Season 2, Episodes 5 and 6, “Duane Barry”/“Ascension”
Original Airdates: October 14 and October 21, 1994
There’s a hostage situation. There’s a man, there’s an abductee. His name is Duane Barry and he’s been living out his days in a correctional treatment center. He doesn’t like his meds because he doesn’t like the way they make him feel, and worse, he is afraid that they’re coming again. When he says “they” there is no question who he means, because he means “them.” He means his abductors. There’s a man, an abductee, named Duane Barry, and he doesn’t want to be taken again, and so he grabs his doctor and he grabs a gun and he goes to a travel agency to get directions. It’s a hostage situation. The first of two.
They call in Mulder. A different “they,” I think. They figure Duane Barry is an abductee and Mulder is Spooky and that seems like a fine match. CCH Pounder is there, she looks good, she tells Mulder to stick to a script and you can imagine how well that goes. If you can’t, it’s like this: almost immediately he gets himself traded into the situation, and he sits there with his hands tied and tries to convince Mr. Barry that he actually believes his story. This infuriates everyone, particularly CCH Pounder, who has warned Mulder off of “feeding into his psychosis.” Funny story about Mulder and “feeding into” things, though. It’s basically his favorite thing. Mulder talks to Duane, he tells him he understands his fears, he describes an abduction scenario to him. He even tells Duane about his sister. He makes it personal.
Scully does a little research, at Mulder’s request, and what Scully finds out is not good. First of all, Duane Barry is a former FBI agent. Second of all, Duane Barry was once shot in the line of duty — shot with his own weapon! — straight through the brain. According to his records, the injury led to delusions and violent acts. Scully is convinced that Mulder doesn’t know what he’s dealing with, and so she gets on the earpiece to tell him. Mulder receives the news quietly, he has to, he can’t let Duane know he’s wearing any sort of wires. Except also, he receives the news differently than he has received any other previous instruction. While the other agents have begged him to stay on message, he has pushed his own agenda, convinced that Duane Barry is telling the truth. But now! Just a few words from his partner and he listens. He changes course. And watching him change his course changes ours. Maybe Duane is just actually crazy, just violent, just psychotic. Maybe this is just a tragedy for the wrong reasons, and maybe Mulder is in more danger than we even thought.
With Scully in his ear, Mulder asks Duane Barry if he’s telling the truth. Duane Barry doesn’t care for the question, and Mulder doesn’t care for Duane Barry’s answer. He directs Duane to stand in front of a window, where he knows the tactical team will have a clear shot. They do. Duane, maybe not an abductee and probably crazy, falls. In the hospital, doctors find metal in his head, metal where he said that “they” had placed implants in him. CCH Pounder, a game woman, alerts Mulder. Mulder goes to Scully. Not to say, why did you turn me off of my hunch, but to say, we need to find out what this is. Scully has a Mulder-like stroke of inspiration and swipes one of the pieces of metal at a grocery store scanner. The register goes crazy, and she does, too. She calls Mulder and explains to his machine what’s going on, to say what if these chips are for cataloguing. And in the middle of that her window breaks, and in crawls Duane Barry, abductee, escapee. Scully screams for Mulder, to be continued.
Mulder sits with Scully’s mother in Scully’s apartment, where Scully is not, but evidence of her struggle is. Margaret Scully says she had a dream, but she didn’t want to call her daughter and scare her. “She doesn’t believe in that kind of thing, you know.” The FBI sits around a table. Skinner is there, and Mulder, and Krycek, and the Cigarette-Smoking Man, in the back. Mulder is furious, sleepless, and determined. Of course he is. This happened on his watch, no matter what really occurred, it happened when he asked someone to feed into his psychosis. And she did, and willingly, but that’s not going to matter to Mulder. At this point the only thing that he can believe is that Duane Barry is after all actually an abductee, and that Duane Barry’s only goal is to not be taken again. Duane Barry believes that if he brings someone else, he will not be taken. One hostage for another. Hard to say where he got this idea. Hard to say why he picked Scully. Hard to say, except the Cigarette-Smoking man is there, in the back.
