The X-Files: Pilot   Rewatch 
February 26, 2020 9:50 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

FBI agent and medical doctor Dana Scully is assigned to work with Special Agent Fox Mulder in the expectation that she will "apply the proper scientific analysis" to his work. Together the two agents travel to Oregon to investigate the case of a young woman found dead in the woods of no discernible cause.
posted by orange swan (21 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I just started re-watched the first season a couple of months ago. It was better than I remembered it. I liked it well enough during the original run, but as I got older I had a memory that it was kind of hokey and dated. But for the most part, that wasn't true. It stands up pretty well.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:13 AM on February 27, 2020

Please don't do this, I can't get sucked in! I beg of you...
Oh no... I am finding myself paralyzed, unable to move. There is a presence in the room...

The pilot does a nice job of setting up the characters. They are not yet where they will be when the show gets going full stride, but the basics are there with Mulder doing his thing, Scully being skeptical, and then her eyes opening a little as they see things that at the end Scully can't explain to her superiors. Right away we learn details of Mulder's obsession with the paranormal and why he is so driven. Section Chief Blevins is the perfect bureaucrat and CSM is already a presence! A lot of the scenes along the way have great atmosphere that will only get better as the show goes on, especially the one where they are in the diner and the girl's nose starts bleeding.

This is not the best X-File, but it is a classic.

...Oh, oh... Where am I? Time has passed? Time has passed! Missing time! Oh! Let me get my can of spray paint!
posted by Fukiyama at 8:33 AM on February 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

See, I bounced off of it in a rewatch a couple of years ago - I never really watched it originally, and in the rewatch it really felt like the mysteries they were investigating were kind of dated and very particularly of the 90's. I still sort of want to try and get in to it for the later seasons when it's less about the monster of the week and more about the stuff that fandom has convinced me is really the better part of it, but whuf that first season was a guaranteed sedative.
posted by Kyol at 8:43 AM on February 27, 2020

I watched this episode last night for the first time in many years, and I was surprised at how little of the plot I had remembered. It felt a bit confusing and jumbled and not entirely thought through, but then again this was the pilot so that's pretty excusable. The X-Files team had to come up with everything from scratch. They did succeed in creating the eerie, ominous feel of the show, and setting up Mulder and Scully as characters and with an intense relationship, so that's a lot to accomplish. I do remember we see a couple of these characters again -- Billy and Teresa, if I recall correctly.

The technology is hilariously dated -- Mulder is using an actual slide projector! Scully has a 40-pound laptop! The time lapse freeze frame was pretty cheesy, but otherwise the special effects weren't bad. The alien corpse was actually quite amazing.

Scully's wardrobe is terrible, and if my memory serves me correctly, will remain terrible until the time of the first X-Files movie. As Gillian Anderson has said in reference to Scully's early styling, "I wasn't paying attention and apparently no one else was either." If I had been the costume designer who dressed her during that time, I would have left the business and taken a bricklaying course, or just crawled in a hole somewhere.

I loved Mulder's gentlemanly behaviour. Scully barges into his hotel room, strips to her skivvies, and orders him to inspect her ass for signs of alien contact, and he never takes the least bit advantage of the situation. His reassurance and her resulting relief, and then his sharing with her the story of his sister's abduction, which is so central to who he is as a person, laid the foundation for the bond they will come to have.

And of course CSM is lurking about, a portend of things to come.
posted by orange swan at 9:05 AM on February 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oddly, Mulder is described as "an Oxford-trained psychologist" in this episode, and then never again. There's one episode in which he actually says, "I'm no psychologist." I don't know why they dropped that, as it was a good skill set for him to have and also a good counterpart to Scully's MD.
posted by orange swan at 9:27 AM on February 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Scully's wardrobe is terrible

How dare you. She was perfect.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 11:13 AM on February 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

All suits (and pantsuits) were absolutely horrid in the '90s.
posted by porpoise at 1:11 PM on February 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

How dare you. She was perfect.

There's one episode in which she wears a lace blouse and a puffball skirt, but you can think whatever you like.
posted by orange swan at 2:19 PM on February 27, 2020

Skinner was a bad character in S1, right? It's been a long time.....iirc, they strongly insinuated that he was in with CSM.
posted by thelonius at 2:36 PM on February 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm from Vancouver and this whole show, until it moved to California, feels so familiar and homey. So many shots ring that "oh! I know that place!" bell. Filming in Vancouver lends the show this beautiful grey dreariness that gives it such a wonderful flavor even when the episode drags or is uneven.

The way they treat abductees stories, the way that the story is structured around them (lost time, electromagnetic spots, abduction, metallic cylinders, hypnosis) feels respectful in a way that I don't think would be treated the same now. This treats it like a drama. I always think of X-Files as a horror/thriller, which of course it is, but this pilot is surprisingly laid back.

Duchovny and Anderson already have such great chemistry. Also, so much grave robbing, I love it.
posted by Neronomius at 6:26 PM on February 27, 2020 [7 favorites]

Two things about Scully's wardrobe: First, she's kind of supposed to dress a little drab. She's the straight man to Mulder; she shouldn't be a flashy fashionista. Second, it's Gillian Anderson. Bad wardrobe decisions are, uh, not as obvious.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:33 AM on February 28, 2020

Oddly, Mulder is described as "an Oxford-trained psychologist" in this episode, and then never again.

