Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ 3×20: I’ve just had a little alien experience.


"I know how crazy all this sounds, but I don't care"

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.

Whoo boy.

Verdict:

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.”

A-

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.

Best Quotes:

*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.

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37 responses to “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ 3×20: I’ve just had a little alien experience.

  1. hahaha i just love that classic line :

    “I know how crazy all this sounds, BUT….”

  2. Wow, interesting review Salome. I’m sorry, I’m one of those fans who adore this episode and I’m sure when I come to review it I’ll be kissing its ass, but I love how you don’t knock it and analyse with a critically intelligent eye rather that just, “it’s brilliant, it’s the best episode ever” sort of thing. I understand where you’re coming from and truthfully I think the episode could be criticised for being smug and knowing how clever it all is, but I’ll always love it. It features a man who says ‘bleep’ all the time and Mulder’s funny little squel.

    • Feel free to go all fanboy over it. I’m not hatin’. ^o^ v

      Like I said, it’s really well done, but the humor (for the most part) isn’t my brand and the philosophy doesn’t sit well in my stomach. But I can completely appreciate why it’s a fan favorite. Darin Morgan’s genius holds up. Amazing how a man who only wrote 4 episodes is almost like a mythological level legend on the show.

      Besides, I do love me some Blaine Faulkner.

  3. Phew! What a relief. I think perhaps Jose Chung was a little over-hyped for me. I had no real memory of the episode, and with only this glowing aura about it… well I was a little bummed out when I didn’t find it to be the end-all-be-all X-Files experience.

    It’s nice to know I’m not alone. The episode was fun, though. I would like to have seen less exposition on different viewpoints (because seriously, nothing will top Bad Blood) and more of Chung’s writing.

    • There’s a thread on XFU about underrated episodes and it eventually turned into Jose Chung’s Anonymous. It looks like there are quite a few of us out there with only lukewarm feelings about this one.

  4. Lol, Blaine Faulkner is hilarious. I always remember the part where he’s like, “I hate this town. I hate… people. I just want to be taken away to someplace where I… I don’t have to worry about finding a job. “

  5. Ok, so I’ll start here, because I needed to see this ep after we’d talked about it 🙂

    I think what I like about it is in large the simple fact that it exists. The mere fact that it is possible to make an episode like this gives credit to the X-files – it is a sign of how established show was. I don’t think that there are very many shows out there that could afford that an episode stands out like this one does.

    I also like how it shows how stupid lots of Mulder’s theories sound, when looked upon by an outsider. How many times have I not said to myself: “O come on, this is absurd, can’t they ever let Scully be right for once”.

    Evenso, when I watched it, as happens every time I watch it, I ask myself: What’s the point?
    1. To show that the truth is very subjective, and gets even more subjective if retold.
    2. Or that you cannot trust anyone, not even yourself – you might be hypnotised.
    3. Or that Mulder can sometimes seem very silly indeed.
    4. Or that Mulder doesn’t always have the answers.
    5. Or that it isn’t very strange that Scully is still rather sceptical after three years on the X-files, because sometimes she has to conduct an autopsy on a man in an alien costume?
    6. OR that Mulder’s and Scully’s constant search for the truth at times can come off as rather well… futile?

    If I would watch this as a funny ep and not be bothered with everything that cannot be explained I think that would probably be good. But unfortunately I’m too logical. I want ANSWERS! And if not even Mulder will give them to me, who will?!

    Anyway, Reilly is indeed very good. And seriously, when he leans forward and says “Exactly”. Comedy acting.

    Man. I could write so much more, but it’s not me who’s doing the reviews here. Fortunately.

    Hanna

    • Oh, Hanna, dear Hanna, you’re here! Yay!! I knew you’d add to this discussion.

      You hit it right on the head. The real victory of this episode is that it shows how far the series could stretch without breaking. I remember reading somewhere, probably on Wikipedia, that this is one of Gillian Anderson’s favorite episodes because scripts like this kept things fresh and exciting. That makes perfect sense. The X-Files lasted so long because they could switch from genre to genre every episode. Wacky one week, sentimental the next, scary after that… not to mention the mythology.

      P.S. I also love that Morgan calls Mulder out on his B.S.
      P.P.S. I’m thinking you should just take over from here, dear!

