“They drilled holes in my damn teeth!” — Duane Barry
Mulder is called in to negotiate a hostage situation involving a former FBI agent who believes he’s been abducted by aliens multiple times, and it soon becomes clear that this is not a case that will wrap itself up in 45 minutes…Radhika: And here we go. “Duane Barry” is probably THE pivotal episode in X-Files history, the one that kicks off the Scully abduction arc, which eventually leads to the Scully cancer arc and so much more.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
This is one of those episodes I’ve watched many times, considering its importance to the series, and even now, I could still feel myself tensing up as the events unfolded. The acting is terrific, from series regulars and guest stars alike, and the situations we see are downright terrifying.
The episode is part crime drama, with Mulder working on negotiations in a fairly stressful hostage situation. But this is also where the sci-fi kicks into full force, integrating flashbacks of Duane Barry’s abductions, with close-ups of holes being drilled into teeth, and shadowy alien-like figures keeping a watchful eye during these experiments. We don’t quite know whether these scenes are legit or just in the character’s mind, but the terror and panic caused by the abductions feel very real. Classic X-Files.
The title character, Duane Barry, is introduced to us as an escaped mental patient, who abducts his doctor and plans on returning to his original abduction site, where he hopes the aliens will take his captive instead. Confused about the site’s location, Barry stops at a travel agency, where the workers wind up being held hostage as well. Mulder is called in to negotiate, while Scully investigates Barry’s background, eventually suspecting that a frontal lobe injury suffered by the escapee — a former FBI agent — may have made him a dangerous pathological liar. Eventually, Barry is shot by a sniper (not killed), and it seems all will be well … until the final minutes of the episode where Barry escapes, abducts Scully from her home, and the viewer is left hearing Scully screaming for help on Mulder’s voicemail.
Let’s rewind from this cliffhanger for a moment though. We’ve heard Mulder talk about classic abductee experiences before, but now we see some real details. Barry talks at length about implants all over his body and holes in his teeth — and evidence of these holes and metallic fragments are eventually found once he’s taken to the hospital. In fact, Scully finds herself investigating the fragments further, eventually passing one over a scanner at a supermarket, causing the cash register to go haywire. This is where, after being somewhat convinced that maybe Barry was delusional after all, we realize that there might be some real truth to the abductions, even if we’re not entirely sure who’s carrying them out. These implants will of course go on to play a vital, recurring role in the series.
Another thing that’s worth noting is that once again, we have a bit of an outlier of society claiming that aliens have abducted him. In season one, the only people who spoke of abductions were the misfits, perhaps even those suffering from an illness like Max from “Fallen Angel.” Duane Barry fits that trope for sure, but now as the episode concludes with Scully being abducted and likely offered up to some aliens, there is a chance we’ll see how these abductions can affect the more “respectable” members of society… which means we’re due for quite a shakeup in X-Files land.
Max: I think it is telling just how massive this episode is, and how so much in contained within it, that Radhika didn’t even mention Mulder’s infamous red Speedo in the scene when Krycek informs Mulder about the case.
Speaking of Krycek, he doesn’t have a lot to do in the episode, but his mere presence, coupled with the fact that we now know he is feeding information to the CSM and his colleagues, does cast a shadow over the proceedings. Still, he gets put in his place when the agent in charge only has use for him to fetch her a cappuccino.
A classic FBI situation in films and television is the hostage standoff, and “Duane Barry” utilizes this trope to wonderful effect. You can really cut the tension with a knife, and with Steve Railsbeck’s tightly wound performance, Barry could snap at any moment, endangering the lives of his hostages. This is evidenced when, in the worst coincidence in history, the power shorts out in the region around the travel agency. Thinking the aliens are now there to abduct him yet again, Barry begins to fire his gun recklessly. The result is that one of his hostages is shot and needs medical attention, which leads to a chain of events ending in Mulder becoming one of the hostages.
There are a lot of agendas at play in this episode. From the FBI who just want this resolved quickly and without media attention, to Mulder who latches onto Barry’s story in an attempt to understand and investigate, to whatever Krycek is hatching in the back of his mind.
When the dust settled, Mulder and Scully do some post-mortem investigation of Barry’s story. Turns out, he does have several fragments of metal implanted in his body, and there are holes in his teeth that would be impossible to make with typical dental instruments. Getting one of those fragments analyzed by FBI ballistics, they discover some kind of barcode or tagging device on it (which later, in an act of curiosity, sets off a cash register where Scully is buying things on her way home). Someone it seems has been tracking him, and he has a date with destiny on Scully’s doorstep.
With Scully in peril and now seemingly taken by Duane Barry as an offering/replacement to the aliens that have tormented him for the last nine years, the series has reached a crucial juncture point. Even if you haven’t really watched the series before, Scully’s abduction is a pretty well known piece of the story, and irrevocably changes the landscape of the series. In terms of the gallons of ink spilled about The X-Files, her abduction is a point of demarcation. It is the event that several of the threads of the emerging mythology that we have been tracking for a little over a season begin to run through, and from which we begin to learn more and uncover deeper conspiracies to come.
In the previous episode, X intimated that things have never been more dangerous for our heroes. In “Duane Barry,” that danger becomes real and terrifyingly present.
YES, IT’S THAT LADY
CCH Pounder – Perhaps best known for her roles on shows like The Shield and Sons of Anarchy, CCH Pounder appears in this episode as Agent Lucy Kazdin. Pounder was actually nominated for an Emmy for her part in this episode, and went on to receive three additional nominations for her other guest/supporting roles in the years following her appearance on The X-Files.