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"Pilot" is the pilot episode of the science fiction television series The X-Files. The episode aired on September 10, 1993 on the Fox network in the United States and Canada, and subsequently aired in the United Kingdom and Ireland on Sky1. The episode was written by series creator Chris Carter, and directed by Robert Mandel. As the pilot, it would set up the mythology storyline for the series. The episode earned a Nielsen rating of 7.9 and was viewed by 7.4 million households and 12.0 million viewers. The episode itself was generally well received by fans and critics alike, which led to a growing cult following for the series before it hit the mainstream.

The pilot introduced the two main characters, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully who were portrayed by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson respectively. The episode also featured William B. Davis, Charles Cioffi and Zachary Ansley as the recurring characters of The Smoking Man, Scott Blevins and Billy Miles. The Smoking Man would go on to become the series' signature antagonist, appearing in every season except the eighth. The episode follows FBI Agents Mulder and Scully on their first X-File case together, investigating a string of deaths which Mulder believes to be alien experiments.

Inspired by Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the series was conceived by Chris Carter in an attempt to "scare people's pants off". When creating the characters of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, Carter decided to play against established stereotypes, making the male character a believer and the female a skeptic, as the latter role had traditionally been a male one on television. Principal photography for "Pilot" took place over fourteen days during March 1993; using a budget of $2 million, the scenes were filmed in and around the Vancouver area. Vancouver would remain the area for production for the next five years, although production would move to Los Angeles from the beginning of the sixth season at the behest of David Duchovny.


Outside the Oregon town of Bellefleur, teenager Karen Swenson is seen fleeing through the forest at night. When she falls, a dark figure approaches, and they both become enveloped in light. Swenson's body is later found by Bellefleur detectives, with two small marks on her lower back.

Later, in Washington, D.C., FBI Special Agent Dana Scully is summoned to a meeting with Division Chief Scott Blevins and a seemingly anonymous government official, The Smoking Man. She is assigned to work with Special Agent Fox Mulder on the X-Files, an obscure FBI section covering unexplained phenomena. Blevins has assigned Scully for the implicit, albeit unacknowledged, purpose of using her scientific knowledge to debunk Mulder's work.

Scully introduces herself to Mulder, who shows her evidence from the Swenson case. He notes that she was the fourth member of her high school class to die under mysterious circumstances. Mulder also notes an unknown organic compound found in the tissue surrounding the marks on her body, as well as similarities between her death and others from across the country. Mulder believes that Swenson's death is due to extraterrestrial activity. However, the skeptical Scully expresses disbelief in Mulder's theory.

When Mulder and Scully's plane flies over Bellefleur, it encounters unexplained turbulence. As they drive in the woods near the town, the agents' car radio goes haywire; Mulder marks the spot of this event by spray-painting an "X" onto the road. Mulder arranges for the exhumation of the third victim, Ray Soames, despite the protests of Dr. Jay Nemman, the county medical examiner. When Soames' coffin is opened, a desiccated body is found inside, which Scully concludes is not Soames, but possibly an orangutan. She finds a grey metallic implant in the body's nasal cavity.

Mulder and Scully visit the psychiatric hospital where Soames was committed before his death, and meet two of Soames' former classmates—the comatose Billy Miles and wheelchair-bound Peggy O'Dell. O'Dell suffers a nosebleed during the agents' visit, and is seen to bear marks similar to Swenson's. Outside the hospital, Mulder explains to Scully that he believes Miles, O'Dell, and the victims to be alien abductees.

That night, the agents investigate the forest; Scully discovers strange ash on the ground, leading her to suspect cult activity. However, a local detective arrives and orders them to leave. Driving back to their motel, Mulder and Scully encounter a bright flash of light and their car loses power, at the same spot where Mulder had earlier spray-painted the "X". Mulder realizes that nine minutes disappeared after the flash, a phenomenon reported by alien abductees.

At the motel, Mulder tells Scully that his sister Samantha suddenly vanished when he was twelve years old, which has driven his efforts into investigating paranormal and supernatural cases. The agents receive an anonymous call to inform them that O'Dell has died. At the scene, they are informed that she was killed running into traffic and realize that she was killed at the exact moment they had experienced the flash on the road. Mulder is informed that the desiccated body has been stolen from the morgue. The agents return to their motel to find it ablaze, and all their evidence destroyed.

Nemman's daughter, Theresa, contacts the agents for help. She tells them that she has awakened in the middle of the woods several times, fears for her life, and admits to having the same marks; she also develops a nosebleed. Theresa's father and the detective, revealed to be Billy's father, arrive and take her away. The agents wonder about the bodies of the first two victims and return to the cemetery; they find the graves already dug up and the coffins missing. Mulder realizes that Billy is responsible for bringing the victims to the woods. Returning to the woods, they again encounter Detective Miles, but hear a scream and find Billy nearby with Theresa in his arms. There is a flash of light, and Billy and Theresa are recovered unharmed.

A couple of weeks later, Billy is put under hypnosis. He recalls how he and his classmates were abducted in the forest as they celebrated their graduation. The teenagers had been subjected to tests by the aliens, and were killed when the tests failed. Scully provides Blevins with the metal implant, the only remaining piece of evidence. She later learns from Mulder that Billy's case files are missing. Meanwhile, The Smoking Man stores the implant away, amongst other identical implants, in a vast evidence room within the Pentagon.