By the time its third season debuted in September of 1995, The X-Files was on a roll, and a firmly established hit. Season one had gained a major cult following, but by season two its ratings had risen substantially, while its mythology, spurned on by the writers having to deal with Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy related absence, became a more complex and driving force of the show.
With its third season, the mythology and its stand alone episodes would see the show throw a beautiful mix of episodes at audiences that would see the show firing on all cylinders and begin a run of seasons that would see the show at its very best, with its ratings getting even higher.
‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose’
The first of three credited episodes to Darin Morgan in the third season, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” could have been so much different; it was originally conceived as a much more serious episode, with Bob Newhart in mind as the titular guest star. In the end, it would be much more funnier, although still bearing a poignant, sad side, with Peter Boyle guest starring.
A masterpiece that mixes serial killer thriller with philosophical musings on the nature of fate and destiny, after all these years, and with an eleventh season on the way, the episode still ranks as one of the greatest hours the series ever produced. Darin Morgan’s script is beautiful, funny and subtly savage (“auto erotic asphyxiation”), while Peter Boyle’s guest performance is just wonderful and brilliant and words cannot do it justice.
No surprise that both Morgan and Boyle picked up Emmy’s. If one were to compile a top five episodes of all time list, this would definitely be in it.
Vince Gilligan’s sole credit for the third season, he would join the show as a full-time co-producer and become its most signature voice. For season three, his sole effort is a blisteringly brilliant thriller that rockets at a fast pace and uses the show’s infrastructure to deliver a superb installment that grips like a vice and leaves your finger nails gone.
Robert Wisden’s portrayal of Robert Patrick Modell (it’s an X-Files serial killer, so three parts to the name is mandatory) is subtle, brilliant, terrifying, and skirts on the edge of dark humour. An ability to bend others to his will, the episode delivers fantastic set pieces, a taut atmosphere, Skinner getting beaten up by a FBI secretary and a Russian Roulette finale that is probably one of the most gripping sequences in the entire history of the show.
‘Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space’
Darin Morgan again, this time delivering a piece of work that is regarded as his greatest contribution to the show, and while it does lack a little bit of the heart of “Clyde Bruckman”, it makes up for it with a sense of satirical genius that sees the famed writer deconstruct the show, its mythology and its characters, while dealing with being a writer having to write the subject of alien abduction.
With a brilliant guest turn from Charles Nelson Reilly, the episode is chock full of moments that are some of the funniest to ever appear on the show; the cigarette smoking alien, Mulder’s scream, Mulder eating slice after slice of sweet potato pie, the Space Above and Beyond t-shirt, Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebeck as men in black and Detective “bleepin'” Manners, it would take a whole article to write about everything that is so brilliant about it.
Although credited to Kim Newton, much assistance was provided in the writing process by Darin Morgan, and it shows. Funny, witty, and repeating a guest appearance from “War of the Coprophages”, “Quagmire” is lovely, funny, humourously grisly and violent (even Queequeg, Scully’s dog, isn’t safe).
Centered around a lake monster, the highlight of the episode isn’t just the set pieces involving various attacks and body parts floating to the surface, but a key moment involving Mulder and Scully stranded on a rock and engaging in a ten-page conversation that is beautifully done and a highlight of the entire series. Mixing scares and laughs to dazzling effect, it’s one of the fun and enjoyable episodes the show ever done.
A script from visual effects producer Mat Beck, “Wetwired” is one of those wonderfully, and sometimes all too rare occurrences, where The X-Files uses some of its key mythology components to tell a stand alone tale. With some almost fourth wall bursting debate on television violence within it, the episode is bursting with a propulsive paranoid atmosphere, and gives Gillian Anderson a chance to show how great she is with an unhinged Scully portrayal that sees her point a gun at Mulder during one of many highlights in the episode.
With a pulsing Mark Snow score, superb direction from Rob Bowman that once again makes the show feel very cinematic, and a very unpredictable script, it’s an underrated gem that really should be regarded more highly than it is.
While the series was firing on all cylinders, there was unfortunately one or two disappointments. While “Hell Money” didn’t particularly work, it approaches something of a noble failure, trying something different, even if it didn’t work as well as it should. It was the episode immediately before it that left a lot to be desired.
And the worst…
‘Teso Dos Bichos’
A ghastly mess of an episode, “Teso Dos Bichos” might have been somewhat acceptable in season one, when misses were to be expected, and while it’s understandable to not expect every episode to be brilliant, everything about “Teso Dos Bichos” is lazy, clichéd riddled and features Gillian Anderson wrestling a stuffed cat.
Writer John Shiban had made his debut earlier in the season with “The Walk”, and while it wasn’t a masterpiece, at least it was enjoyable, decently written and boasted some truly effective set pieces, as well as an imaginative villain. Nothing about “Teso Dos Bichos” is original, or effective, and coming in a season that saw the show firing on all cylinders, and with a run of episodes, many of which could have been made this list, it makes the episode feel even more lacklustre.
I mean… it has stuffed cats.
What are your top 5 of The X-Files: Season 3? Let us know!