The episode opens with Mulder listening to a voicemail message left by Scully as she describes a piece of metal they found in Duane Barry before screaming for help as she’s abducted by someone who’s broken into her home. Following on from the previous episode “Duane Barry“, we know Scully’s been abducted by Duane, a man who believes himself to have been abducted by aliens numerous times and plans to use Scully as an alternative to himself being taken. Mulder rushes to Scully’s home after listening to the message, but is too late.
The opening titles at their conclusion declare “Deny Everything” instead of their usual “The Truth Is Out There” message.
I do feel that David Duchovny does a fantastic job of being solemn and angry in this episode. Mulder’s frustration is palpable when Skinner tells him he’s off the case. And while no one says it outright in the episode, if you watched “Sleepless” and know of Alex Krycek’s involvement with the Cigarette Man (who is present with Krycek during a briefing on Scully’s disappearance) then you know the answer to Mulder’s question about how Barry knew where Scully lived.
And this is one of the more interesting elements of the main story arc episodes in the series. A plot point that was revealed two episodes ago helps the audience answer questions that the characters on screen are unable to answer for themselves. I certainly feel like yelling at my TV when I rewatch this episode, because the snakes responsible are right there in that briefing room with Mulder and Skinner. Though I’ll admit that this kind of dramatic irony is also frustrating, because it feels awkward that someone like X hasn’t revealed some of the truth to Mulder by this point, not that I can see this is a fault on writer Paul Brown’s part, as the nature of X makes him having repeat appearances kind of awkward.
The veracity of Barry’s beliefs are one of the points of this episode that is great to watch build-up to some kind of pay-off. As Duane drives down some back road with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand” playing on the radio, there’s this whole skin crawling like feeling introduced. You’re wondering whether will see Barry’s own glimpse of hell or whether he’ll just be dragging Scully down into his madness. And I don’t know who chose the song, director Michael Lange or someone else, but it’s probably one of the most out of place tracks ever used in the series. The electric organ of “Red Right Hand” manages to make Barry seem mundane and harmless at the same time as seeming kind of out of place as he drives along.
Even though we know Scully, in the previous episode, witnessed something in a supermarket involving a till system going haywire over a piece of metal that could have been alien in origin, there’s still enough doubt sowed by the narrative and characters to make you wonder whether things are going to end with UFOs. Mulder is not completely convinced of the alien connection in all of this, proposing another alternative that he finds less likely than Scully being found by Duane accessing info from the implants found in him: that someone told Duane Scully’s address, which we as the audience knows is completely possible.
“Ascend to the Stars”
By the end of the episode, you know for certain that Scully has been taken by aliens in Duane’s place, but for a moment I want to look at the location of where she is abducted from. Taken from atop a mountain, you’d think there would be no connection between this and other texts about aliens, but the choice of a mountain as the place Scully would be taken from harks back to several earlier films that deal with aliens: namely Escape to Witch Mountain and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
There’s just something visually poetic about using mountains as a location for this kind of storyline that helps to reflect the aspect of abduction taking you closer to the stars and further away from the Earth at the same time.
On the less poetic side, I find the depiction of what is done to Scully, after her abduction, really creepy and more intrusive than what was shown to be what was done to Duane Barry in the previous episode. Also, because the episode goes into conspiracy overdrive after Barry mysteriously dies and Krycek is found to involved somehow in the in overall conspiracy – the impact of Scully’s disappearance doesn’t feel like it’s given the room it needs. Still, at least the dramatic irony involving Mulder and the Morley Brotherhood has been reduced by the end of the episode with Skinner partially agreeing the conspiracy is there and opting to re-open The X-Files.