This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
The X-Files, even from the very beginning, had one fatal flaw: the self-contained “monster of the week” episodes were always more satisfying than the episodes dealing with the core plotline. The episodes dealing with The Truth were extremely disciplined, each taking care to remain consistent with the show’s UFO cosmology whilst revealing it at a carefully controlled rate, whilst the writers took the monster-of-the-week stories much less seriously – and as a result, had a lot more fun with them. By which I don’t mean they were all comedic – there was the really terrifying one about the stretchy man who lives in a nest that didn’t seem to have much with the show’s mythology – but they were much more varied in tone and far less predictable than the core episodes, which tended to follow a strict pattern of “Mulder and Scully discover more information about the secret conspiracy to colonise Earth with alien-human hybrids, the conspiracy chase them a bit, Mulder whines about his sister, Scully has her rationalist worldview challenged, by the end of the episode all the evidence has mysteriously disappeared and they’re back to square one”.
In fact, Agent Scully’s notoriously unshakable scepticism was much easier to accept in the one-shot episodes. Her refusal to believe in the aliens became faintly ridiculous over the progression of the core episodes, considering what she had seen, but just because you believe in aliens doesn’t necessarily mean you have to believe in psychics, magic, or demonic possession, and there were a few phenomenon-of-the-week episodes where Scully’s insistence that nothing paranormal was occurring actually turned out to be completely correct. By the same coin, Mulder’s insistence on jumping to conclusions was the character flaw it was supposed to be in the monster-of-the-weeks, where he’d often completely misdiagnose the situation. In other words, the off-plot episodes of The X-Files were those where the character dynamics actually worked the way they were intended to work, whilst in the core plot episodes they got all screwed up.