Scully is alive, in the trunk of a car. Duane Barry is blasting Nick Cave and driving towards a mountain. He shoots a policeman at a traffic stop and from this Mulder gets hope, a security camera still of Scully bound but living. Mulder figure-hunch-guesses that Duane Barry is heading to Skyland Mountain, Virginia, and he and Krycek take a road trip. It is not much fun. Mulder is at dangerous ease with Krycek, who keeps one hand gently patting Mulder’s head and one hand telegraphing their every move to the Cigarette-Smoking Man. At Skyland Mountain, Mulder commandeers a tram in an attempt to head off Duane’s passage to the peak. He leaves Krycek behind, telling him to make sure the tram operator doesn’t pull any funny business. Krycek executes this by executing the tram operator, smoothing back his hair, and stopping the tram entirely. Mulder is left suspended, just short of the mountaintop, but since Mulder is also crazy he takes a shot at climbing the rest of the way. And I suppose it looks like Mulder is about to die, and I suppose Krycek has orders against that. So he restarts the tram, and Mulder gets back inside, and he reaches the mountaintop.
It’s too late, though. They took her. Duane says. There’s a light, it could be a helicopter. Duane is thrilled. Back at the base no one seems worried about the tram operator, which is weird, because the tram operator is now missing? But as I said, no one seems worried about that. Maybe Krycek hid him really well. Anyway, everyone is mostly concerned with Duane Barry, abductee and psychotic, who raves to Mulder about the ship they saw. Mulder snaps that he saw a helicopter, and then Mulder snaps. He chokes Duane Barry, then releases him and shouts. He wants to know if Scully’s been hurt. He wants to know if Scully’s been killed. He imagines, by himself, Scully strapped to a table, being forced to submit to tests. Duane Barry had tests, had implants, had tiny holes drilled into his teeth. What are they testing, and hang on. And hang on, who are they?
We know, or we thought we knew, kind of. We know about aliens and we know that the government tests on aliens. We know about abductions and about aliens testing on abductees. But there’s something new, here, in this scenario. The Cigarette-Smoking Man wanted to solve a problem, and that problem was Scully, and now look. Now she’s been taken. It’s not an accident, but the question is, who took her? Was it aliens? Was it the government? Was it both, somehow, was it a treaty? Was it the government offering Scully to the aliens? Or is it just the government, alone, simulating an abduction for another reason? To bait Mulder, perhaps, and if so, what a horrible, successful operation. A hostage situation in which the demands are unknown, and the consequences, too. Krycek asks his boss, “If Mulder is such a threat, why not eliminate him?” And the Cigarette-Smoking Man replies, “Kill Mulder and you risk turning one man’s religion into a crusade.” Actually, he replies, “That’s not policy.” And I think perhaps that bit is more interesting. Religion/crusade is nice, is quotable. But policy. It’s not policy. This means there is a policy. Policy, and cataloguing.
Krycek visits Duane Barry because he says Duane Barry is gagging but actually Krycek is there to poison Duane Barry, and Duane Barry dies. The autopsy results are buried in a military lab. X tells Mulder that there’s nothing to be done, because they — they! — only have one policy — policy! — “Deny everything.” Mulder notices cigarette butts in Krycek’s car, and through the fog of his psychosis puts something together, finally. He goes to Skinner with his allegations and Skinner listens, but they’re a beat behind the song. Krycek is gone, his phone disconnected. But Skinner still has one move, and he plays it: he re-opens the X-Files. It’s bittersweet and it’s stupid and it will never be the same. Scully’s mother tells Mulder to keep her daughter’s cross, the small symbol of her belief, and Mulder goes back to the mountain. He stands on top, and he looks up.
Next week: “One Breath”