Saturday, August 20, 2016

Case 02, File 06: Ascension

AKA: The Search for Scully

I suppose the one downside of a multi-part episode, from my point of view, is that I already did most of my introducing in the previous episode, so this opening paragraph doesn't have a lot to be about. Of course I could decide to be metatextual about it (can you be meta in a review?) and spend the entire paragraph discussing the fact that I don't really have a lot to discuss. But that's such a cheap and easy ploy that I'm sure my fanbase, if any, would see right through it, and there would be riots in the streets. Oh wait, is that a paragraph? Great.

Ascension opens right where Duane Barry left off, with Scully leaving a message for Mulder, initially about the weird piece of metal she has, but which ends with the much more pressing matter of her impending kidnap. Mulder rushes over but remembers too late that messages are not necessarily discovered in real time and that Scully has been kidnapped by Duane (who is rather sprightly for a dude who was shot 10 hours ago). He also meets Mrs. Scully, who had a dream about this happening...this goes nowhere, so I don't know why I'm mentioning it.

Anyway, the search is on, but Skinner kicks Mulder off the case, citing his exhaustion, his closeness to Scully, his closeness to Duane and the fact that Mulder is an alien believing weirdo. Meanwhile Duane is wandering his way around Virginia, eventually being stopped by a highway patrol officer and killing him. But Mulder figures out, based on where the officer was killed and some random stuff Duane said that he's heading for...some ski resort out in the middle of nowhere (is Skyland Mountain a real place? Genuinely asking. VA residents, help me out here). Seriously impressive deduction skills Mulder.

"Okay, now zoom and enhance."
"Agent Mulder, this is not CSI, we don't have that butto-oh, there it is."
Mulder and Krycek run off to stop Duane from giving Scully to the aliens, but unbeknownst to Mulder, Krycek is conspiring to slow Mulder down. So when Mulder forces an attendant at the ski resort's tram service to let him take the tram up, Krycek kills the attendant and stops the tram. But Mulder isn't about to let things like common sense or imminent death stop him, and he manages to make it to the peak. He finds Duane, without Scully, who insists that a light Mulder saw was a spaceship that came to take her.

Mulder, for once, doesn't believe him and gets agitated while questioning (agitated WITH HIS FISTS) but Duane dies mysteriously and Mulder is held responsible. But Mulder discovers evidence that Krycek is conspiring with the Cigarette Smoking Man, despite Krycek's efforts to the contrary. Krycek disappears, Skinner reopens the X-Files as an act of defiance and the episode ends with Mulder reaffirming his vow to find Scully to her mother.

Ascension kind of suffers from being the middle part of the Scully Abducted trilogy. (Does it have an official name?) It lacks much in the way of a beginning or an end, so the story kind of wanders a bit, and like it's predecessor, it kind of loses steam once Duane is dealt with. So it's probably the least of the set, designed mostly to get Scully captured and string Duane Barry and One Breath together. But it's still a good episode, nicely paced and engaging to watch.

"Man, climbing on top of a tram is fun. I should leap onto a train sometime."
The bulk of the episode is about Scully getting captured and everyone's reactions to that, which gives the episode a nice solid backbone, an event for everyone to react to. Mulder starts going crazy trying to find her (never a far journey), Skinner is determined to find her by the book, the conspiracy conspires, Krycek betrays Mulder (because that's like his default state). All the pieces are moving, and everyone is trying to grab Duane before he gets Scully abducted. They fail of course, and Scully's abduction becomes a major plot point for both the next two episodes and the series going forward, but it's interesting to see how everyone reacts to a "Scully in peril" that Scully can't just shoot her way out of.

The big set piece of the episodes is Mulder's adventures on the tram, which is indeed quite impressive. It's a nice engaging sequence, with Mulder risking his life, Krycek trying to muck things up, Duane Barry trying to get Scully to the abduction site, and the tram operator just trying to keep the thing from breaking. It also does a good job of setting up how on the edge Mulder is...because he threatens the guy with a gun, not because he breaks the rules of how to operate the tram. Mulder treats the rules for anything and everything with the same respect I treat Flat Earthers, so why would he give a shit about tram rules?

Unfortunately, as I said above, once the main plot with Duane is resolved, the episode kind of stalls. It's clearly just running in circles trying to get a full episode out of it so they can keep all of the Scully returned stuff for the next episode. I don't know how they'd fix it though; The main plot is too meaty to be the second half of another episode, and even if it wasn't, both Duane Barry and One Breath are stuffed to the gills. So I guess they did the best they could with the time available.

