Destination: Two Grey Hills, NM, Washington D.C., New York City, NY, Connecticut
Season 3 slams onto the scene after a giant cliffhanger. Did Mulder die in that train car buried in the New Mexico desert? Or, maybe more accurately, what would life look like immediately after if he had? Scully, who has enjoyed the sporadic season 1 or 2 storyline more tailored to her sensibilities is really pushed to the forefront here. Handling herself in every conceivable way from the bureaucratic to family politics (she respectfully attends Mulder’s dad’s funeral while he is M.I.A.) to her own disbelief and grief, LIKE AN ANGEL, she easily shows the side of this partnership that makes Mulder human, flexible and palatable. It’s as if the writers looked at each other and said, HELL YES, let’s optimize that intrinsic unmistakable feminine prowess. You know the one... that can handle a half a dozen spinning plates with relative ease. And for as many different facets of Scully’s personality, we shall have set pieces!
But, you guys, Mulder is alive, of course. He’s just coming back from the brink of death in an ancient healing ritual! 'Anasazi' was such a killer intro to this story that using the New Mexico background as well as the tight community led by Albert Hosteen easily grounds Mulder’s recovery in believability. In some ways, the beauty and tradition of the ceremony ends up being secondary to Mulder’s experience of being in this in-between place. He’s visited by ghosts: his father and Deep Throat, and he traverses this subtle state of consciousness to communicate with Scully (although the logistics, method and meaning of this are left up to our interpretation).
But let’s get back to Scully. Because of the missing DAT tape, she’s accosted by shadowy military on a New Mexico highway, relieved of active duty, facing a life ahead without her partner, bristling with Skinner left, right and center, burdened with the Thinker’s death notice and most importantly, confronted with a metal object in her neck. (By the way, the reveal of this is so very awesome. Because she's been suspended, she's is forced to come in the FBI’s front door and thus be subjected to ye old metal detector and wand.) The plotting of her narrative is so tense, so full of intrigue, it’s reminiscent of some impossible obstacle course that demands a new skill set every few steps. And once Scully realizes a computer chip has been placed at the base of her brain, she drives her own story in an intensified effort to get answers about her abduction.
In the midst of all this, there’s a beautiful moment Scully shares with her sister, Melissa. More about the character of Dana Scully is revealed in four minutes than in a whole season. On its face, the reflection of Melissa being the emotional opposite of her shows how Scully is so attached to her science but this time, it’s also why. She’s terrified to attune to her own feelings, good, bad or indifferent, as if the emotional awareness of herself will somehow shakedown whatever truths she’s certain of about the world and humanity. But I think at its core, that somewhat typical fear, rooted by the perceived safety of compartmentalizing herself, is what makes the payoff of her belief that Mulder’s in fact alive so mind-blowing. A belief that comes from her dream no less.
Alas, before they’re reunited, a Well-Manicured Man steps out of the shadows to warn Scully about her imminent demise which leads to a terrible mix-up and accidental shooting of Melissa then a stand-off with Skinner in Mulder’s apartment that’s as tense as anything that’s ever been on this show.
*There are just dozens upon dozens of sweet touches in this episode. One of my favorites is at the end of the blessing way ceremony, the younger boys present Mulder with a bag of sunflower seeds because he had been asking for them in the delirium of his fever.
*IN CASE IT’S NOT SELF-EVIDENT: ANYTIME ANYONE ON THIS SHOW IS CHASED DOWN THE ROAD BY A HELICOPTER I AM SO IN.
*I can’t say it enough: Scully pulls out every mechanism she even tangentially has a relationship with to deal with what’s thrown her way in this episode. She’s cagey, calculating, compassionate, conscientious and about a thousand other circumstantially appropriate things here. It's incredible to behold.
*The scenes between Scully and Skinner are extraordinary. She’s as challenging as she’s ever been of his loyalty, integrity and agenda. It ramps up the tension so effectively.
*The scene with Mrs. Scully, after Dana has walked over to her house, heels in hand, defeated by the FBI, is wonderful. The choice to include her mom and sister in the same episode works so well to provide the right kind of insight into Scully’s psyche.
