When two extremely odd corpses appear in Philadelphia, Mulder and Scully investigate the deaths and meet a female secretary who seems to be protected by a strange invisible force.
Two terrorists are found dead in a back alley of Philadelphia after robbing a woman, Lauren Kyte, at an ATM. Mulder and Scully investigate the case when called in by a pair of agents from an unknown agency. The bodies of the terrorists are found to have an electrical charge and their throats have been crushed from the inside. Lauren sees her boss, Robert Dorland, to resign due to her grief over the death of Dorland's partner, Howard Graves, who committed suicide weeks before.
Mulder and Scully determine that one of the bodies is an individual who belongs to a terrorist group, the Isfahan, and using the ATM video are able to track down Lauren. A screenshot of the video reveals a blurry figure who appears to be Howard Graves. The agents meet with Lauren at her home and after initially denying it, she admits to the incident but knows nothing about the murders. Upon leaving, the agents find their car going out of control on its own, sending them careening down the street in reverse, only stopping after smashing into another vehicle. The car is found to have no evidence of tampering, but an electrical charge is detected within it.
Visiting Grave's grave, Mulder and Scully learn of his suicide and the death of his daughter at a young age, a daughter that would be Lauren's age should she be alive. Scully suspects that Graves faked his death, but through a conversation with the medical examiner who examined his body and testing the organs he donated to others it is proved that he was in fact dead. Lauren meanwhile witnesses a vision at night including blood appearing in the bathtub, causing her to believe that Graves was murdered. At her going away party, Lauren is threatened by Dorland, who believes she has knowledge of confidential information that could implicate him. Lauren calls Mulder and Scully to her home, but before the agents arrive two assassins hired by Dorland arrive to kill her. An invisible force kills both of them.
Lauren is interrogated by Mulder and Scully, and the two unknown agents that called them in, who say they're involved because they believe Graves and Dorland's company sold technology to the Isfahan. Lauren admits to Mulder and Scully that the sales did indeed take place and that she believes Dorland had Graves killed. The FBI executes a search of the company's offices, but are unable to find any evidence. When Dorland attacks Lauren with a letter opener, Graves's spirit takes it and cuts open the wallpaper, revealing a computer floppy disc with evidence. Weeks later Lauren starts her new job, but it appears that Graves's spirit may have followed her there.
"You lied to them."
"I would never lie. I willfully participated in a campaign of misinformation."
- - Scully and Mulder
"Psychokinesis? You mean how Carrie got even at the prom?"
- - Scully to Mulder, mocking a theory he proposes
"I'm fine, although I do have a standing-in-line-at-the-DMV-sized headache."
"Mine's more IRS-sized."
- - Scully and Mulder, after surviving a car crash
"Are you saying Lauren Kyte crashed our car?"
"Either that... or a poltergeist."
"They may be."
- - Scully and Mulder
"Do you know how difficult it is to fake your own death? Only one man has pulled it off: Elvis."
- - Mulder
"I'm giving us a chance to solve a case that's tangible instead of chasing after shadows."
- - Scully, stating a line of dialogue from which this episode takes its name
"Hey, Scully, do you believe in the afterlife?"
"I'd settle for a life in this one."
- - Mulder and Scully
- Writing partners Glen Morgan and James Wong wrote this episode as a reaction to 20th Century Fox requesting more episodes where Mulder and Scully help people while investigating the paranormal. Morgan and Wong were fond of ghost stories and executives at the company had suggested an episode that would involve poltergeists. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 112) "We should do a poltergeist show! We should have relatable characters!" Wong remembered being advised by an executive. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 26) The process of writing "Shadows" was fueled by Morgan and Wong hoping to, in Morgan's words, "get them [the Fox executives] off our back," so that he and Wong could pursue some of the more offbeat stories they had in mind. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 112) Regarding their response to the request for a ghost story, Morgan noted, "I just said, 'Okay we'll do that.'" (The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 40) Added Wong, "We wanted to placate the network and we didn't want to just blow them off." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 26)
- Once the pair of writers agreed to develop this episode, their original idea was slightly more unusual than how the installment ended up. "We started thinking about a masseuse in one of these sleazy places," admitted James Wong. (Starlog, issue #210, p. 63) Because the Fox network wanted more relatable aspects in this outing (and in the series generally), he and Glen Morgan instead made the masseuse character a secretary. (X-Files Confidential, p. 45; Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 26)
- In the original script for this episode, Mulder tells Scully he would like the words "no regrets" engraved on his tombstone. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 112) The installment's teleplay went through six drafts. These were dated 13th, 19th, 27th and 31st August 1993, as well as two drafts which were both submitted on 1st September of that year. The shooting script, which was compiled from these various drafts, does not include Mulder saying he would like his tombstone to be marked with the words "no regrets."
