Its incredible how a season can contain both the worst episode and the best episode so far. This whole season falls into some of the worst X-Files traps and mistakes but when it gets something right, shows how fantastic X-Files can actually be.
It doesn’t help that the last season ended with one of the worst cliffhangers we have had so far. The resolution to that cliffhanger opened a “conspiracy” episode that was a very poor and uninteresting beginning to the season. It’s a shame because the rest of the conspiracy episodes this season were very good. We are finally introduced to the “Black Oil” in a double-header that is terrifying, shocking and has some great, fast paced action. The second big conspiracy episodes sees the reintroduction of conspiracy theorist Max in another pair of episodes that are interesting, thrilling and have some great action.
The issue the conspiracy episodes has is that they are introducing a lot more than they are revealing. Each new layer introduced just begins to confuse the wider conspiracy and at times you can feel “lost.” It’s a dangerous path to tread because the conspiracy is still the best aspect of the show.
Even when it looks like we are finally getting some answers, in quite a decent season finale, Gethsemane, you aren’t sure if it’s just another red herring and yet another loose thread that leads nowhere. It does shift the focus of the season quite rapidly though and forcing Mulder to question his belief and begin to make him much more skeptical is a very clever trick to pull on our central character and the invested audience.
The conspiracy episodes are only part of the X-Files story though. After four years, we have seen all manner of “monster” episodes and different styles of telling those stories. There are some golden episodes here too, whether by coincidence or design, they are the most “normal” of the monster episodes, dealing with serial killers rather than ghosts or ghouls.
Unruhe and Paper Hearts are more to do with the victims attempts to save themselves rather than a serial killer with any supernatural powers and they are two of the best episodes of the season. When Mulder and Scully are using good old fashion detective skills, their chemistry and the show itself, shines. The best episode so far has to be the very tongue-in-cheek, silly but hilarious Small Potatoes. It has a great monster, some fantastic scenes and a third act that X-Files can only get away with once or twice in its whole run.
It’s just a shame that the rest of the “monster” episodes are distinctively average. None are awful, just not very clever, original or exciting. They feel like “X-Files by numbers” and could fit in any season, at any time. The problem is, there is far too many of these kinds of episodes and far too few of the incredible, clever and original ones.
It’s not that there aren’t great ideas, just that they are executed poorly. The worst offender, and winner of worst X-Files episodes ever, is The Field Where I Died. It opens with the dullest, most baffling of generic Mulder monologues ever. I hate the Mulder and Scully monologues anyway. They aren’t clever or interesting and feel pointless. This specific monologue opens the dullest episodes and the one that has a huge missed opportunity. An episode about past lives, reincarnation and multiple personalities ends up being slow, interview and dialogue heavy and ultimately pointless. It had so many good ingredients but is a perfect example of how to create an awful episode of the X-Files.
Overall, there is a lot to like about season 4 but it is also the first season that felt far too long. Too many episodes were padding and the best episodes came few and far between. The conspiracy needs to move forward much more rapidly and needs to be much clearer if it stands a chance of remaining interesting. There is still plenty to like about the X-Files but it can’t begin to get lazy.
Best Episode – Small Potatoes; Funny, clever and with a great “monster.” It’s also Mulder and Scully at their best.
Best performance – David Duchovny as Mulder.
Should there have been another season? – Yes, but it will need to get much better if it is going to avoid becoming stale and repetitive.
Season Rating – 3
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)