Sunday, July 31, 2016

Case 02, File 05: Duane Barry

AKA: Duane Barry Is Not Making This Up

Right from the get go The X-Files had linked episodes in the form of its mythology episodes, but for the first season or so, they were mostly one off episodes, perhaps interconnected but not paired up. But, as the series progressed, a new dynamic for how they produced and aired Myth Arc Episodes. Namely, they would make two or more episodes paired together, making a single longer story. And this is beginning of the first multi-episode arc in the show.

Our story opens with mental patient, and former abductee, the titular Duane Barry, assaulting his doctor and escaping with his doctor in tow as a hostage. He holes up at a travel agency (heh, dated) and takes the employees hostage. Mulder is called in, because his knowledge of abductees makes him valuable. But the initial attempts at negotiating go poorly, because it turns out Duane is a former FBI Agent, who knows all the tricks.

Mulder tries to figure out more about Duane's history, but a power outage hits and Duane, convinced it's the aliens, starts firing wildly, like ya do. One of the hostages it hit, and Mulder is sent in to give him medical care. Duane agrees to let him go, but demands Mulder remain, dun dun dun. After some conversing about alien abductions, Duane starts to trust Mulder and vice versa, but in comes Scully with the information that Duane has taken a Phineas Gage style injury to the head, leaving him a empathy-less pathological liar.

Mulder gets Duane to release rest of his hostages, but a moment of doubt from Mulder causes Duane to, and this a medical term, freak the fuck out. Mulder tricks Duane into taking a sniper bullet to the chest, and the hostage situation is resolved. But, the episode is not over: It turns out Duane has metal where he said he did when talking with Mulder, and has had holes drilled in his teeth. Scully finds that the metal has a weird barcode, but Duane escapes from the hospital where he was being kept and kidnaps Scully, leaving us with The X-Files' first ever To Be Continued.

"You know this is just going to fuel those rumors about us."
"I'm comfortable with my sexuality."
The bulk of this episode is based around the hostage situation, since it begins immediately after the cold open and keeps going more or less until the last ad break, and that is not a complaint. Basing the episode around a hostage negotiation is a good concept to keep the tension up; A single, tightly focused location, only a handful of characters we have to keep track of, the situation constantly shifting to keep the audience engaged, and allowing a logical reason for the slow drip feed of information. Okay, so maybe Scully showing up towards the end is a wee bit contrived, but it's Scully, she can do what she wants.

Of the small cast of characters we have to keep track of, the most important is obviously the titular one, Duane Barry. Duane is one of the most engaging parts of the episode, with Steven Railsback playing him all the way to hilt. He manages to be both intensely unhinged and deeply vulnerable, while both feeling part of the same character. He's such an engaging character that he just eats up the screen whenever he's there. The hostages are a little flatter, but they're only as interesting as they need to be, which is to say, interesting enough that we don't want them to get shot.

"DAVE Barry is the one who insulted MacArthur Park, he's the one you want!"
Once the hostage situation is resolved, the episode loses a lot of steam, although it only has a little time left, so I guess it's okay. The bit with the metal and the holes drilled in Duane's teeth feels a little like an overly long denouncement, at least when you take the episode as a single entity. It's rescued by the fact that it's setting up the next episode, but up until the moment Scully gets kidnapped, it feels like the episode is just running out the clock.

It's a very good looking episode as well. It's the first episode directed by series creator Chris Carter, and while he's no Vince Gilligan, he's definitely got a good sense of pacing and solid cinematography. The flashbacks to Duane's abductions are genuinely unnerving, and while I feel like they cut out the big action beats to save money, the cuts to black with dialogue over it actually work pretty well.

If the episode has a major flaw, I suppose it would be in the script. I joked earlier that Scully making it to hostage situation in like 20 minutes is a little contrived, but the plot as a whole relies on contrivance a little much (Duane's ability to escape seems to rely a lot on having an improvised weapon and his guard having their back turned, and you think someone would mention to Mulder that Duane was former FBI up front). The script also relies on exposition a little heavily sometimes, but that's overall a minor flaw.

The cash register says NRA4EVER, just one of the hundreds of radical right-wing messages inserted into every show by creator Matt Groening.

Duane Barry is overall a pretty solid episode, a lot of good points and not much in the way of flaws, but it's still easily the weakest of the Scully Abducted trilogy of episodes. So we're in for a good set of reviews (Excluding 3, but we'll discuss that when we get to it), and a series with long reaching consequences on the rest of the series (Scully's cancer, her son William). We'll discuss all that when we get to it, but for now, we have a good episode and a good review right here.

Case Notes:
  • We here at I Want to Review would like to apologize for our long absence. I just moved and I had to work a lot to make sure I had enough money for, you know, food and such. I'm going to try and bring this back on schedule (IE, 3 times a month) over the next couple weeks.
  • The X-Files usually has people watching old movies or TV whenever the TV is on, mostly because it's usually out of copyright, but this time it really works as mood-setting ambience.
  • Duane is such a memorable character, but I think I'd blanked on his habit of referring to himself in the third person.
  • Mulder in a speedo would be confusing me sexually if I wasn't openly bisexual. As it is, it's quite pleasant.
  • The hostage negotiation bit is a solid conceit to give the episode tension, but it does have a variant on the Armageddon problem: Wouldn't it be easier to teach a hostage negotiator about alien abductions than an alien abduction expert about hostage negotiation?
  • The hostage who mouths off to Duane looks a lot like Tobias Funke from Arrested Development. This doesn't add anything, it just amused me.
  • On that note, who the fuck asks the person who took them hostage if they're gonna have to sit on the floor all night? He's clearly unstable, and armed, don't piss him off.
  • It seems kind of silly to have the hostage negotiator doing his thing within sight of the hostage taker.
  • Mulder ranting about abductee experiences is pretty creepy, especially when he talks directly to Kazdin about what they do to women's ovaries.
  • Okay, Kazdin tell Krycek to get her coffee amused me.
  • I mentioned this above, but deciding to set this episode in and around a hostage negotiation is a really good concept. Slowly revealing new pieces of Duane Barry's backstory, the ever changing situation, the tight and focused location, it's all good stuff.
  • Everyone is trying to give Mulder advice on how to handle the hostage stuff, but they're apparently unaware that Mulder doesn't take advice on anything.
  • If Duane wasn't just an actual abductee and just turned out to be a garden variety mental patient, this episode would probably end with Mulder getting shot. I'm just saying.
  • Not gonna lie, the sequences showing Duane's abduction are pretty frightening.
  • Scully being angrily indignant while trying to help Mulder is one of my favorite things she does.
  • I know that one of the hostages saying that she believes Duane is supposed to come across as sweet, but it actually reads like Stockholm Syndrome.
  • Mulder asking if Duane is lying is such an obvious miscalculation. Come on Mulder, you're better than that.
  • I like Scully scanning the piece of metal at the grocery store and then just bolting when it fucks up the cash register.
Current Celebrity Watch:


Future Celebrity Watch:

CCH Pounder, who plays Agent Kazdin, has appeared on a ton of TV shows in a variety of roles. We'd be here all day if I mentioned them all, but I guess the most notable is the fact that she appeared as one of the main characters on The Shield (I've never watched it, but she played Captain Claudette Wyms, if that helps?)

Also, the guy who plays Duane's counsellor, Frank C. Turner, was in Alone in the Dark. That doesn't make him a celebrity, it just amuses me.

Audio Observation:

Nothing this time, but a big one next week.

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