Season 3 Wrap Up: Are you sure it wasn’t a girly scream?


On the Big Picture Front

Season 3 is a perennial fan favorite, for obvious reasons. It’s during this era that The X-Files went from a cult hit to a primetime sensation. Far from being a specific genre show, it proved it was capable of changing styles from week to week and still maintain consistency and continuity. One week Mulder and Scully are on the brink of discovering alien life, and the next they’re being overrun by mutant cockroaches. Season 3 is at turns a sci-fi show, a psychological drama, a comedy and a parody.

And more than anything else, it’s the Season of Darin Morgan. Sure he debuted back in Season 2 as the writer of the landmark “Humbug” (2×20) and even earlier than that he provided the story for “Blood” (2×3) and even donned a body suit to play The Flukeman in “The Host” (2×2). But three out of the four episodes he officially wrote for the series aired in Season 3. That’s not even counting his uncredited contributions to episodes like “Revelations” (3×11) and “Quagmire” (3×22), two episodes that delve deeply into the psychological background of Mulder and Scully, laying the basis for years to come for other writers who would take their characters even further.

His presence on the staff actually transformed the show into something that was pliable and therefore viable. How long would The X-Files have lasted if things had stayed as serious as they did in Season 1 and most of Season 2? I daresay there’s an audience for that, myself included, but Darin Morgan introduced an era where The X-Files could lovingly poke fun at itself; this meant that the audience didn’t have to. After all, if you bring up your faults before anyone else can, it serves as a first level of defense. “Fox Mulder is off his rocker, you say? We already know. We called him on it ourselves and beat you to it.” Once that’s out of the way, everyone can sit back and enjoy without their being an elephant in the room.

Self-parody is also a sign of success. “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” (3×20) could never have happened in Seasons 1 or 2. The X-Files wasn’t set it its ways enough to exaggerate its own image. The audience could laugh at Mulder and Scully being ridiculous because they already take them seriously. And even though it’s not one of my favorites, this is a turning point in the show because from here on out, anything was game. Starting in Season 3, you can see how later episodes like “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (5×6) would evolve from this series. The writers could stretch The X-Files and it wouldn’t break.

On the Relationship Front

If you’ve been reading and watching along, you’ve probably already guessed what I’m going to say. I’m no sentimentalist, but the tension that was written into Mulder and Scully’s relationship for much of this season isn’t exactly my bag. It’s true that they couldn’t go on in the hyper-idealized way that they were in Season 2, where the other could almost do no wrong. And it’s also true that a certain amount of tension and drama creates interest, and I’m all for that. But there were moments this season where I wondered why they were even partners at all since they didn’t seem to work well together. Heck, at moments they were downright antagonistic.

The good side of this is that when Mulder or Scully are divided, it almost invariably means that one or the other is about to benefit from some serious character development. Mulder moves beyond Samantha in “Oubliette” (3×8), even if he doesn’t move beyond the “Samantha Protocol”, and he shows off his criminal profiling genius in “Grotesque” (3×14), a skill that Scully can’t possess at the same emotional and psychological level. For her part, Scully matures in issues of faith in “Revelations”, a spiritual journey you’d think that Mulder would be able to relate to but instead is surprisingly antagonistic toward. And dividing them up for the mythology episodes was a wise decision. More information gets disseminated to the audience for one thing. And for another, Scully begins to develop her own methods of investigation. It’s a nice contrast watching them stumble upon parallel bits of information and come to wildly different conclusions. Neither one of them would get to the truth alone.

But after all that division, the writers reel it back in toward the end of the season and I’m forever grateful. “Pusher” (3×17) and “Wetwired” (2×23) remind us that Mulder and Scully still do have an almost spiritual bond that’s survived the losses and divisions of Season 3. It’s a sweet but brief respite, however. Season 4 will bring Mulder and Scully both closer and further apart than ever before, a rollercoaster I’m currently bracing myself for emotionally.

On the Whole

Season 3 is arguably when The X-Files hit its peak. Looking back, I’d say that it is… but it’s not when The X-Files hit its prime, a point of semantics that I’ll get into much later.

I say this is its peak because at this point, the mythology still feels as though it’s heading somewhere, that the answers we’re waiting for are just around the corner. Anticipation is at its highest point, I believe. Will Mulder lose his mother and soon be the only Mulder left? Will Scully be able to face the details of her abduction? Will they get to the bottom of this Smallpox vaccination drama? Stay tuned.

On the New Tip

I’ve decided to start handing out awards this season. So without further ado…

“Most Improved”
Revelations

“Desperately in need of a rewrite”
Syzygy

“Victim of too many desperate rewrites”
Teso Dos Bichos

“The Copycat”
2Shy

“The Sleeper Hit”
Wetwired

“It doesn’t matter how many times I see it I still won’t like it”
Oubliette

So now my question to you, dear reader, is which episode out of the Darin Morgan era is the one that speaks to you the most?  Is one the best but you hate it? Is one the worst but you love it? And if you have any awards of your own to hand out, please do so below!

