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 (15 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:

http://www.feralaudio.com/38-interview-with-jose-chungs-from-outer-space-writer-darin-morgan/

Here's the first time he was on:

http://www.feralaudio.com/28-interview-with-x-files-writer-darin-morgan/

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 [1 favorite]


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


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