The X-Files: Jose Chung's From Outer Space   Rewatch 
October 4, 2015 8:41 PM - Season 3, Episode 20 - Subscribe

An alien abduction of two teenagers with different versions of the same facts prompts a science-fiction novelist to write a book about the incident. However, no one involved with the investigation can tell him the full story with any accuracy.
posted by town of cats (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"Have you ever flown a flying saucer? Afterwards, sex seems trite."

My feeling on Jose Chung's From Outer Space, and why it's my favorite episode of X-Files (but why I can totally understand that other people might hate it), is - well, have you read Godel, Escher, Bach? The whole idea behind the book is that any sufficiently complex system is capable of referring to itself. And sometimes, this renders the system useless, making it impossible to achieve what it was intended to achieve. In the book, over and over, Doug Hofstadter gives examples of formal systems that grind themselves into oblivion when they talk about themselves. I think Jose Chung is the self-referential X-Files episode that broke The X-Files.

Don't get me wrong, there are bazillions of great episodes after this one. But Jose Chung, way more than any of his others, is Darin Morgan's episode about the X-Files. There isn't much of a story beyond "We're just going to keep popping layers off this story stack and see what happens, we're going to keep fucking with the accounts you've seen, we're going to muddle up the truth so hard that at the end you won't even CARE what's true. Is the truth out there? What does that even mean?" It's clearly no coincidence that the seemingly actual alien at the bottom of the stack, the core of the narrative, is named after the unreliable narrator in Pale Fire.

I love things like this. They just yank my personal crank. But I do feel, more than any other "novelty" episode of this show, or really any other show I can think of, this episode marked a watershed moment for the show - the moment the show's system really began to reason about itself. X-Files talked back, in a way, and what it said wasn't entirely complimentary. And from then on, it seemed, the door was open to all kinds of weird bullshit.

Am I being waaaay too faux-profound here? I mean, X-Files obviously isn't literally self-aware. Can people think of episodes of other shows that are this meta? I don't watch a lot of TV so maybe this is commoner than I think it is. It's like an episode of a law show where the lawyers are representing the writers of a law show who have been sued for writing a law show where the lawyers are representing the writers of a law show. It's like a cop show where the cops are arresting some cops who are making a cop show, because they're making a cop show. But it's even deeper than that because X-Files as a show is all about what's true, the quest for the truest true things, and the episode openly scoffs at the impossibility of the very notion of objective truth! I feel like the only places I've seen this intense sort of self-referential humor are cartoons.

In short, I've read criticism that avers this may be among the best hour-long episodes of television ever produced, and I agree with it. But I've also read criticism that this is a pretty terrible episode of X-Files qua X-Files, and I kind of agree with that too.

I feel I should add, this was the second episode of the show I ever watched, in reruns. The first episode was "El Mundo Gira," and I was like, "Why are people so into this show? I'll give it one more week." Then I watched JCFOS, and my life was FOREVER CHANGED. I don't know if I was lucky or unlucky that this was the first good X-Files episode I watched. It set a pretty impossible standard for the show as a whole. Also, before I watched this episode I had never tried sweet potato pie and it became one of my favorites. Thanks, Darin Morgan!

Other random observations:
- the Star Wars opening shot is SO GREAT
- loved the box of "Tim Hornet's" donuts in the first hypnosis scene - O Canada, ladies and gentlemen
- the treatment of Scully in this episode is so fantastic in that it gives you a sense that the episodes of XF we see are the cases that are actually worth highlighting, and most of the time Mulder and Scully are schlepping around the country on wild goose chases like this one. I love the sort of "Eh, it's a living" shrug she gives Chung at the end.
posted by town of cats at 8:43 PM on October 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

I have way less to say about this, but it is also my all time favorite episode of the X-Files. No competition.

Am I being waaaay too faux-profound here?

Nah. I think that's a pretty good description of what's going on here.

Can people think of episodes of other shows that are this meta?

Not to such an intense degree, although Supernatural loves playing with this, and has done so to great effect on a few occasions - the events of the show (through S5) were published inside the universe as a comic book also entitled Supernatural, and the Winchester brothers have been mistaken for cosplayers of themselves.

(I don't think I can recommend the show overall, but if you like this sort of thing, that whole thread is maybe worth a 'good parts' viewing.)
posted by mordax at 9:02 PM on October 4, 2015

Three words. Charles. Nelson. Reilly. (I'm a fan, didn't ya know?) A perfect role for an actor who was game for anything, yet somehow made the silliest stuff (Sid & Marty Krofft's 'Lidsville') a little closer to 'good'.

