Monday, August 3, 2015

The X-Files - S2:E6 "Ascension"

[ S2:E5 "Duane Barry" <<< Season 2 >>> S2:E7 "3" ]

Spoiler Warning: Being the second part of a two-parter, this review inevitably contains spoilers. Moreover, I'm gonna go ahead and take advantage of the situation to talk about spoilers from this episode as well, so...head's up.

This is, in many ways, a game-changing episode. (As an aside, I've always liked the word "ascension", and this may have been the first time it made an impression on me). If there's any doubt that this is a monumental episode, it's only the second of a very few in which the line "The Truth Is Out There" in the opening credits is replaced - as it was in the season 1 finale - this time by the phrase "Deny Everything" (also uttered by Mulder's informant, albeit a new one this time). Ascension picks up right where Duane Barry left off; the hostage situation is resolved, but now Duane Barry is on the lam, and he's taken Scully with him! I have to say, it's pretty unnerving to see Scully's apartment treated as a crime scene.

All the players convene in this episode - even Scully's mom (Sheila Larken) returns. The Smoking Man, too, has an important part in this episode - during a bureau debriefing on Scully's disappearance, he sits silently background (literally out of focus behind Mulder in one shot), self-righteously smoking his cigarette. Half of the episode constitutes chasing Duane Barry to the top of a high mountain - at one point, he's pulled over by a highway patrolman, with Scully bound and gagged in his trunk, in a creepy scene that's almost Tarantino-esque. This includes a harrowing journey up a precarious tram (sort of a ski lift/cable car) - it's a good thing Mulder's afraid of fire, and not heights - that demonstrates the cold-hearted limits to which Krycek is willing to go to do his job (in direct contrast to the novice persona he constructs for Mulder).

And, at the top, Scully is taken. Questions still remain as to whether it was really aliens that took Scully, or just the government. Or, even if it was aliens, to what extent the government is cooperating with the aliens or vice versa. Whereas throughout season 1 it seemed as if the government conspiracy acted in a cleanup capacity, covering up tracks of the aliens' involvement with Earth, now we're getting very clear suggestions that the government is actively working with them. Which still doesn't mean that they have the same goals, or methods, but it's a pretty provocative implication nonetheless. In a frightening scene, we see Scully pregnant, presumably in the care of alien experimenters.

Of course, Gillian Anderson herself was actually pregnant. In hindsight (and, frankly, with the help of some external insight), it becomes clear to me that this may have been the driving force behind both the closing of the X-Files and Scully's abduction - so as to give her some time away from the show. Honestly, I'm a little disappointed that this wasn't more calculated by the show's creators, because I think this has been the strongest development in the series so far. Regardless of the reasons, though, the situation was handled expertly (and I commend Anderson for being so gung-ho, to he point of even appearing pregnant on an alien operating table, all for the sake of the show), and it was to the show's ultimate benefit.

This is the first half of the episode - the rest of the episode, however, deals with the repercussions of that pivotal moment when Scully disappears. Mulder becomes nearly homicidal when he realizes he's lost Scully, and her absence is felt immediately in the autopsy room, when the military gets their hands on Duane Barry's body, after he's been murdered to cover the government's tracks; they nearly succeed in framing Mulder for it. Notably, Mulder finally learns that Krycek isn't to be trusted (I say that being that this is only the third episode that Krycek has appeared in, but it really feels like he's been strung along for a while). Meanwhile, Krycek may be beginning to harbor some rebellious thoughts, transforming him into the agent of chaos he is bound to become.

It's also awesome to see more of the Smoking Man. There's a point, a few years in, at which you could argue that we've seen too much of him - that he becomes too human, too sympathetic - but we know and have seen so little of him right now, that every little bit feels exciting. Skinner has a moment of true collaboration with Mulder in this episode, cementing their unlikely alliance against the forces of government conspiracy, and solidly planting Skinner in Mulder's corner once and for all. I shouted "fuck yeah" at the screen when he announced that he would re-open the X-Files, but without Scully, it's a hollow victory. This is a fantastic, but also a heartbreaking episode, which is emphasized in the penultimate scene between Mulder and Mrs. Scully. But the true resolution is yet to come.

Memorable quotes:

Krycek: He's convinced he's going to be abducted by aliens. That by taking someone to the abduction site, he won't be abducted himself.
Skinner: That he's following orders from alien voices in his head?
Krycek: Yes.
Skinner: Well that's an interesting spin on the Nuremberg Defense.

Krycek: You know, Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez, Three Mile Island, they were all linked to sleep deprivation. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that over one hundred ninety thousand fatal car crashes every year are caused by sleepiness.
Mulder: Did they estimate how many people are put to sleep listening to their statistics?

Duane Barry: I'm free, you son of a bitches! You can't touch Duane Barry anymore!
Mulder: Don't move!
Duane Barry: I'm not going anywhere!
Mulder: Where is she? Where'd you leave her?
Duane Barry: They took her!
Mulder: Who?
Duane Barry: THEM!

Smoking Man: Kill Mulder and you risk turning one man's religion into a crusade.

Smoking Man: We tell you only what you need to know.
Krycek: I think I have a right to know.
Smoking Man: You have no rights, only orders to be carried out. If you have a problem with that, we'll make other arrangements.

Random Suit: Why are you so paranoid, Mulder?
Mulder: Oh, I don't know. Maybe it's because I find it hard to trust anybody.

X: They have something on everyone, Mr. Mulder. The question is when they'll use it.

Mulder: I want an answer!
X: There are no answers for you, Mr. Mulder. They only have one policy: deny everything.

(Well, that and apology, but we'll get to that later).

Skinner: This is a serious allegation, Agent Mulder.
Mulder: Only so far as it is true.

Skinner: There's a lot of blood on this document, Agent Mulder. Are you standing behind this, going on the record?
Mulder: Yes, sir.
Skinner: Well then you damn well better have the facts to back it up.

Mulder: Who are these people, who can just murder with impunity and we can't do anything about it?
Skinner: Let it go, Agent Mulder.
Mulder: Like hell!
Skinner: There's nothing you can do.
Mulder: What can you do about it?
Skinner: There's only one thing that I can do, Agent Mulder. As of right now I'm re-opening the X-Files. That's what they fear the most.

Mrs. Scully: I had that dream again last night about Dana being taken away. I can't tell you how it scares me.
Mulder: It's probably scarier when you stop having the dream. Don't you think?

Mulder: I found this (Scully's cross necklace). It's something I never considered about her. If she was such a skeptic, why did she wear that?
Mrs. Scully: I gave it to her on her fifteenth birthday.
Mulder: Don't you want to keep it?
Mrs. Scully: When you find her, you give it to her.

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