“Memory, like fire, is radiant and immutable.” First off, this is the most ridiculous thing ever said in an X-Files voiceover. Ever. And that’s saying something. Second, do those sound like the words of an American Indian wise man to you?
It’s almost as though someone told Chris Carter that there wasn’t enough buttercream icing on the cake so he made a fresh batch and poured that on top too. Now, lest you think I would commit blasphemy against the creator of my favoritest show ever, let me just say that I consider Chris Carter a brilliant writer. His writing only suffers when he waxes philosophical.
It’s not entirely his fault. This episode is completely on trend with the 1990’s fascination for all things American Indian. For those old enough, I’m sure you can find in your “immutable memory” films like Geronimo: An American Legend (1993), The Last of the Mohicans (1992), and the still famous Dances with Wolves (1990) which featured a slightly younger Floyd Red Crow Westerman… that’s Albert Hosteen to you.
Looking back, it’s not a trend that aged well. Just because you put the phrase “ancient Indian saying” in front of a sentence does not make it profound, or more importantly, believable, or even more importantly, interesting. Please understand, I’m not denigrating ancient Indian sayings, I just question this episode’s heavy reliance on spiritualism. It’s distracting. It’s idealized. It’s hokey.
And before I jump off this bandwagon, let me give you the worst example of mysticism run amok. After breaching the barrier to the spiritual world through a hypnosis session, Scully has a vision of Mulder back from the (near) dead. So what does he tell her? The secret of life? The secret of death? Oh no.
Mulder: I have been on the bridge that spans two worlds. The link between all souls by which we cross into our own true nature. You were here today looking for a truth which was taken from you, the truth which was never meant to be spoken, but which now binds us together in a dangerous purpose. I’ve returned from the dead to continue with you, but I fear that this danger is now close at hand and I may be too late.
Did you just laugh out loud? I rest my case.
At the risk of sounding like a Negative Nancy, this episode has another flaw, one that I don’t think is nearly as obvious. On paper, it only makes sense that Scully would feel defeated after losing Mulder. Despite her valiant efforts in “The Anasazi” (2×25), Mulder is supposedly dead and she’s left holding the bag; no disc, no job, no honor. Even with that in mind, the first half of the episode plays out as though Scully is more concerned with her flickering career prospects than the fact that her best buddy was just blown to bits. I’m not saying there should be weeping and gnashing of teeth, but some kind of emotional acknowledgement would be nice.
There is a single moment where we see Scully show up at her mother’s door in tears. If you have the DVD and can access the deleted scene that pops up right after this, you’ll understand why they mercifully cut this scene short in editing; it only makes it painfully clear that Scully is agonizing more over potentially getting fired than the loss of Mulder. I realize it’s only natural that Scully would question the wisdom of her actions in the previous episode under the circumstances. And I also realize that this is supposed to play into the fact that Scully is spiritually connected to Mulder and knows deep down that he isn’t dead. But how did she go from Wonder Woman to Stick-in-the-Mud so quickly? She may question herself, but I just can’t believe that Scully would ever regret saving a friend.
She isn’t a complete loss this episode, however. The writers are finally addressing what happened to Scully during her abduction last season. We were tantalized back in “One Breath” (2×8) with visions of experiments being performed on Scully. Now her repressed memories are coming up for air and that bodes well for the mythology of Season 3. And that little surprise in her neck… this is why I love The X-Files. Where else can you watch a scenario as creepy as going through a scanner and then finding out there’s been a computer chip implanted in your body?
That significant event aside, Scully’s real shining moments are reserved for her interactions with other characters. It’s great to see Scully get someone else to play with besides Mulder. His character is normally the one hobnobbing with informants and geeks. Her scenes with Skinner in particular are quite juicy. Scully is The Good Child so watching her have at her boss makes for some wonderful tension. Naturally, Skinner gives back as good as he gets culminating in that final cliffhanger. I think we all know who is going to walk through the door by the end but that doesn’t make the moment any less great.
