Thursday, 15 October 2015

X-Files Rewatch | Duane Barry & Ascension

You callin' Duane Barry a liar? It's time for the seminal first two parter of the series - 'Duane Barry' and 'Ascension'.

We’ve made it to the episode that changed everything, ‘Duane Barry’. Who’d have thought that by figuring out a way to write around Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy, the writers on the show would have actually created the catalyst that sparks off a chain reaction of storylines that last throughout the rest of the series? It all comes down to one person, Duane Barry. 

Duane is another abductee victim, similar to characters that have appeared in episodes such as ‘Deep Throat’ and ‘Conduit’. But this time we actually witness his abduction, which seems as though it isn’t the first time that Duane has been abducted. That was 1985; fast forward to 1994 and Duane is a patient in a mental institution for his insistence that he is a victim of alien abduction. He has the feeling he’s going to be abducted again, but no one is taking Duane Barry this time. He manages to escape with a hostage in tow, looking for the abduction site in which he can exchange the doctor he has taken as hostage for abduction rather than himself. 

Duane eventually ends up at a travel agents, as he can’t quite remember where exactly the aliens want him to be. He takes the employees hostage and holds them at gunpoint, along with the doctor that he took with him from the mental institution. Lo and behold, whenever there is a suspect shouting to the heavens that he’s being controlled by aliens, Mulder is the one to call. 

Krycek is the one to break the news to Mulder that the hostage negotiation team want him; his eyes hilariously lighting up with the mention of aliens. Krycek is still working with Mulder, much to my behest. Now we know he’s there to make Mulder’s life hell, it’s hard to see them working together with Mulder oblivious to Krycek’s agenda. 

You’ve got to feel for Mulder on such a high level in this episode. He’s called down for his expertise on alien abductions, but it’s clear to see that the team have called him to the negotiation more for his reputation than his actual knowledge surrounding the subject matter. He’s expected not to believe in aliens or suggest his belief to Duane, as it would constitute Duane trusting that Mulder believes in his reasoning as to why he’s taken people as hostage. Mulder has never been involved in a hostage negotiation before, and although his background in criminal psychology helps him slightly, he’s put at an extreme disadvantage of frantically trying to keep up with protocol that Duane isn’t buying at all.
When Mulder doesn’t get the answers he’s looking for, he goes all or nothing in true Mulder fashion and begins to put himself in an increasingly vulnerable position of going off-book in questioning Duane, more so for his own desperate reasons and for the lives of the four people Duane has taken as hostage.


The thing that’s amazing with this episode is that a lot happens in a short amount of time, but it doesn’t drag out. You’re constantly hit with information that you have to quickly process before it’s suddenly dropped and you’re given something else. You never quite know what to believe, especially in terms of what Duane is showing and telling Mulder. Duane could for all intents and purposes be telling Mulder what he wants to hear, and we all know that if Mulder hears it, he’ll believe it blindly. It’s impossible to tell whether Duane has actually been abducted or that Duane knows that he can manipulate Mulder and the rest of the negotiators into believing his story. Especially since it comes to fruition that Duane was actually a former FBI agent, and was shot in the line of duty in 1982 with a bullet piercing his bilateral frontal lobes, which in turn destroyed the moral center of his brain. Add that to the fact that he knows the negotiation routine – Honesty, containment and conciliation – and we don’t know what to believe. 

What astounds me with this episode is Mulder and Scully’s ability to work together even when they are barely on screen together at all. Scully ends up watching the hostage situation unfold on TV, with Mulder calling her to tell her where he is and that he needs her to find out what happened to Duane as no one else as either bothered to find out or wants to tell him. He needs anything from transcripts to hypnotic regression sessions, anything to explain his abduction experiences. 

Eventually, Scully finds the idiotic situation that Mulder has put himself in and becomes extremely agitated and panicked to save Mulder form the inevitable fate of being killed by Duane. She ultimately has the task of feeding information to Mulder through his ear piece; both to stop him from engaging with Duane and endangering his life, and to also tell Mulder what she’s found out about Duane. My love for Mulder and Scully’s relationship shines through in this scene. I can just imagine Mulder’s heart skipping a beat once he hears ‘Mulder, it’s me,’ in his earpiece. You can see he’s actually listening to her rather than blindly ignoring her as he was doing with Agent Kazdin by the movement in his eyes. Scully’s the only person he’d ever listen to. 

