Duane Barry, a former FBI agent who believes he’s been abducted by aliens multiple times, takes his doctor and several members of the public hostage at a travel agents as he works desperately to stop himself from being abducted again. Agent Mulder is brought in to negotiate with Barry and completely falls for Barry’s delusions, but not everything is so clear cut.
All so normal
The episode starts out like many of the abductee episodes that feature in the series, a flash back to some past abduction experience. All very impersonal, not really involving any of the show’s main characters. Duane Barry, as we will come to know him, is at sleep in his half-built Virginian home and it’s 1985. “Oh no, not again!” He screams as the abduction experience begins. So far, so X-Files.
Flash forward to the show’s present, and we find Barry is the resident of a mental health facility. As a viewer, we’re reasonably sure that the character experienced what we saw. And this prior knowledge makes much of the episode feel pre-destined to go to places where we haven’t been before, certainly more extreme than the events of season one’s “Fallen Angel“, especially when Barry abducts his doctor at gun point from the institute.
Moving on to Mulder, aware of the end events of the previous episode , seeing Krycek approach Mulder at a pool while he does lengths (in what is one of my favourite scenes in The X-Files) is perhaps one of those shouting at the screen moments. Mulder doesn’t know the truth about who Krycek really works for and so it’s frustrating watching Krycek try to be all professional and a bit chummy with Mulder.
Watching Mulder try to negotiate with Barry is some really tight storytelling. In fact, this episode was written and directed by Chris Carter, and while I don’t think every episode of the show needs Carter’s hand, having him in this dual role made the episode far more cinematic than previous ones. There are a lot of camera angles used that you don’t normally see on TV, with an interesting use of high angled shots, close-ups and extreme close-ups, helping to further reflect the dramatic nature of what’s happening on the screen.
There’s also the use of Barry’s abduction flashbacks through much of the episode. These are far more vivid than any of the ones used in previous episodes. There’s scenes of tooth drilling, and a lot of screaming. It’s prolonged, creepy and grimly fascinating. This episode was the first time that Chris Carter had directed and considering that – this is probably one of his best pieces of TV. Carter has said that the episode:
“[…] [W]as a chance for me to show people what I thought the show could be and should be, and I think I was very successful.”
p.100 X-Files Confidential: The Unauthorized X-Philes Compendium by Ted Edwards
I do feel that this episode is successful. It moves far beyond the realms of the previous arc critical episodes and is potentially more dramatic than the end events of season one. And it makes you feel for characters like Duane Barry, even though the character is further discredited over the course of the episode.
There are several reversals in this episode. We go from believing Barry, to not believing him, to believing him again. The corner we turn to realising he might be telling the truth comes from the discovery of metal implants that he said he had, after he’s examined once captured by the FBI.
The whole implants thing goes on to become a key part of X-Files lore. Later in the episode, there’s a scene where Scully is in a supermarket and she takes one of the implants and just casually scans it on a till while a shop assistant isn’t looking. The till goes ballistic and starts flashing up all kinds of crap. “It was almost as if someone using it to catalogue him,” Scully later says in a message to Mulder before one of the season’s more disturbing moments as we hear Scully crying out for help as she’s attacked by Barry and the episode ends.
Join me next week when I finish looking at this two-parter with “Ascension”.