Season Two of the X-Files literally ended with Fox Mulder’s burial, so it’s not a huge surprise that Season Three kicked off with the character rising from the dead. “The Blessing Way” proves to be an intense start to the season, moving so many pieces forward, including Mulder’s return, the shooting of Scully’s sister, the heroes being booted from the FBI, the reveal of the Smoking Man’s nefarious peers, who Mulder’s father was working for by the way, and the mystery of Samantha’s disappearance. The narration of the Native American provides a great through line, tying all the plot points together. Whilst “The Blessing Way” threatens to go the way of many Season Two episodes, falling under the weight of its own overloaded plot, I think it pulls back on the reins just enough to prevent that from happening and sets things in motion for “Paper Clip” to deliver a sharp and incisive story.
That is very much the case for much of Season Three. Season Two took plenty of chances, some of which paid off, and many others that fell flat. Season Three incorporates many of the elements that worked in the previous effort, whilst ditching those that didn’t. Episodes like “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” are the reward for last season’s experimentation, and it is as near to perfect as one could hope for. It combines all the best elements of the show in one tight package. The interplay between Mulder and Scully is stellar, the paranormal elements were played fairly minimally and served to enhance the story, rather than overwhelm it. It created an eerie tone but kept a fair amount of levity and paid it off with a satisfying and emotional conclusion. It was an interesting turn of events to have the prominent guest star serve as an aid in the investigation, rather than acting as the monster of the week. The sacrifice of said guest star during the episode’s climax and Scully’s reaction to it is especially poignant and carries weight for the character in episodes to come.
My personal favourite episode of the season would have to be “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”. As I’ve said in a previous review, things can get quite heavy at times and it makes it somewhat difficult to binge watch the show in large chunks. So a lighter tone and the use of humour to tackle the outlandish subject matter at work is a most welcome reprieve. “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” goes far and beyond the previous attempts, delivering a story from multiple perspectives with an unreliable narrative and spoofing the very thing the show is known for. Even the musical cues were hamming it up which only added to the episode’s light-hearted tone. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson both have a very dry wit and seemed to delight in showing it off. I’ve also mentioned how much I’ve disliked the visual representation of Aliens so far during the show’s run. They even managed to lampoon that, which certainly made me smile.
So far, the show has felt somewhat dated because of the time period in which it was made. “2Shy” was the first episode where I felt they dealt with more modernistic themes, in the form of online communication. The villain of the week, Virgil Incanto, uses internet chat rooms to lure in vulnerable women before suffocating them and sucking out their fatty tissue to keep a skin deformity at bay. The larger story is a little convoluted, involving a mother and daughter and some very vague paranormal powers, but the central theme of someone using the internet to prey on others works well and is something that is still applicable twenty years down the road. I can imagine this being quite a polarizing episode at the time, as I’m sure a large portion of the audience wouldn’t have been wholly familiar with the technology on display. Although “2Shy” isn’t necessarily one of the strongest episodes of the season, it’s worth highlighting for that reason.
Season Two was carried by the strength of its mythology episodes. Season Three’s attempts equal those of Season Two, adding a strong sense of continuity and a common thread between them. “Nisei” and “731” stood out in particular. I’ve made no secret in these reviews of my dislike for Scully’s abduction at the beginning of Season Two and the subsequent coma that followed. So I very much enjoyed the alternative theory presented in those episodes, explaining the abduction and the paranormal elements that have been displayed throughout the previous two seasons from a different perspective. An elaborate extra-terrestrial hoax to cover up a far more nefarious secret plays into the paranoia and shadow government at work in Season One, and is ultimately a perfectly logical conclusion to a lot of what we’ve seen. I would have actually been pretty delighted with this as a climax, but seeing as we’re only in Season Three, I hardly expect that to be the case. I’m sure there will be plenty of twists and turns ahead.
