Written by Chris Carter
Directed by R.W. Goodwin
If the two part episodes of The X-Files would turn out to be disappointing (often they would start out like gangbusters, and the second part would be inevitably a disappointment) the three part episodes could be even harder to bear, though, fortunately, there were a lot fewer of those. Usually encasing the previous season’s last episode, the series would set up a cliffhanger, and rather than resolve like any other show would do, they would extend the action another hour. And since they were almost all written in part by Chris Carter, there would be an endless amount of purple prose and unspeakable dialogue, almost inevitably delivered in voiceover.
And oh boy, do we get it in spades here. We’re coming back from one of the most action-packed finales in television history, with a cliffhanger that kept countless fans— me among them wondering what the hell happened to Fox Mulder when that boxcar was set on fire. And during the course of this episode, we basically find out everything but that. Indeed, perhaps the greatest weakness of this episode is that it spends so much of its time focused on Mulder, having ‘the FBI man’ (as Albert Hosteen puts it) say almost nothing for the entire first two acts. We know that he has to battle for survival, but does he have to battle for it by listening to the ghosts of the dead continuing speak in such high faluting monologues? It’s enough to make you wonder whether Mulder came back from the dead to get away from the speeches. And then, not content with that lesson, he has to deliver a similar speech to Scully in an even more indistinct setting!
At this point, you probably think I hate The Blessing Way. I don’t. I admire it a lot more than I actually like it, but the fact is, it took an amazing amount of guts to do all this. Go from an episode full of churning suspense, and then spend half the episode focusing on a Native American healing ritual may not be the wisest story move, but it sure is ballsy. It would be a better move if the dialogue wasn’t as turgid as it was, but I have a certain amount of admiration for an episode that tries ir anyway.
Besides, it’s not as if nothing happens. On the contrary, following Scully, as is usually the case in so many of these episodes where the two are separated,(and as Scully believes for the majority of the episode, probably forever) she has the more fascinating journey. After being accosted by the Army, all but drummed out of the FBI, and being reduced to tears after a long walk to her mother’s, Scully begins to get truly pissed at the circus which is her life. At first, this aggression is pointed outwards at Skinner, who is at the absolute nadir of the level of trust that he will be with either of his agents. Then comes the bigger shock when she finds that a computer chip has been placed in the back of the neck. (Almost routinely, she has it removed, not knowing what horrors will befall her as a result.) She then makes her first real concentrated effort to find out what the hell happened to her during the three months that she was missing., undergoing regression hypnosis for the first time in her life. It doesn’t reveal much to her or to us, but it soon becomes clear how far she’s willing to go to get answers.
And there is development of a sort when we pull the curtain back (slightly) on the Cigarette-Smoking Man, and find surprising things. As opposed to the halls of the FBI where he seems to lurk with impunity, we see him in New York, among a group of similarly aged men, and to our surprise, he doesn’t seem to be the tall man on the totem pole here. And he seems to know it. IT is hard to have a character study when none of the characters are identified, but we do get our first look at another major player in all this, The Well-Manicured Man. John Neville faces the same obstacles that Jerry Hardin faced with Deep Throat two seasons ago, and that’s trying to create a character where there’s almost nothing to work with. It is credit to how gifted an actor Neville was that he’s able to do, particularly in his interaction with Scully.
He also sets up a scenario that inadvertently leads to the death of an innocent woman. Frightened out of her wits by the Well-Manicured Man’s warnings, she leaves her apartment, and runs into Skinner, who’s she’s convinced is there to kill her. As a result, Melissa is shot the moment she walks into the apartment by either Alex Krycek or a Hispanic Man (man, Carter’s vague on description) In either case, at this point in his job Krycek actually regrets that they’ve failed in their mission— he still thinks he’s doing the right thing. And the end with Skinner and Scully in an armed standoff is one of the best cliff-hangers the series will ever do.
This is nowhere near a perfect episode, but it’s a very brave one. The fact that The X-Files would take risks like that, and risk alienating it’s audience is certainly daring (in later seasons, they would do less of he former and manage to do a lot of the latter) and it does show a series that it’s trying to evolve as it advances. It’s also bold for it to try and deal more with character based revelations rather than mythology ones (which would, after awhile turn out not to be revelations at all.) This may be the weakest part of the three-part arc, but it says something for the series that its one of the strongest episodes will ever get in the mythos. I’m still not sure whether that’s good or bad.