Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Chris Carter
In which Mulder becomes involved in a hostage situation when apparent abductee Duabe Barry holds his doctor captive, searching for the place where he was first abducted...
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
As the episode begins, a man named Duane Barry lies in his bed, sleeping as the television blares in the background. It is June 3, 1985, in the mountain town of Pulaski, Virginia. Without warning, the television begins screaming static, and Duane’s dog begins growling. Duane Barry awakens with a start, as a bright light begins to shine through the plastic sheeting covering the unfinished walls of his house. The light reveals about a half-dozen thin, oddly-shaped silhouettes. As the creatures surround his bed, Duane screams, unable to move. Over the house, a saucer-shaped craft hovers, a bright beam of light shining down.
Nine years later, in early August of 1994, Duane Barry is being held at the Davis Correctional Treatment Center in Marion, Virginia. Duane is brought into Doctor Hakkie’s office. The doctor asks Duane why he has been refusing to take his medication. The doctor explains that the medication was needed to control Duane’s behavior, and asks whether Duane has been hearing the voices again. Duane swears he’s not crazy, and that “they” are coming again to take him away. Duane becomes agitated, so the doctor prepares to give Duane a shot. However, Duane grabs the pen from the doctor’s desk and stabs the nearest guard with it, stealing the guard’s gun. Now armed, Duane grabs the keys, and takes the doctor hostage.
On August 7, 1994, Krycek finds Mulder doing laps in a swimming pool, and informs him that his presence has been requested at a hostage negotiation. There are four people being held in an office building in Richmond, and the suspect claims that he’s being controlled by aliens.
Mulder and Krycek arrive on the scene, and are taken to the makeshift control center in the building across from Travel Time Travel Agency. The agents are introduced to Lucy Kazdin, the negotiations expert. Kazdin explains that the suspect is named Duane Barry, and he is considered dangerous and willing to use his weapon. Duane is seeking safe passage for himself and Dr. Hakkie to the place where he was abducted by the aliens. Unfortunately, Duane didn’t know where that site was, so he went to a travel agency.
According to Kazdin, Duane claims to have homing devices and testing scars all over his body. Kazdin is aware that Mulder is familiar with these claims, but she is a bit put off when it’s clear that Mulder actually believes in the phenomenon. Kazdin emphasizes that Duane’s supposed abduction history is irrelevant; the key is simply to keep Duane talking until the situation can be brought under control.
Shortly, as the hostages struggle to keep Duane from really hurting anyone, Mulder calls to begin negotiations. Mulder follows the script that he’s been given very closely, as Kazdin and her associates anxiously watch on. Duane is clearly agitated, especially when Mulder claims to know what he’s been going through. More than that, Duane seems to know the negotiation routine a little too well. Duane warns Mulder not to try anything funny, or people will start to die.
When Duane hangs up, Mulder angrily confronts Kazdin regarding Duane’s past. It’s clear that the man was once an agent, and that the FBI is trying to contain the situation and the possible bad press. Mulder insists that playing by the rules isn’t going to work, and that he needs to be able to work within the framework of the abductee’s point of view.
Mulder calls Scully, and brings her to speed on the situation. He asks her to research Duane Barry, and find out as much as she can about his past therapy sessions and abduction experiences. Without warning, the lights go out in Richmond, making Duane Barry even more agitated than he was. As a bright light pierces the darkness, Duane starts shooting wildly. Using his cell phone, Mulder manages to get a line to Duane, and discovers that one of the hostages has been badly wounded.
Mulder uses the incident as a means of gaining access to the travel agency, posing with another agent as a paramedic. Mulder is wired, so everything that happens can be captured by the negotiation team, and they can talk to Mulder from the outside without detection. Kazdin reminds him that the idea is to get in and get out, with everything else being a bonus. Above all, Mulder is warned not to play into Duane’s delusions.
Mulder and the other agent gain access to help the injured hostage. Mulder convinces Duane to let them treat the hostage, but against Kazdin’s advice, he starts asking Duane about the light, and mentions how everybody “lost time”. Mulder tells Duane that he believes Duane’s story, which really annoys Kazdin. When Mulder asks Duane to let them remove the wounded hostage for medical attention, Duane agrees…but only if Mulder stays.
