Season 2

2x06 Ascension

Air date: 21-10-94
Writer: Paul Brown
Director: Michael Lange
Editor: Heather MacDougal
Director of Photography: John S. Bartley, C.S.C.
Documented Phenomenon: Abduction

Episode summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

It's 11:20 p.m. Mulder has just gotten home, and plays the message on his answering machine that Scully left him at the end of the previous episode about the chip they pulled out of Duane Barry. Then he hears the smashing of glass and Scully's yell for help.

He drives to Scully's residence to find the police there. He goes straight to the front door, sees the window shattered, and a blood stain. In a flash, he sees Barry breaking the window and grabbing Scully. In a state that makes him appear as if he is sleepwalking, he enters the apartment, notes the police activity, and sees in his mind’s eye Scully screaming for help and trying to reach her weapon. He is finally aroused by the arrival of a frantic Mrs. Scully, trying to get in. He tells her Dana's not there, but has no answer to the question: "Where is she?"

(The opening credits roll, ending with the phrase: "DENY EVERYTHING.)

At 11:46 p.m., Mulder listens as Mrs. Scully tells him that she had a dream that her daughter was going to be taken. Mrs. Scully didn't call Dana about it, because she thought her daughter would have laughed at her. "She doesn't believe in that kind of thing, you know," she tells Mulder.

At 8:03 a.m., at the FBI headquarters, under the observation of the Cigarette-Smoking Man, Skinner recounts Duane Barry's back-story, claiming his trauma was due to a bullet wound to the head. Asked if this is the operational opinion, Alex Krycek tells them Barry believes he's been abducted by aliens, and that by taking someone else to the abduction, that is the only way to prevent himself from being taken again. When Skinner hears this instruction comes from alien voices in his head, he asks Mulder what he believes. Mulder then speaks for the first time, asking how Barry got to Scully in the first place. He is met with general disdain when he describes the device they removed from Barry as a tracking device, and Skinner points out that Scully thought Mulder had misjudged Barry's psychosis. Regarding the question as to where Barry could've taken her, Mulder replies that Barry kept talking about a mountain, but wasn't specific. CSM and Krycek appear to exchange glances. Skinner reminds them that how ever it happened, Barry took Scully's vehicle and weapon. He intends to put all the Bureau's resources at their disposal, and tells Mulder to hand the file to HRT. When he asks to brief HRT himself, Skinner tells him to go home, reminds him he's been up all night, and tells Mulder that he is far too close to the case to be involved. Skinner finally orders Krycek to take him home, and leaves. The CSM looks on with satisfaction.

At 11:23 a.m., on route 223 in Rixeyville, VA, Duane Barry wearing sweatshirt and looking extremely disconnected from the world, is driving. He  accelerates, radio blasting, and finally turns onto Route 229. A police car’s sirens come on, and Barry reluctantly pulls over. The deputy switches on the camera and walks out of the car. He asks Barry to turn down his radio, ignoring Barry's request to let him go, and not hearing the radio report about Scully's abduction. Barry asks for him to just give him the ticket, as there's some place he says he has to be. Barry’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, and the deputy notices that his knuckles have blood on them. He demands Barry step out of the car, and Barry's begs him not to get involved "For your own sake, don't stop Duane Barry." From inside, a bound and gagged Scully finally raps on the trunk, the deputy pulls his weapon, and Barry shoots him.

At FBI headquarters, at 3:11 p.m., the footage from the deputy's camera is being analyzed by Mulder. After highlighting a segment of the screen, they can clearly see Scully's face inside the vehicle.

A little after 4:00 p.m., Mulder is listening to audiotapes of Barry's sessions in the mental hospital. It is a discussion about where he was abducted. Mulder listens to the phrase "ascending to the stars" over and over. Krycek brings him coffee, and asks him if he's slept. Mulder plays the segment of tape, and asks where the patrolman was killed. When he learns it was on Route 229, he asks if this leads to the Blue Ridge Mountains. He walks to a phone book, and finds an ad reading “ASCEND TO THE STARS--SKYLAND MOUNTAIN." He tears the page out and tells Krycek to get his coat, waving off his warnings to tell Skinner. Later in the FBI garage, Krycek tells someone on a cell (we never find out who) that they're heading to Skyland Mountain, and that he'll hold him off until he gets there. He hangs up as Mulder arrives. As they leave the garage, we see the CSM sitting in his own car, smoking.