There's an episode in Season... 2? -- I want to say its S2E14 -- that's basically just an episode of Criminal Minds with no supernatural aspect whatsoever, leaning heavily on Mulder's criminal profiling abilities. But after that, yeah, it gets dropped and he's just a guy who read a lot of Fortean Times.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:41 PM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Fun fact: William B. Davis was just supposed to be an extra in the pilot, they didn't have any bigger plans for the guy smoking in the background! But I guess they saw him lurking there and said, "Huh... What's THAT guy's deal?"

IIRC, the early seasons would feature the date captioned at the bottom of the screen when Scully and Mulder would arrive on the scene. That could get weird, because sometimes it was the same day you were watching it, or sometimes it was a few days in the future! Then the dates seemed to disappear in reruns, maybe to make the show feel a little more timeless. Does anybody else remember that, or was it just my own personal Mandela effect?

Time marches on for us all, but it's always amazing for me to see the early episodes and just how young they looked, or to see the reboot, and how much older they looked. Somehow those extremes are jarring for me in a way that, say, seeing the Friends cast then and now isn't. It's not that Duchovny and Anderson have aged poorly, at all, but they had an early period of looking absurdly young, then they settled into this groove where they looked 35-ish for a looooong time, and now time has kind of caught up with them and they almost look like the parents of the kids they used to be.

Too bad the reboot seems to have fizzled out. There were some serious missteps in there but it felt like they'd found their way in the second season and it was great to see those characters again.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:13 PM on February 28, 2020

> I had a memory that it was kind of hokey and dated. But for the most part, that wasn't true. It stands up pretty well.

It helps that the production house did a really great job on the widescreen HD remaster. In terms of visual quality, the Netflix stream looks more like a modern show than like something from 1993.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:47 PM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Two things about Scully's wardrobe: First, she's kind of supposed to dress a little drab. She's the straight man to Mulder; she shouldn't be a flashy fashionista. Second, it's Gillian Anderson. Bad wardrobe decisions are, uh, not as obvious.

I agree it would be wrong to dress Scully in a showy, trendy way. That's not her and it wouldn't be appropriate for her work or her lifestyle. She's an FBI agent who lives and works in Washington D.C., which is not known for its fashion. It's a serious place where people wear plain business attire. But Scully doesn't need to look tacky or frumpy either, and though the beautiful Gillian Anderson carried off some badly cut plaid or jewel-tone suits as well as anyone could have, she very often did in the early years. Later on Scully's look involves well-cut classic black or neutral suits and other equally classic, less formal styles that still look good to this day, and even this early on in the rewatch I'm thinking what a relief it will be to get there.
posted by orange swan at 9:13 AM on March 1, 2020

I think that might have been an intentional decision to make her seem a little older. Dana Scully is four years older than Gillian Anderson, to make her medical school backstory more plausible.
posted by tobascodagama at 3:25 PM on March 1, 2020

I read Scully's super-dorky attire early on as meant to portray an early-career professional's attempt to look "serious." I too wore some pretty unfortunate suits when I was still figuring out how a woman in the workplace was supposed to dress. And like Scully I didn't have many female role models in my line of work to copy. She was just out of med school and most of her friends were on the "who cares what's under the white coat" wardrobe plan. I think it's totally appropriate.

I have seen this episode so many times I don't even need to rewatch. It's iconic.
posted by potrzebie at 3:48 PM on March 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

Totally agree, Scully was the "by the books" "goody two shoes" and her earnestness (and social dorkiness) and lack of "worldliness" was well portrayed through her attire...

To contrast with Mulder's nonchalance and weary worldliness (he's become tired through "knowing" rather than world weariness, where he's bored because he's experienced everything).

His attire wasn't MiB, but even rumpled and 1990's, Mulder attire was generally pretty slick - or at least he "wore it well" (and iirc, the occasions of him dressing down/ being frumpy was to reinforce that he was in pretty serious distress).

The writers did good with Scully and Mulder's growth through the series, and I think Anderson and Duchovny as well. Scully's attire did improve, after all.

thelonius - yeah, I think Skinner was supposed to be a by-the-book type who was manipulated/ kept-misinformed so he was doing what he thought was the right thing because he has no idea what was really going on.

That, and having a tough/ bad boss can be a route to promote "unit cohesiveness" if the unit is composed of competent people who can respect each other.
posted by porpoise at 8:34 PM on March 8, 2020

Skinner really does have a lot of character growth over the seasons, or at least Mitch Pileggi does a great job of playing the transition from this season's Skinner who willingly does the conspiracy's bidding to the Skinner of later seasons who openly acts as an ally to Mulder and Scully.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:51 AM on March 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I had some Google Play money starting to expire so splurged and bought the entire run.

mbrubeck - yes! I was impressed with the widescreen remaster, too. I remember the season where they both switched to widescreen and moved to LA and it opened with blue sky and blazing sun.

orange swan - lol old tech. It was the big clunky 14" beige boxed monitors that got me in the "oh my it's 1993." That blue suitcase in Mulder's trunk looks like it's from the 80's, though.

Not only were Anderson and Duchovny* super young, even CSM was downright spry. Jeezum, it's been 27 years. I was in... grade 9?! Although I can't believe that the reboot was only a couple of years ago.

The chemical stick diagram that Mulder shows a slide of is... nonsense. As written, it's impossible but if it was, it'd be incredibly reactive and wouldn't survive for analysis.

*we have a junior bizdev guy who has the exact same haircut and glasses as Duchovny in the pilot
posted by porpoise at 12:47 PM on March 21, 2020

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