Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Case 03, File 01: The Blessing Way

AKA: That...That Doesn't Mean Anything Right?

Seasons 3, 4 and 5 of The X-Files are generally considered the series' golden age, the time when the series really adapted to what it wanted to be. It was also the time when the series realized it was completely insulated from being cancelled, since it was one of only a handful of shows Fox that was consistently successful. And each of the seasons handled their newfound freedom in different ways. Season 5 went big, with high concepts and big names, even behind the scenes. Season 4 went dark, with bleaker storylines and more horrifying content. But Season 3...Season 3 went weird.

Our episode kicks off mere moments after the finale of the last season, with Cigarette Smoking Man, fresh off the destruction of the Mulder occupied train car, heading over to the house of the Native family and wrecking it (and them) in search of the tape with the DoD files on it. When he doesn't find it there, he searches Scully's car, but it's not there either. Now thoroughly upset, CSM decides to have Scully put on unpaid leave. He can do that because...shut up.

Back in the desert, Mulder is found barely alive by the Native family, who decide that they want to do the mystic healing thing because the writers are a little too cliche bound. He spends most of the rest of the episode there, getting occasional drop ins from dead people like Deep Throat or his dad. Scully meanwhile spends most of the rest of the episode hanging around getting information thrown at her.

First she finds out that the hacker who brought Mulder the info is dead, then that she has a microchip in her neck. This irks her a little bit, understandable, and after some prodding from her sister (remember her?), goes to see a hypnotherapist, who causes her to remember...something? Anywho, she heads off to Mulder's dad's funeral, while Mulder finally wakes up. At the funeral, she's approached by a member of the conspiracy who tells her that someone is planning on killing her, either sending one person she knows or two people she doesn't.

I'm just disappointed the Natives didn't name Mulder "Stupid Fucking White Man."
Mulder meanwhile goes to see his mom, and asks her about some info he got from his dead dad, namely about his dad being in the Conspiracy. Meanwhile, Scully gets a call from her sister and goes to meet her, but her sisters comes to her place instead and is killed by Krycek. Scully meanwhile runs into Skinner and, because he was skulking around her place earlier, assumes he was the one sent to kill her, and the episode ends with her and Skinner both pointing guns at each other.

Season 3 has more than its share of great episodes, some of them classics that make every, or almost every, best of the series list. The Blessing Way is not one of them. It's got some very important stuff for the larger series mythology, and it's pretty well written, but it just doesn't have the kind of energy or intensity you want from a season premier. It honestly feels a little dull.

I think the big issue is in the pacing. While Anasazi had a bit of an overload of plot threads, The Blessing Way is under obligation to not resolve any of them, since we have another episode to go in this little mini-arc. As the second part in a 3 part story it doesn't have a beginning or end, so the plot just meanders about, in search of something to keep the audience interest, while filling in the gaps that need filling on our way to the final of the three episodes.

"I'm Agent Mulder: Author, Dreamweaver, Visionary, plus Actor."
I cracked above that Scully spends most of the episode having information thrown at her, but honestly, that's just because she actually has something to do. Mulder spends most of the episode in a magical coma, getting visits from dead people, which tries (and fails) to reach the level of Scully's dad appearance in One Breath, but for the most part just falls flat. Mulder's dad is too much of a non-entity at this stage for his appearance to mean much (most of his characterization is posthumous) and more to the point, One Breath was entirely devoted to its somber tone and story, while The Blessing Way keeps cutting back to Scully getting exposition thrown at her.

Which isn't to say that there's aren't some solid moments in this episode. No one could ever accuse The X-Files of being an exceptionally emotional show, but the flip side of that is that small moments hold bigger impacts, so I'm a big fan of drunk Frohike showing up at Scully's door, since it demonstrates not only their respective relationships with Mulder but also their more distant relationship with each other. I also like Deep Throat's brief appearance in Mulder's dream, since that's a character we know better than Mulder's dad, and his death was less recent so it feels less like he was killed so that he could show up in the dream (which, I'm sorry, is the impression I get from William Mulder's death). Heck, I even like the quiet moment where Scully goes to see her mom and breaks down crying.

