In a series of features regarding the favorite episodes of our blog writers, Paige Schector discusses why “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” will forever stand atop her list…
It’s obvious from the get-go that “Jose Chung ‘From Outer Space'” is not your garden variety X-Files episode. But in a way, it’s what the series has been building up to for three seasons. There’s the basic premise — aliens — and then there’s the kaleidoscope through which Darin Morgan — and then others after him, including show creator/executive producer Chris Carter — sees that premise.
The teaser sets up the plot in which two teenagers’ alien “experience,” as Jose Chung (Charles Nelson Reilly) prefers to call it, is witnessed by a third party. And then an alien fourth party shows up on the scene. The apparently eccentric writer of some repute has been documenting the stories of everyone involved — except for Mulder, skeptical yet again in a Morgan-penned script — for Chung’s upcoming non-fiction science-fiction novel. But Scully’s willing to talk with him; she’s an ardent admirer of his work.
“Truth is as subjective as reality.” — Jose Chung
“Still, as a storyteller, I’m fascinated how a person’s sense of consciousness can be so transformed by nothing more magical than listening to words. Mere words.” — Jose Chung
Scully backs this up when she details statements made be various participants. On the face of it, the testimonies seem contradictory by nature, but when pieced them together, they kind of form a coherent picture. Just like in the real world, everyone’s viewpoints and recollections might just be due to the fact they’re human beings remembering things the way they want them to have happened. But maybe there’s a greater conspiracy wiping their memories. Perhaps both.
There’s a lot of common ground in the tales told throughout the episode. Chung explains that many abductees often start their tales with “I know how crazy this all sounds, but…” and then at least two of his witnesses go on to use those exact words. “How the hell should I know” is uttered constantly by those without answers to what seem to be simple questions. Many threats end in “because if you do, you’re a dead man.”
So it falls on director Rob Bowman to make the repeated scenarios hang together and not upend the overall story. I think he does a masterful job, particularly with characters in similar scenes. For example, when Chrissy (Sarah Sawatsky) gets questioned at different points by Mulder, a psychiatrist and possibly officials stealing her memories, the actors’ blocking mimics that of the other scenes. Which is truth and which is fiction? On some level, it might be up to the viewer to decide.
We seem to be getting Darin Morgan’s takes on some universal truths, though. Scully handles some of them — she doesn’t believe in hypnosis because people in that state are prone to confabulation and stresses of any kind can cause the physical symptoms displayed by the victim. She finds that abduction lore has become so prevalent that someone asked to imagine an experience would come up with an identical scenario. Meanwhile, Lt. Jack Schaefer (Daniel Quinn) reveals nerve gas and some low-frequency beams can be used to create the illusion of lost time. So much for Mulder’s pilot nine-minute theory.
While we’re in the midst of trying to decipher the puzzle, Morgan throws in a vast array of amusements. In one recollection of the events, Mulder ignites a fan frenzy with one single yelp. In another, he consumes an awful lot of sweet potato pie. The Stupendous Yappi (Jaap Broeker), straight out of Morgan’s Emmy-winning “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” episode, provides narration for the alien autopsy footage in a thinly veiled spoof of a show actually produced by the Fox network. There’s a Man in Black who may be game-show host Alex Trebek or just amazingly resemble him. The other Man in Black looks like Jesse Ventura while pontificating and delivering back-breakers just like the wrestler used to. And best of all (for me), Lt. Schaefer uses a fork to create Devils Tower out of mashed potatoes while telling his story to Mulder — an ode to Richard Dreyfuss’ haunted character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
From the Detective Manners’ “colorful phraseology” collection:
“You really bleeped up this case.”
“I just got a call from some crazy bleephead claiming he was an eyewitness to this alien abduction. You feel like talking to this blankhole.”
“Hey, I just got a call from some crazy blankety-blank claiming he found a real live dead alien body.”
“Yeah, that’s a bleepin’ dead alien body if I ever bleeping saw one.”
X-Files director Kim Manners originally was going to play the constantly irritated detective obviously named and crafted in his honor, but his work schedule precluded him from doing it — or that’s the story they went with. But fear not because Larry Musser — in his second of four guest appearances on the show — holds up very well in his stead.
I’m not saying he isn’t delusional, I’m just suggesting that his delusional state was triggered by something he actually witnessed that night. — Mulder
I know it probably doesn’t have the sense of closure that you want, but it has more than some of our other cases. — Scully
Every character has at least one great line in this episode and most of them have mouthfuls of them. It definitely makes for a nice pop quiz for X-Philes . Who said it and who were they talking about? “Your scientific illiteracy makes me shudder.” “I don’t know what was most disturbing — his description of the inner-core reincarnated souls’ sex orgy or the fact that the whole thing is written in screenplay format.” “I didn’t spend all those years playing Dungeons & Dragons and not learn a little something about courage.” “You ever flown a flying saucer? Afterwards, sex seems trite.”
I find “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” to be the gift that keeps on giving. I still see something different in it each time I watch. And I’m forever deeming it my favorite hour of television in the universe … unless I’ve just watched “Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defense” on Millennium. I’d give you my take on how that episode stands on its own in a completely different manner, but if I don’t wrap up this blog, I’m a bleepin’ dead man … er, woman.
Paige co-writes the Sibling Cinema X-Files rewatch blog with her sister. Years ago, she actively participated on X-Files message boards, serving as “keeper” of Krycek’s leather jacket and Mulder’s jeans.