Driving down Route 211, Mulder keeps blinking to stay awake and is saved from colliding with a semi when Krycek yells and grabs his shoulder, but Mulder insists that he's fine. Krycek relays a series of events that might have been caused by sleep deprivation, including a Department of Transportation stat that 190,000 accidents are caused by sleep deprivation. Mulder wonders if  they mentioned how many people are put to sleep listening to their statistics. Krycek says he's just trying to keep Mulder awake. Mulder then tells Krycek he didn't call in Skinner because he's afraid sending in the cavalry would send Barry over the high side. Krycek asks if Barry really tracked Scully down with the implant. Mulder says that is the easiest, although most implausible explanation. He then states that someone could have given him her location, but he has no idea who. Krycek points out the turnoff, and we see the sign for Skyland Mountain.

The tram operator identifies Barry, saying he showed up forty-five minutes earlier asking to take the tram. He refused because it's shut down for the summer, telling him to take the back road. Learning it takes about an hour to drive to the summit, Mulder demands to ride the tram. The operator insists no, saying they just got through refitting the cable. Mulder refuses to take no for answer, showing the man his holster. Reluctantly, the operator turns the tram on, saying that while he can't stop him, he will shut the thing down if they have problems with the cable. Mulder then enters the tram, locks Krycek out, and orders him to make sure the tram isn't shut down. He then takes off halfway through the operator’s instructions on how to slow down and not to run it any faster than 15 mph.

Mulder immediately begins to push the tram, passing 25 miles per hour and pushing it faster. Mumbling that his warning is being ignored, the operator gets on the intercom and starts warning him.

We cut to Barry driving up the route. The cable starts making sounds, and the engineer tells Krycek that it can't hold at that speed. Mulder pushes the tram to 30 mph. The operator tells Mulder to slow down as he approaches the tower. Mulder does so reluctantly, and as soon as he gets past it, he accelerates up to 30 mph again. By then, Barry has driven to the summit. Mulder passes another tower, and slows down past 20 mph. By then, one can hear mechanical groans issuing from the winch. Krycek asks how close Mulder is. After being told that he'll reach the summit in a minutes, as soon as the car is visible on the screen, Krycek fells the operator with a blow to the head. He then turns off the tram moments before Mulder reaches the peak. As Mulder shouts through the intercom in protest, Krycek takes out a wireless phone, and tells the people on the other end, "I've got him stalled up there."

It is sunset, and by now, Barry has reached the summit, and pulls over. Mulder gives up his pleas for assistance on the intercom, checks the car for anything that could be helpful, and finally opens the hatch leading to the roof. Krycek, watching with utter disbelief, waits until Mulder is reaching for the cable, and then turns the ignition back on. Mulder nearly falls from the car, and narrowly manages to avoid being crushed by the final tower by inches. He manages to pull himself onto the roof, as the car finally reaches its destination.

After nightfall, Mulder is seen running up a hill. He reaches Scully car to find the doors open, the radio on, and the engine running. There is no sign of Duane Barry, and when Mulder opens the trunk, he finds it empty with Scully's cross lying inside. Suddenly, a bright white light appears in the sky. Mulder holds his hands to his eyes, but before he can eye the source, it leaps out of sight. We suddenly hear the sound of joyous laughter. Mulder runs down the hill, and when he sees an exultant Barry repeating the words "Yes!" over and over, he pulls his gun, and runs down to him. "I'm free! I'm free, you sons-of-bitches! You can't touch Duane Barry anymore!" Barry shouts. Mulder demands to know where Scully is, and Barry just says: "They took her!" Mulder cuffs Barry and drags him away. Barry’s exultation turns to horror when a bright light appears behind them. "No!" he shouts, even as it becomes clear the authorities have arrived.

