Season 8, Episode 16: “Three Words”
Original Airdate: April 8, 2001
Before you make yourself crazy about it, the three words are “fight the future.” A few years ago, it was a terrifically nonspecific subtitle for a movie. The future could have been anything, then—the work of the Consortium, the work of the aliens, the work of the aliens and the Consortium together—but with the Consortium gone, and with much of the mutual work wiped out, the future is one thing: invasion.
Funny, isn’t it? How an ambitious show like this can end up where so many alien narratives end up? The aliens are coming for us, and we must defend ourselves. Fight. With Mulder as a protagonist, there was always the possibility that the aliens were something to be understood, not necessarily fought. Sure, they’d probably had something to do with his sister’s abduction, but his anger was so often directed at human targets—at the men who hid the truth, and filed it away—that it didn’t seem necessary to see the aliens, in general, as a threat worse than, say, a single bounty hunter.
“Three Words” is, at core, an episode about paranoia, which is a fitting sort of beginning-of-the-send-off for Mulder. How many times has that guy been called paranoid, and what has it done to him, and can he stand to hear it a little more? Can he stand to hear it, in particular, after surviving god-knows-what at the hands of who-knows-who? His injuries have healed miraculously, but he hasn’t, clearly. He walks through the episode like himself, only crabbier; like a man whose scars have been given scars.
He’s not alone in his paranoia, of course. He never really is. There’s this business with a man who climbs the fence outside the White House and makes it surprisingly close before being tackled. His own weapon kills him and he holds out a disc to one of his captors: a bootleg copy of Fight the Future. No. Maybe? Seriously though, it’s just a disc with those words written on it and I think it’s important that all of us make that joke, out loud, while watching this episode with others.
Anyway, the death of this guy attracts the attention of Absalom, the UFO cult fellow from “This is Not Happening”/“Deadalive.” He breaks himself out of jail (because he’s in jail!) and makes it all the way to John Doggett himself. Straps a gun to Doggett’s back and forces Doggett to take him to the Social Security databank. The White House DVD Bootlegger was a Social Security employee, and Absalom believes he was killed-on-purpose for what he uncovered there. Only Absalom’s plan is only a little good, and when the two are inevitably caught, Absalom is shot, in the head, a bullet so close to Doggett that it grazes his cheek.
What the White House Bootlegger uncovered, we eventually learn, was a list of names (it’s always a list of names, y’all, always at some government agency you never think about). People with a “certain genetic profile” who were being tracked by the Census Bureau and targeted for “abduction and replacement.” The genetic profile business isn’t that new to us—the show has played pretty fast and loose with genetics—but the “abduction and replacement” bit is fresh, building on the Billy Miles rebirth of “Deadalive.”
As Doggett is forced into learning about this element of the conspiracy, Mulder, in parallel, is digging it up himself. Going on a tiny bit of information and a few belligerent hunches, he pieces together everything that Doggett is being told, everything except the password that opens the White House Bootlegger’s files. (It’s “fight the future.”) That part, Doggett is fed by his friend-informant-probable enemy, the impossibly-named Knowle Rohrer (played by Adam Baldwin, HEADS UP). Knowle appeared back in Scully’s Hysterical Pregnancy episode, also being fairly shady; here, he appears to set Doggett and Mulder up to get caught at the Social Security office.
“Three Words” gets a fair amount of mileage out of what “appears” to be happening. The White House Bootlegger appears to kill himself accidentally, or did one of the guards direct his hand? Absalom appears to get shot as a matter of course, or did someone have orders? “The FBI gets its way, there’s going to be nobody down here to ask the paranoid questions,” says Mulder. Paranoia, he reminds us, is not just a slur. It’s the foundation of the X-Files, the element at the heart of all of their investigations.
Speaking of hearts, here’s Scully: very pregnant, very emotional. She has her partner back, but he’s broken. She has a new partner, too, but he still doesn’t get it. She’s the one in the middle, the one who Doggett approaches when he learns the password. And then she’s got to decide: give the password to Mulder so that he can crack into those files and do something inevitably stupid like break into the Social Security database? Or keep it to herself, and let the investigation die? Both could get him killed. By action or inaction, Mulder is capable of death in both directions. In the end she gives him the password and in the end he makes it but it must seem to her that there will never be an end, to caring for someone who cares about something more than her.