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What Only Hardcore X-Files Fans Noticed In Breaking Bad

"The X-Files" is undeniably one of the most influential TV shows of the 20th century, thanks to its brilliant exploration of what science-fiction can do on the small screen. Throw in the powerhouse coupling of Gillian Anderson as Scully and David Duchovny as Mulder, and Fox had caught lightning in a bottle. Created by Chris Carter, the long-running series captured the imagination of millions of viewers across the world — and for good reason.

Its overarching storyline about an impending alien invasion might get a little convoluted at times, but there are so many individual "X-Files" episodes that tell masterful self-contained mysteries. Take Season 1, Episode 21, "Tooms," for example. It follows a mutated serial killer who can reshape his bone structure so he can squeeze through any gap, no matter the size, to infiltrate his victims' homes. It has an extreme air of paranoia and claustrophobia that some horror blockbusters fail to meet. 

"The X-Files" gave way to another critically acclaimed show that arrived in 2008: Vince Gilligan's "Breaking Bad." Since Gilligan was also a writer on the science-fiction classic, he couldn't resist throwing in a few references to his previous work. 

Vince Gilligan referenced a classic X-Files character in Breaking Bad

There are a number of recurring villains in "The X-Files" (aside from the aliens themselves), but none are more memorable than the Cigarette Smoking Man, played by William B. Davis. The nefarious figure is a part of a secret organization called the Syndicate, and plays a key role in covering up the existence of aliens and their plans for Earth. Audiences are never told his real name (although it might be C.G. B. Spender), so he's given a number of nicknames in the series because of his chain-smoking habit. One of those was "Cancer Man."

And what's the fourth episode of "Breaking Bad" Season 1 called? "Cancer Man." Sure, in the context of the 2008 show, "Cancer Man" can be seen as a reference to Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who turns to the drug-making business to pay for his cancer treatments and ensure his family will be secure in the event he dies. However, since Vince Gilligan created "Breaking Bad" and also worked on "The X-Files," "Cancer Man" can be seen as a direct homage to his previous work alongside Chris Carter. 

There's actually an even earlier reference to the 1993 series in the "Breaking Bad" pilot episode, when Walt is showing Jesse (Aaron Paul) various chemistry instruments that they'll use to make meth. Walt explains that one of them is called an Erlenmeyer flask. The title of "The X-Files" Season 1 finale is — you guessed it — "The Erlenmeyer Flask." Again, while this could be chalked up to coincidence, the fact that Gilligan was involved in both series makes the similarity feel much more intentional. 

It's a shame that Gilligan didn't return to work on the 2018 "The X-Files" revival, which saw both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson return to their iconic roles. To be fair, though, Gilligan was pretty busy working on the spin-off series "Better Call Saul" after "Breaking Bad" ended.