At the summit at 8:46 pm, paramedics bandage and hydrate Barry. Mulder watches impassively for several seconds before asking what happened to Scully when Barry took her out of the trunk. After Barry claims that he took her right up to the point where Mulder found him, Mulder asks what he did next. "I didn't take her. They did," Barry insists. "That was the deal." Mulder ponders this, and asks if he killed her. Barry swears he didn't. When asked how he got the burns, Barry says it was from the ship and that Mulder saw it. When Mulder insists it was a helicopter, Barry protests and insists he isn't lying. "They're here!" he shouts, indicating two mysterious looking men outside the room. Barry grows frantic, and Mulder manhandles him, telling him to calm down as Barry insists the  military is in on it. As he holds his wrist, Mulder sees blood on the hospital bracelet and demands to know if Barry hurt Scully. He then begins to choke him and throw him around, finally putting him back in the chair. As Mulder leaves the room, Barry says, "I'm sorry."

Krycek passes Mulder, and asks how's it going. Mulder tells him Barry's giving him nothing. As an afterthought, he asks Krycek if he's been out there alone. When Krycek assures him as much, he orders that no one is allowed in or out of the room, and walks away. Looking out a window, he has a flash of Scully in an oddly shaped room, with strange medical tools exploring her distended abdomen. Mulder returns to reality. He walks back towards the interrogation room, and sees Krycek talking to Barry. Mulder knocks on the glass, and Krycek leaves. When Krycek says Barry was gagging, and couldn't breathe, Mulder insists no one other than him is to interrogate the suspect. When asked if he said anything, Krycek scoffs says and says, "he started whistling ‘Stairway to Heaven’."

Mulder and Krycek walk out to see Skinner and an entourage of agents come in. Skinner looks at Mulder and tells him that he disobeyed his direct order. Before he can go any further, someone calls for the paramedics, and they rush back to the interrogation room, where Barry is on the floor, gasping. As they watch, he stops breathing. The paramedics start CPR and try to revive Barry as they watch.

At the Quantico morgue at 6:07 a.m., the next morning, Mulder stands over Barry's body, as the pathologist comes in. Telling Mulder she hasn't completed the autopsy yet, she relates her preliminary findings: second degree burns, bruising around the larynx, contusions around the neck. Probable cause of death, asphyxiation. Asked if they've run toxicology screen, the pathologist says she hasn't. When Mulder asks for a copy, she says he'll have to go through military channels. Poleaxed, Mulder asks why. Quantico is under military jurisdiction, and there wasn't an FBI pathologist on call that morning. Mulder looks pensive as Barry's body is wheeled away.

At 6:16 a.m., in Downtown Washington, Krycek gets into a car where CSM is waiting.  The Smoking Man puts out a cigarette in the ashtray, while Krycek tells him that Skinner is expecting his report. When asked what to do, CSM tells him to confirm Mulder's version of events. "You've earned his trust. The object now is to preserve it." Krycek then asks for how much longer, and CSM tells him until his assignment is complete. When asked why they don't just kill him, the Smoking Man tries to buy him off, telling him it wasn’t policy.  Smirking, Krycek asks, "After what you had me do?" CSM says, "Kill Mulder and you risk turning one man's religion into a crusade." When Krycek asks about Scully, CSM enigmatically replies, "We've taken care of that." Krycek asks how, and CSM tells him that "we tell you only what you need to know." When Krycek persists, saying he has a right to know, CSM snaps that Krycek has  no rights. Only orders to be carried out. If he has a problem with that, they can make other arrangements. He gets out of the car, and Krycek sits there, looking shaken.

At 10:36, in the FBI Headquarters, Skinner is going over the autopsy report, which says Duane Barry died from hypoxia, brought on by contusions from a bruised larynx. As photos of the body are passed around, Skinner asks Mulder if he has any theories as to cause of death. "I didn't kill him, if that's what you're suggesting," Mulder says angrily. When Skinner argues that he attacked Barry, Mulder admits he pushed him, but he was alive when he left the room. This is met with derision from some of the assembled parties, including the CSM. Skinner admits that Krycek confirms Mulder's version of events, but the fact remains that they have a dead man, and no other suspects. He orders Mulder to take a lie detector test, immediately. Mulder gets up, but points out that there is another possible explanation for cause of death: Poison by injection or ingestion. He then adds there was no toxicological report, because the autopsy is incomplete. When asked why by Skinner, he says that the military covered it up, because they know where Scully is. When asked by another agent why this isn't in his report, Mulder says  it’s because he’s having a lot of trouble trusting people. He leaves angrily.  As he walks down the halls, he asks Krycek for his car keys, because "there's someone I've got to see." Reluctantly, Krycek hands them over, and looks at Mulder enigmatically.

