8.16: Three Words
For all that Season 8 comes armed with more than its share of irritating developments – mostly the new polarities of the credulous Scully and incredulous Doggett reciting the previous dogmas of Mulder and Scully respectively – it has succeeded in mixing up the show’s approach to the conspiracy arc. A character who was formerly aloof by design is now coming from a solid position (Skinner), and the snatching away of the show’s bedrock has meant its other protagonists are left straining for a compass. So the most fascinating part about Mulder coming back is that he’s a complete jerk.
It’s a potent move, in that you can only see it as correct that this obnoxious specimen should be shown the door; he hasn’t been quite this vituperative since he was spiked with “LSD” and tried to clobber Skinner in Anasazi. Poor Doggett, who has spent all season being glared at and doubted by Scully (or outright called an idiot) is now accused of being exactly what he is not (as Scully says, he’s “above reproach”). But Mulder won’t listen to anyone. Rob Shearman notes how surprising this is in his (very good) essay, and how it’s entirely not giving the fans what they want. Three Words is basically saying – regardless of whether Duchovny had said “That’s it, no Season 9” at this point – there’s no chance anything can ever even nominally return to normal (well, except for his being offered a carrot in I Want to Believe and outright let back into the FBI for Season 10, so as to introduce plandemic predictive programming).
Mostly, Three Words is so good – and it’s the best myth-arc episode since the Season 6 finale – because it has such an intriguing, suspenseful plot. Yes, there are the usual iffy points one has to give a reluctant pass. Points like the Carter fall-back position of, if in doubt, kill off your recurring guest character (bye-bye Absalom). Albeit, in this instance, it’s both dramatic and pertinent (the take-no-prisoners hit on him, so close it gives Doggett an unsightly facial wound for the rest of the episode). And the absurd idea Mulder has that he’s actually going to send this census bureau info on aliens to the Washington Post. Because they’re going to do what, exactly? Even if it weren’t about aliens, they’re the MSM. Anyone would think Mulder was the lead character in a show broadcast by the owner of a media empire, he’s so naïve!
I guess we could give him the excuse that he’s still not thinking right, having only recently been resurrected (earlier, he has no time for Scully’s heart to heart). “Like Austin Powers.” Generally, then, he’s a complete tosser here. But he’s compelling with it, and that’s most important. Doggett shows several lapses of judgement, meanwhile. First in not being wise to Knowle. Sure, this is about a decade before Gamergate, but did he not see how unreliable he was in Full Metal Jacket? Has Baldwin ever played an expressly good guy? John should at least be considering things as a bit iffy after the events of Per Manum.
Then he compounds matters by attempting to show Mulder what a straight-up guy he is and so drops Fox in it with the spiked information. Dear, oh dear. More than that, though, one has to commend the man’s restraint, as Mulder deserves a ruddy good pasting for the way he behaves. Everyone’s having a go, mind, with the usual leering threats from Kersh (James Pickens Jr is clearly playing him as the most unrepentantly evil man ever, which appears to be how he’s been written… at this stage). “Maybe you’d rather I closed the X-files” he parries when Doggett says he won’t stay on if Mulder isn’t allowed back on board. John just can’t win. And then Carter did/didn’t want to know about Doggett for Seasons 10 and 11.
Dramatically, though, this is first rate, from the White House lawn opener onwards (that shift is precisely the kind of thing that might have sparked something even more intriguing, scale-wise; this was, after all, the same year we had X-Men, with its own brand of government infiltration). This culminates in Mulder’s bureau break-in, with Doggett trying to save a man who stubbornly wants none of it. It’s gripping stuff, surehandedly directed by Tony Wharmby (new to Season 8, who started out on Corrie in the ’70s).
There are amusing moments, such as Frohiky placing his hands on Mulder’s cheeks – although I’m unsure when he became pansexual – and Mulder noting “Remember, this is America. Just because you get more votes doesn’t mean that you won” (quite so: you have to be selected by the Elite. Nine times out of ten). Less amusingly, Scully recites how Mulder made it through (“a course of transfusions and antivirals”), as if repeating it will make it sound any less like bullshit (but hey, it worked in End Game, so why not trot out a BS-machina repeatedly, if no one calls you out the first time).
Generally, Three Words is the show at the top of its game, but it’s also curious evidence of how it doesn’t ever have the balls to truly stretch itself out of shape, to go for broke. The X-Files may have a new myth-arc plotline, but it ultimately opts to play things safe. This being the worst time it could do so, what with Duchovny actually now exiting for real.