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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”