At 11:45, Mulder is walking up the stairs to Senator Matheson's office, when X intercepts him. He tells Mulder he wasted the trip, because Matheson can do nothing for him, "not without committing political suicide.”  When asked if they have something on him, X replies: "They have something on everyone, Mr. Mulder. The question is when they'll use it." He says his channels of appeals and recourse are closed. When Mulder presses X telling him his predecessor could've helped him, X coldly tells him that "this reaches beyond any of us…Even my predecessor." When Mulder angrily demands an answer, X finally steps out of the shadows, and we see him in the light for the first time--a middle-aged African-American man with a mustache and beard. He asks why kill Duane Barry if they had nothing to hide. When Mulder asks why again, X replies, "They only have one policy: Deny everything."

Dejectedly, Mulder walks out of the senator's office, and on to the street. He gets back into Krycek's car, and sits there, until his gaze is drawn to the ashtray. He pulls it open, and removes the cigarette that CSM left there. He sits there thinking.

At 8:11 the next morning, Mulder stands in Skinner's office, looking at a report in which he has alleged that Krycek was hired by an outside source to impede a federal investigation and that he was responsible for the death of Duane Barry and the operator of the tram. When asked if he stands behind the document, Mulder says he does. Skinner calls for Krycek from his intercom. He tells Mulder that he can't protect him any longer, and this will become a larger Bureau matter. When Mulder doesn't flinch from this, Skinner asks what he has. Mulder produces a plastic bag with the cigarette in it. He adds that Krycek was the last person to see Barry and the tram operator alive. He claims there was an unmarked helicopter at the summit of the mountain, and that he believes Krycek gave away the location of Barry and Scully.

When asked who Krycek works for, Mulder posits the military or whatever organization CSM works for. He says Scully was abducted because she had hard evidence (the implant) that she was getting to close to the truth, or that her termination was critical to the work Mulder was doing. Skinner asks if Scully is dead. Mulder admits he doesn't know, but asks how far would these people go. When he asks about Krycek, Skinner admits he didn't give him the assignment, but before he can go any further, the phone rings. Skinner learns Krycek didn't come into work this morning, and that his home number has been disconnected. Angrily, Mulder asks if this is the end of the investigation, and whether anything can touch them. Skinner tells him there's nothing he can do. "What can you do?" Mulder demands. Skinner says there's only one thing he can do. "As of right now, I'm reopening the X-Files. That's what they fear the most."

By the same fountain that he met with Scully in the past, Margaret Scully arrives.. Mulder tells her he doesn't have better news, and that he doesn't know anything more. Mrs. Scully sits down beside him, and tells him she had the same dream about Dana being taken, and that it scares her. "It's probably scarier when you stop having the dream, "Mulder says. He produces the cross and hands it to Mrs. Scully, admitting he was wondering why she wore it, since she was such a skeptic. Mrs. Scully says she gave it to her daughter on her fifteenth birthday. For a moment, Mrs. Scully holds it, then hands it back to Mulder. When asked if she wants to keep it, she tells Mulder to give it back to her when he finds her.

On a dark night, a stoic Mulder looks up into the stars, looking for any sign of life or hope.

