Season 2, Episode 5
Director: Chris Carter
Writer: Chris Carter
“Duane Barry” is apparently considered sacred across the Internet largely (slightly spoilery here) because of the landmark event in its second half. I did some research, you see, which – as Internet research tends to do – spoiled the ending for me. More on that tomorrow. Aside from that, “Duane Barry” is important because it is the first episode of the series actually directed by creator Chris Carter, and he acquits himself well by introducing an episode wholly devoted to the alien abduction mythology of the overall series. It’s an excellent episode, too, because Carter focuses on real-life tension between Mulder and the titular character Duane Barry (Steve Railsback, Helter Skelter) during a hostage standoff.
The prologue begins in the past as Duane Barry (he likes to refer to himself in the third person, so that does become a little tiring) is approached by aliens for what apparently becomes another Barry alien abduction. Little green men surround him, and he screams as a white light engulfs him. The camera pulls back revealing a UFO hovering above the house with a tracking beam pulling Barry into the sky. Flash-forward to modern day and Barry, a formerly successful FBI agent, lives in a mental institution under the care of Dr. Hakkie. In the blink of an eye, Barry overpowers a guard, takes his gun, and kidnaps Dr. Hakkie with the intent of having him witness a potentially pending alien abduction. Duane Barry makes his way to a travel office (ha) where he takes the staff hostage and attracts the attention of the FBI.
Mulder and Alex Krycek arrive on scene and begin to work with Agent Lucy Kazdin (CCH Pounder) on a method of freeing the hostages without giving into Barry’s psychosis. Ditching an attempt to converse via phone, Mulder volunteers to enter the travel agency after a blackout (and potential alien arrival – we’re never really sure about that) causes Barry to randomly fire into the dark, nearly fatally wounding a man. Mulder and a medic enter the agency, and Barry eventually agrees to let the injured man leave after Mulder earns his trust due to their mutual interest in alien abductions – remember Mulder’s sister (as if you could forget). Meanwhile, Scully investigates Barry’s past after a request from Mulder and discovers Barry’s frontal cortex was damaged by a gunshot wound that would impact his reason, logic, and trustworthiness. Crushed, Mulder convinces Barry to free the hostages (one even tells him she believes him) and allows Barry to be shot by nearby agents.
In the hospital, surgeons remove several metal objects from Barry’s nasal cavity and mouth – Duane earlier claimed the aliens drilled into his teeth. Of course the objects don’t appear to be manmade nor do the drill marks appear to have been made by any Earth-bound drill. On a hunch, Scully decides to scan one of the metallic objects at her local grocery, revealing what appears to be some sort of serial number. A tracking device perhaps? In the end, she calls Mulder to relay this information and leaves it on his answering machine. Huddled outside her window is the now-escaped Duane Barry who breaks into Scully’s apartment. Her cries for help are the last thing we hear on Mulder’s answering machine.
“Duane Barry” seems to be a great episode because Carter expertly balances the alien mythology aspects of the story with a classic hostage standoff situation. He assembles a great collection of actors – Pounder and Railsback are great – and gives them meaty material with a well-constructed screenplay. Still, given the double episode structure, it’s difficult to give a full evaluation. I’ll need to see the wrap-up to determine if the overall story arc is of high quality. I suspect it will be, given the Internet’s reaction to it. The Emmys certainly agreed giving the series its first big Emmy hug largely thanks to “Duane Barry.” Carter received a writing nomination, and Pounder was nominated for Guest Actress in a Drama. The series also received its first Drama Series nomination, largely thanks to this episode.
Bigger things are coming – poor pregnant Gillian Anderson huffs and puffs her way through the episode – but “Duane Barry” is certainly one of the best thus far. Time will tell where it ranks in the overall X-Files lore.