Thu
Apr 12 2012 12:11pm

Reopening The X-Files: “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space

Reopening The X-Files: Jose Chung’s From Outer Space

Season 3, Episode 20: “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space
Original Airdate: April 12, 1996

This is an episode about the truth, which I know all of the episodes are meant to be about, but. “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is not about seeking the truth so much as it is about the tiny falsehoods and embellishments inherent in every survivor’s tale. It’s a Darin Morgan episode, also, funny as hell and lovingly balanced on inverted paradigms. Mulder will be handsome and sullen, Scully will be tough and bright, the townspeople will be strangely manic, and absolutely no one will be entirely trustworthy.

A young couple, teenagers, Chrissy and Harold driving home from a date. He likes her more than she likes him, then there’s a bright white light and two aliens approach. You know what the aliens look like, already. Grey. Big heads, eyes. Chrissy asks, what are those things? Harold says, “How the hell should I know?” The aliens drag the kids out of the car and then all of a sudden there’s another spaceship and another alien, a monster movie-looking thing that descends and attacks. The grey aliens look at each other. “What is that thing?” asks one. “How the hell should I know?” says the second.

Reopening The X-Files: Jose Chung’s From Outer Space

Jose Chung is a famous writer, writing a “nonfiction science fiction” book at the behest of his publisher. Scully is a fan and so has agreed to meet with him and discuss the Chrissy and Harold case. Mulder has refused the interview. Scully seems cheerful, talking to Jose Chung, more or less herself but a little not so. Jose Chung seems to be exactly like himself, although we’ve never met. He’s played by Charles Nelson Reilly and that is perfect. Scully tells him about how Chrissy turned up several days after the event with no memory of her abduction, her body bearing signs of sexual assault. Harold denies raping her, but when he learns that Chrissy says that’s so, he changes his story, and Mulder brings Chrissy in for questioning.

Throughout the recounting of the case, Duchovny plays his scenes with extra pan in his deadpan, brusque and humorless as he tells Scully that he believes Chrissy is suffering from “post-abduction syndrome.” This Mulder seems suspicious, as suspicious as the Scully who jumps to compliment Jose Chung on The Caligarian Candidate, “one of the greatest thrillers ever written.” On the Scully scale, this is gushing, and between this and Agent Stone-Face, we appear to be in the hands of an unreliable narrator. Says Chung, regarding hypnosis “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.” Says me, regarding Chung: as a recapper, I’m fascinated how an episode’s sense of reality can be so transformed by nothing more magical than a few slightly out-of-character remarks.

Reopening The X-Files: Jose Chung’s From Outer Space

Mulder has Chrissy hypnotized and all of a sudden she has an abduction scenario to share. She and Harold are on a spaceship, aliens are doing tests and telling her it’s for the good of the planet. Mulder is thrilled by the scenario. Scully is skeptical. Detective Manners — local law enforcement, fond of cursing — claims the case has now been “bleeped up” (“Well,” says Scully to Chung, “He didn’t actually say ‘bleeped.’”) on account of the fact that Chrissy’s new story is very different from Harold’s. Harold says he and Chrissy were in a cage, he says there was an alien in a cage nearby, smoking a cigarette and saying “this is not happening” over and over. He also says that he and Chrissy had sex, and that if her father finds out, Harold is “a dead man.”

A man named Roky claims to be an eyewitness, and what’s more dependable than someone who says he saw something? He was working on the power lines nearabouts where Chrissy and Harold were abducted. He says he saw the whole thing and ran right home to write it all down in a screenplay. He also says that upon finishing the screenplay, he was visited by two men in black, one of whom closely resembled Jesse Ventura. Though Mulder finds the screenplay somewhat lacking in credibility (particularly the bit at the end where the big monster from the teaser — Lord Kinbote, per the screenplay — takes Roky into the earth’s molten core), he doesn’t dismiss it outright. Instead he points out that parts of it resemble Harold’s version of the tale, and with two matches and one not, it’s time to bring Chrissy back in for another round of hypnosis.

Reopening The X-Files: Jose Chung’s From Outer Space

This time, she says she’s surrounded not by aliens but by C.I.A. and Air Force. They talk about her, ask her about the grey aliens’ spaceship, then tell her this is all for the good of the country and erase her memory. Detective Manners then cheerily informs the agents that he’s heard from “some crazy blankety-blank claiming he found a real live dead alien body.” They go to the scene; Mulder takes one look at the body and shrieks a glorious high-pitched shriek (perhaps the “girly scream” Scully accused him of in “War of the Coprophages.”) The guy who found the body is a UFO enthusiast named Blaine who screams “Roswell! Roswell!” at any hint of suppression. In an interview with Jose Chung he calls Mulder and Scully men in black, describes Mulder as “a mandroid” and Scully as the one who was “disguised as a woman, but wasn’t pulling it off.” Plus, Scully threatened him, he says, looked straight into his eyes and said, “You tell anyone, you’re a dead man.”

