s all in there in this first episode.

Not Twin Peaks

In many ways, this pilot takes some doing to get through. There’s the cheesy early nineties TV soundtrack to get through. The fashion, kind of , and the melodramatic acting, which takes some time to adjust to. Knowing that Chris Carter’s initial pitch to Fox for the series was rejected, it almost feels like he packed the pilot full with details to leave the studio execs without a doubt of what they were watching – something that was more grounded than Twin Peaks, yet no less mysterious.The X-Files Pilot retrospective 5

The above is probably why there are so many details about Mulder and Scully crammed into the first twenty minutes. After the scene in Oregon, we follow Scully through FBI headquarters as begins the first day of her new assignment at the Bureau. During an interview with senior staff, Scully divulges the background of not herself, but the agent she’s about to be partnered with. We quickly learn just how brilliant Fox Mulder is, the calibre of agent he has previously been at the bureau. Previously. Dana Scully’s background is laid bare by Mulder once the pair meet for the first time. This is all very professional how this happens, all calm, calculated. But Scully’s remit hangs over them, “[…] we trust you’ll make the proper scientific analysis”, while Mulder’s sarcastic retort not long after is also part of the operational balance, “Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?”

Paul Blewitt’s thoughts


I felt the pilot episode of X-Files was actually very strong. Everything that people have come to love about the X-Files, including the sexual tension between Scully and Mulder, the sceptical nature of Scully and believer nature of Mulder along with the entirety of the aliens storyline, can all be found in the pilot. In fact, the only thing that Scully and Mulder can be sure of, is that high up people are constantly trying to prevent them from completing their cases.

The really revealing thing, is that neither Scully or Mulder is dominant. They are both fantastic characters, incredibly intelligent and both come from polar opposite perspectives. Despite this, you can’t help but see both perspectives. You gain an appreciation that Mulder’s theories cannot be scientifically backed up, nor can you dismiss all of the eerie goings on as coincidence. Overall though, the pilot serves as a clear platform for what becomes a great series, and one that captured the imaginations of millions.

Looking for signs of life

The X-Files Pilot retrospective 6

Once the pair are officially on the case, the change in Mulder is palpable. He’s almost manic when they finally reach the other side of the country, a sign to the audience that his judgement and assessment of the case is questionable. It almost makes Scully’s presence and her quest for answers based in known reality an acceptable leash on Mulder’s character. But the deluge of signs that things are not normal are hugely manifest and that makes this episode easy to get hooked on, so long as you can overlook those odd bits of acting.

The first episode is a suitable opener to the first season of The X-Files and is a brilliant tool for familiarising yourself with the key themes and snippets of backstory that will come to play again and again in later episodes and seasons. Everything is foreshadowed.


What did you think of the pilot episode? Let us know in the comments below.