This was more than 'meta', this was an honestly serious deconstruction of the show's whole premise that (for me, personally) provided an "inoculation" against the critics who wanted to say it was "too outlandish". Well, for a few seasons...
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:59 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

When i first saw it as tweeny the only thing that stuck with me was the ending sequence of the boy that did not get the girl.
All the meta was way over my head then, so it was a joy to rewatch and discover it.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 11:02 PM on October 4, 2015

Not to such an intense degree, although Supernatural loves playing with this, and has done so to great effect on a few occasions - the events of the show (through S5) were published inside the universe as a comic book also entitled Supernatural, and the Winchester brothers have been mistaken for cosplayers of themselves.

Heroes did the comic book thing. Supernatural did pulp novels, but with romance book cover artwork.

Most later seasons have at least one really meta episode. Here's an alternate opening sequence from one of them. Then there was the musical episode...

I'm a sucker for those, and I also liked Jose Chung's From Outer Space a lot.
posted by Pryde at 11:30 PM on October 4, 2015

This is my all-time favorite episode of The X Files, and I didn't actually even like the show that much -- it was just something I watched because it was on, and made fun of how silly it was. But this episode was AMAZING and perfect and one of my favorite hours of television ever.

I haven't seen it for years but I still remember the absolutely perfect cold open, the scene where someone remembers Mulder ordering slice after slice until he'd eaten an entire pie, Lord Kinbote, Charles Nelson Reilly, Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura as the Men in Black...

I also read all of the UFO "exposes" back in the 80s, and there are some references here: Chung's book cover looks like the one for Whitley Streiber's "Communion," and one of the cops is Sergeant Hynek... not to mention the parody of Alien Autopsy hosted by The Stupendous Yappi.

So good!
posted by mmoncur at 2:14 AM on October 5, 2015

It has become a bit of a running gag for my partner and I that almost any time we discuss the X-Files, I will mention this episode and how good it is. (This and "Bad Blood", which also has unreliable narration.)

God I love this episode.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:20 AM on October 5, 2015

Darin Morgan was on Kumail Nanjiani's podcast 'The X-Files Files' twice, and the second time they talked about this episode a lot:

Here's the first time he was on:

One thing from that first interview that stuck with me was when Morgan said something like, "People think that, just because I'm really self-critical, I don't hate other people's stuff more."
posted by jwgh at 6:28 AM on October 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well, Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose is still my absolute favorite. But for me, the takeaway from the whole show comes from this episode. A line I have stolen more than once.

Well, hey, I didn't spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage...
posted by Naberius at 7:58 AM on October 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I always felt this episode turns around and asks the viewer "no, really, what are you getting out of stories like this? Why do we even have UFO stories and conspiracy theories and innerspace sex narratives? " which is why it's an effective deconstruction of the series as a whole ( mostly deconstruction, it takes the show apart but doesn't destroy it)
posted by The Whelk at 9:58 AM on October 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Someone on twitter last week was describing "this weird episode of The X-Files with Jesse Ventura" he was watching and I immediately tweeted back how happy I was for him, and what a fine day he would soon realize he was having.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:01 PM on October 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's the most Fortean episode of the X-Files, in that if you look at any Fortean story up close, or really any weird esoteric fringe story you hear about, it's always like this: lots of looping back on itself and weirdness and contradiction and stuff that flat out doesn't belong where it is and sticks out like a claymation inner earth demon lord.

I love it.
posted by Artw at 10:51 PM on October 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose is still my absolute favorite.

I read that and thought "That must be the one with Peter Boyle as the guy who could predict how people were going to die."

yep. Definitely a top one too.
posted by mmoncur at 12:45 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also enjoyed Chung's return in "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense," one of Darin Morgan's two scripts for Millennium. (The other is "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me," which is a famously good hour of television.)
posted by Iridic at 2:22 PM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm rewatching the X-Files and just wanted to admire the Kinbote Pale Fire reference. Vladimir Nabokov, motherfuckers!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:27 AM on June 16, 2017

One of my favourite episodes of The X Files, and TV in general.

Again, they'll revisit themes they explore here later - the he-said/ she-said differences in different people's perspectives reminds me of that episode with Luke Wilson ('Bad Blood'), another jokey episode, where Scully and Mulder have very different recollections of their interactions with the sheriff.

Alex Trebek's understated cameo easily trumps Ventura's ott role.

I can't remember, but this can't be the only "This isn't happening, this isn't happening" scene through the series' run is it?
posted by porpoise at 6:17 PM on May 5, 2020

According to The X-Files Wikia, "This same phrase would later be said again in Season 8's "Redrum" before being used as the title of another eighth-season episode, in which the phrase is again repeatedly said (like it is in this episode), by the character Richie Szalay -- a UFO fanatic, like this episode's Blaine Faulkner."

