The X-Files Episodes That Could Not Be Made Today
Much of the landmark sci-fi series The X-Files aired before the turn of the century, when sensibilities about what is and isn’t acceptable on TV were a lot different. While the show usually focused on the not particularly controversial premise of two FBI agents investigating the paranormal — particularly the existence of aliens — it still managed to veer into subject matter that would inspire headlines today. In some cases, it’s honestly surprising the episodes got away with as much as they did back in the 1990s.
Here, for various reasons, are episodes of The X-Files that simply would not be made today.
“Small Potatoes” is generally considered one of the best episodes of The X-Files ever made, but at the very least if it were made today it would need to have a much different tone. Its antagonist is the shape-shifting Eddie Van Blundht (Darin Morgan) who uses his ability to appear to be other men so he can sleep with their wives. Eddie is one of the more comical villains of the series, and — in spite of being guilty on multiple counts of sexual assault — is even depicted as being more sensitive and a better, more attentive partner than the husbands he pretends to be.
"First Person Shooter"
Depicting Mulder and Scully entering a virtual gaming world to face the rogue digital villain Maitreya (Krista Allen), Season 7’s “First Person Shooter” is generally considered to be one of the very worst episodes of The X-Files and with good reason. While what can be a very hot-button subject — sexism — is integral to the story, this is the only episode on this list for which the reason we think it wouldn’t be made today has nothing to do with the different social climate.
“First Person Shooter” couldn’t be made today because while the notion of misogyny in the gaming industry is just as relevant now as it was when the episode aired in 2000 — if not moreso — in a world much more educated about gaming, no one could ever be made to swallow the impossible virtual environment we see in the story. Mulder and Scully appear to be literally, physically fighting Maitreya in a world that puts the holodecks of Star Trek to shame.
While this episode of The X-Files aired six years after Rain Man, by 1994 that movie still represented the beginning and the end of what your average American knew about autism, so it should be no surprise that this story passed muster back then. “Roland” guest stars prolific character actor Zeljko Ivanek as an autistic man who has been possessed by the spirit of his genius scientist brother. The episode takes the trope of the autistic character with inherent genius characteristics and stretches it to an obscene extreme.
This black-and-white The X-Files episode comes off as quirky, meta, and even strangely touching. It stars Chris Owens as Mutato, a two-faced product of deviant science. While the townsfolk are initially out to lynch Mutato, they eventually come to see him as misunderstood and the episode ends with Mulder and Scully taking him to see Cher, his favorite singer.
Of course, all of the sympathy Mutato earns forgets the fact that what attracts Mulder and Scully to the town in the first place is that this “misunderstood” Mutato has been raping women. His father has been knocking women out and covering their homes in termite fumigation tents to mask what’s going on. While the women are unconscious, Mutato rapes and impregnates them.
The episode ends with his victims depicted as being overjoyed at their two-faced babies, with the sexual assault they endured forgotten.
Overall, The X-Files has an unfortunate history of co-opting Native American spiritual beliefs and warping them to make them seem just as sensational and supernatural as stories about vampires, moth-men, and loch dwelling monsters. Season 1’s “Shapes,” for example, uses Native American shapeshifting stories to bring a werewolf to life, and makes other problematic choices, like making up a completely fictional tribe (the Trego, the tribe mentioned in the episode, do not exist).
Directed and co-written by David Duchovny, “The Unnatural” would not only be considered offensive today, but some of it is remarkably poorly conceived regardless of anyone’s sensibilities. Jesse L. Martin (Law & Order, The Flash) plays an alien who masquerades as a Black professional baseball player in the 1940s. Why Black instead of white? To be less conspicuous. What?
After Martin’s character is murdered by Brian Thompson’s Alien Bounty Hunter, he refuses to transform back into his alien body, insisting that “this is my true face.”
Not long before becoming much more well known thanks to roles on shows like Oz and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, BD Wong guest starred as Detective Glen Chao in this Season 3 The X-Files episode (as did a still unknown Lucy Liu). Mulder and Scully are investigating victims of the Chinese mafia in San Francisco and — much like indigenous beliefs are portrayed in “Shapes” — Chinese spirituality is treated like something out of a horror movie.
The granddaddy of all “how the hell did this get made” The X-Files episodes is Season 4’s “Teliko.” Some kind of enigmatic spirit is not only murdering exclusively Black men, but is robbing their skin and hair of all pigmentation to turn them white. And when we say it turns them white, we don’t mean cast-of-Friends white: we mean bone white.
Sure, 2023 has a different social climate than when “Teliko” aired in 1996, but even then, you would’ve thought something like this would’ve been considered insanely out of bounds.
The voices of trans people are being heard more than ever, and so it seems doubtful an episode like “Gender Bender” would pass any kind of socially responsible scrutiny these days. The episode revolves around members of a small Amish community who are revealed to inexplicably have the ability to change their genders, as well as being able to release pheromones via touch to seduce literally anyone.
They attract Mulder and Scully’s attention when one of them, on permanent rumspringa, starts murdering the men and women they seduce.