This episode is hopeless.
Blasphemy, you say? Well, I said it was hopeless but I didn’t say it was bad.
Part of Darin Morgan’s genius is that he weaves some of the deeper questions of life into his comedies and that gives his work weight without bogging it down. “Humbug” (2×20) asks what it means to be an “other.” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (3×4) questions the intersection of free will and fate. “War of the Coprophages” (3×12) explores the limits of human suggestibility.
The key difference is that while all of those episodes subtly address an issue without offering up a solution, “Jose Chung’s” comes to a much more obvious conclusion and it’s not a happy one. The message is that if truth even exists, it’s elusive and you can’t know it. And without truth, there’s no meaning in life. Without meaning, we’re all isolated and alone. See? Hopeless.
Despite its obvious charms, something has never quite clicked between me and “Jose Chung’s”. Call it a glitch in the matrix. Either that or it’s a part of some covert agenda on the part of the military industrial entertainment complex. I’ve always assumed that the reason this episode didn’t jive with me was the humor barrier. I’ve found all of Darin Morgan’s other work on The X-Files hilarious, but the style of “Jose Chung’s” is more obvious and, dare I say, more juvenile. It feels like teenage boy humor to me (no offense teenage boys). That’s not a bad thing. I’m just more of a situational comedy type of girl. It’s about the humor of the absurd and I prefer the humor of the mundane. This whole episode is like a game, an exercise in storytelling more than it is an actual episode of The X-Files.
But I’ve realized the issue goes deeper than that. It’s Morgan’s worldview that’s tripping me up.
As I said, “Jose Chung’s” isn’t an exercise in subtlety. The philosophy of the episode is announced early when Chung tells Scully that, “Truth is as subjective as reality.” Since “the truth” is essentially what The X-Files is all about, or the search for it, anyway, Morgan is really taking loving dig at what he sees as a fruitless effort.
He brings the point home with the way he paints his characters. Take Roky, Faulkner and Mulder for instance. With all three the search for alien life is actually a metaphor for the search for meaning and purpose, the search for truth. Rory’s search leads him to a cult to try to make sense of the universe and chart it out in diagrams that he can comprehend. Faulkner has a dead-end life that he’s trying to escape so he watches the skies waiting for someone to take him away, to make his life interesting. And Mulder is trying to ease the pain of past trauma and loss hoping that if he can prove the existence of alien life what happened to him and his sister will… what? Make sense?
In the end it’s all for nothing. Scully wastes her life away in the basement at a job that’s pointless since the search for truth is futile. The answers Mulder is looking for elude him once again. The two teenagers who not long ago had been groping each other in the back of a car searching for a connection find themselves more locked inside their own minds than ever. Everyone’s all alone just going through the motions because they don’t know what’s true and they can’t rely on anyone else to tell them because everyone’s perceptions are just as faulty as their own.
I was not looking forward to doing a write up on this episode because it’s so beloved by almost everyone else but I. But I am glad that I finally have more insight into my hum ho response to it than, “I don’t get it.” You see, I do believe in truth and that it’s knowable, an idea that’s rather passé in our post-modern age of relativism. Hope necessarily follows.
I suspect that a lot of the concepts in this episode and even in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” probably came out of Darin Morgan’s oft discussed depression and burn out at the time. I’d be curious to know how “Jose Chung’s” would come out if he were to write it now, but such things can never be. With the exception of a few story editing contributions this would be his last writing credit on The X-Files and I think we can all agree that he went out at his creative peak.
Just to clarify, I do like this episode, but it’s not the transcendent experience for me that it seems to be for other fans. Structurally it’s impressive, content wise it’s clever and I can’t say it’s not funny, even if most of its humor isn’t my style.
But, hey, as my father likes to remind me, “Comedy is tragedy.”
Comments Worth Ignoring:
I like how the teaser is a mini version of the whole episode: A big fish came along and ate a little fish and then an even bigger fish came along and ate the big fish. A tale within a tale within a tale. It’s Rashomon run amok.
The whole teenage first love/cry for sex plot always makes me roll my eyes and sigh a little. Even Splendor in the Grass hasn’t cured me of that. Actually, it might have added a gag reflex to my aversion…
Now if only they’d been able to snag Johnny Cash as a man in black. It would’ve changed my whole perspective, I’m telling you.
I love that they use a cheesier version of the theme music during the alien autopsy scene. That’s a classic moment right there.
This whole episode is a joke at Mulder’s expense. I’m glad Morgan decided to take him down a peg or two in a non-mean spirited sort of way.
“I don’t mind making fun of Mulder,” Morgan said. “He’s presented as the seeker of the truth, and to me such people are always somewhat ridiculous.” – I rest my case. About everything.
*Editor’s Note: By now you know what I’m going to say. Darin Morgan’s writing should be enjoyed in context to get the true depth of his humor. Stop reading. Go watch.
Chung: Still, 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. Mere words.
Mulder: Well, so what if they had sex?
Scully: So we know that it wasn’t an alien that probed her.
Jose Chung: Aren’t you nervous telling me all this after receiving all those death threats?
Blaine Faulkner: Well, hey, I didn’t spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage.
Mulder: Have you ever found a metal implant in your body?
Cook: [Shakes head]
Mulder: Have you checked everywhere?
Jose Chung: Seeking the truth about aliens means a perfunctory 9 to 5 job to some, for although Agent “Diana Lesky” is noble in spirit and pure at heart she remains nevertheless, a Federal employee. As for her partner, “Reynard Muldrake”, a ticking time bomb of insanity, his quest into the unknown has so warped his psyche one shudders to think how he receives any pleasures from life.