‘Duane Barry’ is extremely fast paced throughout, but that doesn’t take away from some discrepancies throughout the episode. The constant belief and disbelief to Duane’s story; especially when he shows his implant scars which although turn out to be real, it’s hard to not think that he still could be lying due to his moral center being corrupted. Then there’s the implausibility that Duane knew not only where Scully lives, but that she’d be in her apartment in the exact moment he decided to kidnap her. My theory has always sided towards Krycek or CSM slyly mentioning it to him at the hospital since they have an agenda of getting rid of Scully to punish Mulder, but that’s a long stretch.

For an episode that is ultimately deeply mythology based and also introduces a whole new plot line, it’s extremely accessible to new viewers – much like ‘Fight the Future’ ends up being. A big kudos to the writers is needed there; I don’t know how they manage to write such complicated and hugely advantageous plots in singular episodes that cater for both sides of the audiences. 

And of course, this being the first two parter of the series it ends on the most tense cliff hanger in television that I have ever come across. I don’t know how people waited a week to find out what happened, especially when you’re left with thinking about how Mulder will react once he hears his answering machine…

YOU CALLIN’ DUANE BARRY A LIAR? I try to weave that line into my life from time to time. Just for dramatic effect with a god awful accent to accompany it. 

The red speedo. Need I say more. Need I see more, either. 

Hahahaaa, Krycek has to get the coffee. He is such an ass. 

This episode includes the weirdest montage scene in terms of showing Mulder getting prepared. It’s so over dramatic with the voice over, the music and the panning camera along with the dissolves.

Way to go with profiling skills – Mulder manages to figure out just by a telephone conversation with Duane that he’s former FBI. Kudos to you, Mulder. 

MULDER: Abductees call it ‘mind scan’, it’s a kind of telepathy. 

I wish I had all this knowledge of alien abductions like Mulder does. It’s so interesting.

Thank God I’m not epileptic, Duane’s abduction/test scene is rigged up with too many strobe lights.

It’s hard to think that The X-Files was really the only big show on television at the time that dealt with aliens and UFOs so explicitly. That’s what the show is mainly known for, which is pretty cool.

Here’s what I don’t get. If Mulder introduces himself to Duane as ‘Special Agent Fox Mulder’ on the phone, Duane can see Mulder from the travel agents from looking through the blinds, why doesn’t he 
 recognize him when Mulder comes in later as an EMT? 

Duane taking about the aliens drilling holes in his teeth with a scene showing it – Reminds me of Fire in the Sky, the way Duane’s mouth is forced open and the colouring of the flashback. 

There’s a reference to Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy in the supermarket scene through Scully buying pickles and ice cream. 

Scully’s abduction and disappearance was a way to compensate for Anderson to have some time off from the show to give birth to her daughter, Piper Maru Anderson, who was born on September 25, 1994. 

There’s also a reference to the film One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest at the mental hospital, with the sign that reads “Please Line Up Quietly.

This is the first episode to be directed and written by series creator Chris Carter. 

Much of Carter’s inspiration for the episode came from real case reports of Phineas Gage, who underwent a personality change after a blasting accident which drove an iron rod through his head. Although, Scully mentioning the idea that Gage became violent, immoral and a pathological liar is without firm foundation. 

Duane Barry describing a dental drill being used by the aliens was inspired by a neighbor of Chris Carter who said that he was abducted by aliens and that they drilled holes into his teeth – which a dentist had actually analysed saying it could not be done with any equipment he knew.

SCULLY: The man who claims to be under the control of aliens, his mental health history describes a rare state of psychosis […] as you can from his medical records, in 1982 Duane Barry was shot in the line of duty. The bullet piercing his bilateral frontal lobes. The injury left him nearly incapable of functioning in society. It effectively destroyed the moral center of his brain. Now, almost 100 years ago there was a famous case. A man named Gage had a blasting rod pierced in the same region.
KAZDIN And what effect did it have? 
SCULLY: He became a pathological liar. Suffering from severe delusions. His behavior was characterized as bizarre and violent, with a tendency to act out his fantasies. 

MULDER: Do we know anything about his abduction experiences? 
KAZDIN: You really believe in this stuff, Agent Mulder?
MULDER: Is that a problem?

