The X Files Revisited: 3.20 Jose Chung's "From Outer Space"
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The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. Now eight years after the second movie The X Files: I Want To Believe, the show is returning for six new episodes in 2016. Here at The Digital Fix, we are going to work our way through each season, reviewing some of the big episodes – and both movies – across the years in the build up to season ten. With 202 episodes, there is simply too much to cover every episode; instead we'll pick the story highlights of each year. Jose Chung's "From Outer Space" is the final episode in Darin Morgan's trilogy of season three comic greats that has great fun going to town on the show's premise...
One of the most fun things a show can do is take the mickey out itself, having fun with its premise and characters. From small things like Buffy and Angel's angst-filled discussion interrupted by Xander in Buffy The Vampire Slayer's The Zeppo to full on meta episodes like the season six episode of Supernatural The French Mistake which saw Sam and Dean enter an alternate world where Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles were playing Sam and Dean in a show called Supernatural. And like most genre shows, The X Files got their first with this Darin Morgan classic Jose Chung's "From Outer Space".
Admittedly, it isn't full on meta like that great Supernatural episode, but Morgan's final script for the show remains a doozy that plays on the central premise of the The X Files; alien abductions and secret government conspiracies. The opening is completely bonkers, starting with a young man and woman Harold and Chrissy on their first date when they encounter a flying saucer in the sky, a blinding light and two grey aliens that put them to sleep.
But then it is topped by the arrival of a second UFO, a red beam of light and a stop motion cyclops that attacks the first two. And just when you're left scratching your head / laughing / wondering if The X Files budget has taken a nosedive the first grey alien turns to the second and says in an American accent "Jack, what is that thing? to which the second replies "How the hell should I know?". It's that blend of bizarre and hilarity that Morgan does so well, taken to the extreme.
Post credits, the episode is framed through author Jose Chung's interview with Scully in their FBI office. Charles Nelson Reilly is wonderful kooky as Chung, a man fascinated by the subject matter even though he fully admits he's in it for the money. Anderson plays Scully as a bit of a fan girl of his earlier celebrated works, which is why she puts up with his eccentricities and his attempt to forge a new genre - non fiction science fiction - even it might discredit her work on the X Files. Mulder meanwhile remains absent for the majority of the present day setting for that very reason.
And so with the flashback format established we see what happens when Mulder and Scully are called in when rape-suspect Chrissie claims she was abducted by aliens. Working with them is the brilliant Detective Manners (Larry Musser) with a penchant for foul language. Morgan's sharp dialogue makes great use of the flashback format told through the eyes of Scully as every profanity is replaced with a verbal bleep. "Well, thanks a lot! You really bleeped up this case!" and "You bet your blankitty-blank bleep I am!" Its comic gold done so simply.
The hypnotherapy scenes with Harold and Chrissie are wonderfully done too, particularly Harold's. The framing of his viewpoint - the hypnotherapist, Mulder and Scully and two detectives - are replaced with grey aliens watching him, probing his mind, wiping his memories. And later on we get the same shot, only this time it's the military and the one wiping his memory is another hypnotherapist; I would advocate here that the ability to mess with people's minds isn't something any real hypnotherapist could or would do, but in the context of this episode it is done very tongue in cheek.
Like Chrissie's abduction recollection; her and Harold strapped to metal tables in black plastic body suits it is all done so hokily that you're along for the wide from beginning to the end. The direction is terrific too; moments like Harold's flashback where he tells Chrissie " "I'm here to protect you. I won't let anything happen to you." immediately before she is grabbed by Lord Kinbote (more on him shortly) and of course the most memorable bit of the episode, the American sounding grey alien smoking a cigarette, rocking back and forth with his head in his hands muttering "This is not happening!"
And yes, Lord Kinbote, the cyclops glimpsed in the pre-titles sequence. Just as things couldn't get any more bizarre, an eye witnessed steps forward, claiming to have witnessed Harold and Chrissie's own abduction and been chosen by Lord Kimbolt to save the planet, travel to inner space (the Earth's molten core) and take part in an alien sex orgy. Yes, Morgan really pushes the boat with this one and perhaps the reason it isn't thought of as highly as his earlier classic Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose is because it is so extreme. Personally I love every minute of this bizarre tale.
Added to this is the eyewitness's tale of his encounter with men in black (Jesse Ventura) in his garage who attempt to dissuade him that all he saw was the planet Venus. But for me is Chung's own recollection to Scully of speaking to this witness where we get the best line of the episode. "I don't know which was more disturbing, his description of the inner core reincarnated souls' sex orgy, or the fact that the whole thing was written in screenplay format."
So naturally we get a second witness as the episode takes it up another notch. "I know how crazy this is going to sound..." begins the social introvert interviewed by Chung post case who goes on to tell the author of his encounter with mysterious men / woman in black following his discovery of the alien corpse.
"One of them was disguised as a woman, but wasn't pulling it off. Like, her hair was red, but it was a little too red, y'know? And the other one, the tall, lanky one, his face was so blank and expressionless. He didn't even seem human. I think he was a mandroid." This is where the episode really pokes fun of itself. In this version of reality Mulder gives a high-pitched screamed like a girl when he sees dead body (a hilarious throwback to Morgan's previous War Of The Coprophages) while Scully becomes the aggressive one. "If you tell anyone about this you're a dead man!" - much to present day Scully's disgust.
The video of the alien autopsy may be one of the most meta things the show has done, complete with a hokey keyboard version of The X Files theme and a hilarious narration by none other than The Stupendous Yappi himself from Morgan's Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose. Naturally the alien is as fake as the video (you can see Scully shudder with embarrassment as she recounts the whole affair to Chung) as she uncovers a second layer of epidermis and realises it is a man in an alien suit.
Once again, the episode has fun with the 'it's not alien but a government / military cover-up' theme established far more seriously in episodes like 731. Mulder encounters the second 'alien' a naked Lieutenant Schaefer walking along the highway, who is dazed after his own abduction by Lord Kinbote the Russian. He takes him to a diner to get questions only to have the Lieutenant kidnapped by his superior officers.
Again, the episode plays with the subjective nature of a character's point of view (something that would surely influence the season five comedy classic Bad Blood). The owner of the diner recounted a different series of events to Chung; Mulder strides in alone and mysterious, flashing his FBI badge (breaking the fourth wall and addressing it to the camera). He then proceeds to order slice after slice of sweet potato pie and with each piece he asks a question about alien abductions. It is all utterly ridiculous but a lot of fun, just like Mulder's encounter with the men in black, the second of which is played by US game show host Alex Trebeck!
"That was Detective Manners. He just found your bleeping UFO".
And so the case ends with the military covering up the whole affair. The UFO is discovered to be an experimental plane and the bodies of Schaefer and Scully's autopsy victim. Scully notes that there is more closure here then in some of their cases and Chung goes on to write his book. "Seeking the truth about aliens means a perfunctory 9 to 5 job to some, for although Agent “Diana Lesky” is noble in spirit and pure at heart she remains nevertheless, a Federal employee. As for her partner, “Reynard Muldrake”, a ticking time bomb of insanity, his quest into the unknown has so warped his psyche one shudders to think how he receives any pleasures from life."
Chung's observations about the two FBI agents are both amusing and very true and as with the rest of Darin Morgan's comically sublime episode, his examination of the show's premise (through what borders on surrealism), shows just how extreme The X Files can be. It is a perfect end to his trilogy of comedy episodes and it is a shame he would not write more (though he has one in the revival). And while I think Nisei and 731 might be the standout story of the third season, for me this is perhaps the most fun to rewatch. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I think it hits the spot perfectly.