Episode Summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

  • This is the first episode that we actually get a clear look at X, and there's a good reason for that. The original role of X was written for, and played by Natalyia Nigolich, and she was filmed in scenes for both “The Host” and “Sleepless”. After Williams was cast, the sequences were re-filmed with him in both episodes. This is the first episode where Duchovny and Steven Williams were in the same room.* - David B. Morris
  • It's worth asking how we know that this character is called 'X' in the first place. He is never identified by any name in any of the episodes that they filmed, and the character certainly never says what to call him. They probably had to call him something for the purposes of the series, but even this led to confusion, as some magazines referred to Williams' character as Mr. X, while others just called him X. Because this is how he is identified for the official sources, I will use the latter, but this really is one mystery they should've dealt with earlier on. – David B. Morris
  • Okay, it's been seventeen years, but it really has been bugging me for that long. In the scene where the CSM tells Krycek they don't kill Mulder because "you risk turning one man's religion into a crusade,” did anyone else look at the screen and just say “Bullshit”? Mulder has no legion of followers. In the seven years that Duchovny was the lead, his entire bevy of followers were The Lone Gunmen, Scully, and Skinner. That's it.  And Scully and Skinner didn't believe him a lot of the time. Scully was abducted by aliens twice, woke up in a flying saucer in Antarctica, and still refused to admit aliens might be out there. Skinner had to witness Mulder's abduction by aliens to admit that Mulder had been telling him the truth. What's more, the rationale doesn't bare out in practice. Mulder was assumed dead twice, and once was actually pronounced dead. Did a legion of followers emerge near the FBI shouting, "The Truth is Out There"? Hell, there wasn't even a turnout from the lunatic fringe at his funeral. – David B. Morris
  • Therefore, there has to be some other reasons they don't just have him killed. We won't get a hint as to what it might be until Season 3's “Talitha Cumi,” but suffice to say, the Smoking Man has his reasons. – David B. Morris
  • Originally, Alex Krycek's story was supposed to end in a confrontation with Skinner in his office. Nicholas Lea was disappointed when this arc was brought to an end after this episode. But, Krycek's character became very popular, and we had not yet begun to sense the potential in his character. Unfortunately, due to the inconsistent writing, a lot of that potential turned out to be wasted*. – David B. Morris
  • One of the questions often asked by fans is how did Duane Barry find Scully’s apartment? Considering that the implant was already removed, was there a genetic tracer that acted as a homing beacon for Barry to know where to find her? Or was he tipped off about her whereabouts? If it was the latter, then his mysterious death after Krycek’s visit would begin to make sense. Of course, Mulder already was beginning to surmise shadow government involvement in her abduction before Krycek’s deception was revealed. – Matt Allair
  • Scholar Amy Donaldson has observed that while there were no overt Christian themes, and that the show dealt with religion with a small ‘r,’ Scully’s cross necklace is addressed by Mulder when talking to Ms. Scully. “That’s something I never considered about her. If she was such a skeptic, why did she wear that?” To which Ms. Scully relates that it was a gift from mother to daughter, but Donaldson has argued it became more than a keep sake, that Scully was on the path to belief. If one’s spiritual conversion is just superficial and not filled with questions or doubt, and isn’t a private quest, then it’s a faith in name only. – Matt Allair

Episode Summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

Following up on “Duane Barry,” this episode is one of the pivotal moments in the mythology and the history of The X-Files. Krycek’s duel role is fully exposed, and if the death of Deep Throat at the end of season one left viewers insecure about the fate of regular characters, than the abduction of Scully established the sense of ‘all-bets-are-off’ that this series was going to hold to typical television convention. – Matt Allair. It's probably been repeated ad infinitum over the last eighteen years, but “Ascension” and the Scully abduction storyline was written to deal with Gillian Anderson's pregnancy. She did appear in this episode, and in the scene where Mulder is picturing her in captivity, that is her actual pregnant belly that is shown. One wonders how much television history would have been altered had Anderson's pregnancy not coincided with the second season. – David B. Morris

Mulder’s Skyland ski-lift sequence has remained iconic for many fans. Chris Carter in 1996 commented: “David likes to do his own stunts, but he is adamant about the fact that we should see him and know it’s him if he is going to risk life and limb to get up on top of a tram or a train, wherever he goes.”*** Numerous fans, including famous writer Harlan Ellison, have wondered why the forces that sought to thwart Mulder’s work, simply didn’t kill him. The conversation between C.G.B Spender and Krycek was an effort to explain the reasons why. Recently, actor William B. Davis in his autobiography wondered if he intimidated Nick Lea. He wasn’t certain about his skills as an actor until Mr. Davis saw him, and noted that Nick Lea had given a wonderful performance****. The censors had expressed some concern over seeing Scully’s abduction, and seeing her in the back of a trunk, but those concerns were settled. Though Steve Railsback’s role in “Ascension” was lessened, his performance as Duane Barry remains unforgettable. Chris Carter has commented: “He is the person I wanted, the only person I ever thought of for the role. He really became the part, and I think also that the levels of your actors rise to that.” As many fans know, the song used in the sequence where Barry is pulled over by the police officer along a wooded road, is Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand,” which would later appear in the Songs in the Key of X soundtrack.

