After the thrilling, cliffhanger ending to Season Two, A. and I were more than ready to get to the next developments in the series. Too bad we had a “Very Long Wait” ahead of us in the rental queue1. It was worth the wait though. The writers for Season Three have found their stride and the actors are thoroughly in character, delivering strong performances all around. If there was a central theme in Season Two2, I am not finding the same centralized scaffolding for Season Three. That said, for as bleak and dark as Season Two got, Season Three seems to respond with a reprieve — an equal mix of “serious” episodes balanced by vaguely self-parodic episodes.
- The Blessing Way. Picking up where Season Two left off, Season Three’s opener thrusts us immediately back into the series’ central mythos. But we are in for no surprises; the last episode of Season Two telegraphs how this episode will unfold and we receive exactly what we expect. Except for perhaps a slightly tawdry “spirit world” sequence with Mulder? It’s as if the Navajo Code Talker made sense for the encryption angle but now the writers are stuck with a sidebar character that they don’t know what to do with. On the other hand, we see The Syndicate3 introduced and we get our first suggestions of the Cancer Man being under what appears to be scrutiny.
- Paper Clip. A direct continuation of the previous episode4, we dive deeper into the Mythology. We build more on that main alien arc: Nazi scientists, human-alien hybridization experiments, a decades-spanning conspiracy manifested through smallpox vaccines. We start to “get to know” The Syndicate; we get “The Well-Manicured Man” as a sort of counter-point to The Cancer Man — though we may zero in on him not only because he comes to the fore of the plot but because he is the only other Syndicate member that speaks with any affect. Better yet, we see layers added: The Cancer Man as a string-puller but one whose own strings may be pulled… Plus we see Skinner start to come into his own more, showing his teeth. Between the first and second episodes: Season Three starts strong.
- D.P.O. A fun episode, if a bit lacking in substance — a bit like munching Cool Ranch Doritos. “DPO” can absorb lightning and shoot it back out and has all kinds of wild control over electricity; this episode is a bit of a dark comedy. There is something a bit forced and awkward about the unrequited student/teacher romance angle but they manage to make it work. Even if you (as a viewer) wonder what happened to the rhythm of the season all of the sudden. But hey: Jack Black!
- Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose. More black comedy, this episode has a charming and whimsical take on psychic phenomena and clairvoyance. It’s also borderline PKDickian about the nature of those psychic powers: Clyde can see into the future with startling accuracy but it’s just too bad that the powers are useless5. I loved this episode: tongue-in-cheek and very well played. (Plus: Scully gets a dog.)
- The List. A dark episode that could have been straight out of Season Two, “The List” has a strong Beelzebub/Lord of the Flies overtone going on. It also has one of the highest body counts of any X-Files episode to date — at least 7, probably 8 dead by the time the credits roll. The writers of this episode work the reincarnation angle better than any of the Series’ previous efforts. There is also an odd green cast to the camerawork in nearly every scene.
- 2Shy. Seems to be a re-hash of the Tooms character from Season One; certainly not identical but there’s enough overlap to throw a few questioning red flags. Again, the subject matter is dark but this one tip-toes toward farce though not entirely successfully so.
- The Walk. In terms of emotion and power: this is the best episode of the Season (so far). It addresses the tragedies of war and all that and though it borders on being didactic and over the top, it manages to pull off these themes well.
- Oubliette. If “The List” was our bloodiest episode thus far then this is perhaps the scariest. It’s almost always the ol’ fashioned kidnapping and torture stories that hit closest to home. The psychic/transference angle just plants it in X-Files territory — it has enough else going on without that to keep its intensity high. (Also: Firefly‘s Kaylee as a youngster!)
- Nisei. Back onto the Mythology track6 with the introduction of a major new plot thread. These new developments are curious to be sure — an alien corpse before the opening credits? There is a great deal of tension here and you have to pause as a viewer and wonder if some of this isn’t just a red herring to throw us all off. After all, hadn’t we gotten far during Season Two? And don’t these new developments seem to deviate from that? “X” is back and if nothing else his interest should confirm that we are not running down false leads. Or are we? (The episode turns into a cliffhanger, to be sure.)
- 731. Apology is Policy. Sure enough, we continue where the previous episode left off and our plot thickens substantially with “the Japanese angle”. It is interesting to see how The Syndicate enters into this and how they work up an explanation for the alien abductions. Cutting-edge but unethical experiments on human subjects provide a somewhat mundane and plausible explanation for so many of the events from the past twenty or so episodes. But is it a smoke screen? And besides, you ask yourself: couldn’t covering up human experiments be worse than covering up knowledge of extra-terrestrials? Despite the action, despite what appear on the surface to be revelations, we are ultimately left a bit unsatisfied.
- Revelations. Tackling stigmata and some Millenarian Christian eschatology, this is a Scully-centric episode if ever there was one. If there were more episodes like this, I would say that it does well to side-line Mulder from time-to-time to create a better balance. But something about it throws off the Season’s rhythm again; Scully works well enough as narrator and foil and this just seems to complicate that relationship with the text.
- War of the Coprophages. In short: this episode is awesome7. The episode becomes almost deeply parodic of the Series itself, invoking War of the Worlds as much as it invokes Series tropes. The phone calls back and forth between Mulder and Scully, the shit-eating alien robot cockroaches8, the Stephen Hawking-esque scientist… It’s almost all too much. And extremely refreshing after the previous episode.
