The X Files Revisited: 3.01 The Blessing Way, 3.02 Paper Clip
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The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. Now eight years after the second movie The X Files: I Want To Believe, the show is returning for six new episodes in 2016. Here at The Digital Fix, we are going to work our way through each season, reviewing some of the big episodes – and both movies – across the years in the build up to season ten. With 202 episodes, there is simply too much to cover every episode; instead we'll pick the story highlights of each year. Heading into season three now and the opening two episodes have the incredibly hard job of delivering on the epic events of the season two finale Anasazi...
Back in the 1990's, the first VHS of The X Files released was 'The Unopened File', a feature length story encompassing the season two finale Anasazi and the concluding two episodes of season three. For fans of the show like myself is was an epic journey that took Mulder to the brink of death and back again, Scully finding herself suspended with a contract out on her life before returning to the FBI and the global conspiracy unfolding with key revelations about Mulder's father, secret cataloguing of US citizens and human / alien hybrid experimentation.
On rewatch, the experience is a little different, with the cliffhanger of Anasazi providing a dramatic breather before the show continued. Taking in The Blessing Way and Paper Clip as separate episodes it is clear that the fast paced thriller that was the season two finale has been replaced but a slower, more spiritual storyline that takes two episodes to return Mulder and Scully back to the FBI - and the X Files. Both episodes are arguably great, with some majorly tense moments, iconic images and further revelations, but it is not quite the game changing event it might have felt on the original viewing. The status quo of the show is re-established by the end of Paper Clip even if both agents are irrevocably changed by the events that occurred.
The Blessing Way is the most different of the three stories making up 'The Unopened File' trilogy. Season three starts with Albert Hosteen's voiceover. "There is an ancient Indian saying that something lives only as long as the last person who remembers it. My people have come to trust memory over history. Memory, like fire, is radiant and immutable while history serves only those who seek to control it, those who douse the flame of memory in order to put out the dangerous fire of truth. Beware these men for they are dangerous themselves and unwise. Their false history is written in the blood of those who might remember and of those who seek the truth".
It is a very spiritual beginning, a theme that continues throughout the episode as Albert and his people care for the wounded Mulder after he is discovered with an alien corpse, having crawled out of the box car through another exit. The narrative of the episode is tied by the Blessing Way ritual as the Navajo tribe bring him back from death. Like the appearance of Scully's father on her deathbed in last season's One Breath, Mulder too is visited by spectres of the past. Floating in the night sky he is visited by Deep Throat; Jerry Hardin makes a warm return - still very much missed on the show as he pleads with Mulder to go back and fight the monsters.
His father is there too (Peter Donat making an encore performance immediately after his character's death), telling Mulder that if he dies, the truth he is searching for will die too. In the dream state Mulder asks if his sister is with him, to which Bill replies she is not, suggesting she is alive. While her story was far from wrapped up at this point, it quite doesn't make sense retrospectively given the whole she died to be with fairies travesty in season seven - but perhaps it's best not to dwell on that story at this stage!
With Mulder out of the most of the season opener, it is up to Scully to drive the episode forward. With her files stolen by military personnel in the pre-titles sequence, things grow worse as she is hauled up before the FBI and suspended for subordination. She has usually towed the company line but here she gets to sit in Mulder's seat, going head to head with Skinner and later holding him at gunpoint as she finds her life threatened.
Gillian Anderson is on fine form throughout the episode, broken down by events and Mulder's death - the scene where she turns up at her mum's is beautifully played - and finding herself passed the torch by Frohike over a late night drink. It really is a new side to Scully, searching for the missing tape stolen from Mulder's office and coming face to face with another member of the Cigarette Smoking Man's consortium; we saw this shadowy group teased in Anasazi and here we are introduced to a second pivotal character, the Well Manicured Man.
John Neville makes an immediate impression; he is a thorn in the Cigarette Smoking Man's side, questioning his actions and engaging directly with Scully (and Mulder in Paper Clip). It is clear he has his own agenda and that greater power plays are taking place. When Scully attends Bill Mulder's funeral The Well-Manicured Man engages with Scully, revealing himself to be a member of the shadowy consortium and rather openly tells her that her life is in danger and that it will be likely be at the hands of someone close to her. Scully immediately questions his dubious motives and his claims that her death - at the hands of The Cigarette Smoking Man's men - will draw unwanted attention. It is a fascinating scene.
