"You'll see him in your nightmares, you'll see him in your dreams / He'll appear out of nowhere but he ain't what he seems / You'll see him in your head, on the TV screen / And hey buddy, I'm warning you to turn it off / He's a ghost, he's a god, he's a man, he's a guru / You're one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan / Designed and directed by his red right hand "
REVIEW: Sneaky. For this episode, they replaced the phrase "The truth is out there" in the opening sequence with "Deny everything". And that's very much the theme of the Ascension. It's about how reality itself can be denied, where on the one hand, Duane Barry subjective reality is definitely(?) debunked, and on the other, X tells Mulder denial is the Conspiracy's policy. The latter is contrasted to the Smoking Man's statement that murder ISN'T policy; in other words, it's easier to deny things and make a person look insane (Duane Barry being an extreme example) than to eliminate them and attract unwanted attention. And if we're caught, as Krycek is in this episode - the Smoking Man's filthy habit leaves a trail, he really should give it up - we just disappear, denying our own existence. Poof. At least Mulder finds an ally in Skinner, who leaves much unsaid, but the inference is that Krycek was pushed on him, probably by the Smoking Man (cue the ashtray in his own office, filled with the same brand). Mulder confirms his suspicions, but he'd never say it. And I appreciate that. No need to over-explain everything, leave room for ambiguity.
But before we get to any of that, there's the manhunt for Duane Barry to take care of, and it's an excellent sequence in and of itself despite our having to believe Duane is so energetic after getting shot in the chest. Mulder's profiling powers are well used to flash back to the abduction. Duane's choice of road trip music, "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, is perfect for the show and almost too on the nose (see quote above). Terribly, Scully causes the highway patrolman's death at the end of a tense scene. Krycek's vicious streak is properly shocking - he seems hell-bent on having Mulder killed and does violently kill the tram operator. Most of all, they find a way to make a tram going up a mountain exciting! Normally, this would involve some kind of stunt, and it eventually goes there, but for the most part, it's just a kind of fast ascent, leaving the music, sound and nervousness of the operator to create the suspense.
By the time Mulder reaches the top of the mountain, Scully's been taken by a stealth helicopter controlled by the Smoking Man's faction, though he still imagines Scully being experimented on by aliens. They use Gillian Anderson's pregnant belly to some effect here, but I was most intrigued with the way crosses become Scully's leitmotif. Mulder finds her crucifix, and in his mind, the lights that probe Scully's skin are cross-shaped, the object blowing up her stomach is too. His own leitmotif? Floating balls of light. The Sky Mountain hotel is full of them, and of course, the show's look often features out of focus lights. Symbols of each of their faiths, so to speak. And with denial such an important theme, it really is faith vs. cold hard fact in Ascension, and the UFOlogy tropes are rendered in most earthly terms. There's a very human kind of abduction, the UFOs are helicopters, etc. It's a mundane mirror to what the show has taught us to expect, with Barry the "explainable" version of the believer. His violence is thus transferred to Mulder in this episode, as Fox really goes off the deep end at times. Even at the best of times an obsessive, these episodes show what happens when he turns his obsession to more desperate matters, an obsession unchecked by Scully (obviously). Is this the path the Conspiracy has been pushing him towards all along?
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: What's especially creepy is how fast the Conspiracy shuffled Krycek off the case. It seems like they had access to Mulder's report before he even handed it in to Skinner. Only a few scenes before, the Smoking Man was telling him to stay close to Mulder now that he'd earned his trust. How did they know that had fallen apart? Or was the Smoking Man lying to Krycek? I mean, would he be so careless as to leave his cigarette butts in Krycek's car? There's a possibility he left those clues there on purpose so that Krycek WOULD get burned, given how uppity he was getting. Just a soldier in the Conspiracy, Krycek seemed to have grander ambitions, and that just wouldn't do.
REWATCHABILITY: High - If you thought Scully's abduction would be resolved at the end of the two-parter, think again. An exciting episode with a surprising downer of an ending (and I mean that in a good way). Mulder can't even cheer at getting his precious department back.