Duane ties Mulder to a chair, once the other agent and the wounded hostage are out of the building. Mulder continues to question Duane about his abduction experiences, talking about the paralysis that comes when the aliens arrive to take you away. Then he mentions ships, and how the aliens take the abductees away, and Duane begins to have flashbacks of his experiences. Oddly, talking about it seems to calm Duane down, and he says how the aliens know what he thinking, but they just keep on going, even though it’s clear Duane doesn’t want them to. He demands that Mulder tell the doctor what the aliens do with him, so Mulder mentions the tests. Duane has a major flashback of dental experiments that the aliens conducted, which he describes to everyone.
Meanwhile, Scully tries to contact Mulder, and is very unhappy to learn that Mulder is now one of the hostages. She informs Krycek that there is some very important information that Mulder doesn’t know.
Inside the travel agency, Duane and Mulder talk about Samantha. Duane explains that sometimes he sees young children being tested. Based on their rapport, Mulder asks Duane to let the women go. He even offers to take the doctor’s place and go to the abduction site with Duane. All the while, Mulder notices that a hole has been drilled in the wall behind Duane, so the negotiators can see what’s going on.
Within a couple of hours, Scully arrives on the scene, and she quickly forces Kazdin and her team to listen to what she has to say. Scully shows evidence that Duane Barry was shot in the head in 1982 in the line of duty, and the bullet pierced a part of his brain that regulates moral behavior. As a result, Duane Barry is likely to be a pathological liar suffering from massive delusions.
Meanwhile, Duane Barry explains to Mulder that sometimes, when the tests are conducted, the military is there as well. Mulder, aware of the time frame, tries once again to get Duane to let the others go. When he asks Duane what he wants, Duane says he wants to go back to where he was first abducted. He describes a mountain, and “ascending to the stars”.
Scully contacts Mulder, and quickly explains what she’s discovered. When Duane seems to react to the sound of Scully’s voice, Mulder distracts him by asking how the aliens find him each time. Duane mentions tracking implants in his gums, sinus, and abdomen. Pressed by Scully, Mulder insists that the women be allowed to leave. Duane agrees, and on the way, one of them tells Duane that she believes him. As a SWAT team surrounds the building, Mulder tries to get Duane to explain what he wants, and where he wants to go.
Seeing that the snipers have a clear shot, Mulder inexplicably calls Duane over to him, and asks if Duane has been making anything up. This sends Duane into a rage, and Mulder can only reinforce that he believes Duane’s story. Mulder manages to calm Duane down, and reminds Duane that he never locked the door when he let the women out. Duane moves towards the front door, and the snipers take the shot, wounding Duane. Even after he is free, Mulder regrets his decision, having believed everything that Duane was telling him.
The next day, at Jefferson Memorial Hospital, Kazdin calls Mulder to meet with her. Whatever he might have thought, she appreciated his dedication to resolving the situation. Duane Barry is in critical but stable condition after being shot. Kazdin checked Duane’s record, and it was exemplary, until he was mysteriously shot by his own weapon and left for dead. Eveything went downhill from there. But she really wanted him to know that several pieces of metal were found in exactly the places where Duane said they would be found. Also, a dentist checked Duane’s teeth, and found evidence of drilling that could not have been done using existing technology.
Mulder takes one of the metal implants to Scully, and tells her what Kazdin explained to him. Scully is skeptical, but she takes the supposed implant to ballistics for testing. The ballistics expert agrees that it could be a piece of shrapnel, except that the implant is finely tooled and etched with some kind of markings.
That night, Scully goes shopping for some groceries, and has an odd thought when she sees the clerk running the items over the scanner. When the clerk leaves to cash out, Scully takes the supposed implant and runs it across the scanner. Instantly, the machine reacts with endless strings of numbers and symbols. Scully pretends not to know what was happening, and leaves the store.
Back at the hospital, at that very moment, Duane Barry awakens in his hospital bed, having a flashback from one of his abduction experiences. He removes himself from the various instruments monitoring his recovery, and smashes a fire extinguisher into the face of the man guarding his room. He runs off without a pause.
