Opening immediately after the (literally) explosive final scene of Anasazi, season three of The X-Files begins with The Blessing Way. Make no mistakes, this is a good, sometimes bordering on brilliant episode, but there are issues. We get voice-over courtesy of Albert Hosteen, we get a Native American ceremony that attempts to bring Mulder back from the brink of death, dialogue that borders on purple prose and feels a touch pretentious, as well as heavenly visions of Deep Throat and Bill Mulder.
There are times it feels like such a left turn, but, since Mulder and Scully are being kept separated for the entire hour (there is no screen time between our heroes), it means that the episode’s other main plotline involves Scully, the FBI, a high degree of paranoia, a look at what the CSM is up to when not chilling out in Skinner’s office, as well as some palpable suspense when the late, great John Neville shows up in his debut on the show as The Well-Manicured Man and talks with that silky British voice on his. Honesty, he feels like Alfred the Butler turned morally suspect.
It is a mixed bag of sorts, and yet, the good is really good.
The more spiritual side to the episode is an admirable attempt at taking Mulder’s journey in a more different direction, although we are left to piece it together ourselves as to how he got out of the burning boxcar, although you’d be amazed at how many negative reviews I’ve read on this episode where many complain about the lack of concrete resolution as to how he actually got out of his season two finale predicament. Seriously people, this is The X-Files.
Whilst the soft voiceover and narration from Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman as Albert Hosteen is beautifully delivered, and the words have a certain poetry to them, it does feel as if it’s a left-field turn for a story that started as a darkly intense conspiracy thriller.
It feels as if Carter is trying to deliver his own equivalent of Morgan and Wong’s superb One Breath from last season, which managed to mix the spiritual and conspiracy in a more balanced way where it never felt like the images of Scully in that boat on the lake intruded on the main events where Mulder was having unbearably intense encounters with X, CSM and Skinner. Even Melissa Scully makes an encore appearance and it’s lovely to see Melinda McGraw again.
The episode, however, never feels to me like it gets the balance right. When One Breath cut back to Scully in her limbo, I was never itching to get back to the thriller stuff, but here, as well-intentioned as it is, it feels jarring. The words have a certain beauty to them, it’s lovely to see Deep Throat again and the moment Bill Mulder appears has a real visual charge, but to see them delivery flowery dialogue like this feels somewhat off, no matter how cool the visual is.
On the other hand, the Scully stuff in The Blessing Way is amazing. Dismissed by the FBI, arguing with Skinner, finding a chip in her neck, going under regression hypnosis to decipher what happened to her when she went missing, Carter’s writing, Goodwin’s direction and Anderson’s performance are truly on point here. Her outburst of “NO” to Melissa when she suggests going under hypnosis is such a superb moment, and the regression sequence itself is beautifully understated (no slick visuals here as there will be when season five reprises this moment, however, for the record, the hypnosis sequence in The Red and the Black is one of the show’s greatest ever moments).
To top it all of, Scully’s strand of the story has the show ratcheting up the suspense and levels of paranoia to almost unbearable levels. Skinner is acting suspiciously and when attending Bill Mulder’s funeral, she hears of a threat against her life from The Well-Manicured Man, a performance from John Neville that would ensure one of the classiest, most elegant villains on the show. It also means that the conspiracy, previously unseen to this point, now has a face.
The Syndicate make their first appearance and are set to play a big part in the series mythology. Not only do we get our first glimpse The Well-Manicured Man and The Elder, we also get a beautiful repositioning of the CSM on the show. Just as we’ve seen the character out of Skinner’s office and getting to be truly villainous, we now find out he’s not actually the head member of the conspiracy that Mulder has been fighting against. He’s their lackey. It’s a brilliant move and helps to reappraise our look at the character immediately.
He still tries to pull rank over Skinner, and is more than comfortable running his superiority over the FBI, but in reality he’s not the boss of the conspiracy that Mulder and Scully have been fighting against and there is something deliciously revisionist about this approach that makes us look back on the first two seasons with a somewhat different eye when knowing that whilst Krycek was reporting to him, the CSM himself was reporting back to his own bosses.
Even more deliriously brilliant is the increasingly suspenseful last act of the episode. Armed with the knowledge that her life is in danger, the show really runs the levels of suspense up as The Well-Manicured Man’s warning that someone close to Scully is going to kill her appears on the cusp of coming true as both Melissa and Skinner are on their way to her apartment.
The episode ends with a stand-off between Scully and Skinner in Mulder’s apartment, an unknown third figure outside the door, whilst Melissa is caught in the crossfire so to speak and is gunned down by Krycek and another Syndicate assassin.
For all the minor faults I’ve mentioned, and to be honest they are minor and never stop the episode from being unwatchable, The Blessing Way is still highly recommended and all credit to Carter because he follows through in the next episode with an increasingly suspenseful thriller that, like Anasazi, throws in everything and the kitchen sink. In trying to marry the spiritual with the suspenseful, Carter deserves credit for trying something different, and for trying to make Mulder’s return from near death not so easy or pat, but I think it never hits the cathartic emotional thrills it aims for, but you know what, it’s a very admirable attempt and you know what else? It’s very different.
Make no mistakes, however, when The Blessing Way is in the hallways of the FBI, or in the darkened room on 46th Street in New York City, or got our one half of our favourite FBI duo pulling their gun on their boss and John Neville being a class act, even when being delivering prophecies of ones own murder, then The Blessing Way is firing on all cylinders, and even if half of it is somewhat problematic, it still leaves one incredibly excited for Paper Clip.