X-Files Flashback: ‘Three of a Kind’

Season 6, Episode 20
Director: Bryan Spicer
Writer: Vince Gilligan, John Shiban

“Three of a Kind” returns The X-Files to the Lone Gunmen storyline kicked off back in early Season Five with “Unusual Suspects.” There, John Byers (Bruce Harwood) first met femme fatale Susanne Modeski (Signy Coleman) who was last seen being thrown into the back of a U.S. Government car. It’s Byers’s emotional longing for Susanne, his desire to save her, that drives the core of “Three of a Kind,” which givens it a bit of an uptick from the usual Lone Gunmen storylines.

The episode opens with a dream sequence in which Byers imagines his version of an ideal life – one in which people were happy, one in which J.F.K. was never assassinated, one in which people trusted the government, and one in which he married Susanne and they had two kids and a white picket fence. It’s a sad and beautiful sequence. One that speaks to not only the central loneliness of Byers but also a longing for a simpler world where the events of The X-Files would never take place. Cut to reality where Byers and his fellow Gunmen are staking out a poker game populated by defense contractors. Their ruse is uncovered, and they are evicted from the game. On his way out, Byers spots Susanne – his obsession running at full peak now.

After tricking Scully into flying to Las Vegas using Mulder’s voice, the Gunmen begin investigating a mysterious group responsible for the death of one of their friends. Before completing an autopsy on the victim, Scully is attacked by an agent and is injected with a serum that makes her appear drunk. Later, she holding court in a bar with a gaggle of men, including Morris Fletcher (Michael McKean) from “Dreamland.” Byers pleads with Susanne, but she claims to be working with her fiancee to slow down dangerous government plans. In reality, her fiancee is working with the Government. Susanne, Scully, and the Lone Gunmen work together to concoct a plan to fake Susanne’s death and trap her fiancee, which they do. After a few additional deaths and double-crosses, Susanne – legally dead – embarks on a new life with a new identity and begs Byers to join her. He declines, wanting to continue his fight for freedom.

After a few false starts, writers Vince Gilligan and John Shiban finally get a Lone Gunman episode completely right thanks to their smart decision to focus on the unfulfilled longing of John Byers over the missing Susanne. It gives the material a solid central core, a straight line running through the material on which we can hang the various conspiracy plots. In “Three of a Kind,” Scully is simply window dressing, brought on for comic relief. The real star is Bruce Harwood as John Byers, a slightly limited actor who is nevertheless able to deliver in the emotion department. Even though he’s a brilliant conspiracy theorist, Byers is something of the everyman here, the more normal of the three. He’s the one we relate to and, given the sweet fantasy of the opening sequence, we are fully invested in the character. To me, that’s the only way to make extreme conspiracy material work as well as it does here.

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