Practically every television series in history has had a holiday-themed episode. For every type of show, from comedies to dramas to reality television, a Christmastime setting can offer a unique environment in which to tell a story. Yet for a strange, science fiction-based, alien-obsessed cult drama like The X-Files, you wouldn't think that Christmas would be a go-to holiday in which to set an episode. But the Season 6 ep "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" is not only one of the funniest episodes of the series, but it perfectly captures the shift in Mulder and Scully's relationship that would drive the rest of the series forward.
"How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" begins on Christmas Eve with Mulder luring Scully out to a so-called haunted house with the promise of "seeing something weird." Scully, of course, having a family and all, is neck-deep in holiday plans, but she can't miss out on one of Mulder's weird quests. (Just kidding, he steals her car keys and practically makes her go.) The two venture into the spooky mansion where, as Mulder tells Scully, in 1917, a couple entered into a "lover's pact" that one would kill the other before then killing themselves. Since they followed through on their pact, the house has been haunted and a number of other couples throughout history have died in the house — more murder-suicides, the result of the lovers' curse.
Scully, naturally, is skeptical, but as she and Mulder explore the house, spooky things begin to happen. Lights flicker, doors open, and the duo becomes trapped inside an ornate library. They discover two corpses beneath the floorboards, a man and woman both mysteriously dressed exactly as they are. That's when the ghosts reveal themselves. The episode shifts from the perspective of a terrified Mulder and Scully to that of the ghosts who are taunting them, Maurice (Ed Asner) and Lyda (Lily Tomlin). As the ghosts "play" with their victims, Mulder and Scully are forced to reckon with parts of their relationship they'd rather avoid: Scully's tendency to jump whenever Mulder calls, Mulder's inability to see beyond his personal quests, and their feelings for each other. And with though the ghosts' ultimate goal being getting them to kill one another, the whole episode is a hilariously dark comedic farce that is quite enjoyable to watch.
Season 6 marked a tonal shift in The X-Files on the whole. After five seasons of monster-of-the-week episodes mixed with those devoted to the long-running mythology, the first feature film, The X-Files: Fight the Future premiered, which dove even further into the show's mythos. At the start of Season 6, the X-Files have been re-opened, but Mulder and Scully are reassigned to other branches, leading the two to pursue the weird and unnatural on their own time. Looking back, it's clear that it was Season 6 and also Season 7 when The X-Files chose to embrace more humor and rely less and less on its heavily-crafted alien invasion mythology. After Season 5 and the feature film, the show was officially a phenomenon, with a bigger audience than ever before, and that meant both playing up the sexual tension between the two main characters and embracing story linesthat were a little more lighthearted.
And lighthearted is exactly what "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" is. Asner and Tomlin's comedic timing and dry wit are a perfect counter to Mulder and Scully's panicky couple who refuses to call themselves that. It's not just the haunted house "torture" that drives the duo closer together throughout the series, but the situational feelings they have to confront, the aftermath of that almost-kiss in Fight the Future, and the prospect of being alone certainly contribute to how the two proceed in the remaining seasons. Plus, Mulder and Scully are just pretty darned cute with each other. Just take notice of the Christmas gifts they give each other at the end of the episode (which we never get to see opened). Scully's gift to Mulder looks remarkably like a VHS tape, so she's probably adding to his well-documented pornography collection. And Mulder's gift to Scully certainly looks like it might be shaped like a sex toy fit for a woman who knows what she needs.
In a season that sees a lot of shows turn to to warm-hearted holiday fare, I always give "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" a re-watch, not only because it adds a little bit of weirdness to the season, but because it's one of The X-Files' really great episodes. Reflecting the changes that the series was going through at the time, and foreshadowing what was to come, the ep really nails Mulder and Scully's relationship, and with its humor and flirtatiousness, it's a total fun installment to watch.
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