Season 2, Episode 5: “Duane Barry”
If X-Files storylines were a roller coaster, “Duane Barry” would be about here:
And that’s really only because of one scene – the end. But before we get to that, let’s talk about the episode itself.
In “Duane Barry” we have a crazy guy by the name of Duane Barry who’s holding a bunch of people hostage. He wants travel arrangements and also wants to kidnap his doctor and take him to – well, who knows where. Nobody really trusts Duane Barry not to do anything crazy, so the FBI has to negotiate with him to see if he will release some of the hostages.
They call in Mulder because Duane Barry keeps rambling on and on about aliens, and they figure, why not call in the alien expert? The whole trouble is once Mulder gets there they don’t seem particularly interested in what he has to offer, as they very quickly dismiss his alien abduction theories and warn against him feeding into Duane Barry’s delusions. Oh, well; it’s a minor point. Plus, we have more important matters to discuss.
Two words: red speedo.
This scene has, of course, achieved a status of great fame and recognition because of its mysterious and deeply symbolic nature. It poses questions that other TV shows had not dared yet address, such as: why is it here? What is its point? What exactly does Mulder talking to Krycek in a red speedo do for the content of their conversation? What does it do for the episode that a regular FBI suit wouldn’t do? These questions have puzzled X-Philes and critics alike for many years, and we are only just beginning to understand the deeper meaning underneath the surface of this scene. As time passes and new theories are brought forth, perhaps we will one day discover the answer. I myself dare not attempt such an intellectual feat.
A red speedo isn’t Mulder’s only costume change, however. We also have him dressing up as a paramedic, in order to gain access to Duane Berry and see if he can negotiate with him further. You see, up until this point, Mulder has been trying to talk to Duane Barry on the phone, and it isn’t doing much good. So Mulder thinks he can make better progress by speaking with him face-to-face. The only trouble is, once Mulder convinces Duane to let the other hostages go, he makes Mulder stay. Scully, however, does a little digging into Duane Barry, and discovers that he has a brain injury that could cause him to snap at any moment. This brain injury is reportedly due to a gunshot wound, but Duane claims he’s been operated on by aliens, and Mulder, of course, listens to him.
Here’s what I really like about this situation. First, Mulder’s pity-party has been suspended for the moment. Second, Mulder’s connection with Duane Barry is very well done and very consistent. Mulder has a certain compassion for anyone who’s gone through some sort of incredible experience and is ridiculed for believing that experience was incredible, because that’s something Mulder himself has gone through. Mulder also greatly sympathizes with people who claim to have been abducted by aliens, because of his sister. That’s why Mulder was so kind to Max Fenig in “Fallen Angel”, and similarly, Mulder tries to reach out to Duane Barry, even though Duane Barry is considerably more dangerous and unstable. From the opening, we assume that Duane Barry is telling the truth. But after learning about his mental state, we’re honestly not sure if he’s delusional or not. There’s always a hint of doubt that comes along with crazy people, and when Scully checks up on Duane Barry, we think for a moment she might be right this time.
When Duane Berry is shot, we continue to think it – that is, until Lucy Kazdin reveals to Mulder that Duane Barry had pieces of metal in his body exactly where he said he did. The metal, of course, could not be identified.
But all this, of course, is useless and doesn’t go anywhere – that is, if this was a normal episode. Duane Barry’s story would be of no consequence to the show or the characters if it weren’t for the ending. Something dreadful happens. Scully is kidnapped, taken away from both Mulder and the audience, and for the first time, nobody’s sure everything’s going to be okay.
Final score for “Duane Barry” is 7/10. For an episode that is so well-remembered, I was surprised exactly how much it relies on its ending. It doesn’t really solve the issue with Duane Barry, but instead trades his conflict out for another one. But the other conflict is so important to us and to the show that in the end, it doesn’t matter.
- I really like Lucy Kazdin. She’s got a good sense of humor. I wish they’d brought her back for something else.
- Mulder undergoes several costume changes in this episode. He goes from a red speedo to a suit to a paramedics outfit.
- And of course, the first appearance of the heartwrenching TO BE CONTINUED.