Scully calls Mulder on the phone, and gets his answering machine. She quickly leaves a message about what happened at the grocery store, and then she hears something outside of her apartment. Still on the phone, she walks up to the window, and sees Duane Barry staring at her. He bursts through the window, and the screen fades to black as Scully cries out for Mulder’s help…
With this episode, the culmination of one of the longest plot arcs in the history of the “X-Files” begins. Stretching back to late in the first season, the Syndicate has been isolating Mulder, attempting to put him squarely under their control. Having failed to limit Mulder’s activities by Scully’s presence, it has become clear that removing Scully from the equation, even for just a little while, is the next step.
Ultimately, however, this episode is simply a set-up for the following episode, and so most of the action is relatively self-contained. This episode amounts to a hostage drama with paranormal overtones, a real test of the boundaries between delusion and reality. Mulder can’t help but want to believe, and at least for a little while, it appears that Mulder is wrong.
Had the episode focused entirely on the hostage crisis, it would have still been one of the most memorable and well-crafted episodes of the series. Whatever faults Chris Carter might have as a writer, every so often he comes up with something that really works. Much of the credit comes from the Steve Railsback’s portrayal of Duane Barry, which is a masterwork in and of itself.
Duane Barry, after all, is a character that could have easily been ruined by a less capable actor. Instead, the portrayal is kept restrained enough that the desperation shines through in a completely realistic way. One can easily accept that Duane was slowly driven insane by the tortures he has endured, while at the same time, it’s possible to see that this is a man ravaged by deep psychosis.
Mulder’s actions, as usual, betray a single-minded purpose, and this episode stands as a perfect example of just how far he’s willing to go to validate his beliefs. When the episode begins, Mulder doesn’t take the easy way out and couch his apparent belief in Duane’s claims as a method of determining a profile from which to work from. Mulder unapologetically admits to his belief in alien abduction.
But more importantly, he makes the situation personal, and proceeds in a way that reinforces that assumption. One gets the sense that Mulder wanted to be alone with Duane, and that he wanted to find out details from someone who was eager to talk. It’s almost as if Mulder began seeing the negotiation team as a convenient tool for achieving his own goal.
The episode is strongest during the crisis itself, when Mulder struggles between his duty as an agent and his duty to his sister’s legacy. Oddly enough, especially in light of the later seasons, the weakest part of the episode comes at the end, when the material takes an unexpected turn and Scully is abducted. In that moment, it becomes clear that Duane Barry was being used all along, as a part of the scheme that was begun in the wake of “Sleepless”.
This part of the episode is not as strong because it pulls the viewer out of the slowly tightening spiral that the rest of the episode spends so much time constructing. Instead, the story seems to limp along, well after the episode has hit its resolution. Without the larger context of the series continuity at this point of the season, the ending doesn’t really make sense. In fact, it takes a bit of careful thinking to see how it works.
Obviously, Duane Barry was a part of the military experiments geared towards an implanted control system. Considering how damaged his mind was becoming, it’s probable that he only remembers the earliest experiments with the implants, and that there are several more in other locations around his body.
Setting aside the larger context of Duane Barry’s actions, it seems clear that Mulder is being led into the crisis for a particular purpose. Duane Barry seems to be given instructions through his implants, possibly triggered by forced flashbacks to manufactured abduction scenarios. This plays very well into the experiments seen in “Blood”, where continued control through phobic response is explored.
So Duane Barry is driven to take hostages, oddly unaware of where he needs to go. Clearly, since the conspiracy is ordering him around through the implants, he could have gone directly to Skyland Mountain. Instread, he is pushed into the travel agency, and from there, into the hostage situation. Mulder is called in so that he will become personally invested in Duane Barry’s story.
The key, of course, is the implants. It’s unlikely that the implants that were detected were the actual control implants. Rather, they appeared to be much more crude, as though they were earlier versions of the implants that were actually in use (as Scully would later discover in her own neck).
