We’ve reached the last stand-alone episode before the season finale. It’s an episode that should be played again upon finishing as there are subtle hints that can’t be fully appreciated until after you already know what’s going on: A bent fork in a field, Chaco’s speech about the perils of getting old, the Sheriff attempting to “comfort” Doris Kearns, etc. I enjoy this episode’s dark sense of humor.
On the visual tip, there are those memorable images The X-Files is famous for: a girl’s body sinks into a vat of chicken goop, Scully crouching among a room full of bones with a bucket of fried chicken, a fishnet full of human bones being pulled from a bloody river. This is the stuff classic television is made of.
I hear this episode brought up most often as a horrible example of Scully being forced into the position of Damsel in Distress, passively waiting for Mulder to come to her rescue. I don’t see it that way. In fact, for once, Season 2’s over-protective Mulder throws Scully directly at danger and says, “Catch!”
I kid, I kid. That’s what it feels like, but in reality in makes practical sense for one to keep an eye on the threatened Doris Kearns while the other goes and arrests the man who’s threatening her. Logic aside, the setup leads to a tiny but sweet shipper moment at the end of the episode that’s worth a revoked N.O.W. membership or two. So it’s Mulder’s turn to save Scully this time, it’s not a big deal. She’s saved him often enough. I think we all know by now that Scully is a fully capable woman and a strong female character. If you’re still not convinced, wait till the next episode.
Like “The Calusari” (2×21) this episode is mostly about the fear factor over character development but this time with a subtle message thrown in. I just saw the movie Downfall recently, which if you haven’t seen I highly recommend. For those that don’t know, it’s a film about the last 10 days of the Third Reich and the downfall of Hitler’s regime. Oddly enough, it’s only after so many years and after watching a movie about Nazis that I fully understand what Chaco was getting at when he insisted that only outsiders be targeted, not that he fully understood it himself.
What he didn’t realize is that once you choose to benefit yourself at expense of others, no one is safe, insider or outsider. To use Nazi Germany as an example, once they decided that it was OK to persecute an “other”, a group of people different from them, it finally resulted in them destroying themselves; the German army was hanging its own citizens by the hundreds in the streets of Berlin in the final days of the war. In a similar vein, Chaco thought that limiting their murders to those who were “other” would keep their own little group safe. He didn’t realize that the town was doomed the second they agreed to take any human life, long before they took one of their own. One by one they would each become the “other.”
I realize I just used a rather graphic example, but this episode of The X-Files is expressing a very deep and painful truth in miniature, and in an entertaining format at that. The people of Dudley excused the killing of Kearns because he was no good, he was a philanderer, he didn’t fit in, etc. In the end, none of that mattered. It’s not merely gross that some were poisoned by eating his flesh, it’s symbolic. By destroying him they destroyed themselves unwittingly.
…And the Verdict is:
Now that I’ve waxed philosophical about Nazis and nets full of bones I’ll hedge my analysis by stating that writer Frank Spotnitz (I ❤ Uncle Frank) probably only intended to give us a good scare, not throw us into a moral debate. It’s a testament to the level of writing on The X-Files in general that you can discuss these episodes a la Oprah’s Book Club and find important realities cleverly hidden among tales of aliens and mutants.
On the lighter side, “Our Town” is also full of the sort of grim humor The X-Files is so good at, both visual and verbal; not so much in jokes but in ironies. And while they might become cliché I love these small town X-Files. There’s something inherently creepy about Mayberry.
Mulder breaks into Mr. Chaco’s cabinet sans warrant or even permission. Doesn’t that mean that anything he finds would be inadmissible in court? Do I just watch too much Law & Order?
Am I the only one who didn’t think Chaco’s granddaughter looked as shockingly young as the characters seemed to believe? That really threw me my first watch.
There are a couple of background pieces of information that aren’t specifically addressed but are most likely supposed to be inferred. First, Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease is considered to be the human form of Mad Cow disease. Scully makes a connection between the two but doesn’t quite go all the way. That’s probably because the science wasn’t confirmed until a year or so after this episode aired. Second, the disease Kearns suffered from leads to personality changes and other disorders. That may be meant to explain his loose behavior. With that in mind, why didn’t his wife try to get him medical/psychiatric help rather than help herself to his entrails? Odds are she already knew he was sick since he was popping pills. I’d wager the method of contraction never entered into her considerations…
I still laugh out loud at that scene in the field where Scully smirks at Mulder and he grimaces right back. It’s amazing that even after all these years they have such great subtle interplay.
Mulder: A documentary I saw when I was in college about an insane asylum. It gave me nightmares.
Scully: I didn’t think anything gave you nightmares.
Mulder: Eh, I was young.
Scully: I just came up with a sick theory, Mulder.
Mulder: Ooh, I’m listening.
Scully: All of them share one strange detail, Mulder.
Mulder: Well they seem to have lost their heads.
Mulder: Scully… I think that the good people of Dudley have been eating more than just chicken.
Scully: You think these people were eaten?
Mulder: Do you know what’s in here?
Maid: I wouldn’t know.
Mulder: Can you open in?
Maid: I don’t have the key.