The fifth season of The X-Files was definitely one of the best. A little shorter than the rest (20 episodes as opposed to the usual 24), this was because the cast and crew were also hard at work on the feature film, which was shot in between the fourth and fifth seasons, and released between the fifth and sixth. Thus, unusually for The X-Files, the writers and directors had a clear set of goals for the fifth year, setting up plot points and characters that would pay off in the film.
As usual, there's a mix of "stand-alone" shows (in which our heroes investigate cases involving supernatural phenomena, bizarre murders, serial killers and hideous freaks) and "mythology" episodes (that tie into the massive and hugely complex alien invasion/government conspiracy plot). There seems to be more of the latter than usual in Season 5, probably due to the amount of set-up required for the mythology-based movie.
Season 5 was the peak of the show's popularity, as many viewers - confused and upset by the film's lack of genuine resolution and the increasing incomprehensibility of the sprawling conspiracy arc - turned off during the following year. Which is a shame, as Season 6 was a rip-snorter in which humour took a front seat at the expense of the familiar doom, gloom and portentousness.
With an impressive roster of guest writers - including episodes by cyberpunk writer William Gibson and, in a remarkable publicity coup, Stephen King - improved special effects, some great scripts and the usual slick, film-like production values, there's plenty to enjoy in Season 5. Here are some of the highlights (check out the link to an episode guide at the right of the page):
Redux 1 and 2 - the concluding episodes of the three-part cliffhanger, we see if Mulder really died at the end of Season 4 (spoiler: duh, he didn't). Another main character "dies" (as much as anyone ever does in The X-Files), alien invasion theories are debunked, and Scully's cancer is dealt with in another addictive mythology-based mini-movie.
The Lone Gunmen, a trio of lovable techno-geeks whose paranoia and distrust of authority is well-founded, are the stars of Unusual Suspects, an hilarious flashback tale in which we discover how they first banded together to help Mulder resolve yet another enigmatic US government conspiracy.
Detour is a rather too conventional monster-of-the-week episode wherein our heroes face a monster prowling the Florida woodlands.
Hailed as one the best X-Files episodes ever, Post-Modern Prometheus sees Mulder and Scully track down a hideously disfigured boy with a horrifying Cher obsession. It's X-Files meets Frankenstein, filmed in beautiful black-and-white. Brilliant stuff.
Christmas Carol / Emily is another two-parter, and a depressing experience it is. Scully learns that she may have a daughter (!), a young girl who is slowly dying of an inoperable cancer. Well made, but unrelentingly bleak and a little on the dull side.
Chinga is the somewhat disappointing murder mystery penned by Stephen King, set in (where else?) Maine. A strange little girl may be responsible for a string of mutilated corpses...
William Gibson co-wrote Kill Switch, which deals with a sentient computer that kidnaps Mulder. One of the most expensive and effects-intensive hours of X-Files ever made...
...followed by Bad Blood, one of the show's cleverest and most gut-bustingly hilarious episodes. How can you top a pre-credits sequence wherein Mulder pursues a shadowy figure through a dark forest, impales him with a wooden stake, grimly shows Scully the "vampire's" impressive set of fangs... and then, in a moment of shocking realisation, sees the dentures slide off the corpse's teeth? "Oh shi..." (Cue opening credits.)
Another two-parter, comprised of Patient X and The Red and the Black, sees the duo's roles flip-flopped: Scully becomes a believer, Mulder the skeptic. Recurring character Cassandra Spender is introduced as a wheelchair-bound victim of an alien abduction with an unexpected link to Scully.
The End is the cliffhanger episode leading directly into the feature film, and introduces Gibson Praise, a young boy whose supposed psychic abilities make him a target for sinister, scheming officials.