Once the crisis was over, the conspiracy then ordered Kazdin to lure Mulder in with hints that seemed to verify that Duane was an expert. Then, they gave Mulder the actual implants as evidence. This is peculiar, because Mulder ought to know by now that the conspiracy goes to great lengths to eliminate evidence and keep it out of his hands…something that they had just done the previous episode.
However, the conspiracy would also know, from “The Pilot” through to this episode, that Mulder had a habit of handing over his hard evidence to Scully for safekeeping and analysis. By giving Mulder access to the false implants, they essentially fooled Mulder into handing Scully a primitive version of their tracking technology.
As a result, it was easy for the conspiracy to activate Duane Barry again and send him directly to Scully’s location at a time of their choosing. The end goal, of course, was to allow Mulder and Scully’s continued partnership to be its own undoing. And all of it was easily accomplished by using Mulder’s psychological flaws against him.
Considering that the subplot that culminates in Scully’s abduction stretches over nearly a dozen episodes, with a relatively clear progression from episode to episode, it’s hard to understand why this loose yet effective continuity was abruptly abandoned as the series moved forward. That extensive plotting would not be seen again until the latter half of the eighth season, when the series had already begun to crumble under the weight of bad writing and production decisions.
Perhaps this episode is part of the answer. It might have occurred to Chris Carter, after seeing this episode, that it would have been better to leave the hostage crisis as the sole focus of the story. If so, then he failed to recognize that his conclusion was based on false assumptions. Instead of abandoning strong continuity, he should have worked on developing the writing so that the transitions were handled more intelligently.
However, even the sloppy ending to the episode doesn’t take away from the strong concepts and well-considered treatment of the larger context. Add to that the nearly perfect portrayal of Duane Barry, one of the most tragic figures of the series, and this is definitely an episode to remember.
SCULLY: “All right, well then let me speak to someone who’s in charge!”
KRYCEK: “You are. Calm down, Scully.”
SCULLY: “Don’t tell me to calm down! I’m not going to calm down until I can talk to someone who will listen to what I’m saying!”
(Sorry…that was just about it, and it was memorable because it sounded like Scully having a “pregnant moment”!)
- I actually used to live fairly close to Pulaski, VA...
- One has to wonder what the hell Duane’s neighbor’s think. I mean, there’s two houses within literal spitting distance on either side, and yet no one else saw the aliens!
- What kind of idiot doctor is going to leave a disturbed mental patient unattended in his office, where all kinds of weapons are within arm’s reach?
- Ah, yes, the infamous red speedo scene...
- I love how everyone’s shocked when Duane smacks the smart-ass in the face!
- Does anyone else think that Duane Barry and Bob Dole had similar ways of referring to themselves?
- It was nice of the negotiators to stick themselves right across the plaza from the travel agency, and then leave the blinds wide open...
- I love the look on Mulder’s face when he asks, “Who is this guy?”
- I also love how quickly Krycek is put in his place!
- What, no one was actually paying attention to the number of shots fired...even though each shot was clear and distinct from the others?
- The montage while Mulder is given instructions is nice and creepy...
- Could have done without the constant strobe light during the abduction flashbacks!
- David Duchovny actually puts quite a bit of himself in this performance...it’s one of those rare moments where the intensity of Mulder’s belief shines through...
- The drilling scene: easily one of the best scenes in the history of the series, just in terms of the horror it can evoke!
- Another interesting connection within this episode: the fact that Duane clearly states that the abductions involve the military and a “secret corporation”...which of course, are the actual people behind his abductions!
- Shouldn’t Duane have realized what the red dot meant a lot more quickly?
- Also, why were so many shots fired when the first shot hit him square in the chest?
- Scully’s grocery list includes pickles and ice cream...
- I wonder if the grocery store ever checked the security tapes to see who screwed up their register!
- Interesting how Duane could get up and run around so soon after being shot in the chest and nearly killed...
- Gee, Scully, ever think of hanging up and calling 911?
- This is also, technically, the first cliffhanger episode of the series!
Overall, this episode marks the beginning of the culmination of the subplot regarding the closing of the X-Files department and the events that lead to its re-inception. While the final scenes seem to be a bit removed from the central drama, the strength of the portrayal of Duane Barry counters that extremely well.
I give it an 8/10.
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