- Director Michael Katleman found a great degree of freedom was made available to him in directing this episode, such as depicting the entity seemingly haunting Lauren Kyte but actually protecting her. "When you look at that situation, how do you show that? Which way do you show that someone is possessing someone or protecting them?" Katleman pondered. "It's really wide open as to the ways you can explore this psychological dilemma. In that sequence where the attackers come into her house, how do you tell that story? It's done from a psychological perspective, so there are many different ways to do it." (X-Files Confidential, p. 46)
- The scene in which a car containing Mulder and Scully crashes made use of a stunt vehicle at an East Vancouver location used to represent Lauren's house. The production team doubled the stunt vehicle with Line Producer Joseph Patrick Finn's car. However, problems in the shooting of the stunt arose, holding up the rest of the day's filming. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 36)
- Following their work on the car crash scene, the filming crew was due to shoot some footage for the nighttime scene wherein firstly two attackers arrive at Lauren's house, after which Mulder and Scully also arrive there. The scene involved lightning and noisy Ritter wind machines. A heated discussion about the scene took place between J.P. Finn, Location Manager Todd Pittson and First Assistant Director Brian Giddens. According to Finn, this occured "at around 10:30 p.m. – as the 11 p.m. curfew drew near." Finn explained, "Todd was adamant that the scene be scrapped, as it would certainly have taken us past the curfew and with all that noise, he did not want to assume responsibility for the fall-out [....] Brian Giddens pointed out that the day's work had always been scheduled in this order and that if not for problems with the stunt earlier in the day we would have been home by now." Seeing as the relatively new production of The X-Files television series allowed no expense for a second unit filming crew, it was Finn's responsibility to make sure the crew managed to stay on schedule, one way or the other. "At about 11:50 p.m.," he continued, "we finished blocking and lighting the shot and the Ritter fans were turned on [....] Todd stormed off set. We rolled camera and cut, preparing for another take. All of a sudden this [naked] guy appeared on his porch across the street. He was screaming obscenities at the crew, telling us to go home, that we had no right to be there [....] We ignored him and continued filming. I was determined to get the day and get us out of there as quickly as possible. He blustered on for another minute or so, then gave up. We wrapped around 12:30 a.m. It was one of the most ridiculous on-location moments I can recall during my five years on The X-Files." (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 36-37)
- The morning after the night when filming had been interrupted by the enraged nude man, a letter of apology was hand-delivered to each resident in his block, along with notification that The X-Files was donating $500 to their Neighborhood Blockwatch program. The man called The X-Files' production office to apologize for his outburst and the production team responded by apologizing to him in kind. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 37)
- The production of the briefing scene where Scully shouts instructions to a line of FBI agents was one instance where, due to newness as an actor, Gillian Anderson struggled with learning her lines. "Here I am in my little high Scully voice; I just did not feel like I had that authority," she confessed. "And I think 19 or 20 takes later I kept missing my line. It was all out of nerves. Bob Goodwin sat me down and said, 'Look, you're in trouble. This is just the beginning [of the series], and you've got to find some way of memorizing this stuff because you're costing us money and Fox is not happy.' So there was a mixture of having a tape recorder and listening to myself going over the lines and also having this woman that they hired sit with me in the morning and go through the lines." (The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 40)
- Special Effects Supervisor David Gauthier oversaw the effects supposedly caused by the ghost of Howard Graves, such as in the chaotic scene inside Robert Dorland's office. Much of the big windstorm therein "was simply what it looked like," remarked Gauthier. "We had construction build this [small] office where all the walls were what you call 'wild'–all the walls [were] removable, and whenever the camera was not pointing at the wall, it was not there. We had big Ritter fans–I think we used four in that sequence [...] generating probably 100-mile-an-hour winds. And a whole lot of paper! On that set we had the pneumatically controlled desk in that show as well. The doors opened and the paper flew. We had a letter opener that levitated off the ground and stuck into the wall." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 26)
- This is the first of three Season 1 installments which explore a combination of psychokinesis and the theme of spiritual rebirth. The two other episodes are "Lazarus" and "Born Again".
- Mulder's joke that Elvis was the only man ever to have successfully faked his own death eventually became the first of many similar Elvis jokes littered throughout most of the series.
