Here we are with the next three episodes on my list. You may have noticed this earth-shattering change in format as I switch to writing about three episodes rather than four. Crazy, huh? You know what else is crazy? How damn good this season is, judging by the episodes listed here.
Grotesque is one of the scariest episodes The X-Files would do. It arrives at #12 behind the strength of it’s tension and atmosphere alone. This is full-blown horror straight from the get-go. Prior to Season 3, I would say only The Calusari, Squeeze, and Shapes went all-in on the horror vibe but those episodes did not feel as relentless (Squeeze had plenty of character moments separate from the horror, The Calusari had enough cheesy moments to make you laugh at the horror, and Shapes was shitty enough to make you not care during the horror).
The murders and violence here are unsettling; seeing Agent Nemhauser with a Glasgow Smile is one of many terrifying images, watching Mostow slice his finger during the teaser is wince-inducing, and Mulder and Scully investigating Mostow’s studio is incredibly oppressive (despite the misguided cat scare). Even the scene in Skinner’s office is bathed in complete darkness, a move that normally would strike me as a silly directorial decision but here it augments the atmosphere and sets the mood…
But Grotesque is not just all atmosphere and Kim Manners. No this is also a great episode for Mulder and Scully. We get to meet Bill Patterson who may be the most effective foil we’ve had for Mulder. Their relationship drives Mulder into recklessly pushing himself further than he normally would and David Duchovny is great to watch during Mulder’s downward spiral. Gillian Anderson is also strong, playing a Scully who is understandably concerned about her partner’s state of mind while also being an utter bad-ass when she calls out Patterson. And Kurtwood Smith is the only former associate of Mulder’s that actually felt like a real, fully realized person.
11) The Blessing Way
Boy isn’t it weird to find The Blessing Way this low on this list? It makes up the middle part of perhaps the greatest triumvirate of episodes The X-Files would ever do. And when it works, its absolutely on par with Anasazi and Paper Clip. Anything with Scully is top-notch (except for her hypno-regression stuff which, while well acted, felt tacked on). Her quiet despair over Mulder’s “death”, her confrontations with Skinner, and that fucking intense climax with her life being in danger are all phenomenal. That final ten minutes are as tense as this show gets. Meanwhile, the Well Manicured Man (WMM) is brilliantly introduced here as a member of of the same shady group as CSM but he projects a different aura of menace. His conversation with Scully is the highlight of the episode (“They’ll kill you in one of two ways” always sends shivers down my spine).
What else? Great score. Great acting. Awesome twists with Krycek shooting Melissa. And incredible suspense (this early on, its still conceivable that Skinner could be a bad guy). So isn’t it all good?
Nope, the Mulder stuff drags things down.
I don’t mind that they gloss over how he survived the boxcar. I actually like the idea of witnessing Native American culture and rituals (and Albert Hosteen is an endearing and compelling character). And I can get behind the concept of Mulder speaking to Deep Throat and his father (any opportunity for more Jerry Hardin and Peter Donat MUST be taken). I just find the dialogue so excruciatingly pretentious in those scenes. There’s flowery language and then there’s incomprehensible dialogue that opts for literary allusions rather than coherence. I can never understand what Deep Throat is saying in his scene and Bill Mulder’s dialogue seems purposely vague and confusing. Hosteen’s voiceovers, while a nice change of pace early on, start to really drag as we move along. And good lord, Mulder’s visitation to Scully is attrocious.
But that’s just a part of the episode–the rest of it is up there with the best episodes ever which is why The Blessing Way doesn’t fall any lower.
Quagmire is only #10 on this list but it’s one of my top five most re-watchable episodes in the entire series. Everything about it is just so fun. The dialogue is snappy right from the beginning, the plot revolving around Big Blue is light-hearted fun, the side characters are imbued with charisma and quirkiness galore (including Queequeg who we barely got to know), and the episode is very well-paced. To top it off Mulder and Scully are in fine form and if all we care about is banter, this episode is a classic. That conversation on the rock is masterful in taking two characters who don’t speak like anyone on earth and somehow creating incredible, natural-sounding, and emotionally relevant dialogue while also managing to include phrases like “megalomaniacal cosmology”. (It helps when you have David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson who are the best in the business when it comes to chemistry-laden banter).
But that conversation, as revealing and well-acted as it is, is the only part of Quagmire that feels deep. The rest of the episode is fairly shallow and, like the supposed footprints of Big Blue, should have left considerably deeper impressions. (Wow I had to work to get that line in there). That’s not to say any of it is bad because every scene is well executed. Just that the individual moments (aside from that conversation) don’t stand out as much from a season this incredible.