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14 responses to “Season 3 Wrap Up: Are you sure it wasn’t a girly scream?

  1. Clyde Bruckman, without a doubt, will always touch my heart and soul. Peter Boyle was amazing and I loved his unlikely bond with Scully. I love love love Quagmire as well. This season is my second favorite season, behind 7 (for my own selfish shipper reasons) – if for Anasazi, BW and PC alone. I am kinda with you on Jose Chung too- I want to like it and I do laugh, but it doesn’t strike me like the others- even WOTC. Welp, that’s all I got. 😀

  2. Darin Morgan is by far my fave scribe and Clyde Bruckman my fave episode and the one that is most memorable to me. I think that this was definitely my favorite season as a whole because it was the most balanced with tone and mythology vs. stand alones.

    • Season 3 was never one of my faves, but now that I’ve gone over it with a fine toothed comb I appreciate that balance you’re talking about. This is the first season where you get a sense of what would come later, that the show could switch moods from episode to episode and still be coherent. Season 3 was almost a variety show.

  3. I think that Chris Carter said that Season 3 was his favorite, so you are probably right about Season 3 being the peak for the X-Files. Lots of great episodes. My favorites are Pusher, Wetwired, Quagmire and Clyde Bruckman. Not many bad shows either (DPO, Teso dos Bichos and maybe 2Shy).

    As far as the M/S relationship goes, I saw it the same way you did. There was so much more tension and conflict between M/S in S3. In a number of episodes they barely act as partners ( The Oubliette, Revelations and of course Syzygy). They spend much of the time disagreeing or split up and working cases separately. In Apocrypa (3×16) Mulder flies off to HK trying to find out about the Black Oil while Scully is back in DC helping Skinner and looking for Melissa’s killer. Yes, it all ties together in the end, but they seem to have different agendas. You wonder if this is an intended precursor for the next seasons or if it is just an accident. Starting with Pusher, however, they get back in sync.

    Thanks for your commentary. I am looking forward to Season 4.

    • I was listening to CC at Wondercon just yesterday and I remember him saying that. I think he said it was because of how the show grew so much over the course of the season. Season 3 is sort of The X-Files’ not-so-missing link.

      Agreed on M/S! They were downright antagonistic sometimes. There will still be tension next season, but I’m glad that, for the most part, the antagonism disappears. Or else why be “Mulder and Scully”?

  4. I love that you and Eamon do these reviews. It’s so fun to go back and watch them with you guys…Lol. Hmmm…How about José Chung’s From Outer Space Winning for “Most Celebrity Cameos”…of this season of course.

  5. To me, Season three is the last of the golden period of The X Files. Not to take anything away from the other six seasons that are to follow (I adore four, despite the angst and I have a real soft spot for seasons six and eight) but the first three years of The X Files represent the “Friday Night at 9PM years”, and much of the original crew who worked on the series (Morgan and Wong, Darin Morgan, Howard Gordon, Director of Photography John Bartley, visual effects supervisor Mat Beck and director David Nutter) and as such they are the ‘classic years’ of the series.

    Season three is wonderful, I wasn’t really aware of the schism in the Mulder/Scully dynamic until you pointed it out Salome, but it is there, especially in those mythology episodes, but it is a great year, the year of Darin Morgan, the year of Pusher, the year of the best mythology tales, I think along with season two, season three was the year that really knew how to have creative fun with the characters and the stories, and is genuine peak for the series.

    PS-Lovely comments by the way Skye and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about season four Salome.

    • The X-Files really does start to feel different in Season 4, doesn’t it? I would argue it gets better on average, because I think it does, but it has a slightly different personality in coming seasons… as though it knows it’s The X-Files. That’s something it didn’t, couldn’t have had in the growing years.

  6. It’s strange in a way, the series starts to develop into something else from season four onwards, it’s still The X Files don’t get me wrong, but as you’ve said, it’s definitely a different personality. There’s some great stuff coming up over the next number of years, some fantastic writing courtesy of Vince Gilligan (season four is definitely “the year of Vince”) but those first three years were The X Files at its most purest.

  7. Haha! I love the awards section.

  8. “Most Improved”
    Avatar

    “Most Underrated”
    Oubliette

    “The Sleeper Hit”
    Wetwired

    “It doesn’t matter how many times I see it I still won’t like it”
    Teso Dos Bichos

    “Best Nod to Geekdom”
    the Harryhausen-esque stop-motion effects in Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’

    “Season’s Magnum Opus”
    Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose

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