And like Mulder before her, The Blessing Way sees Scully's paranoia fuelled as she begins to suspect Skinner and discovers a sinister metal fragment in the back of her neck after she travels through a metal detector. The removal of the computer chip continues to tie her personally to the conspiracy and a journey that began with her abduction in season two and ends with her cancer in season four. It is interesting that in her scene with her sister Melissa (Melinda McGraw) that they replay the same conversation she had with Mulder last year; Melissa fighting the darkness and paranoia in Scully and trying to convince her to open up spiritually beyond her rigid scientific beliefs.
McGraw and Anderson are thoroughly engaging as two sisters divided in their beliefs and yet still so close. I would have loved to have seen more of these two on screen but sadly Melissa's main purpose here is to become the latest casualty in Mulder and Scully's search for the truth.
The episode draws to a very tense conclusion as Melissa goes to Scully's apartment and is mistaken for her sister. The returning Krycek notches up another strike on his villainous roster, shooting Melissa with a what would become fatal wound next episode. Scully meanwhile attempts to lure Skinner into a trap after he intercepts her outside her apartment. At this stage, audiences were still questioning his actions, though it would have been the wrong move to make him a villain. Not knowing which way his loyalties lie, Scully lure Skinner to Mulder's apartment and holds him at gunpoint, screaming for answers. The twist that he has the tape is well played and the arrival of a figure outside the apartment distracts her long enough for Skinner to turn his gun on her. It is a thrilling cliffhanger with Scully and Skinner in a deadly standoff. Fortunately audiences only had to wait a week for the answers and the conclusion to this nail biting tale.
Paper Clip is the stronger episode of the two in that it finally starts to offer some answers about the larger conspiracy at play, even if it doesn't quite give as much as you might first think. Ther figure at Mulder's door is immediately revealed as Mulder himself. Anderson wonderfully portrays the shock and joy and frustration in her face as she takes in her dead partner and continues to face off against her boss. The scene between the agents is nail biting, each unsure of the other. Skinner relenting and agreeing to hold the tape in order to protect them finally marks him as a strong ally moving forward, something we would see more of as the episode progressed.
Though Mulder's "I was a dead man, now I'm back" is so bad even David Duchovny can't quite sell that line!
In order to save themselves, the concluding episode becomes a desperate search for answers with Mulder uncovering a picture from 1972 showing a group of men, including younger versions of Bill, The Well-Manicured Man, Deep Throat, and Cigarette Smoking Man. With the help of the Lone Gunmen they discover the identity of another figure in the photograph; Nazi war criminal Victor Klemper. Here we start to learn about Operation Paper Clip, a real life operation that saw the US recruiting Nazi scientists after World War II. Disbanded in 1959, Mulder and Scully discover that it was still up and running in 1979 and in this situation, it involved alien / human hybrid experimentation, a theme in play since season one.
Klemper is a wholly deplorable villain, with Walter Gotell delivering an arrogant, cold performance. At the same time we begin to see more factions in the conspiracy as he gives up the location of the facility and the code to access it and then lies to the Well Manicured Man about what he told them. The Cigarette Smoking Man lies too, telling his allies that the has the tape Skinner holds in his care. I really enjoyed seeing this villain's resolve crumble, particularly in the scene where Skinner revealed he had the tape, remaining cool under pressure while the Cigarette Smoking Man snaps.
The stand out scene of the episode is the moment Mulder and Scully enter the facility. Mark Snow's score is magnificent, eerie and epic in equal measure, the setting atmospheric as they wander the crumbling facility and make their way into the tunnels below. It is a dramatic set piece for the conclusion of the three-part story and it finally offers answers in the reveal of rows and rows of medical files, held on the US population. The medical samples are a somewhat insidious touch, the smallpox vaccinations tying back to the markings on the alien skeletons in the boxcar. Again, it becomes personal for both of them with the discovery of a recent medical sample in Scully's file and the revelation that Mulder's had been swapped for Samantha - and that it contains a recent sample too. His sister remains so close and yet so far at the same time.