It does have enough events to keep it from being a completely dull experience. Killing Scully's sister so soon after Mulder's dad seems a bit on the cheap side, but the sequence of events that lead up to it are solid, and I really dig the end of the episode, with Scully and Skinner pointing guns at each other. I'm a big sucker for X-Files cliffhangers, and having two of our biggest characters about to shoot each other is a doozy.

"Sir, a lot of of people are stroking guns."
Oh, and the racial stuff. I don't want to go too far into it, for a lot of reasons, but let me just say that it is super awkward that the Native character's primary role in the story is to literally mystically heal the white lead. Yeah, The X-Files has always had awkward racial politics, but that's generic and cheap on a level they're usually above.

So The Blessing Way isn't a very good episode, and it's a weirdly weak way to kick off what I consider to be one of the series' best seasons. At first I was worried about my own memories, but glancing over the episode list of season 3 reveals a laundry list of standouts that are burned into my memories. But they're side by side a handful of episodes I know aren't very good or, like The Blessing Way, have just faded from my memories. So I guess the lesson is, even the best shows' best season will have episodes that just don't click. And that's okay.

Case Notes:
  • Not gonna lie, if you hadn't seen the previous episode, the "Previously On" for this episode would be violently unhelpful.
  • "There is an ancient Indian saying" is usually the opening to a sentence that isn't an ancient Indian saying at all.
  • The grandfather in this episode is pretty fucking badass, just straight up staring down CSM.
  • The helicopter stalking Scully in the opening is flying 100 percent too low.
  • Scully is just straight up telling Skinner off, and have I mentioned I love her?
  • I think this is our first appearance of the other members of the conspiracy, which is a pretty major milestone in the series. I know at least one of them, the big dude with the deep voice, shows up again pretty regularly.
  • Scully breaking down and crying to her mom is a pretty big moment, since she's usually pretty stoic. I especially like her saying she took off her shoes because they hurt, it's a nice detail.
  • Between the semi-mystic narration and actually fixing Mulder's wounds magically, this episode is pretty cringey from a Native American perspective.
  • The sequence where Mulder talks to his dead friends (especially Deep Throat) is trying to be a similar sequence from One Breath but it just can't make it. Still, Deep Throat sells his party pretty hard, and it's nice to see him again.
  • The scene with the aliens getting gassed in the train car is really dark, especially since it comes right the fuck out of nowhere.
  • Once again, knowing what they eventually say happened to Samantha, the fact that she's not there in the bit where Mulder talks to the dead (and her absence is noted by Mulder's dad) feels a little cheap, but I guess they hadn't decided that yet.
  • Aside from her finding the chip inside her neck from the metal detector, the bit with Scully going back to the FBI is mostly just wasting time.
  • On that note, I find it very hard to believe that the metal detector would notice a chip that small, or if it did that some other metal detector didn't notice it before this.
  • I had totally forgotten that this episode featured Scully's sister convincing her to go get hypnotized. Doesn't she get shot soon?
  • Mulder is just back from the dead, and he's already being sarcastic, I love it.
  • The green screen on Mulder's message to Scully is atrocious, it looks like something out of Garth Margenhi's Darkplace.
  • The preacher at Mulder's dad's funeral is calling out the fact that Mulder isn't there. That's harsh man.
  • Now I know for a fact that the guy who speaks to Scully at Mulder's dad's funeral shows up again.
  • Honestly, huge chunks of this episode are just killing time to get to our conclusion next episode. That's not inherently terrible, but it is kind of annoying.
  • Melissa's answering machine message is super boring. Come on, no "Believe it or not, George isn't at home" nonsense?
  • I like Scully's calm, controlled but still noticeably angry instructions to Skinner when she's got the gun on him. Without Gillian Anderson, this show would have been cancelled in half a season.
  • Krycek accidentally kills Scully's sister. Did I mention he is the worst assassin?
  • Okay, the cliffhanger with Scully and Skinner pointing guns at each other is pretty solid.
Current Celebrity Watch:

This is once again stretching the definition, but the guy who plays what wikipedia informs me is The Well Manicured Man (IE, the dude who tells Scully she's in danger at William Mulder's funeral) is John Neville, who played the titular character in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. He's actually an actor with a long and storied career, but Munchausen is great and if you haven't seen it, you need to immediately.

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