MULDER: Have you ever spoken to an abductee, Agent Kazdin? Heard them talk about having their brain sucked out through their nostril while being wide awake through the experience? Would you like to know what they do to a woman’s ovaries?
KAZDIN: Not particularly.
MULDER: Well understand that you might have to alter your approach a little here. 

How terrified Scully is when she hears Mulder traded himself in for one of the hostages. A mixture of panic and WHAT THE HELL, WHY? 

SCULLY: You okay, Mulder?
SCULLY: Whatever you’re feeling, you did the right thing.
MULDER: It’s just that uh, I believed him.
SCULLY: Sometimes when you want to believe so badly, you end up looking too hard.
SCULLY: This could just be a piece of shrapnel. Duane Barry did a tour of duty in Vietnam.
MULDER: It was right where he’d said it be, Scully. Along with the ones in his gums and sinus.
SCULLY: And you think that this was implanted.
MULDER: Well if it was, that would mean Duane Barry’s telling the truth.
SCULLY: Or some version of the truth. Look, I’ll take this down to ballistics. We can have this cleared up in a second. 

Scully keeps Mulder sane throughout this whole ordeal, especially after Mulder being taken hostage by Duane Barry. Everything enveloped so quickly, it gives Mulder little time for it to all sink in. Scully makes sure that even though she’s trying to help Mulder rationalize his beliefs whilst showing him that she knows she believes him too.

‘Ascension’ picks up where we left off in ‘Duane Barry’, Scully’s gone and Mulder is completely and utterly grief-stricken by it. A kudos is in order towards Duchovny for this episode, as a majority of it rests on Mulder’s shoulders without Scully there to tell him not to scale atop of a moving cable car.

It’s the focus on Mulder in this episode that really magnifies the emotional connection that Mulder has formed with Scully. It makes for a powerful cold open, with his POV being a main pull of focus throughout his search of the now crime scene of Scully’s apartment. His face in the broken glass of the window, the table with Scully’s blood and hair on, the phone – all the while imagining what Duane Barry did to Scully to leave this much devastation in their wake. I’m still at a loss at how the director of this episode managed to pull that scene off. It’s a lot of clever camera angles with stunt doubles in an extremely confined space. There wasn’t a moment where I didn’t believe it was a heavily pregnant Anderson crawling around and getting thrown about the floor. It’s the use of limited shots and close-ups of her face that make you truly believe it’s her, especially when we and Mulder see the ill-fated image of her terrified eyes in the boot of Duane’s car.

Anderson’s pregnancy is used to its advantage further on in the episode, through what seems to be Mulder’s imagination but could also be reality. It’s the famed abduction sequence of Scully being subjected to what I always thought was just air being pumped into her stomach, but I’ve read a lot of people pointing out that it could be some sort of accelerated pregnancy which explains a lot in further episodes down the line. It’s eerily creepy and disheartening to watch, but such a clever way of not letting Anderson do strenuous work but still be able to see what is/could be happening to Scully whilst Mulder isn’t there to save her.

 (via xfilesrevival)

‘Ascension’ doesn’t provide much in terms of resolution; it feels as though it serves more as a character development on Mulder’s part in terms of his emotions and psychological well-being at the thought of Scully disappearing forever. Even though Mulder forms a closer bond towards Scully’s mother through their shared loss, it’s rather Mulder’s relationship with Scully that is the focus of this episode. Their relationship grows extraordinarily fast throughout the first season, and it’s here that we see the extent of what it means for Mulder to be without Scully. Mulder becomes extremely sleep deprived to the point of nearly crashing a car, and loses all sense of a moral compass through the action hero antics aboard the cable car. He hasn’t shaved and he doesn’t seem to care about his hair anymore. He wasn’t himself whilst Scully wasn’t officially on the X-Files with him before ‘Duane Barry’; now he’s slowly and dangerously spiralling into a manic depression. Mulder is a very passionate in his beliefs, and it’s here that we see he is also passionate in terms of grieving a loss when his closest friend has suddenly been taken away from him for what seems like for good.
It does attempt to have some resolution through getting rid of Duane in two interrogation instances – one with a completely distraught and emotionally exhausted Mulder, the other with an unseen Krycek. The X-Files is also reopened, which allows Mulder to continue his investigations into the paranormal sans both Scully and Krycek. At least Krycek being gone Mulder has some happiness, right? Not really, when Scully has now become an X-File herself, along with Samantha.
‘Ascension’ also deals with the question as to how Duane found Scully in the first place. Mulder has no idea how Duane could have found where Scully lived, and neither could I during ‘Duane Barry’. But as soon as Mulder says that, the camera pans to Krycek who looks at CSM. They obviously led Duane to her somehow, along with the chip that she had in her possession. She could have set some sort of tracking device off in the chip too when she scanned it at the supermarket checkout, thinking about it. Krycek and CSM’s discussion in ‘Sleepless’ was that Scully was a problem, and that every problem has a solution. This is their way of getting Scully out of the equation, there’s no Mulder without Scully and no X-Files without either of them.