“Talitha Cumi” doesn’t quite pack the punch as previous season finales, but that isn’t to say it didn’t deliver. The climaxes of Season One and Two both served to upset the status quo and raise the stakes for the season to come. This time around, it felt very much as though the series has hit its peak and the finale was about levelling out and setting the stage for more of the same in Season Four. The story at work throughout the finale, heavily involving the Smoking Man and Mulder’s mother, also felt like a nice way to bookend the season, as it delved more into the Syndicate’s history with Mulder’s family. It’s also remarkable to me how often they manage to drop in mentions of Fox’s sister and her disappearance without it feeling overbearing, becoming the sole focus of an episode, or without its presence feeling trite and contrived. It’s a difficult balance to walk, but it’s achieved nicely in episodes like “Oubliette” and “Talitha Cumi”.
Another quality of the Season Finale I enjoyed was the tug of war between science and faith. It’s been a regular thematic presence throughout the run of the show, so it is familiar ground to tread, but it didn’t feel worn out or overused. Steven Williams’ “X” was also a welcome presence. He’s been used sparingly in Season Three, but his appearances have only added to the intrigue surrounding his character. As with his predecessor, we’ve seen him playing both sides, as it were, meeting with the Smoking Man and seemingly in the employ of the Syndicate, whilst also aiding Mulder and Scully along the way. This was the first time a confrontation with Mulder got physical and immediately added a sense of urgency and importance to the alien weapon they were grappling over. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how this pans out and how the relationship between Mulder, Scully and X will be affected going into Season Four.
The world of the X-Files felt a lot more fleshed out and human throughout this season. We’ve delved a little bit deeper into the families and history of Mulder and Scully respectively, and we also got to explore peripheral characters a little more. There was X, as I’ve already mentioned, but also Mitch Pileggi’s Deputy Director Skinner. He’d been little more than a background character who would occasionally oppose our heroes, but in Season Three, Skinner was highlighted in a far more forgiving manner. He was even rewarded later in the season, with an episode focused on him. It was nice to see Mulder and Scully drum up another ally, especially one who didn’t have all the answers. It was also rather pleasant to see a character who has substantial power who isn’t corrupt in some way.
Overall, Season Three for me is where the show hits its stride. Season Two suffered from inconsistent monster-of-the-week plots but was evened out by the mythology episodes and a clearer attempt at serialised story arcs (a side effect of Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy). Season Three seemingly cracks both nuts and delivers across the board with almost frightening consistency (the only real misfire being “Teso Dos Bichos”). The show has always had a strong sense of identity, but there have been kinks along the way that had to be ironed out. They seemingly learnt what was effective in the previous instalments and that allowed for everything to get cranked up a notch throughout this season. The production, storytelling and even performances seem more refined. They’ve developed a style, they’ve settled into their rhythm and now they’re presenting a highly polished product. This is quite simply one of the finest seasons of television I think I may have ever seen, and I’m not sure how it’s going to be topped.
- 3×02 – “Paper Clip”
- 3×04 – “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”
- 3×08 – “Oubliette”
- 3×09 – “Nisei”
- 3×10 – “731”
- 3×15 – “Piper Maru”
- 3×16 – “Apocrypha”
- 3×17 – “Pusher”
- 3×19 – “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”
- 3×24 – “Talitha Cumi”
Continuity and Questions
- During the season opener, we find out Mulder’s father had something to do with his sister’s disappearance, and it was even intimated that he implicitly chose her to be taken, because Fox was his favourite. How will this alter Mulder’s view on her disappearance and what will happen in regards to it going forward?
- Clyde Bruckman tells Scully she cannot die. Is she immortal or was he just being playful/polite/flirting in a wacky sort of way? In the same episode, he tells Mulder that Fox will die via autoerotic asphyxiation … tremendous.
- Both Mulder and Scully’s fathers have died during the course of the show, and Scully’s sister was also murdered during the season opener. By the time we reach Season Nine, will their third cousins, twice removed, be left standing?
- Will Krycek manage to free himself from his imprisonment in “Apocrypha” and what will become of the black oil substance that had infected him? Will it return at all? It seemingly was absorbed by the UFO being contained within the Smoking Man’s mystery silo.
- Mulder is Red/Green colour blind.
- Will Mulder get Jeremiah Smith to his mother in time to save her or will Alien Bounty Hunter prevent it?
D. A. Edwards is a writer of NovaCritic.com.