An X-Files Retrospective, Part 3

7 Jun

The X-Files- Season 3

After the deliciously dark Season 2 and its amazing cliffhanger, I’m sad to say that Season 3 of The X-Files just does not meet expectations. Things are bad from the get-go, as the premiere, “The Blessing Way,” is a less than stellar follow-up to Season 2 finale “Anasazi.” Mulder’s apparent death is more or less ignored; he’s found badly wounded under a pile of rocks, which doesn’t really make sense since he was trapped in a box car that had an incendiary grenade thrown in it. He then spends the rest of the episode in a coma, not speaking a word till the final moments. Native American mysticism is randomly introduced and the entire episode is narrated by a kindly old Indian. The episode even goes so far as to have Mulder travel to “the spirit world,” where he’s lectured by Deep Throat and his father, two people who really shouldn’t be lecturing anyone about anything.

It’s not that I don’t like Native American mysticism, it’s just that it didn’t seem to fit this particular X-Files story, and creates a dramatic tonal shift that’s just awkward and persists throughout the season. “Paper Clip” is a better episode, and it’s nice that the season’s first two hours are devoted to mythology. The episode features Scully’s sister being murdered, Krycek’s failed assassination, and Skinner telling the Cigarette Smoking Man “You can just pucker up and kiss my ass.” But what follows the ep is a decent, albeit considerably flawed third season. For instance, while Melissa Scully’s murder is a highly emotional moment, it is essentially written off; by the next episode it seems Scully has all but forgotten about her loss. This goes against something I like about the show: that character development persists even during the “monster of the week” episodes. That is not as much the case here.

Seriously, guys? Bambi? Really?

Season 2 introduced us to the show’s first “comedy episode,” an awesome affair called “Humbug” that featured the Jim Rose Circus. For whatever reason, Chris Carter seemed to have decided that this year The X-Files needed not one, but several comedy episodes, each of which varies in their quality. “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is a prime example of a lighter X-Files ep that works. It’s got an incredibly original story structure, sort of like Rashomon, the crux of which is Scully being interviewed by the titular author. “War of the Coprophages” is not; the episode is flighty, features Mulder hitting on an entomologist named Bambi, a wheelchair-bound, voice-assisted scientist (who ultimately steals Bambi from Mulder) and robotic cockroaches potentially sent by aliens to monitor us. In other words, it’s 45 minutes of total bullshit.

Obviously not every episode is a light-hearted romp, but the inclusion of eps like the aforementioned two as well as Ryan Reynolds-starring “Syzygy,” only helps to make what is essentially a horror show feel more like a satire of itself. It’s almost as if the writers decided, “Alright, all we’re gonna do this year is set up the Black Oil, then we’re just gonna jack off and wait till Season 4 to pay it off.” Granted, the Black Oil is one of the cooler aspects of the show’s mythology, and the two-ep arc, “Piper Maru” and “Apocrypha” are both terrifying and brilliant. What’s cool about the arc is that you learn important tidbits about the overarching conspiracy, but you never quite figure out what the Black Oil is, other than an alien entity than can possess human bodies. It also features a great flashback, where we see a young Bill Mulder and Cigarette Smoking Man. Episodes like that helped to create the feeling that this conspiracy has been going on for a long, long time, which makes the odds set against Mulder even greater.

The season isn’t bereft of great eps like “Piper Maru” and “Apocrypha”; on the contrary, it has several standout installments. “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” is a haunting yet touching story about a psychic only capable of seeing the exact moments of people’s deaths, but for me, the real standout ep that isn’t related to mythology is “Avatar,” a Skinner-centric episode that explores his divorce, and various other facets of his personality. As the show starts to age, it’s nice to see supporting characters getting fleshed out a little more. Skinner’s such an important part of the story that it’s nice to see him become more than just the hardass Assistant Director.

Overall, a pretty weak season, but one with gems sprinkled throughout. There was some good character development, but the mythology episodes seemed to merely be set-up for what is already an awesome fourth season (I’m about 12 episodes in). The X-Files’ foray into comedy can be a dangerous one, and here their multiple attempts only produced one decent result. “Humbug” worked because it was still really scary despite the black comedy. It didn’t dampen the intensity of the show; it didn’t change the tone. In Season 3, the tone shifts and it feels like the writers spend the entirety of the year scrambling to fix it. The finale is good and has a nice cliffhanger, but I would have preferred one that featured the Black Oil- I’m kind of tired of the hybrids. I want to see some real aliens, dammit!!

Score: 8.3

Best Episode: “Apocrypha”

The episode starts with a black and white flashback to a young Bill Mulder and Cigarette Smoking Man, and ends with Krycek trapped in an abandoned missile silo, vomiting up the black oil onto a hidden flying saucer. Classic X-Files.

Worst Episode: “War of the Coprophages”

A “comedy episode” that went too far. Mulder pines for a totally unrealistically hot entomologist named Bambi, while victims die due to causes totally unrelated to the main mystery- which is of course robotic alien cockroaches. Not only was this not funny, it was weird, tonally awkward, and just plain bad.

Continue to Part 4

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