*At one point Frohike visits Scully after he’s heard the news that Mulder is likely dead. It’s wonderful to see him apart from his trio, drunk, emotional and needy.
*One of my notes just says in all caps: SKINNER IS SUCH A HARD-ASS.
*The scene where Scully’s doctor shows her what was in her neck under a microscope is so weird, creepy, upsetting, awesome. I remember just leaping out of my own skin the first time I saw it.
*Scully agrees to try hypnosis upon her sister’s reco. It’s that great tv trope where the subject of hypnosis is like, “I’m peacing out of this, it’s totally not working” even though it totally is working. But we see that she does have access to at least some of her abduction memories. Which is both disturbing and riveting.
*The last act of ‘The Blessing Way’ is what it looks like when this show is operating on all 12 cylinders. The pacing, story-telling, theme, acting and direction are all so insanely on point you get the sense that not a single moment is wasted. It's divine.
Albert Hosteen: “Memory like fire is radiant and immutable--”
Scully: “Who are these people?”
Skinner: “These people are doing their job.”
Scully: “What their doing is putting an official stamp on the perpetuation of a lie.”
Skinner: “These people have a protocol to follow, which is something you and Agent Mulder did not do.”
Scully: “What about the people who were poisoning Agent Mulder’s water? Who’s protocol was that?”
Skinner: “The investigation will…”
Scully: “The investigation will be an exercise! The men who killed Agent Mulder, the people who killed his father, they aren’t meant to be found.”
Skinner: “We will find them.”
Scully: “With all due respect, sir, I think you overestimate your position in the chain of command.”
Scully (after a knock on her door): “Frohike?”
Frohike: “I know it’s late but I heard the news. Maybe I should go. Pardon my presumptuousness.”
Scully: “How much have you had to drink?”
Frohike: “Do you recycle? He was a good friend. A redwood among sprouts.”
Security Guard: “Making you come in the front door these days, are they, Agent Scully?”
Scully: “For now.” (metal detector pings loudly)
Security Guard: “Are you carrying your weapon?”
Doctor: “Well, it’s definitely not buckshot. I, uh, know what it looks like to me but, uh, I couldn’t tell you how it got there. Take a look.”
Skinner: “You want to bring me a smoking gun, Scully? You bring me this tape…”
Scully (deciding to remove the chip in her neck): “Thank you for coming down here and doing this for me so late.”
Doctor: “No problem. You were probably wounded in the line of duty and you didn’t even know it.”
(That’s certainly one way of putting it.)
Melissa: “What are you so afraid of, Dana? You’re afraid you might actually learn something about yourself? I mean, you are so shut off to the possibility there could be any other explanation except for your rigid scientific view of the world. It’s like you’ve lost touch with your own intuition. You’re carrying so much grief and fear that you can’t see you, you’ve built up these walls around your true feelings and the memory of what really happened.
Mulder: “During my fever, I left here and traveled to a place.”
Albert Hosteen: “The place. You carry it with you. It’s inside you. It’s the origin place.”
Mulder: “It wasn’t a dream?”
Albert Hosteen: “Yes.”
Mulder: (in Scully’s ‘dream’) “I have been on the bridge that spans two worlds, the link between all souls by which we cross into our own true nature. You were here today, looking for truth that was taken from you, a truth that was never to be spoken but which now binds us together in dangerous purpose. I have returned from the dead to continue with you but I fear that this danger is now close at hand, that I may be too late.”
Scully: “Why are you protecting me?”
Well-Manicured Man: “I feel my colleagues are acting impulsively. Your death with draw unnecessary attention to our group.”
Scully: “You’re not protecting me. You’re protecting yourself.”
Well-Manicured Man: “Why should that surprise you? Motives are rarely unselfish.”
Scully: “What kind of business are you in?”
Well-Manicured Man: “We predict the future. And the best way to predict it, is to invent it.”
Final Analysis: Outstanding season opener with a gripping final few seconds…