It’s the most out-of-character moment we’ve witnessed yet, Scully grabbing this kid by the shirt and shining the flashlight in his eyes. But that phrase — “a dead man” — it’s the same one that Harold used, maybe, in admitting that he and Chrissy had sex. Never trust an author, is all I’m saying, and I mean Darin Morgan as much as I mean Jose Chung. Scully autopsies the bleeping dead alien body and finds it’s actually a man in an alien suit, a pilot in the Air Force. No big deal! Except hold on, pull out your Meta Bingo cards. The footage from the autopsy — heavily edited to cut out the bit where it was a dead man and not a dead alien — has shown up on a television special called “Dead Alien! Truth or Humbug.” The special is narrated by none other than The Stupendous Yappi, and between the special title, Mr. Yappi, and the show’s second use of an alien autopsy video, you should all have Yahtzee (do not argue with me, that is how Meta Bingo works). It’d be an insufferable amount of references if it weren’t for the frame it was in: an episode about episodes, a text about other texts, a story about storytelling.  

Reopening The X-Files: Jose Chung’s From Outer Space

According to Blaine, men in black visit him and take his alien autopsy tape. And then also according to Blaine, Mulder visits him, slaps him, asks about the tape, and says “If I find out you lied to me, you’re a dead man.” According to Scully, Mulder then picks up an Air Force pilot who is wandering by the highway. They go to a diner and the pilot tells him about how the Air Force flies with alien tech and hypnotizes witnesses into believing they’ve been abducted. Then an Air Force official arrives and the pilot says, “Looks like I’m a dead man.” Jose Chung has a different account of this story, one from the diner cook. Says Mulder came in alone, ate an entire sweet potato pie slice-by-slice and asked the cook one UFO-related question per slice. We watch the scene. It is an excellent scene. Before devouring the pie, Duchovny turns straight to the camera and flashes Mulder’s badge at the viewing audience. Credentials that prove nothing.

According to Jose Chung’s Scully’s telling of Mulder’s recollection, Mulder next returned to their motel and found Scully hanging out with some men in black. One of them looks like Jesse Ventura. One of them looked like Alex Trebek. They speak doublespeak about hoaxes and abductions and conspiracies, then hypnotize the agents. Scully says she doesn’t have a memory of any of this. The next day a wrecked UFO is found, inside it the bodies of two pilots—the one from the autopsy and the one from the diner.

Reopening The X-Files: Jose Chung’s From Outer Space

Mulder visits Jose Chung and asks that he not write the book, that he not damage Mulder’s work and his struggle for respectability. But Jose Chung goes ahead, writing in ornate prose about Agents Reynard Muldrake and Diana Lesky and their search for the truth.

This was Darin Morgan’s final episode for The X-Files, giving Mulder’s plea a particular resonance. Does Morgan’s gift for parody undermine the show’s respectability? Can you reasonably poke fun at abduction and government conspiracy from within what was at the time the cultural high water mark for same? In closing her interview with Chung, Scully offers an apt description of Darin Morgan’s contribution to the show: “I know it probably doesn’t have the sense of closure that you want, but it has more than some of our other cases.” His episodes are jokes told by a deadly serious man, as committed to the show’s absurdity as they are to its gravity. And so he gives Jose Chung the final word, the unfunniest joke of all: “For although we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways on this planet, we are all alone.”


Meghan Deans is a ticking time bomb of insanity. She Tumbls and is @meghandrrns.

27 comments
Ian Tregillis
1. ITregillis
This episode may be my single favorite hour of television. So deliciously absurd, and yet, somehow, it all makes complete sense, doesn't it? The events, once filtered through the layers of narrative unreliability, actually imply a coherent story about a government coverup that went wrong when a faked abduction became a real abduction... by a Ray Harryhausen monster... Okay, I don't know where the Harryhausen thing fits in, but other than that, Scully is right when she says this case has more closure than some of their other cases. The closure may be implied, but this case is still far less ambiguous than most.

Charles Nelson Reilly is so wonderful throughout. "Alex Trebeck?!?"