- Syzygy. Astrological terror! Another episode that’s a bit humorous and almost light-hearted. It’s not self-parodying like “War of the Coprophages” but it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. We don’t walk away with much but we do get a grin out of it.
- Grotesque. Though its thematically out of joint with Season Two, the tone and style are both dark enough to have been nestled between “Excelsis Dei” and “Irresistible”. The writers went to work on gargoyle myths and came away with an effect that was deeply unsettling. This episode is Mulder-centric in a similar way as “Revelations” was Scully-centric. Somehow this one works in the Season’s context though: it reprises some unresolved father/son motifs for Mulder through this proxy of the former teacher. In a way, it’s an important building block for his character.
- Piper Maru. In effect, a continuation of “731”, we drop the explicit references to “the Japanese angle” and move on to “the coordinates”. This time, the French are after whatever is at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and Krycek returns to play the mercenary. I suppose we expect aliens in the X-Files sense; we expect little grey men and big eyes set in big heads. Instead we are introduced to the mysterious and rather disturbing Black Oil. It’s a great new plot thread — introducing some new element that’s tangentially related. It’s also worth noting that it’s easy to palate these serious episode when they’re coupled with the dark comedy of episodes like “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” — it’s a way for Chris Carter and the staff of writers to say, “Hey, we can do this both ways without breaking continuity.” And speaking of continuity: this episode turns into #1 of 2 — as in, it’s the third two-part episode of Season Three.
- Apocrypha. Part two of two; Skinner gets shot, we have Scully at the forefront, and the return of The Syndicate. Things develop well with this plot line and though viewers are not given enough to create a cohesive whole9, we are given enough to know that the tattered pieces should get stitched together. What does The Black Oil have to do with the hybridization projects referenced back in “Nisei” and “731”? What about the revelations in Season Two’s “Colony” and “End Game” episodes?
- Pusher. An “old favorite” for me and one of the more memorable episodes — then again, doesn’t self-immolation always do that? The premise is great and all those dealings with mortality just seals the deal.
- Teso Does Bichos. An episode that takes itself too seriously? The approach gives it some legs to stand on for fright and tension but the “mundane” myriad of feral cats? At least it we aren’t thrown an out-of-habitat jaguar as the explanation. Or a “were-jaguar”, for that matter.
- Hell Money. You have got to love the rare episode that turns out not to be supernatural in nature at all. A “traditional” Chinese lottery game turns deadly with involuntary organ donation. The angle seems supernatural but it breaks down into something pretty mundane and that’s more than okay; the suspense is still there and there is enough ambiguity to keep things interesting.
- Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”. Another vaguely self-parodying episode — what with its unreliable (meta-)narration and contradictory elements. The writers pull off a nice trick by breaking down the Fourth Wall and having Scully tell the story to this Jose Chung character. They manage to invoke a whole lot of the modern folklore and mythology about aliens, abductions, and all of the surrounding cultural paraphernalia. A pretty damn good episode, actually.
- Avatar. The episode is more-or-less custom tailored to give us some background material on A.D. Walter Skinner — since we have obviously decided to keep him on as a permanent cast member10. The succubus bit is just a convenient paranormal backdrop.
- Quagmire. An X-Files take on Moby Dick? It is actually pretty well done; nice and ambiguous and with featuring the right kind of easy outs (with the alligator) while still ending with the oblique nod to the paranormal. Plus: mentioning Vermont and Lake Champlain and “Champ” specifically put a nice smile on my face. (But: poor Scully’s dog!)
- Wetwired. By the end of this episode we “get it” that the idea here is some exposition: “X” is working for/with Cancer Man and is betraying him. The episode’s premise is interesting enough and we see Scully come a bit unscrewed for a change; and what better way to perform character development than to show them at their most vulnerable? Also: Mulder is red-green color blind!
- Talitha Cumi. The Season Three finale and we are quite deep into the core Mythology. We return to the Cancer Man and X11 and see the neck-stabbing apparatus come back as well. A lot of direct references and signs point way back, clear into Season Two and its Gregor clones and shapeshifting, stony-faced bounty hunters and furtive talk of alien colonization efforts. What happened to the Japanese and The Black Oil? That all seems a sidebar now, a distraction to the Colonization plot. Regardless, the pace quickens, the plot thickens, and Season Three closes with another explicit cliffhanger.
Fortunately, this time around, Disc One of Season Four is already in the mail.
- Not to mention the “tease” when we had Disc One of Season Four shipped to us well ahead of time… [↩]
- Recall my write-up of Season Two and how nearly every episode somehow dealt with “the frontiers of life and death”. [↩]
- I could have sworn that in the episode they call themselves “The Consortium” but all the supporting literature online refers to “The Syndicate”. So we’ll keep consistent with that. [↩]
- Effectively giving us a single unit, spanning two seasons, that is three episodes long. [↩]
- Poor guy has it worse than Cassandra. [↩]
- Seriously: no pun intended — although you have to wonder a bit about the symbolism of the trains, etc. [↩]
- Writer Darin Morgan takes home Season Three’s Spirit Award, that much is for sure. [↩]
- Maybe? [↩]
- Where would be the fun in that, anyway? [↩]
- I don’t care if his name keeps appearing as “Guest Starring” — Mitch Pileggi is here to stay. [↩]
- Who looks younger and not as scary with the beard all shorn off. [↩]
About Rob FrieselSoftware engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →
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