Because I review a whole tv series rather than individual episodes, there is a chance of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the whole series yet, stop reading now!
When a tv show reaches a third season, its got to make a tricky decision. Do you stick with what has been successful thus far, keeping the same formula and themes, but risking the show becoming stale and boring? Or do you risk a change, maybe in character, direction or setting. Something that will change the show enough to keep it fresh, interesting but could also turn off the faithful viewers?
This is decision that becomes even more vital for shows like The X-Files that have a clear structure. Episodes that focus on the conspiracy/mythology of the series mixed with shows which have a “monster” that the special agents investigate. If they stick with this formula, the show begins to feel very familiar and begins to grow stale. That’s why it was very important that The X-Files changed things up slightly.
It’s not that they made any radical changes, it’s just that they began to play with the formula and structure that has become familiar. The monster episodes have a new edge, stepping up what is usually expected and introducing much more original ideas. Highlights include The List, Oubliette and the brilliant Pusher. These episodes don’t just have fantastic protagonists but also great stories for Mulder and Scully, especially Pusher, which sees Mulder playing a very tense, amazing game of Russian Roulette.
The familiarity also means that the show can be slightly more comfortable mocking its own format. There are some great monster episodes which have their tongue firmly in their cheek. War of the Coprophages (killer cockroaches) and Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, (wacky psychics) are very funny because they play with the idea of Mulder’s ridiculous obsession coupled with Scully’s downright absurd scepticism. It’s a great acknowledgment of how far the show has come.
The real pressure was going to be in the conspiracy episodes. The second season has some amazing alien-centered episode, with Scully’s abduction being central. Although this season never reaches anything as exciting as that, it does begin to push the conspiracy forward with some very exciting episodes. The double-header; Nisei and 731 ends with a fantastic, claustrophobic climax involving a bomb and a locked train carriage. Add to that the introduction of the “black-oil” in Piper Maru and Apocrypha. Not just because it also sees the reintroduction of Krycek.
In fact, one of the huge positives was the pushing of the supporting characters this season. Mulder and Scully have a lot to do but its the development of Skinner and much more for the Smoking Man to do that helps keep the season fresh. Skinner even gets his own episode which is a great example of X-Files doing a straight investigation episode, with the added supernatural element not really necessary at all.
As good as the season is, it’s not without its faults. When the quality steps up, the more lazy, over-familiar episodes really stand-out. Wetwired and Quagmire are examples of the season padding out its need for 24 episodes. It also has the worst finale cliffhanger I’ve seen in a long time. After a fantastic, conspiracy-led episode, the cliffhanger is weak, with a conclusion that was always going to be Mulder saying “run.” It works as a mid-season cliffhanger, but not when you would have to wait for months to see a new season. It’s not perilous enough, especially compared to the fantastic cliffhanger that ended season 2.
These are minor complaints considering The X-Files quality is improving and the episodes are getting better. The real challenge will be if they can keep this going for another season, when changing things begins to become a necessity.
Overall, The X-Files is as good as ever. Its built upon the best parts of season 2 and become to feel comfortable enough to laugh at itself with some of the best episodes yet. The conspiracy is getting more interesting, although its never really as good as it was with Scully’s abduction. Its quality only highlights the more mediocre, lazy episodes and unfortunately, a fantastic season ends with an awful cliffhanger that doesn’t do it justice.
Best Episode – Pusher; The finale with Mulder’s game of Russian Roulette just about beats off some other fantastic episodes this season.
Best performance – David Duchovny as Mulder.
Should there have been another season? – Yes, definitely. Although I’m not sure how they will keep this quality going without the show changing something radically.
Season Rating – 4.5
(1-3 – awful/avoid. 4-6 – average. 7-8 – good. 9-10 – fantastic.)