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…
“Desperately in need of a rewrite”
“Victim of too many desperate rewrites”
Teso Dos Bichos
“The Sleeper Hit”
“It doesn’t matter how many times I see it I still won’t like it”
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!