Saturday, April 30, 2011

Return To The Dangerous Place Where The Truth Kills: "The Blessing Way" And "Paper Clip!"

The Good: Good acting, Decent stories, Pacing, Video bonus features
The Bad: Somewhat light on character for my tastes
The Basics: Dark and impressive, "The Blessing Way" and "Paper Clip" put Mulder and Scully on the trail of the conspiracy that is racking up quite a body count!

The truth, if there is an absolute of that concept that can be translated by measly humans limited by their perspective, is out there, we are told by The X-Files, which wisely manages not to suggest where out there they mean. Even so, some episodes of The X-Files are essentially the U.F.O. cover-up conspiracy stories the show is oft-assumed to be about. Such is as it is when The X-Files began its third season with the two parter "The Blessing Way" and "Paper Clip."

Actually, the two parts that open the third season are actually the last two parts to the second season finale, "Anasazi" (reviewed here!) and lacking any "Previously on The X-Files. . ." recaps on the videos, one is left to piece together what happened in that episode if they only watch this tape. There is something strange about starting with an episode where Mulder is presumed dead, a digital tape is referenced, Mulder's father has been killed with Mulder himself implicated in the murder and Scully is about to be fired for breaches in protocol by her superiors at the F.B.I.

In "The Blessing Way," Scully returns to the Navajo reservation in New Mexico to discover that Mulder has been killed and that the agents of the Cigarette-Smoking Man have beaten up everyone they could find in their vain attempt to find the digital tape containing the MJ files. After being stopped by an unmarked helicopter which whisks away her hard copy of the files, Scully returns to Washington, D.C. where an inquiry strips her of her position and puts her on suspension.

Back in New Mexico, Mulder's body is found in a state near death and Albert Holsteen begins the Blessing Way Chant to attempt to heal him. In his delirium, Mulder connects with his dead father and Deep Throat who urge him to return to the land of the living to finish the work he set out to and to find the truths that they worked so hard in life to hide. Scully, on the trail of the truth thanks to Frohike, is given an ominous warning at Bill Mulder's funeral, one which puts her in imminent danger of assassins.

In "Paper Clip," Skinner and Scully are shocked to learn that Mulder is actually alive and back in town and the location of the digital tape is revealed. Pressured by his shadow consortium, the Cigarette-Smoking Man intensifies his search for the digital tape, dispatching Krycek to recover it. When the Lone Gunmen clue Mulder and Scully in on the identity of one of the men in a photograph with Bill Mulder, the F.B.I. agents go in search of Nazi scientist Victor Klemper.

Klemper sends the pair to West Virginia to a subterranean record's storage facility where the agents discover genetic histories of Scully and Samantha Mulder and thousands of others. While Skinner attempts to negotiate with the Cigarette-Smoking Man for Mulder and Scully's safe return to work, the agents are hunted by those who want to keep the truth buried!

"The Blessing Way" is essentially a healing story for Mulder and a setup of Dana Scully's larger character arc for the rest of the season and series. Forced to go through the front door at the Hoover Building, Scully discovers a chip implanted in the soft tissue in the back of her neck, which she soon comes to believe was left there when she was abducted back in "Ascension" (reviewed here!). Its presence and removal in "The Blessing Way" sets off a chain of events that will plague Scully for years.

The thing is, though, this is treated as a b-plot to Mulder's healing story. Mulder is given the will to keep on fighting the shadowy forces of lies and deceit by his dead father who warns Mulder that the truth will force the young man to look at his father differently. That Mulder opts for the truth and the fight for life says much about his character. But most of his part in the episode is quiet, subtle and hardly action packed.

On the other hand, "Paper Clip" is packed with all of the exposition, aliens and U.F.O.'s that fans have waited years to see. Trigger-happy Krycek illustrates he has a backbone, Mulder and Scully run around in the dark, Skinner shows exactly whose side he is on and the Cigarette-Smoking Man's position is revealed to be a lot more tenuous than most might think! "Paper Clip" is a pretty packed episode.

The thing about both episodes that unifies them well - outside the obvious chronological order - is a general sense of Navajo spirituality and a generally decent sense of connectedness between Man and Earth. This is not theologically overbearing, but rather it is utilized for exposition of its own and to illustrate a fairly incredible concept of price, debts and consequences. Mulder is granted his life back through the Blessing Way, but another life is taken (for those keeping score, this is technically three lives for Mulder's as Bill Mulder and the Thinker were killed in "Anasazi" to get this little bloodletting started). The question, then, becomes whether it is all worth it or not.

I'd argue it is because Mulder and now Scully are off searching for a truth they believe must be exposed to right the wrongs of . . . well, world history. Scully manages to press Klemper pretty hard and her encounter with the Well-Manicured Man in both episodes clearly shakes her. Unable to return to work without Skinner's help and told exactly how his men will come for her, Scully's experience with the Well-Manicured Man emboldens her and sets her running for the truth alongside Mulder in a way that they had not been before.

Arguably, Mulder and Scully have never been too far apart in their beliefs; both utilize science to justify their beliefs. Scully has always used more earthbound science while Mulder has more readily made more fanciful hypotheses to prove. They both use the same methodology to prove their beliefs. The thing is, in "The Blessing Way" and "Paper Clip," there is an attention to detail and philosophy that accents the simple plot expositions. As far as details go, the producers were smart enough to include Mulder's gunshot wound (in "Anasazi" he was shot by Scully) and as far as philosophy, this two parter becomes all about defining what the shadowy conspiracy's agenda actually is: to control the future.

Mitch Pileggi gives a great performance as Walter Skinner who finally falls off the fence and firmly into the category of "ally" to Mulder and Scully as he openly defies the wishes of the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Pileggi provides realistic scenes of physical battles as well as pulling off cool and neutral scenes where he impresses the viewer with his ability to portray an Assistant Director in the F.B.I. He balances well the physical and intellectual roles that it takes to make a character like Skinner work.

But nobody does cool like John Neville, who joins the recurring cast as the Well-Manicured Man. Neville might best be known to audiences for his role as the title character in The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen. Here he is completely different. There is no spark of life or adventure in his character on The X-Files. Instead, he plays the part with cold detachment and makes one of the most intriguing villains the show has.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson leap into the new season with Anderson doing the lion's share of the acting heavy lifting in "The Blessing Way" (Mulder, being wounded, requires Duchovny mostly to lay still for several scenes). Duchovny also gives an unfortunate monologue - a telepathic contact from Mulder to Scully - that seems strangely out of character. As odd as it is to suggest, the scene has Duchovny speaking more like Duchovny than Mulder.

Outside such miniscule details, these two parts get the third season of The X-Files off to a pretty rockin' start!

[Given that VHS is a rapidly dying medium, a far better investment would be The X-Files - The Complete Third Season, reviewed by me here!
As well, those who already love The X-Files will find The X-Files - The Complete Series to be an even better buy, here!
Thanks for reading!]

"The Blessing Way" - 9/10
"Paper Clip" - 8.5/10
VHS - 8/10

For other television show and episode reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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