  6. Oh Salome my dear, you are too kind. I don’t think that me just taking over from here would be very appreciated by your followers. Also, I really wouldn’t want to change your insightful thougts for my own completely random ramblings 😀

    I did however have this hillarious idea the other day (it might actually have been night… Yes, come to think about it the state of the idea rather suggest it was, indeed, night time) back to point: I had this idea for your blog. Unfortunately it wasn’t a very good idea and hence I won’t speak it (I got you all listening now, didn’t I?!) But I want you to know that I give your blog lots of thought and I find it very, very good. 🙂

    x

  7. Um… yes Salome. I want you to turn the whole page pink. THAT is what I want. Pink.

    (Is it obvious that I’m being ironic here, because I can never tell)

  8. I was thinking blue. Cerulean blue. 😉

    Honestly, you do not want to know. I was thinking that you need a plan – because the episodes only last so long you know, and then what?! So I had all these ideas of how we should watch an episode simultaneously and then put our comments on here, preferably in speech balloons. And from there it just went all wazoo, I’m telling you there’s no controlling my mind when it sets off. It always came back to the speech balloons for some reason though.

    • I would LOVE that, though I’m a little unsure about the speech balloons. My programming skills are nil. Rotten Tomatoes this site is not.

      But you guys know I love the heck out of guest bloggers. Feel free to submit arguments and counter arguments to your philish content. ❤ I'm completely open to posting them!

  9. Emily Michelle

    Oh snap, I love this episode so much. I can see where you’re coming from, though: it ends on a bit of a depressing note, with Chung stating that each of us is alone (anyone else think it’s odd that the musical cue here is a major-key version of the theme song? Like they’re saying isolation is a happy way to end the episode?) And the message is indeed that truth is difficult, maybe impossible to find, at least through interviews.

    But that’s never bothered me for two reasons: first, I feel the theme of the episode is not so much “there is no truth and we all die alone” as it is “everyone perceives reality through the lens of their own experiences and opinions and feelings, so it’s really hard to find the truth just by asking people.” If anything, I feel like it’s commentary on writing, on stories and words (and maybe Morgan was even ruminating on writing TV shows)–as creepy Padgett will say in Milagro, “By their very nature, words are imprecise and layered with meaning,” and when you put anything into words you are putting your own spin on them, whether or not you mean to. The truth IS out there, but it’s a slippery little guy. I think that’s the beauty of Scully and Mulder’s relationship, isn’t it? Mulder is out there getting the words, but Scully is out there getting the facts, and maybe once we have both the cold hard facts and the words necessary to connect and make sense of them, we’ll find the truth?

    I think I’m rambling. Reilly is brilliant, Alex Trebek’s cameo is fantastic, Jesse Ventura is funnier than I’d expected him to be, and that scene where Mulder screams and the cop says “Yep, that’s a bleeping dead alien” makes me laugh hysterically every time. I feel like the direction is perfectly brilliant–one of my favorite parts is when Roky is telling his story, and time after time in the middle of what you thought was a flashback he starts talking to M&S and you realize it wasn’t a flashback after all. The repeated dialogue is clever–especially given that phrases like “This is not happening” spread out farther than just this episode–as are the scenes where Christy recounts her story and the details change but the characters are standing in the same place every time. I will totally agree with you that it feels like an exercise in storytelling, but I’m quite all right with that.

    To conclude, on this most recent rewatch, I noticed for the first time that when Mulder is talking to Jack Shaffer, the AWOL pilot, in the diner, Shaffer is sculpting his mashed potatoes into Devil’s Tower with his fork. Oh this episode, I love you so much.

    • Emily Michelle

      I just realized that I never stated what my second reason was. It’s that this episode is so flipping hilarious.

    • Looking at it like that, it’s not such a downer at all, is it? I can’t fault you. It’s just a rare, genuinely funny piece of television whose humor escapes me. What can I say? Whatever makes people love The X-Files, though!

    • Oh good, glad someone else picked up the Close Encounters homage, my fave sci fi film!! xx

  10. This was never one of my favorites when I originally watched the series. In fact, before re-watching it, I didn’t remember all that much about it. I must admit that I enjoyed it quite a bit more this time around, although I agree that a lot of the humor is too obvious/over-the-top. Even so, Mulder’s girly scream never fails to bring a smile to my face, and the sweet potato pie scene in the diner is hilarious.

  11. Two things: Emily Michelle already mentioned it, but the introduction of “This is not happening” must not be forgotten!
    Also, how can we forget the reappearance of Yappi from Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose?