Scully also has her first interaction with Frohike since Season 1’s “E.B.E.” (1×16), their brief meeting while she was comatose not withstanding. Yes, if you can believe it, we’ve had to wait that long for Frohike to get another shot at her. I must say, The Lone Gunmen and Frohike in particular, even though we’ve only seen them briefly in 4 episodes up to this point, are incredibly endearing. From the way Frohike shows up in a tux to visit the dying Scully in “One Breath” to him coming to her door bottle in hand, wounded over the loss of Mulder, the man is a Mensch. (Yiddish. Look it up.) That The Powers That Be did what they did to them in Season 9… I’ll never recover.
But the interaction that I most enjoy is Scully’s introduction to Well-Manicured Man, played effortlessly by John Neville. My personal highlight of the episode is the way he delivers the line, “Do you have someplace you might stay?” The subtle changes of expression on his face are just amazing and I find myself wishing that The Syndicate had been explored more as individual characters.
Ah yes, The Syndicate, or The Consortium. They go by both names even in this, their introductory episode. It’s like a perfect nightmare: The world is secretly run by a group of ruthless, wealthy old men. Finally, we have a set of faces to go with the eponymous “They” that Mulder keeps referring to. Whoever “they” are, they’re powerful enough that even CSM has to answer to them. Was Deep Throat once a part of this group? More than likely.
Speaking of Deep Throat, it’s a bit of a shame that his “return” is marred by a plethora of Purple Prose. Bill Mulder’s message from beyond the grave isn’t any better. “The lies I told you are a pox and poison to my soul.” Seriously, why not just put a plague on both their houses while you’re at it?
Alright, that’s enough of my complaints. Other than being tainted by overdone mysticism and suffering from the natural curse of being the second part in a three-episode arc, there are some very fun elements to this episode. Its weaknesses don’t destroy it, they just mean that there are lower lows between the highlights. In fact, if they had found a way to weave the story together without relying so heavily on spiritualism and Shakespearean prose, I daresay it would have been fantastic.
“The Blessing Way” is the reverse equivalent of “One Breath”; this time Mulder is the one laid up in limbo between life and death and Scully, unable to help him, is left to find the answers. It’s a great chance for her character to go out and explore the world on her on, unaided by Mulder’s quack theories. There are also some exciting hints that the circumstances of her abduction will finally be addressed this season.
And while I still wouldn’t call The X-Files an ensemble show, the current cast of characters means that every scene is potentially touching or explosive. Yep, the crossroads of Season2/Season 3 was a good time of life for the show.
There’s so much going on in this episode that I won’t bore you by attempting to cover it all. By now you’ve noticed that I didn’t even address Melissa’s shooting. We’ll save that last one for “Paper Clip” (3×2).
Skinner refers to Mulder’s apartment as “a place we can talk in private.” Did someone not tell him about the listening devices, poisonings, and assassination attempts?
Now I’m sure. CSM really didn’t know he’d (almost) killed Mulder. An argument could be made that he hoped he had, but it’s entirely possible that he was still “protecting” him in his own mind.
Frohike: He was a good friend. A redwood among mere sprouts.
Smoking Man: Did you ask her about the tape?
Skinner: She says she doesn’t have it.
Smoking Man: Is that what she says?
Skinner: Yes. That’s what she says.
Smoking Man: Well that’s unfortunate for everyone.
Albert Hosteen: You must be careful now to end the ceremony properly. If you leave, you must not do any work, change clothes or bathe for four days.
Mulder: That’s really going to cut into my social life.
Scully: Who are you?
Well-Manicured Man: I’m a member of a kind of consortium, we represent certain global interests.
Scully: What kind of interests?
Well-Manicured Man: Interests that would be extremely threatened by the digital tape that you are no longer in possession of.
Scully: Threatened enough to murder?
Well-Manicured Man: Oh my, yes. – *Editors Note: Brilliance.
Scully: You’re not protecting me, you’re protecting yourself.
Well-Manicured Man: Why should that surprise you? Motives are rarely unselfish.
Scully: What kind of business are you in?
Well-Manicured Man: We predict the future. The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Good day young lady.