Written by Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon
Directed by Larry Shaw
In trying to entangle what would eventually become the morass that was the mythology, one has the hardest amount of trying to figure out what episodes in the first season meet this criteria. The majority of the websites seem to consider it as much, but so much of what happens in this episode runs counterintuitive to what we will consider the show's baseline (a line that moves almost at the will of the writers) that it doesn't fit easily into either a standalone or mythos. It doesn't help matters that Gordon, in his four year tenure with the show, wrote very few mythology episodes. Given how well this episode works, that may have been a major failing on the writers part.
Because say what you will about this episode--- at least it doesn't screw around. It takes the ambiguity that has been slowly building up ever since Deep Throat, and shines a searchlight on it. There are aliens out there--- we may never get a clear shot at them, but that doesn't change the fact that there is a UFO, the pilot gets out and starts killing people (extremely painfully, by the looks of it), and the government is absolute determined to cover it up, no matter how flimsy their excuses are. One of my favorite moments in the first season occurs when a female radar observer, having been dismissed twice by her superiors suggesting that the blips on her screen are meteors has the great pleasure of telling her boss that "the 'meteor' appears to be hovering over a small town in Wisconsin." What makes it all the better is the smug smile she gets as her superior has no choice but to just walk away. There are hearts and minds that are being won --- we see a couple of them in this episodes, for starters---- and it makes you realize that Mulder's quest for the truth, however quixotic it may seem to the outside world does have a purpose.
Mulder could be a little less defiant about it. He follows a tip from Deep Throat to try and chase down a lead on an alien craft (more on this later), he sneaks on to a top secret military base, he gets caught and thrown in lockup, and when Scully tells him that the X-Files are in danger of being closed down (not an idle threat, btw), he spends the majority of the episode chasing down more evidence. In time, Scully will come to accept this outright giving the finger to those higher ups, but right now we're a little like her, wondering why Mulder proceeds with so little regard for his career or wellbeing.
Admittedly, like all the mythology episodes, there doesn't seem to be much going on that we can rely on. The alien seems more of a reject from Predator then anything that we will see on the show, and the military response bears little involvement of any of the figures we will come to associate with the shows conspirators. But for once that doesn't seem like a drawback, because the episode has another, more interesting story than the alien running rampant in Townsend. It's Max Fenig, the first of what would appear to be Mulder's groupies, and in some ways a precursor for the Internet followers that will be created by this show. Gordon and Gansa have a much clearer idea of what Max is, and it's pretty clear he is what Mulder might well become if he didn't have the FBI. And it becomes clear that Max has been drawn to the same field as Mulder for not completely unrelated reasons. Scott Bellis has a very endearing presence that makes Max one of the more beloved characters in the X-Files pantheon, and it actually creates a character beside Mulder that we're worried about when the climax comes along. Mulder may not care much for his welfare, but he damn well cares about the wellbeing of others, and this episode is the first to demonstrate that this has a more general affect on him.
For the first time, we see Mulder publicly raked over the coals by the FBI, and for the first time, Duchovny seems to tapping into the righteous indignation. We're right there with him; a dozen people have died, and the FBI seems more concerned with matters of protocol than human lives. How would you feel to find out to see what Mulder must have seen in the climax at the waterfront, and then be told that Max was just another victim. (This is, in fact, one of the first lies that the show will disprove--- though not until the fourth season.)
The biggest shock is saved 'til the end, though, when Section Chief McGrath is utterly bewildered by his superiors decision not to cashier Mulder---- and the superior is revealed to be Deep Throat. We will never know for certain whether the reasons he states for keeping him in the FBI are his actual reasons for helping Mulder, or whether this is just the party line that the series will use as the main reasons for not firing/killing him off. Jerry Hardin himself doesn't seem that sure either, maybe because the writer's never gave him much of a hint as to what his character was supposed to be doing. The avuncular nature of Hardin makes it hard to tell. All we know is that no one on his side ever makes as bold a move to keep Mulder where he is.
Fallen Angel is perhaps the best script that Gordon and Gansa wrote for The X-Files (admittedly, the competition is pretty slim here.) It has an energy and confidence that most of their scripts--- or, for that matter, a fair amount of the mythology--- does not. It's this potential energy that gives us some hope that this series and this conspiracy may be going somewhere. Considering how utterly confused the conspiracy would become, one might still view this episode better as a standalone. Either way, it's worth the time.