The Brilliance of Vince Gilligan: Top Seven X-File Episodes

A relative of mine recently became hooked (har har) on AMC’s Breaking Bad which is basically about a chemistry teacher who finds out he’s dying, so he starts his own meth lab in order to secure his family’s future. Yeah, It’s an intense show to say the least, and no character is purely good or bad….everyone is flawed. It’s dark comedy really. Some of the episodes have been too intense for me to watch but I recognize good writing when I see it. So I was shocked to see that Vince Gilligan was the creator of Breaking Bad. His work on The X-Files is legendary to me. He’s written at least thirty of its episodes and most of them are quintessential must-sees and that was just his first television gig. When counting off my favorite episodes I realized he wrote most of them….So without further ado here’s the top seven X-File episodes written by Vince Gilligan.

7. “X-Cops” 7×12 Starts off with the COPS “Bad Boy” theme song and is shot in the same documentary style with the camera man jogging here and there. This episode was not my favorite Gilligan episode but it was definitely intriguing and fun to watch. Mulder and Scully are investigating reports of a monster in L.A. Basically this monster turns out to be whatever people’s mortal fear is and that’s what makes it so interesting… suspects include werewolves to Freddy Krueger. You’ve got to admit it’s pretty hilarious, not to mention Scully being uncomfortable with the COPS crew following them around.

6. “Bad Blood”  5×12 The teaser to this episode has to be one of the most memorable in X-File history. It’s pretty hilarious and one of the funniest episodes period. Mulder and Scully plan to tell Skinner exactly what happened in the teaser, unfortunately they don’t see things quite the same way.This episode plays the same story twice told through Mulder’s and Scully’s very different perspectives.

5. “Tithonus” 6×09 This episode is more serious and Scully is partnered with someone else with Mulder helping whenever he can. It’s a strong episode with an old (older than you think) newspaper photographer who attempts to take pictures of people just before their death in an attempt to finally die, unfortunately his camera is pointed at Scully. This episode sort of cemented the belief among fans that perhaps Scully is immortal which was first suggested in the episode “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” 3×04

4. “Small Potatoes” 4×20 Come to think of it a lot of the funnier moments in The X-Files have been Gilligan written. Martinsburg, West Virgina a town with a prolific birth rate in a short period of time has a problem.These babies are being born with tails….turns out a local resident is pretty good at changing his appearance. One woman even thinks Luke Skywalker is the father of her baby.This episode is awesome because Duchovny gets to play someone else playing Mulder and it’s just comedic.

3. “Paper Hearts” 4×08 This was a heartbreaking episode. It deals with one of the longest running questions of the show: what happened to Mulder’s sister?  It challenges Mulder’s belief that she was abducted by aliens, and asks what if she was murdered instead. It’s a disconcerting episode whose villain is among the most memorable in the show. Duchovny’s acting in this episode is simply heartbreaking.

2. “Unruhe” 4×2 This is actually my favorite episode of the X-Files. It’s one of those where Scully gets kidnapped but Dude its intense! It involves the idea of psychic photographs and the nightmares revealed in them. The killer is convinced he is rescuing his victims by giving them lobotomies with an ice pick. Even worse, he is convinced Scully needs to be “saved.” Pruitt Taylor Vince plays a frightening Gerald Schnauz. This episode still has me checking beneath my car before I get in….it scared the heck out of me.

1. “Pusher” 3×17 This episode tops my list because not only is the premise creative and scary (a man with the ability to push others to do his will and ultimately harm themselves,) it’s a wonderful acting platform for Duchovny and Anderson. The Russian roulette scene at the end is enthralling and scary with Mulder turning the gun on himself and Scully. I saw an interview with New York Magazine where Gilligan mentions this about writing:

“Show your story, don’t tell it. Try not to depend too much on dialogue. Try to remember that it’s very much a visual medium and that sometimes more can be said with a look between characters than a whole spate of words.”

and that last scene demonstrates this quote so much. Not much is said, but so much is conveyed in looks and actions. The tension is so thick in “Pusher” and to me it’s one of the greatest Vince Gilligan episodes.

