The X-Files and the Monsters of That Week: 3
When it comes to the worst Monster of the Week episode of The X-Files’ second season, the choice is a remarkably easy one. Season two was a giant leap forward for the show: the mythology was established enough to start growing into some of the most exciting event television of the nineties, and the Monsters of the Week became more creative and unique. A typical weak episode of season two is one where not everything hangs together: such as Fearful Symmetry, Aubrey, and Our Town. They aren’t disasters – due to the to the chemistry of Mulder and Scully, the confidence of the writers, and in many cases, the cinematic presentation of each episode. I dare you to find a more brilliantly directed show in the nineties than The X-Files, especially in this confident second season.
Just don’t mention 3.
3 is the show’s first try at a vampire story. There are better examples to come, and it’s probably one of the most skipped over episodes in the show’s run, mainly due to its placement between the Scully abduction arc episodes. But it’s overall Scully-free crumminess can’t hide the fact that this episode represents a huge missed opportunity for the show. With Scully gone, 3 is the first time we see Mulder on a proper meat-and-potatoes X-file all by himself, rather than him going off half-cocked chasing UFOs.
3 didn’t need to be this bad. It was an opportunity to see what Mulder is like on his own, a chance for Duchovny to get his own acting showcase outside of the mythology. The vampires don’t make all that much sense thematically either. This is episode director, David Nutter, has a take on it that I would have loved to actually see the episode reflect:
“It’s a very different show because it’s the first one without Scully. She’s been away for quite some time. It’s a situation where Mulder is in a dark place, doesn’t know which way to turn, and is really very much on his own. The whole vampire thing happened because he went to a dark place that he normally wouldn’t have gone to.”
That’s what we get instead; an Anne Rice meets Basic Instinct knock-off that can never be truly sexy or erotic because it aired on network television. The X-Files dipped its toes into a lot of strange places, but the early nineties erotic thriller is a genre it should have steered clear from. I get it, vampires are sexy, but the episode does nothing but present a characterless victim, played by Duchovny’s then-girlfriend, who is on the run from her abusive ex and his vampire buddies. All Mulder is in 3 is a way out – not used to try and sell us a sense of tragedy, or even explore what more Mulder can be without Scully.
Another possibility is that this episode came too early in the show’s run. The Scully abduction arc wasn’t planned, it was implemented due to Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy, for which she would need time off. While the writers knocked her story out of the park, Mulder gets left on the shelf for an episode. I feel that if this episode was planned in a more organic fashion, it would have had nothing to do with vampires. Instead, it could have been a more personal hour dealing with Mulder’s loss. Even if he was investigating an X-File, it should be more thematically relevant to his feelings about Scully’s disappearance. Instead, they threw another woman at him for the sake of empty drama.
Mulder’s state of mind is clearly communicated through David Duchovny’s shattered performance; it’s through his weighty grief that you can see how Scully’s disappearance, coupled with his sister Samantha’s – and the feeling that he failed them both – is weighing on him. But, you know, 3 wastes this avenue almost immediately. It’s like Bart Simpson seeing Mulder’s pain and giving us the classic “We had a story to go with this, man, but it was far too intense. So we just threw something together with vampires. Enjoy.”
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via YouTube)