The moment the lights go off and Mulder rushes back into the main facility as the lights of a UFO rise up across the windows is one of The X Files' most iconic images indeed - referenced in fact in the recent trailer for the revival. Mulder races outside to see a UFO sweep over his head while Scully too finds herself face to face with evidence of alien life as she encounters the image of an EBE in the light of a door at the end of corridor. The suspense builds further as gunmen arrive and start shooting. It is as close to movie-style epicness as the show had got yet as Mulder and Scully race towards each other in the dark, evading gunmen and making their perilous escape.
Unfortunately the concluding episode meanders a little after this moment. What should have been the climax of this story becomes just another stepping stone in their return to the FBI.
Mulder and Scully rendezvous with Skinner in a diner in middle of nowhere and against Mulder's protests Scully agrees to Skinner's proposal to negotiate their reinstatement in exchange of tape. Separated from her critically ill sister she argues that their lives are not worth what knowledge is on that tape, even if it ties directly to Mulder's father's death, and her abduction. Ultimately the tape becomes the dangling of a carrot that is never actually taken, ensuring that the two agents will be forced to keep searching for answers for some time yet.
We also get a repeat scene of the hospital scene in One Breath; this time a visiting Skinner notices a suited man watching Melissa's bed and he rushes to confront him, leading to a violent assault in the stairwell as he comes face to face with Krycek and loses the tape. Krycek meanwhile falls foul of the Cigarette Smoking Man's attempts to clean up shop by destroying the tape in a car along with him in it. Krycek realises something is wrong and makes a daring escape making him a rogue element in the show moving forward.
And as for Klemper, he becomes the latest casualty in the mysterious cover up as Mulder and Scully return to his conservatory and find the Well Manicured Man waiting for them instead and with answers no less. In 1947 a spacecraft was reported in New Mexico, which coincided with the project to bring Nazi war criminals to US. Klemper used the DNA on the human sampling Mulder's father was conducting for the state department to create alien / human hybrids and Samantha was abducted as insurance in case Bill Mulder ever threatened to expose his part in the insidious plan. It is a huge information dump, though well played. Scully calls it pure science fiction, furthering Nazi agenda. But for Mulder it is a big step closer to the truth.
The intrigue and revelations continue as Mulder goes to his mother and asks if his father was ever forced to make a choice between himself and Samantha. The one bit of redemption was the idea that he refused, that he had some nobility but this late in the story it serves to be another piece of the plot, tying up loose threads to enable the show to continue back with the case of the week moving forward.
Though there is still the brilliant scene between Skinner and the Cigarette Smoking Man. The villain knows Skinner doesn't have the tape and calls the deputy director a punk for even attempting to negotiate for Mulder and Scully's return. Enter Albert, Skinner's smoking ace, who he claims has recited the entire file and passed it on to his people to be exposed if the two agents are threatened again. "This where you pucker up and kiss my ass!" is possibly Skinner's best moment in the show's history. Of course we never really know if Albert was able to translate enough of the file before it was stolen or whether it was one big bluff. Seeing the smug Cigarette Smoking Man lose is joy enough.
And after all that emotional turmoil and drama we end up at the hospital where Scully arrives too late; her sister died in surgery, becoming another casualty. It is a very bittersweet ending that gives hope that the answers are still there, even after all the tragedy that have both faced.
"We've both lost so much... but I believe that what we're looking for is in the X-Files. I'm more certain than ever that the truth is in there." Mulder tells her, ensuring that the show will continue on in theirs - and the audience's eyes. "I've heard the truth, Mulder. Now what I want are the answers." Scully retorts, an metaphor of course for everything that has occurred and the mission statement for the show's future.
Between Anasazi and these opening two episodes, The X Files delivered a sweepingly epic story that fully lived up to the promise of the show's first two seasons. And in many ways it succeeds where the movies failed to take the show to the next level.
The Blessing Way is a surprisingly low-key, spiritual episode to start the season with, with Scully taking the leading role while Mulder returned to life after season two's cliffhanger. Paper Clip finally delivered some big revelations, establishing what had come before and setting up the future events in style. The scene in the facility was outstanding but by happening mid way through, the episode loses momentum as it rushes to deliver more answers and get Mulder and Scully back to working on the the X Files for the FBI by the story's end. Neither quite lived up to Anasazi, even if they delivered a satisfying conclusion but at this stage in The X Files, it was epic, riveting drama indeed...