I only listed seven, but there are so many great episodes written or co-written by him “Memento Mori,” “Christmas Carol,” “Emily,” “Kitsunegari,” “Roadrunners” and Dreamland I & II to name a few. Overall, I guess what I’m trying to say is Vince Gilligan rocks and television is so much more interesting because of him.

What’s your favorite X-File episode? Or Breaking Bad for that matter?

Oh! and on a side note check out the awesome X-File ads over at The X-Files 3 in 2012 Facebook page…they’re pretty cool.


  1. I totally agree with your insight! Christmas Mornings,Birthdays and X-Files should never end.
    Love the creative writing in every episode. What chemistry between Mulder and Scully!!

  2. I love this!

    My favorite Vince Gilligan episode on The X-Files would have to be Pusher which I just rewatched the other day. He even predicted to Chris Carter that it would be the best script he ever turned in for the series and that was only Season 3! Definitely one of the standout writers on the show.

    I’m also really looking forward to the season premiere of Breaking Bad, not that I’ve picked out a favorite episode there though. :o)

      1. Darin Morgan! I only wrote a handful but boy, was he a master. Vince Gilligan is another love of mine, though, especially when it comes to characterization. And Frank Spotnitz because I enjoy the heart/fanboyishness that sneaks into his writing.

  3. Oh yeah, I loved the Bad Blood episode too. I think at one point, Mulder screamed like a girl in it (? i think). I haven’t seen Breaking Bad. I think my favorite is Bad Blood too. And also another episode, I don’t know the name of it but the premise is some well known author is doing a book on Mulder and Scully and one particular alien sighting. It’s pretty funny because he gets different POVs from everyone. In this episode, an alien autopsy tape is making rounds on the internet with Scully as the Dr. doing the autopsy, but the tape was edited in such a way that it didn’t show the end, that the “alien” was a man in a suit. This one is a pretty funny one too, with men in black and everything.

  4. Okay, this is a great write up. I have the first season of Breaking Bad to watch on DVD and I will definitely be making a point of watching it after reading this. It’s a great list by the way and I have to agree with everything you said here, especially making reference to Unruhe and Tithonus, because they’re more serious fare from him they tend to get overlooked, but you are so right, they are great, and essentially both episodes build up to pretty long and intense scenes involving Scully and the guest characters in those tales and they’re all the better for it.

    PS-Great blog by the way.

    1. Thanks Eamon 🙂 I have to catch up on Breaking Bad too. I’ve only seen a few episodes and that was by accident because it came after The Killing which I love. Lol. Glad I did though.

      I love Unruhe! Gilligan’s confrontation scenes are so intense….lol anything with an icepick coming at your face would be though, but it’s more than that it was all just put together awesome. I love reading your reviews cause I tend to just watch things and not really analyze them for artistic aspects or music. I’m certainly watching for them now 🙂

  5. I’ve heard a lot of good things about The Killing actually. The Danish (I think) version was broadcast to great acclaim over here and I’m hearing nothing but great things about the US version as well, so they’re on my “to watch” list.

    You’re so right about Gilligan’s confrontation scenes, for a writer so well known for his comedic episodes he had a real edge for doing dark drama too, the guy is a seriously good writer, I don’t think he ever wrote a bad episode of The X Files.

    PS-Glad you’re enjoying my reviews and I hope you get a lot out of them. Keep up the good work yourself because I think your site is wonderful. 🙂

  6. I am a breaking Bad fan Big Time.!!!!! My husband watched it and we got nexflix so I got a chanceto watch Season one to Season three. Now we tape it on AMC and I am getting totally caught up for SUNDAYS new season. Any one who has not watched needs to find a way to get caught up and enjoy the beautiful talent in not only the writing, concepts but all the actoras are sooooo believeable!!
    Thank You

  7. Thanks for the list I Love BB, new to the X-Files. One episode you missed was “Drive” S6E02 which guest starred Bryan Cranston and lead to his involvement in BB

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