The location for Scully’s apartment was found in Vancouver’s West End on Pendrell Street. As recounted by Todd Pittson, once a brick building was found that was suitable, the team had to deal with parking and night lighting requirements, a location assistant blitzed the apartments with filming notices, and filming curfews required cameras to wrap by 11 pm on weeknights and midnight on Fridays. The Skyland Mountain Skyride location was found at Grouse Mountain
Skyride in North Vancouver. The crew required complete access and control of the lift line for the entire day, not only to feature during filming, but as transport to the mountain top for crew and equipment, and the management provided the service gondola. As acknowledged by Todd Pittson, the stunt sequence on the gondola was filmed quickly, as the sun was setting, and was as hair-raising as it looked, especially for first assistant director Vladimir Stefoff. David Duchcovny insisted on doing his own stunts. Regarding the Exterior and Interior scenes of Senator Matheson’s office, they were shot at the Vancouver Art gallery. When a park scene was required, the location found was Robson Square, Robson street in Vancouver. An emotional scene between Mulder and Scully’s mother was nearly ruined from the noise of a cascading waterfall at the location and the scene had to be looped afterwards for clarity**.

Michael David Simms makes his first appearance as an unnamed FBI agent in this episode. He will be one of the unnamed higher-ups who we see consistently obstructing Mulder and Scully's path. – David B. Morris. Mr. Simms also played Special Agent Tom Babich in Millennium, and later Lt. Colonel Gilovich in Harsh Realm. Mr. Simms’ feature film work includes Alien Nation, What’s Love Got To Do With It, and X-Men 2. His television work includes Simon & Simon, Matlock, Dallas, NYPD Blue, Viper, The Outer Limits, Stargate SG1, Dark Angel, Sgt. Casey in Cold Squad, Smallville, The Twilight Zone, and Jeremiah. – Matt Allair

Actress Meredith Bain Woodward who played Dr. Ruth Slaughter, has also appeared in Danger Bay, The Beachcombers, Wiseguy, 21 Jumpstreet, The Heights, Neon Rider, Robin’s Hoods, and The Addams Family.

Actor Peter LaCroix who played Dwight has also appeared in Wiseguy, 21 Jumpsreet, Diagnosis Murder, The Commish, Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years, Sliders, Poltergeist: The Legacy, Da Vinci’s Inquest, Stargate SG-1, The 4400, and Smallville. His feature film work includes Free Willy 3 and Disturbing Behavior.

* Beyond Mulder and Scully by Andy Mangels, published by Citadel Press © 1998

** X Marks The Spot: on Location with The X-Files by Louisa Gradnitzer and Todd Pittson, published by Arsenal Pulp Press © 1999

***The Complete X-Files by Matt Hurwitz and Christopher Knowles, published by Insight Editions © 2008

**** Where There’s Smoke: Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man by William B. Davis, published by ECW © 2011

Synopsis and Review: David B. Morris
Additional Review and Production Notes: Matt Allair
Page Editor: XScribe

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2x01 Little Green Men
2x02 The Host
2x03 Blood
2x04 Sleepless
2x05 Duane Barry
2x06 Ascension
2x07 3
2x08 One Breath
2x09 Firewalker
2x10 Red Museum
2x11 Excelsis Dei
2x12 Aubrey
2x13 Irresistible
2x14 Die Hand Die Verletzt
2x15 Fresh Bones
2x16 Colony
2x17 End Game
2x18 Fearful Symmetry
2x19 Død Kalm
2x20 Humbug
2x21 The Calusari
2x22 F. Emasculata
2x23 Soft Light
2x24 Our Town
2x25 Anasazi