X-Files Flashback: ‘Three Words’

Season 8, Episode 16
Director: Tony Wharmby
Writer: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz

And as Fox Mulder returns to The X-Files so do the ponderous and confusing mythology narratives. Frankly, this regression is a little disappointing as the last few mythology-like episodes had pointed to a new tone for the series, one that blended multiple perspectives more fluidly than the series has in a long time. Yet, “Three Words” feels overstuffed with intrigue and conspiracy and ignores the stronger, more character-based interactions that I felt drove the mythology outings in a positive direction. As a result, Mulder returns to the same old same old in a tired and uninspired light.

“Three Words” begins with a census worker, Howard Salt, scaling a fence at the White House and sprinting across the lawn toward the building. Naturally, he is intercepted by Secret Service agents and accidentally shoots himself before pulling out a disk that reads “Fight the Future,” intended for the President to warn him of continued alien colonization activity. Elsewhere, Mulder returns home, experiencing flashbacks from his abduction and subsequent experimentation, where his petition for reinstatement into the FBI is denied by Deputy Director Alvin Kersh. Other than that, he’s in good spirits, cured of all illnesses, and ready to return to work. Here’s where it all goes muddy…

Absalom, the imprisoned leader of the UFO doomsday cult illustrated in “Deadalive,” receives a news article detailing the death of fence-jumper Howard Salt. This revelation spurs him on to escape prison while on work detail and surprises Agent Doggett in his apartment. Absalom tells Doggett that Salt died for what he knew of alien colonization activities, and he could die for what he knows as well. He then tapes a gun to Doggett’s back and attempts to gain entrance in the census bureau to obtain evidence of colonization activities. After entry scans reveal the gun, security personnel shoot Absalom in the head, and Mulder later accuses Doggett of setting Absalom up to die.

Mulder: Something looks different.

Scully: It’s clean.

– “Three Words,” The X-Files

The episode culminates in a later census break-in attempt by Mulder and the Lone Gunmen with a password (“Fight the Future”) Doggett obtained from Knowle Rohrer. Doggett realizes this is a trap and enters the facility to warn Mulder of the impending danger. The Lone Gunmen are able to guide the two out of the census bureau before security arrives. Doggett confronts Rohrer about the potential setup, which Rohrer obviously denies. We leave the episode with Rohrer’s back turned to the camera, revealing two large lumps beneath the skin on the base of his neck – the standard area for alien-based implants.

There are a handful of reasons for my bitter disappointment in “Three Words.” First, after juggling the narrative so expertly in previous mythology episodes – those that revealed Mulder’s return – Carter and team struggle to give broad support to all major characters here. Guess who gets the short end of the stick? Scully’s role is effectively reduced to driving the getaway car and bringing Mulder home from the hospital. Sure, she’s about to give birth, but do you expect Scully would really allow herself to become such an ill-advised supporting character? Second, the episode awkwardly travels a great deal of territory within a single 45-minute window. It integrates Mulder back into the action. It re-introduces a broader government conspiracy of alien colonization. It brings Absalom’s story line to an abrupt conclusion. It even engages the Lone Gunmen for a very brief throw-away sequence. None of this meshes well and feels thoroughly rushed.

Finally, “Three Words” ignores the obvious character opportunities for Mulder’s abduction to further haunt him. He still experiences a handful of flashbacks but appears to (improbably) bounce back quickly into action. It would have been far more fascinating had he struggled more with his experience. Perhaps that is something planned for future episodes, but this episode almost makes Mulder appear inhuman in his ability to recuperate from such dramatic events. If this is how the bulk of the series episodes are going to be drawn, then it’s going to be a very long haul to the end indeed.

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