Greatest TV Seasons: The X Files Season Three (1993-1994)
What is the greatest season of your favourite TV series? And what makes it stand out from those seasons around it? Every fan will have their own opinion of what is great and what isn't and here at The Digital Fix, our team of writers are going to complete the possibly impossible task of selecting what season of their favourite shows makes the cut above all others.
Our next pick is The X Files. The shoulder pads are large, the dialogue is thick and there’s every chance that something spooky is going on. In 2019, The X Files might not always hold up (some of the lighting is downright criminal), but it’s undeniable that season three is the moment where The X Files comes into its own. Combining a more in-depth focus on the wider mythology (the black oil arc, one of the most important in the show), with some of the boldest monster of the week episodes that the show has ever seen, season three reaches that sweet spot where the characters are established, the chemistry is strong and the extra-terrestrials might just be real.
Of course, season three gives away little in terms of whether aliens really do exist, if the government really is covering up a supernatural conspiracy and when exactly Mulder and Scully will stop making googly-eyes at each other and just kiss already. But, of course, that’s exactly what we love about this show.
The X Files is renowned for kick starting young actors careers, and season three doesn’t come up short on incredible guest appearances by some the most well known thespians before they got their big break. Jack Black, Jewel Staithe, Ryan Reynolds, Giovanni Ribisi and Alex Trebek (amongst others) all star alongside the series regulars - Gillian Anderson as Agent Scully and David Duchovny as Agent Mulder.
In a run which includes gems like sci-fi parody Jose Chung's From Outer Space, the deeply disturbing 2Shy and impressive staging of Piper Maru, giving a definitive ranking of the best episodes is an almost impossible task. After much scrutiny, here's my run-down of the best episodes of the greatest season of The X Files.
3.01 The Blessing Way
Season two left Mulder near death. The cliffhanger ending is prolonged in season three's premiere, the first of a two-parter which sees Special Agents Mulder and Scully separated, stalked, threatened and finally reunited.
As Mulder is nursed back to health in the desert by members of the Navajo tribe, Scully is left to deal the consequences of her partner potentially having died. As the Men in Black (an absolute staple of The X Files universe) close in on Mulder's whereabouts, Scully is simultaneously pursued by government operatives attempting to retrieve vital evidence.
The Blessing Way features the Syndicate, the Smoking Man (played excellently by William B Davies, as always), the Lone Gunman, Alex Krycek and a ghostly Deep Throat - essentially, everything needed to create a quintessential episode of The X Files.
Perhaps more importantly, and what makes The Blessing Way such a fantastic hour of TV, is the individual journeys of loss and grief that Mulder and Scully must go on. From revelations about Mulder's father, to the sudden and devastating death of Scully's sister - the agents are fighting more than just the government and this is what is truly at the heart of The X Files.
3.04 Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose
One of the most loved The X Files episodes of all time, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose encompasses every element of what makes the show original, charming and engaging. Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate a series of bizarre killings (nothing unusual so far) but whilst doing so, become acquainted with an overdramatic psychic claiming to know intimate details about the murder. Mulder, usually eager to jump on board any supernatural wagon which passes, is unusually skeptical - particularly as the psychic takes a disliking to him. Their encounter with him leads Mulder and Scully straight to Clyde Bruckman, a man who has genuine psychic abilities but desperately does not want them.
Bruckman, played by Peter Boyle, is plagued by visions he tries to ignore, haunted by crime scene images that he wishes would go away. He makes the perfect companion to Mulder and Scully. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose also begins the conspiracy theory that (somehow) Scully is immortal - when asking Bruckman how she dies, he merely replies “you don’t”. This idea is later revisited in Tithonus in season six.
With Bruckman’s suicide, Clyde Bruckman is one of the darkest episodes - Bruckman is such an instantly likable character as the reluctant phsycic and his and Scully’s chemistry is full of joy and humour. His death has a lasting impact beyond the run time of episode and he’s certainly one of the most memorable characters in the series as a whole.
