Welcome, one and all, to the next step in my ongoing X-Files project. Now that we’ve covered the first two seasons – and taken a brief detour into the recent board game – we’re finally heading into the third season. And boy, was this one that I was looking forward to!
Running to 24 episode, and airing between September 22nd 1995 and May 17th 1996 in the USA, the series made it to the UK in March 1996 via Sky TV, then again on terrestrial TV in September 1996. What sets this season apart for me is that it remains, to this day, my favourite season. And, it seems, I’m not alone in this. On top of eight Primetime Emmy Award nominations, our intrepid duo of Mulder and Scully actually scooped Golden Globes for the season. Critics define it as being incredibly polished, and it is often cited that the more ropey special effects are all but gone by this point.
The season really ramps things up in terms of long form story-telling in my eyes too, as it starts introducing things that would be key moving forward. The black oil-Krycek link, for example, and the continued push towards alien-human hybrid experimentation. Throw in the fact that both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were more than deserving of their awards, and that Mitch Pileggi (Skinner), William B Davis (Cigarette Smoking Man), and Nichola Lea (Krycek) all pull their weight too, and we’re onto a winner here. The opening episode ‘The Blessing Way’ also ranked as having the highest level of viewership at the time. Yup, the conspiracy theory shenanigans are in full swing, and everything was looking very bright indeed. As an interesting side though, this was the last season to air on a Friday night, as Season Four moved to Sundays.
Now, onto my top episodes. I’m sticking with a top ten due to the numbers, but I must say, this was difficult. Like I said, it’s my favourite season overall, and it’s always a joy to watch. Still … let’s give this a crack!
10) The List (Episode 5) – ‘A death row inmate makes good on his promise to come back from the dead and kill the five people involved in his death. The fear of his retribution has everyone scrambling to determine if they are on the list, while Mulder and Scully attempt to determine how he has returned to execute his tormentors.’
This was a really fun case for the team, and an interesting take on the idea of an avenging ghost. It was kept pretty simple for the most part, but also featured some of the more in-your-face visuals of the franchise to date.
09) & 08) The Blessing Way (Episode 1) – ‘The Cigarette Smoking Man works quickly to recover the stolen computer files, but finds himself thwarted by a man who he hoped was dead. Meanwhile, Scully finds herself at a loss for her next step and turns to her family for support, since Mulder is otherwise engaged fighting for survival.’ & Paperclip (Episode 2) – ‘Mulder and Scully search for answers regarding the old photograph with his father and other unnamed men. Their search takes them to the abandoned Strughold Mining Facility where they uncover a dangerous secret.’
This two-parter got the series off to a flying start, picking up plot points from season two and throwing us headlong into what was to come. Skinner’s support of Mulder and Scully earns him a beating, Scully is almost assassinated, and Mulder learns a truth that he didn’t want to know. Great start to the season.
07) Grotesque (Episode 14) – ‘Agents Mulder and Scully join Mulder’s former mentor, the FBI’s chief profiler, on a case involving a serial killer who claims to be possessed by a demonic force. The case gets even more mysterious when the suspect is apprehended and the murders continue. Mulder gets involved more deeply than expected and Scully as well as Skinner are deeply concerned.’
This episode works really well for a number of reasons. One is that the case is not really paranormal, but rather simply strange. Mulder’s digging as he gets further down the rabbit hole is well done, and we get to see both Scully and Skinner’s dynamic with him play out a little more too.
06) D.P.O. (Episode 3) – ‘Mulder is skeptical over a coroner’s report regarding the fifth person to be struck by lightning in a small Oklahoma town. Their investigation into the latest death seems to point to the only person to have survived a lightning strike, an emotionally charged youth.’
This may have been the first time that I ever saw Jack Black in anything. The episode is good one, throwing in some lightning based science to accompany the paranormal slant, and our antagonist is a good example of a young man slowly tipping over the edge.
05) Jose Chung’s From Outer Space (Episode 20) – ‘When a couple claims to have been abducted by aliens, Agents Mulder and Scully try to get at the truth but everyone has a different version of the story, including the “aliens” themselves.’
Easily one of the best comedy episodes in the franchise, this one is much-loved for good reason. If ever there was proof that The X-Files was capable of spoofing itself rather than getting bogged down with constant seriousness, this was it. Really good job by all involved.
04) Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repost (Episode 4) – ‘Skeptical of a famous psychic’s predictions regarding the murder of several prognosticators, Mulder instead finds someone who he believes truly can predict the future. Catching the killer could prove difficult, though, particularly if the murderer can also see into his future.’
Featuring Peter Boyle as the titular psychic, this was a superb story. It not only demonstrated how vague TV psychics can be, but also gave some thought to what the downside of actually having psychic powers would be. Bruckman also made a prediction that would come back to haunt Scully again in Season Six, so that was some nice foreshadowing.
03) Pusher (Episode 17) – ‘Agents Mulder and Scully’s assistance is requested for a case involving a man seemingly capable of bending people to his will. The suspect uses his mysterious abilities to manipulate Agent Mulder into a dangerous end game.’
Robert Modell is one of my favourite villains in the franchise and, while his appearances are limited, his abilities are intriguing. You see, Modell can, through some careful words, make you do whatever he wants. It’s what would happen if Derren Brown were evil. Interestingly, Robert Wisden was not the only person up for the role either, and he had to beat out Lance Henriksen (Bishop in Aliens) for the part. He does a great job in creating another nemesis for Mulder, and the (at the time controversial) game of Russian Roulette was a great way to go.
02) & 01) Piper Maru (Episode 15) – ‘When a French salvage ship sends a diving crew to recover a mysterious wreckage from World War II, the crew falls prey to a bizarre illness and Agents Mulder and Scully join the investigation. The investigation leads to the discovery of a familiar face, and to Skinner’s life being threatened.’ & Apocrypha (Episode 16) – ‘While Mulder continues to investigate a bizarre illness that originated with the discovery of a mysterious World War II wreckage buried at sea, several government figures try to thwart their efforts. And as Skinner recovers from his shooting, Scully discovers that he is still in danger, from the man who killed her sister.’
The two-parter that set Krycek’s link to the black oil into motion is a really good tale. The ending to the second part with everyone’s favourite double agent trapped in the silo was also a nice touch, as it really left his fate up in the air. This wasn’t all about Nicholas Lea’s character though, as there was plenty of other stuff going on too; Skinner’s shooting, the Syndicate’s involvement, the link between Mulder’s Dad and Cigarette Smoking Man … there’s a lot to take in!