In the commentary track for this episode, whomever is doing it said that the casting director for this episode told him, "Wait until you meet the guy we found for the Blaine Faulkner role. When he says he wants to be abducted by aliens, you believe it." And yes, you do. Hilariously, Blaine is like Mulder with about half the I.Q. He gets dragged from a room screaming, "You can't hide the truth," as Mulder so often is, he has a similar housekeeping style, and he even has a poster similar to Mulder's.

My sister and I use the Dungeons and Dragons line quite a bit, even though neither of us have ever played D&D.

This is definitely one of the finest episodes of the entire series. It's so much fun, so twisty, so meta, with so many great details and lines and moments.

"Detective Manners" is an inside joke referring to series director Kim Manners, who is known for swearing a lot.

Scully's camel-coloured overcoat is back, looking none the worse for the wear after a sewage plant exploded on it a couple of episodes back. Her dry cleaner must love her.

Did anyone else think that Mulder was being weirdly, uncharacteristically harsh with the teenaged boy (i.e., saying he was going to be raped in prison!) and that that was Scully's colouration of the account rather than the exact truth?

We see Mulder sitting up in an actual bed in his own apartment -- with spotless white sheets and multiple pillows, even -- in this episode, which I think might have been a continuity mistake because he isn't supposed to have a functional bedroom at this point in the show.
posted by orange swan at 12:49 PM on May 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Like with many people, this is my favorite episode of the show and one of my favorites in all of television.

I know that the impossibility of pinning down the truth is the point but it's also most of the fun for me. (My wife and I have been bingeing Elementary the last few days of quarantine, and it's soothing to me because it tends to play fair, reward the viewer's paying attention, and provide answers to its twisty stories. I didn't realize how much my brain craves something like that.)

In this case, the only things we can know for certain is that Chung interviewed Scully for this book, more or less as that appears, that Mulder then probably stopped by Chung's office afterwards to give him a lecture and implore him not to write it, and that Chung probably interviewed Blaine as well.

Scully's accounting of events is most likely mostly accurate, given what we know of her and her skepticism, but Mulder's out-of-character behavior means her biases are still coming through (and note things that feel humorous at the time, like how Mulder's questioning of Harold after he's come to believe that he must have raped Chrissy echoes the same beats as Manners' questioning of Harold when he's sticking to his alien abduction story. Except Scully wasn't there for the first scene, so she's speculating based on the scene she was there for and presenting it as truth - even Scully isn't immune to being an unreliable narrator.

Blaine's biases are more apparent, filtered through his obsessions and his believe that Scully and Mulder are MiBs. So when we get to the "dead alien" reveal, we get Mulder's squeal (via Blaine) and Manners' "bleep"-speak (via Scully) and we can be pretty sure that they found the "Dead alien" and then did an autopsy revealing it to be the dead pilot in a costume, and that the Military brass were there lickity split to retrieve the body, mentioned Lt. Schaeffer, and that the body wasn't there anymore when they went back into the room.

Mulder's accounts are basically all filtered through Scully (or the Cook) and while we tend to trust Mulder, we know we're getting farther away from it all now. Scully woke up with him in her bedroom, almost certainly, and he has his version of how he got there, which she seems to trust, but which involves Alex Trebek (and involves Scully acting serenely robotic and Mulder himself getting to be an expert debater against these Men in Black.)

Roky is the nuttiest, of course, but just about everything in his account squares with other sources at different points, which might be the most brilliant and maddening move the script makes. The Cook's account of Mulder makes very little sense, and seems mostly there to give us a Twin Peaks homage, but also, like, why would the Cook make up something like that?

And then at the bottom of the trustworthiness scale we have the two kids, Chrissy and Harold. Harold seems deeply distraught and prone to self-doubt about his experiences, which themselves only touch on making sense with other things we see. (It seems clear that the smoking alien was Scheffer, but what does that imply, exactly?) Chrissy's memories are hypnotically led and at least partially manufactured, though it seems to be true that the military "stole" those memories from her, as she says.

IF Mulder had his conversation with Schaeffer, then Lord Kinbote is confirmed, and he seemed to have a firmer grasp on who or what that was than Roky did. If Mulder invented this conversation, then he's telling a lie that the government is manufacturing fake alien abductions, which goes against his "I Want To Believe" ethos.

And finally we have the Cold Open, told not through any narrator that we can see, and potentially, objectively, true. It fits Harold's story best, in that he and Chrissy had a fun night together (and I guess presumably just had sex, though Chrissy's dialog and performance in the cold open doesn't naturally suggest that) but that she's also brushing off his declarations of love a bit. This doesn't quite seem like either of their versions of events. Then the "aliens" show up, and then Lord Kinbote shows up. And if Lord Kinbote is objectively true, does that lock down more of the story or just throw it all up into the air even more?

So that's why I love this episode.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:34 PM on June 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

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