The Great X-Files Rewatch: Season Three Part One
And I am back to The X-Files, after my brief detour through Daria country. I have actually watched all the way through season four, but I’m so behind in my write-ups that I determined I would not begin season five until I was caught up. I mention all this because it’s symptomatic of seasons three and four themselves. They are so DAMN GOOD that I just kept watching the next episode, and the next one and the next one, without taking time to stop and observe and respond.
Well, what is there to say about Season 3 (part one)? Although The X-Files won the Golden Globe for Best Drama in its second season, and got plenty of technical nominations (sound, makeup, things like that), this season, the third, was the first time Anderson and Duchovny started getting nominated for things. They were both nominated personally for Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards, and Anderson was nominated for (and won) an Emmy. The legendary episode “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” won Best Writing for X-Files staff eccentric Darin Morgan (stories about this guy’s quirks are widespread, but he wrote some of the best episodes EVER) and a Guest Actor Emmy for Peter Boyle (you probably know him as Frankenstein’s monster, or as Raymond’s dad, depending on your generation).
Besides Boyle, other notable guest actors include Giovanni Ribisi and Jack Black as outcast teens (yeah, it was that long ago!) in “D.P.O.”, super reliable “hey it’s that guy” J.T. Walsh in “The List” and a skinny, barely recognizable Willie Garson in “The Walk.” (Garson will appear again as a different character around season six, if memory serves.)
One other note of interest: in the first half of the third season, I happened upon a “Great Rewatch” first—an episode that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before! It was “Revelations,” a stand-alone to the theme of “religious phenomena might be real! and Scully struggles with the contradiction of her scientific detachment and her Catholic faith.” They’ll spin this trope out again and again, so it wasn’t surprising in any way, but the circumstances of this particular episode were completely unfamiliar to me. Somehow this one just fell under my radar until now. The verdict? Totally average episode! But new!
But “Revelations” being average is non-standard for season 3. There is greatness here. There’s “Clyde Bruckman,” of course, and “War of the Coprophages” is a particularly clever episode, narratively—Mulder, without Scully in a town where mysterious deaths keep taking place, keeps calling her at home and suggesting she join him, but what seemed so mysterious to him is easily diagnosed by Scully over the phone. Over and over again, he apologizes and says she doesn’t need to come out, but eventually his intrusion on her weekend activities (giving her dog a bath, reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and cleaning her gun) convinces her to just follow him out there—only to find that in the interim he’s taken up with a foxy entomologist named Bambi. Oh, Mulder.
Also, right around what would be fall sweeps, we get a slammin’ two-parter in “Nisei” and “731,” the two of which, taken together, make an above-average action movie – in fact, if either of the X-Files movies had been up to the level of “Nisei” / “731”, no one would have had any complaints. I say this because the two episodes combine to form a classic action arc: in the first half, Mulder and Scully are investigating (seemingly) different things, taking two different angles on one strange murder. Scully does a lot of talking to people, Mulder does a lot of sneaking in and out of, like, a shipyard, and there’s great tension because there’s not that much happening but you know we’re on the cusp of something. And then bang! There it is. Scully falls in with this group of abduction survivors who all know all about her and she begins to remember her own season 2 experience. Mulder, meanwhile is chasing down a train car that he thinks is transporting an extraterrestrial being. Scully gets warned that Mulder shouldn’t get involved, she calls him just as he is JUMPING OFF AN OVERPASS ONTO THE TRAIN having missed his opportunity to board it in the train station like a sane person. And then we wait until next week to find out! Or if you’re me, as long as it takes to hit “Play next episode.” In this one, Mulder gets stuck in this train car with this shady government murderer guy, and there’s this unidentifiable being pacing around on the other side of a locked door and there’s a bomb and it’s ticking down by the minute. While Scully has been led by the cryptic hints of a double agent to a secluded camp full of ill and disfigured people who have been experimented on by the U.S. government. So Mulder’s extraterrestrial may in fact just be a government guinea pig who has been deliberately infected with leprosy.
The best moment: amid all their dangerous, conspiracy-revealing operations and the tension of Mulder’s train car showdown, Scully calls Mulder, and he greets her casually with, “Scully, you haven’t seen American until seen it from a train.” Her response? “DAMMIT, MULDER!” Boy, does that man give her trouble.
The second season closer and the first two episodes of the third season (“Anasazi,” “The Blessing Way,” and “Paper Clip”) form a great arc and, among other shakeups, offer up the murders of both Mulder’s father and Scully’s sister Melissa (an actress who popped up two years ago having an affair with Don Draper!) . Mulder’s dad’s murder is meant to keep Mulder’s father from revealing stuff he knows to Mulder; Melissa just happens to walk into an assassination attempt meant for Scully. These episodes are really sort of devastating in the destruction they wreak for these characters, but it establishes something really important for Mulder and Scully. They sit together at the end of “Paper Clip,” while AD Skinner negotiates with the Smoking Man for their lives—because they’ve found themselves on the wrong side of the old “if I tell you, I’d have to kill you” contract—and they’re both totally committed to finding out more, getting to the bottom of things, riding it all out despite the danger to themselves. Those experiences (Scully’s abduction contributed to this, too) have bound themselves together narratively, made the cause extremely personal for both of them. The result is that the show has all its narrative raison d’etre provided by its human drama. And that is lightning in a bottle.