The post Duane-kidnapping stuff is all building to the reopening of the X-Files, which is a theoretically big moment that, for me at least, doesn't land at all. Maybe because it comes at the tail end of such an intense episode, maybe because it gets undercut by the episode keeping going after it, but it just never landed for me.

Oh well, that's just another thing that the series will be dealing with going forward. The Scully abduction arc has a lot of long term effects, from the reopening of the X-Files, to her cancer and even Scully's eventual child...come to think of it, all of these effects are on Scully, which is a little annoying, because she's not really in the episode, so I can't talk about her. Oh well, the other actors are there, and they're good. Duchovny is good at selling the fact that Mulder is getting increasingly unstable, Mitch Pileggi and Nicholas Lea are always excellent, and we even get some good crazy out of Steve Railsback, who exits the series after this episode, never to return.

I don't want it to sound like I'm down on this episode, I'm really not. It's well directed, the search for Scully is well paced and engaging, it's got a good script and it has some moments of real brilliance. I'm just not sure it's as good as it could be, and certainly not as good as the episode that came before it. I guess I'll just have to see if the next one is as good as I remember.

...Oh shit, the actual next episode is that shitty vampire one isn't it? I guess I mean I'll have to see if One Breath is as good as I remember.

Case Notes:
  • I would like to apologize once again for the delay, and for any spelling/grammar/punctuation errors scattered throughout the review that I miss. My new laptop arrived only a few days ago, and I'm still getting used to the keyboard a bit.
  • Mulder needs to turn on the lights in his apartment. Seriously dude, how do you not bump your shin everywhere?
  • Scully's apartment changes more than Mulder's, cause I don't think this is the one that Tooms broke into, nor is it the one I remember later. Maybe she changes every time she gets attacked in her home? Understandable.
  • The sequence where Mulder wanders through Scully's apartment with flashbacks to the attack is pretty solid. I wonder if they created the attack and then recorded the audio, or recorded the audio from the last episode and then choreographed the attack.
  • The actress who plays Scully's mom is, as always, pretty good in this episode, but she's also kind of pointless.
  • Skinner, on Duane taking orders from alien voices in his head: That's an interesting spin on the Nuremberg defense. A+ sarcasm, I love it.
  • Is this really the time to give Mulder shit for believing in aliens? Like, he's got a point. How did Duane find Scully? Maybe don't jump straight to aliens, but find an explanation.
  • Duane, I know you're crazy, but asking a cop to just give you the ticket so you can go never fucking works.
  • Once again, Duane eludes capture via the authority figure not keeping his eyes on him. Come on guys, keep him in your sights.
  • Why would Duane look in the trun-oh so Mulder can see Scully on the traffic cam, duh.
  • I know Mulder is supposed to look haggard, but outside his 5 o'clock shadow, he doesn't look that different from how he normally does.
  • The road Duane was driving down does not look like Virginia. On the other hand, Rixeyville is like 10 feet across, so maybe I'm making too much of it.
  • Krycek is just talking about his nefarious plans out in the open, come on dude, what if Mulder walked up behind you quietly?
  • Mulder's explanation for why they didn't tell Skinner where they think Duane is headed is really contrived.
  • Mulder straight up threatens the dude with his gun to get him to let him use the tram. That's hardcore Mulder.
  • If the cable can't hold past 15 miles an hour then why do you even have the option to go faster than 15? Just for situations like this?
  • Tram sequence gets no other insults from me, because it's fucking awesome.
  • Duane left the car running when he went off to find his aliens? That's super bad for the environment Duane.
  • The effects on the helicopter/alien ship look like shit. They probably spent all their money on the tram sequence.
  • Duane gets captured the first time he runs into an authority figure who is willing to keep his eyes on him for 10 seconds, what did I tell you.
  • Duane's death is kind of unceremonious isn't it? I mean, Krycek and CSM have a cryptic conversation about it, but it's still kind of just "and out he goes," isn't it?
  • The moment doesn't totally land for me, but I do love Mitch Pileggi's line on reopening the X-Files.
  • It's a cool final shot and all, but are they implying that Mulder drove over an hour back to Skyland Mountain to stand and look at the stars?

Current Celebrity Watch:

Nope, although the guy who played the tram operator was also previously in EBE, which is kind of amusing. I wonder if they do that on purpose.

Future Celebrity Watch:


Audio Observatons:

In a dusty black coat with a red right hand. God I love that song. The sequence where Duane drives down the road with Scully in the car is set to Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, our first instance of a pop song showing up in The X-Files. It's a damn fine song, best known now for being the theme song to Peaky Blinders, and it's well used here. It's a creepy and atmospheric song that really adds to the tension. I'm just disappointed that it doesn't play through the entire scene where he kills the cop.

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