First time we’ve seen Scully’s mother since ‘Beyond the Sea’. First time we see Maggie and Mulder meet, although it might not even be the first time they’ve met together (at least on screen).

The final shot of Mulder looking up in the stars is so beautiful, yet extremely depressing. He’s lost without Scully. It’s the only comfort he has that she’s out there somewhere. And that isn’t even a comfort, seeing as he knows full well that she’s been practically tortured from whatever experiments and tests are being put upon her. 

The original ‘The truth is out there’ tagline is changed to ‘Deny Everything’. This is what X tells Mulder about the politics of the syndicate.

Duchovny performed his own stunts when Mulder is on top of the tram – He has balls, Jesus Christ.

KRYCEK: You know, Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez, Three Mile Island…they were all linked to sleep deprivation.

CHERNOBYL – As mentioned previously in ‘The Host’, the Chernobyl Disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. It was the worst nuclear accident in history in terms of cost of casualties.

EXXON VALDEZ – In March 1989 an oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez, was bound for Long Beach, California. It struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef in Alaska and spilled 11 to 38 million US gallons of crude oil.

It’s considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters. Prince William Sound’s remote location made it extremely difficult to access by helicopter, plane or boat meaning that government and industry responses.

THREE MILE ISLAND – The Three Mile Island accident was a partial nuclear meltdown that occurred on March 28, 1979. It occurred in one of the two Three Mile Island nuclear reactors in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. It was the worst nuclear power plant accident in U.S. history.

The accident occurred twelve days after the release of the film The China Syndrome. The film depicts a television reporter and her cameraman secretly filming a major accident at a nuclear power plant whilst taping a series on nuclear power.

First use of music other than a score in the show. Whilst Duane is on his way to Skyland Mountain, ‘Red Right Hand’ by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds can be heard. This is also featured on The X-Files soundtrack album, ‘Songs in the Key of X’. 

SKINNER: That he’s following orders from alien voices in his head. Well, that’s an interesting spin on the Nuremberg defense.

NUREMBERG DEFENSE – The Nuremberg Defense is a legal ploy in which a defendant can claim that he/she was ‘only following orders’ from a higher authority.
This is taken from the Nuremberg Trials which were held in Nuremberg, Germany from 1945 to 1949. The trials were conceived to bring the major war criminals/leaders of Nazi Germany to justice. In their defense, the majority of the accused stated that they were just following orders. 
Duane Barry’s death – Second degree burns on the face, contusions about the neck, bruised larynx. “If I’d have to list a cause of death at this point, I’d say asphyxiation”. Either from what Mulder did or what Krycek may have done.

Quantico is now under military jurisdiction. There wasn’t an FBI pathologist available – i.e. Scully. 

KRYCEK: You haven’t slept yet, I have.
MULDER: I said I’m fine.
KRYCEK: You know, Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez, Three Mile Island…they were all linked to sleep deprivation. The US Department of Transportation estimates that over 190,000 fatal car crashes every year are caused by sleepiness.
MULDER: Did they estimate how many people are put to sleep listening to their statistics? 

MULDER: Who are these people, who can just murder with impunity and we can’t do anything about it?
SKINNER: Let it go, Agent Mulder.
MULDER: Like hell.
SKINNER: There’s nothing you can do.
MULDER: What can you do about it?
SKINNER: There’s only one thing I can do, Agent Mulder. As of right now, I’m reopening the X-Files. That’s what they fear most.

Mulder will do anything to save Scully, even if that means risking life. Especially if that means going on a tram that hasn’t even been tested with the new cable yet.

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