I’m back with the next set in my Season 3 rankings. This is an incredible season of television which means the only way to rank these final sixteen episodes is to poke and prod at the flaws in otherwise stellar episodes. The episodes in this group are all great in their own way and it’s just a matter of them being a part of a phenomenal season of television and something’s gotta go.
Also, check out my earlier Season 3 rankings here and here!
Syzygy is an episode that could have been more if a little care had been applied. The horror elements are on the ball, particularly when the poor scrawny basketball player gets crushed under the bleachers (as a fellow scrawny basketball player, I can relate with most of that situation). There are nice ideas related to astrology and what happens when all of the universe’s energy is focused on a couple of teenage girls. Ryan Reynolds guest stars in the teaser and gets a “horned beast” emblazoned on his corpse. And its genuinely funny at times, particularly when Mulder and Scully start getting snippy and tossing barbs at each other.
However, this stuff is all funny in a vacuum. It’s quotable and re-watchable but it feels more mean-spirited than I’d like (and I’m a Breaking Bad fan so you know I’m not opposed to watching main characters verbally and emotionally abuse each other). All of the weirdness happening in town is supposed to be due to stars and planets aligning in a “cosmic g-spot” of sorts. But that part of the plot doesn’t actually get revealed until well into the third act. Prior to that, its a clumsily assembled mis-mash of exaggerated cult tropes intermingled with Mulder and Scully treating each other like shit. But without an explanation for them acting like dicks, it just doesn’t land as well with me as it could have. Mulder and Scully being at odds can work well (see Never Again) but here, it doesn’t flow quite naturally.
Still, despite my complaints, this episode has enough memorable moments and lines which is why it ends up at #16. Mulder getting hammered, Scully smoking, mysteries about horny beast–its all enjoyable, at least to an extent. It just could have been better.
Apocrypha has so many seminal moments that it’s kind of shocking it ends up this low on my list. There’s tension and big character scenes like Scully capturing her sister’s murderer (a fantastic moment for Gillian Anderson). The Lone Gunman get a quick little jaunt where they flex their comedic/G-Man chops. We get a rare Mulder/WMM scene which is one of my favorite pairings, right behind wine and cheese. Skinner is in mortal danger which usually hooks me (unless you’re My Struggle IV and you incoherently kill him…maybe) We learn more about the black oil which is my favorite type of oil after olive oil. And Krycek’s fate is visceral, poetic, and powerful (aided by one hell of a Mark Snow score).
But there a several times during Apocrypha that I find myself rolling my eyes. It’s nothing too bad, the story still makes sense and all and isn’t running in place (Herrenvolk says hello). Just some of the plot points are poorly executed. Apocrypha is the first mythology episode post-Erlenmeyer Flask where I’m left thinking “that was really good” rather than the non-hyperbolic “OMFG that is one of the single greatest hours of life I’ve ever lived”.
Two flawed scenes I gotta mention. The first is where Mulder explains his theory on the black oil to Scully. This scene is smack-dab in the middle of the episode and is a massive info-dump with leaps in logic that even Mulder seems to not quite believe he is making. He surmises the exact steps and processes that an “alien medium” (that he has never witnessed) has taken throughout the entirety of this two-parter with hardly any evidence. Watching this scene unfold is rough as Duchovny attempts to fumble his way through this clunky exposition; he even does a self-conscious chuckle which I like to believe is him acknowledging that Mulder shouldn’t know this without having first watched Piper Maru.
The second one is the resolution to the episode. This two-parter had a very strong through-line and had been coherent for much of it. That is until with about 10 minutes left in Apocrypha, Mulder announces to Scully that the salvaged UFO is in North Dakota. Suddenly, we are whisked away to the barren fields of North Dakota and witness them picking one random missile silo out of hundreds. After about a minute of searching some non-descript hallways, they are chased by a crack-squad of military goons and captured. They have a quick yelling match with CSM where nothing substantial is said. And then we have the reveal that SOMEHOW they had picked the correct missile silo and were inches from finding the elusive truth. That all happens in less than 5 minutes and is The X-Files at its most convenient.
Boy it’s almost as rushed an ending as my write-up on the episode.
14) War of the Coprophages
War of the Coprophages is hilarious and breezy fun. The dialogue between Mulder and Scully is some of the best in the series, with each conversation putting a smile on my face. They are simultaneously intelligent, quirky, cute, playful and flirty and broaden my appreciation for their characters. And the rest of the episode has that same feel to it. Everything has a playful air to it. It’s not as heavy or thoughtful (or good) as Morgan’s other Season 3 episodes but it’s a damn good time.
But Darin Morgan episodes are tough beasts for me to get a handle on. He plays on exaggerated aspects of my favorite characters and usually its gold. Mulder confessing to Scully about his praying mantis epiphany is a hilarious little scene. Like I said, their back and forth banter is some of the best of the series. But then sometimes the exaggerated nature goes too far and I can’t reconcile their behavior. In particular, I’m talking about the way Mulder acts around Dr. Bambi which doesn’t feel like Mulder at all…
And a general complaint–I don’t like when Mulder and Scully act flippant when terrible things start happening to people right in front of them. Poor Dr. Eckerle has a nervous breakdown and ends up dying in a fiery blaze. Neither Mulder nor Scully seem to give a damn and they just crack jokes after the guy’s demise. (I have similar issues with their behavior in the climax of Home). Little things like that keep this episode in the back half of my rankings.
Wetwired is an intense thrill-ride that moves a mile a minute–until the third act where it peters out and goes limp. But we’ll get to that later…those first 30 minutes are strong enough to bring it in to #13. We rarely get to see Scully unhinged and Gillian Anderson owns everything: Scully slowly losing her trust in Mulder, her paranoia-fueled phone call with Mulder (Duchovny is great in this episode as well), and her frenetic search for a bug in her hotel room. It’s fantastic stuff and is enhanced by the direction and pacing.
That pacing spurs all the action and tension but it also keeps the mystery rolling along effectively. Its clear early on that we’re dealing with some kind of paranoid hallucination so once Scully starts seeing Mulder with CSM, we technically have all the information we need to know that this shit ain’t real. But everything keeps building and building and we get swept away with it.
But unfortunately, once Scully gets talked down by her mother, the episode loses its momentum. Sure there is still intrigue–Mr. X and Mulder have yet another confrontation which is laced with animosity. But even though it feels like the final smoldering ember tossed into the pool of gasoline that is their relationship (and leads to their explosive fight in Talitha Cumi), it doesn’t resonate as much as I’d like. Everything feels lethargic once Scully’s sanity is relegated back to the status quo. It’s like the episode set out to pit her against Mulder and once they pulled back on that, there isn’t enough substance left to reel me back in. And I feel like its a disservice to Scully that she gets sidelined for the final act.
But that’s a fairly minor flaw for such an awesome opening burst. And I will say that final scene of Mr. X and CSM is masterful in imparting a foreboding atmosphere on the upcoming episodes.
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