What begins as a seemingly run of the mill kidnapping becomes something far more spooky when a previous kidnap victim becomes inexplicably linked with the taken girl.
Oubliette is a difficult watch - whilst the supernatural element is in full flow, it’s an incredibly serious episode which delves deep into PTSD and paedophilia. The connection between Lucy, the previous victim, and Amy, the young girl, is one fraught with emotion for Lucy and actor Tracey Ellis gives the character the nuance needed for Lucy to be believable.
One of the most poignant moments of Oubliette is the friction between Mulder’s firm belief that Lucy could not have committed the kidnapping which is in direct contradiction to the evidence as Scully sees it. At one point, Scully calls Mulder out on his inability to see beyond Lucy as a victim (like his sister), bringing home some truths about the way Mulder’s personal history is intrinsically linked with so much of the work they do. Like always, the two are able to reunite and (like always) Mulder is proved to be correct, but this conversation is an important one for the two of them to have.
Mulder;s refusal to give up on Amy, and his despair at Lucy’s death, is one of the most heartbreaking moments of the series - he’s helpless to save Amy, Lucy or Samantha, all those years ago.
An alien autopsy tape sets a chain of events into motion in Nisei - an episode packed to the brim with conspiracies, spies, government whistleblowers and an astonishing amount of it is set on a train car.
If you watch The X Files for the mythology, then Nisei is the episode for you. As Mulder spends most of the episode running around train depots attempting to find out the truth about the alien autopsy video (yep, the one he bought for $29.99), Scully begins to comes to grips with her abduction in season two. Whilst on the trail of one Betsy Hagopian, Scully discovers an entire community of women who have all had eerily similar experiences to her own. Unnerved by the revelation that Betsy (the groups de-facto leader) has now developed several forms of cancer, Scully reluctantly delves deeper into the mystery of her abduction.
Though The X Files generally works better when Mulder and Scully are on-screen together riffing off one another, the two separate journeys are integral for their individual character development in Nisei. Scully, particularly, begins to open herself up to the possibility that her abduction may not have been what she initially thought it was. The return of X (Steven Williams) is also a welcome one this episode - the shady character is just what the show needs to create the tension it thrives upon. Mulder, do not get on that train!
Nisei is the first of a two parter, but the way in which the tension is built up, exceeds the payoff in 731.
A lighter episode against a season of hard-hitting, serious episodes, Syzygy combines Chris Carter’s trademark humour alongside longtime The X Files writer and director Rob Bowman’s expert directing with truly wonderful results.
Syzygy has Mulder and Scully investigated a potential Satanist cult in a backwater town, only to discover that the recent murders might be the work of two teenage girls - best friends and out for blood. A monster of the week episode, Syzygy is played for laughs most of the time, but through this humour it highlights some more serious tensions between our two favourite detectives. Why does Mulder always drive? And why can’t Scully believe what is right in front of her own eyes? Syzygy also stars a very young Ryan Reynolds as one of the girls’ victims - one of the actor's first performances.
The bickering and snark firing back and forth between Mulder and Scully is hilarious enough to watch on it’s own, but when added to the Heather’s inspired central performances from Lisa Robin Kelly and Wendy Benson, the episode really hits its stride. In a series which is so often plagued by darkness, Syzygy is a welcome relief.
More of season three's greatest moments...
- Skinner sleeping with a woman in Avatar and then being framed for her murder. We see a very different side to the boss-man...
- Mulder and Scully on the rock in Quagmire, a moment which is a solid fan favourite. Also, anyone else not over Queequeg's death?
- Pusher. The greatest line of dialogue of the season (“Mulder, please explain the scientific nature of the whammy”) and the performance of a lifetime on all sides - the most tense game of Russian Roulette on any TV show ever.
- The turning of the tables in Revelations - Scully becomes the believer and Mulder the sceptic as the two investigate religiously motivated killings.
What are your thoughts on season three of The X Files? Is it your favourite season? Do you agree with the episode choices above? Let us know in the comments below and check out our The X Files Revisited, revisiting key episodes from the first ten seasons and both movies and our reviews of last year's eleventh season here.