- The name "Tom Braidwood" appears in this episode, on a reserved parking sign. At the time this episode was created, Tom Braidwood was an assistant director on The X-Files. He later guest starred as Lone Gunman Melvin Frohike.
- The date of birth on the gravestone for Sarah Lynn Graves is September 8, 1966. This is a reference to the original Star Trek series, which premièred on this date.
- Of all the episodes in the first season of The X-Files, this was David Duchovny's least favorite. (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, p. 30)
- Glen Morgan retained little memory of having worked on this episode, after-the-fact. According to Morgan, this was because he "wasn't that happy with the story." (The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 40) Regarding the episode as a whole, Morgan critized, "I thought it was okay. We needed more money and time to be able to do those poltergeist scenes at the end. It was just a little too ordinary, like you have seen it before. Which is exactly what the network wanted at the time." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 26)
- The episode didn't entirely please James Wong. He remarked, "It wasn't a great script, although I thought the director did a good job with it. It was entertaining, but not my favorite episode [....] It wasn't really involving. An average episode." (X-Files Confidential, p. 45) Wong regretted his and Glen Morgan's attempt to comply with Fox's requests for The X-Files. "I guess it was a mistake," reckoned Wong, "because it wasn't the most successful show." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 26)
- Chris Carter, on the other hand, remarked positively about this installment, calling it "a very popular show. Very well done, really great effects, and more of a meat-and-potatoes kind of story. An FBI sting and a good mystery that Mulder and Scully investigate. Overall, a really solid episode." (X-Files Confidential, p. 46)
- This episode achieved a Nielsen household rating of 5.9, with an audience share of 11. This means that roughly 5.9 percent of all television-equipped households, and 11 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 5.6 million households. These viewing figures match those of the following episode, "Ghost in the Machine". Together, they were the joint second lowest audience numbers in the first season, higher than only "Fallen Angel". (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 248)
- Cinefantastique (Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, pp. 25 & 26) rates this episode 1 and a half out of 4 stars. The magazine goes to comment, "[Lisa] Waltz gives a good performance as the bewildered secretary, and making her something of a slack-off is also a good touch, but the character is otherwise unmemorable. The teaser gives away the ending, and the story plods on to its predictable conclusion, although towards the beginning there are some imaginative elements, like the young male and female agents (their affiliation unknown) who question Mulder and Scully, or Mulder's stealing fingerprints off a corpse with his glasses. Overall, though, this is a dull episode."
- The X-Files Magazine (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, p. 30) states about this episode "the psychokinetic effects in the show are hard to fault." However, the magazine also regards this episode in general as being admittedly not as good as "Lazarus" and "Born Again".
- In his reference book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen, writer Robert Shearman scored this episode 2 out of 5 stars. Shearman further characterized "Shadows" as exhibiting an "uncertainty of tone" and "an episode made by people who can't be sure what the series is capable of yet." However, Shearman went on to state, "In its simplistic way, 'Shadows' succeeds in being a perfectly competent piece of TV. There are some great special effects and a couple of memorable set pieces [....] Duchovny and Anderson are on fine form too, giving their relationship a light, bantering quality that is easy on the ear. But you could argue they’ve caught the mood perfectly – this episode really is so lightweight it’s almost throwaway, The X-Files conceived as Almost Any Other Generic Programme [....] It trots along affably enough. But it’s telling that it almost chooses to be less interesting than it should be – starting off as a tale about a poltergeist with surrogate father issues, in the last act it becomes more concerned with the mundane urge to expose a corrupt businessman. This somehow turns the whole poltergeist into nothing more than a deus ex machina, as if the whole phenomenon only existed to help the police out with their enquiries. And by resolving the wrong plotline, the story feels odd and unsatisfying as it dribbles to its end, as if you’ve been watching an episode back to front [....] It’s fine. It’s not terrible. It’s fine. But the lack of focus makes one point emphatic: it’s just not about anything [....] This has no ambition except to trot along and tell a simple story in forty-five minutes. There are worse ambitions to have, and those forty-five minutes pass painlessly enough. But you’d be hard pushed to remember them. There are lots of unanswered questions here, and they’re mostly an attempt, I think, to overcome this sense of emptiness, to give a mystery and a significance to things where there’s none to be had."
- Lorena Gale as Ellen Bledsoe
- Veena Sood as Ms. Saunders
- Deryl Hayes as Webster
- Kelli Fox as Pathologist
- Tom Pickett as Cop
- Tom Heaton as Groundskeeper
- Janie Woods-Morris as Ms. Lange
- Nora McLellan as Jane Morris
- Anna Ferguson as Ms. Winn