  12. I have a problem with some of Darin Morgan’s writing over the series because it focuses too much attention on itself. When a character speaks, I feel like I’m listening to the writer rather than a character (For example, the opening monologue of War of The Coprophages immediately pulls me out of the story).

    However, in Jose Chung’s From Outer Space, the absurdity of the plot and the characters matches the absurdity of the dialogue in such a way that the contrived nature of the dialogue is not a weakness. The theme of the episode is a sad one, in spite of all the humor, and there is unquestionably a strong nihilistic streak that runs through Clyde Bruckman,Coprophages and this episode.

    And to be honest, isn’t this view on the series earned? Mulder spends his life searching for the truth, a quest that is continually frustrated by lies upon lies upon lies. His is a tragic search for an elusive truth that generations and generations before him have spent their lives burying.

  13. I’m actually not a big fan of this one.

    I loved Darin Morgan’s other scripts to date, particularly CBFR (which is as perfect an hour of television as has ever been produced, IMHO). This one is more troubling, though. I wouldn’t have minded if the show decided to have some simple fun at its own expense (the self-mockery is fairly obvious), but watching this makes me feel like Morgan isn’t just satirizing, but ridiculing the show to the point where he seems to be saying that our emotional investment is a waste of time, and we’re all fools for doing it.

    Parts of it are funny, and I feel like it was designed to be one of the definitive X-Files episodes, but this one always gives me a sour aftertaste.

    • Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose actually is as perfect an hour of television as has ever been produced, so I know I’m dealing with a sensible soul.

      I got that same feeling at moments, that Darin Morgan wasn’t just poking gentle fun at the show the way Vince Gilligan would later do, but that he was actually deriding it. Between that edgy undertone and the overall feeling of pointlessness, not just in the show but in life, it seems to be he might have been going through things at the time. Indeed, he pretty much left after this and disappeared for a while.

      I get a little of that aftertaste too.

  14. this is one of my faves,if you have the dvds, watch the episode with the commentary track. it explains a lot! its all about if you can or cannot trust in your memories, and the process of hypnonis, as we can see in this episode, the military are altering this peoples memories to make them believe they were abducted when in fact, it was all just a military experiment. and thats why all the characters here hace different versions of the truth, and the way this story is told is amazing, i just love it

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  16. I just want to say, even though I love this episode, I respect you for your honest review of it. Frankly, I thought the humor in Humbug just wasn’t my style, and so even though it’s a beloved Darin Morgan episode, I don’t much care for it. Clyde Bruckman and War of the Coprophages were better, even though I normally prefer a more straight-faced approach on this show, rather than humor-based deconstruction. But there’s just something about Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’. That having been said, I admire your courage in writing a lackluster review of a Darin Morgan episode. Nothing is truly sacred.

    • I hated to say it, but I couldn’t tell a lie. Besides, it’s clear my reviews are as subjective and personal as I can make them.

      But I do appreciate JCFOS much more than I used to. In a few years, who knows? Maybe it’ll be my favorite.

      Okay. Not my favorite. But one of my favorites.

      • Jose Chung would say that the truth is as subjective as reality. Regardless, I’ve always admired Mulder above all else for his dedication to the Truth with a capital ‘T’ – even sometimes at the expense of his better judgment (which is where Scully’s sobering influence comes in). I’m an idealist like that.

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  20. Although there are parts of this episode I enjoy, I have never been as crazy about it as many other people. Although Charles Nelson Reilly is a delight, the Blaine character is very funny, and there are some classic lines & moments, I’ve always found it a bit perplexing. I believe Darin Morgan was trying to make a larger overall point in this episode, which is that storytelling, perception & the views of the storyteller do not necessarily reflect the truth. This is obvious in some parts, but he also weaves in subtleties to drive the point home. The scene most indicative of this, to me, is the scene at the end showing Mulder, in what looks like his apartment, in a BED/bedroom. It is pretty well established throughout the series that Mulder doesn’t have a bed. In Grotesque, we see he has an extra room, but there doesn’t appear to be any furniture in it & in Dreamland the matter is brought up again & I could be wrong, but isn’t it also referenced in Small Potatoes? He seems to sleep on his couch. I’ve wondered previously about this scene as it Is a clear break in story/character continuity, but I think now I’ve decided it is showing a version of the truth as perhaps seen in the storyteller’s mind’s eye, but not necessarily the truth as it exists; which would be a very Darin Morgan take on the world, people & ‘truth’.

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