Deny Everything: Looking Back at Season Three of The X-Files

MULDER: I was dead, but now I'm back!

Oh, Mulder—always the flair for the dramatic. That's why we love you.

Well, that—and your floofy hair, devotion to Scully, and consuming obsession with finding The Truth.

So often in our media, men are depicted as rugged, athletic, and stoic, while their female counterparts are emotional and high-strung. Yet, in The X-Files, there's a degree of role reversal that (perhaps sadly) remains refreshing.

It's Mulder (David Duchovny) who's often blinded by his emotions and passionate obsessions—the one who is frequently pushed to the edges of mental breakdowns or hysteria. While Dana (Gillian Anderson) does occasionally need rescuing in the course of their investigations, Mulder has to be saved just as often from his own poor decisions and paranoia.

In terms of sheer badass moments, I'd argue that Scully kicks literal butt far more often than Mulder. She's the better shot of the two, while he's the one more likely to cause a screaming scene in a hospital—and how often do you see that in a male/female partnership?

And, to be quite honest, without her logic, pragmatism, and medical knowledge, Mulder's bacon—and the world's—would've been cooked long ago.

In season three, our duo overcomes near-death experiences, faces familiar foes, and becomes even more entrenched in the sweeping government alien conspiracy. It's a wild ride from start to finish:

“THE BLESSING WAY” (3.01) / “PAPER CLIP” (3.02)

While the FBI believes him dead, Mulder hovers in Limbo in a Navajo healing hut and appears in Scully's dreams—which is totally platonic partner behavior, right? Temporarily suspended from duty, Scully discovers a computer chip has been implanted in her neck and suffers a family casualty of her own in the wake of their investigation.

Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) proves himself a trustworthy ally, and with the Lone Gunmen's help, our heroes uncover a connection between Mulder's father, a former Nazi, an alien experiment courtesy of “Project Paper Clip,” and medical tests conducted on both Scully and Samantha Mulder. The plot, as they say, thickens.

(Also, Skinner gets to have an epic showdown with the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), and he literally tells him to “pucker up and kiss my ass,” which is gravestone epitaph-worthy and makes me cheer every time.)


The eponymous character, a curmudgeonly loner (Peter Boyle), knows exactly when and how people will die. His path crosses with Mulder and Scully's during a murder case and leads to intriguing (and darkly funny) conversations about life, death, morality, and an unexpected insistence that Scully “doesn't die.”

It's an episode that'll make you cry—Boyle's performance is that great.

“NISEI” (3.09) / “731” (3.10)

Mulder gets his hands on an alien autopsy video and is convinced it's the real deal—so convinced that he jumps onto a speeding train, because by this point, we know how great Mulder is at making decisions. This wasn't the first time I screamed, “MULDER, NO!” at the TV, and it sure isn't the last.

SCULLY: Don't get on that train, Mulder!

MULDER: *has already leapt from the bridge*


And, since jumping onto a moving train isn't crazy enough for this show, it turns out there's a deadly virus, a ticking time-bomb, and an assassin (Stephen McHattie, the go-to-guy when you need a sharp-boned baddie) onboard, too. Does Mulder know how to pick 'em or what?

Meanwhile, Scully meets an entire group of women who have suffered abductions identical to hers—and the seeds of the infamous “cancer arc” are planted.

(I also appreciate the little joke about the alien autopsy program “the Fox Network aired,” which Scully derides as being a hokey fake. How very meta of them.)


This one gets a mention because it holds a special place in my heart: it's the first episode that I ever remember watching as it aired, way back when I was the tender age of nine. It definitely didn't help me with my irrational fear of cockroaches, and re-watches as an adult have made me properly appreciate Scully's “100% Done With Everything” attitude the whole case.

“PIPER MARU” (3.15) / “APOCRYPHA” (3.16)

That pesky assassin/black ops agent/traitor/all-around-asshole Krycek (Nicholas Lea) returns when an oil-like alien entity is released from a WWII wreck and begins possessing anyone who comes in contact with it, including Krycek—because he wasn't creepy enough to begin with.

An awful lot goes down in this two-parter: Skinner gets shot, Scully tracks down one of the men responsible for her sister's death, and the black oil reaches its intended goal—a UFO craft hidden in a silo. In terms of the series' mythology, these are must-watch episodes.

“PUSHER” (3.17)

A sociopath develops the power to control others with the sheer force of persuasion, which is the stuff of nightmares—or the first season of Jessica Jones.

See also: Jessica Jones Review: Season 1, Episodes 5-7

As someone terrified of losing control of her body, this scenario is especially horrific. It all culminates in a nail-biting showdown where Mulder is ordered to shoot Scully and the strength of their relationship (and Mulder's will) is severely tested.

“HELL MONEY” (3.19)

This one's on the list because my girl Lucy Liu guest-stars as an invalid daughter whose father is playing a dangerous gambling game in order to earn the money needed for her treatment. I'll take any opportunity to stare at Lucy's perfect face, regardless of the circumstances.


Just when you thought this show couldn't get any crazier, this episode happens—where the story of possible alien abductions is narrated by teenagers, soldiers, and other witnesses who all tell crazier, conflicting versions of what may be the truth and give us unique perspectives on our heroes. Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura cameo as men in black. Mulder shrieks like a little girl. It's a wonderfully campy interlude in the midst of the usual paranoia and cover-ups.

“AVATAR” (3.21)

Skinner has a wild night that ends with accusations of murder. Mulder's convinced a succubus is involved. All I know is I spend a large portion of the episode staring at Mitch Pileggi and wondering when he got so damn sexy to me.

(It's also nice to see Skinner get an entire episode to shine, as he's become an endearing member of the team by now.)

“WETWIRED” (3.23)

We know subliminal messages are already everywhere (OBEY. BUY. OBEY.), but—thus far—we haven't reached the point where our televisions are telling us to kill. Unfortunately for Scully, that's not the case in the alt reality of The X-Files. In an interesting turn of events, she's the one driven near-crazy with paranoia while Mulder is the level-headed partner.

It's a state of affairs that doesn't last, of course, and balance is once again restored: soon Mulder's back to claiming lake monsters are to blame for disappearing fishermen, Scully's demanding hard proof, and the sun rises.

But we'll have to turn to the next season for more of the (un)usual hijinks.

See also: Trust No One: Looking Back at Season Two of The X-Files


Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.

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