Did you ever catch the Millennium episode that also guest starred CNR as Jose Chung? Perhaps the only outright-funny episode they ever did on Millennium, but a spot-on-perfect sequel/companion piece to this episode.

I remember reading that the name Jose Chung was an inside joke. Something about spec episode scripts that kept turning up? I can't remember now.

Revisiting this is a joy. Great job.
James Knevitt
2. jknevitt
It's worth noting that the MIBs that looked like Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek were in fact played by Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek.
James Knevitt
3. jknevitt
I'm also surprised our dear recapper didn't cite this wonderful exchange:

Jose Chung: Aren't you nervous telling me all this? Receiving all those death threats?
Blaine: Well, hey, I didn't spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage.


With regard to in-jokes, there's this from Wikipedia:
The episode contained a number of references and in-jokes. Klass County was named after UFO author Philip Klass, whose line about the planet Venus being mistaken for UFOs was used by one of the men in black in the episode. The pilots dressed up as aliens were named after UFO authors Robert Schaffer and Jacques Vallee. MP Hynek was named after UFO researcher J. Allen Hynek. The character of Roky Crikenson is named after musician Roky Erickson, who claims to be an alien abductee. Chung gives Mulder the pseudonym Reynard, after the legendary fox. The alien autopsy video: "Dead Alien! Truth or Humbug?" referenced Morgan's first episode for the series, "Humbug". The video was a parody of the real life Alien Autopsy video aired by Fox. Detective Manners was named after director Kim Manners; the character's tendency to swear a lot was also influenced by his real life counterpart. Lt. Shaeffer molding his mashed potatoes into a mountain was influenced by the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The cover to Jose Chung's book was a reference to the cover of the book Communion by Whitley Strieber. Lord Kinbote was a homage to Ray Harryhausen, a director noted for his work in stop-motion model animation, with the footage of the character shot at high speed then slowed down and edited in post production to create a stop-motion effect.
CaitieCat
4. CaitieCat
Have to admit, I love the name he gives Mulder - Reynard, of course, being French for "fox" (okay, renard), and Muldrake being the famous magician of the pulp comics. It's the cherry on top of the pumpkin pie.
CaitieCat
5. kmcorby
This is my favorite episode. The entire X-FILES in a nutshell. The scene where Mulder eats the pie cracks me up every time. So Mulder! No answers of course, but "more than some of our cases." Unless, of course, you meet the lava men.
Ian Tregillis
6. ITregillis
"'...not into outer space, but into inner space, the center of the Earth, for that was the domain of the third alien, whose name, I learned, was. . . Lord Kinbote.'"

Pregnant pause.

"Look, I'm not saying he isn't crazy..."
Chris Hawks
7. SaltManZ
@Ian: "This episode may be my single favorite hour of television."

Amen and hallelujah.

And hey, my (former) governor was a guest star on The X-Files. How cool is that? :) Whenever I get asked in real life where somebody went, and I don't know, I always do my best Jesse impersonation and say that they "uh...went to get some ice".
Joseph Kingsmill
8. JFKingsmill16
This episode and "Home" are my favorite episodes. They both embody everything that is great about the show.
Angela Korra'ti
9. annathepiper
This episode is a thing of beauty and a joy forever! (heart)

"No other object has been misidentified as a flying saucer more often than the planet Venus..."
Meghan Deans
10. Meghan
@ITregillis, I never did see that Millennium episode! But I really should look it up, thanks for the reminder.

@jknevitt, you know what's funny, I that D&D line actually gets my back up a little bit. The characterization of Blaine, for me, is the flattest thing in the episode--he's a nerd, get it, isn't it hilarious! He likes Dungeons & Dragons and he wants to be abducted so he doesn't have to get a job! He's wearing a Space: Above and Beyond shirt! (Which yeah actually is a nod to Darin's brother, Glen Morgan.) The rest of the episode is so sharp, comparatively this looks like fish in a barrel.
Steven Halter
11. stevenhalter
This one was a hoot. Really funny and yet it fit.
Meghan Deans
12. Meghan
Also gang, please note: today's posting date is totally this episode's 16th birthday. Happy sweet sixteen, kiddo.
Skip Ives
13. Skip
I always thought the pie was a bon mot to Twin Peaks due to the surreal nature of the episode. Maybe it was just me and maybe it was happenstance, and maybe it is just because pie is good.

I always enjoy catching this episode, it's just fun to watch.
Ian Tregillis
14. ITregillis
SaltManZ@7: JV is my former governor, too! (I always wondered if it wasn't the X-Files vote that pushed him over the top...)

Meghan@10: I think the guy who played Blaine in this episode had a small recurring role in Millennium, too, possibly as Frank Black's computer support guy. They did tend to bounce actors back and forth between X-Files, Millennium, and Space: Above and Beyond -- for a while there in the 90s there seemed to be a short-lived Carter/Morgan/Wong mafia... Anyway, the Jose Chung Millennium episode is terrific -- and it contains a shout-out to David Duchovny. Wonderfully self-referential stuff.

Skip@13: The pie struck me as a nod to Twin Peaks, too.
Carrie Vaughn
15. Carrie_Vaughn
I've been *waiting* for this recap. It's my very favorite episode of the show. Because it encapsulates everything that is The X-Files, while also serving as commentary on The X-Files. Both parody and genuine story, poking fun at the subject matter while also honoring it. And that's a really neat trick to pull off.
J Aggle
16. jondiced
How about the double entendre in the episode title? Does the apostrophe indicate possession, or a contraction?
Samantha Holloway
17. pirategirljack
"He was tall, but a little *too* tall, and her hair was red, but a little *too* red."

I'm pretty sure this episode is entirely quotable. This and Bad Blood, which plays with unreliable narrators, too.

~:)
Mari Ness
18. MariCats
Only my second favorite X-Files episode -- my favorite is still coming up. But definitely the one I either quote or hear quoted most often: "I didn't spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage." I think I was laughing _and_ cheering when I first heard that.
Ian Tregillis
19. ITregillis
@17: Totally agreed. Bad Blood is a very close second in my book. Extremely quotable.
James Henry
20. redraobyek
I can recall being *so* excited as I looked forward to a Darrin Morgan episode that would have both Charles Nelson Reilly *and* Alex Trebek. And it didn't disappoint. It was definitely one of my top three relatively lighthearted standalones, along with "War of the Coprophages" and "Bad Blood." Not a single misfire in the entire outing, IMO. Great script, great direction, and flawless performances by both the regulars and the guest starts. Just a treat to watch. And rewatch. And rewatch. And rewatch.
Eli Bishop
21. EliBishop
@3: A couple other references: The Caligarian Candidate is a combination of The Manchurian Candidate (about a man hypnotized into being an assassin) and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (also about a man hypnotized into being an assassin), and Lord Kinbote is named after the extremely unreliable narrator of Nabokov's Pale Fire.
CaitieCat
22. jere7my
Charles Nelson Reilly figured out cold fusion, but he never ever told a soul. I've seen the man unhinge his jaw and swallow a Volkswagen whole.
CaitieCat
23. ThirdGorchBro
Your scientists have yet to discover how neural networks create
self-consciousness, let alone how the human brain processes
two-dimensional retinal images into the three-dimensional phenomenon
known as perception. Yet you somehow brazenly declare that seeing is
believing!
CaitieCat
25. Donald Simmons
They originally hoped to get Johnny Cash to play Jesse Ventura's partner (as he was the original Man in Black) but he couldn't do it for health reasons.
CaitieCat
26. Christopher a.
@1. Aparently, Jose Chung was the name of a fan that would incessantly send the producers scripts, trying to become a writer on the show.

Like a lot of other have mentioned, this was my favorite episode ever durring the show's original run. It was one of the only times I ever made an appointment to tape an episode of TV on VHS, before Tivo made the process easy enough to be worth the effort. The humor, structure and, at the end, heart in the episode built and played off the relationships, themes and characters we'd become invested in the 3 sesasons so far in a masterful manner.

On thing I enjoy about the episode is that beyond all the sci-fi elements in the episode, it's really a love story. Mostly Harrold's, the way that personal perception and the difference between wanting something to be true and the actual truth in the matter can lead one astray. His love for Chrissy is so consuming that it blinds him to the fact that she's just not that into him, much like Mulder and the UFO nut's wish to believe skews their perspective. I've always found the last scene of Harrold outside Chrissy's window affecting. Much as Mulder always wants to believe in the paranormal and Scully wants to believe in science despite evidence contradicting those beliefs, Harrold want's to believe in love and Chrissy despite the events going on around him. It's sad, but speaks to a common experience I think.
Meghan Deans
27. Meghan
@26. Really excellent point about the romance in this episode--the stuff with Harold is particularly sweet. Darin Morgan had a real knack for slipping a strong emotional story amidst all the insanity--"Clyde Bruckman" is probably the strongest example, but I think the brotherhood storyline in "Humbug" is also pretty great.

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