2×24: Our Town

“Look at yourselves. Look at what you’ve become. This isn’t faith anymore it’s just fear. They’ve turned us into an abomination.” – Walter Chaco

Mulder and Scully head to Arkansas chicken country to investigate the disappearance of a federal health inspector and find themselves in the midst of a town where more than chicken is on the menu…

Our Town

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Max: Man, Radhika was right, Scully gets captured or injured way too many times during this season, here getting bopped on the head and ready to be sacrificed and eaten by the townsfolk during the climactic encounter. But before we talk about that, let’s back up to how that comes about (yeah, I just did one of those in media res cliche things, but what the hell).

After the disappearance of inspector George Kearns, our agents are dispatched to find out what happened. What the discover is that he was about to report major violations at the Chaco Chicken plant, the major economic engine of Dudley, Arkansas. At the plant, an employee named Paula goes nuts and holds a manager hostage while Mulder and Scully are canvassing workers, and the local sheriff takes it upon himself to put her down with lethal force. Wanting to autopsy Paula to determine the cause of her madness, Scully petitions the grandfather to allow her to do so. And here’s the wrinkle, the grandfather is Mr. Chaco himself.

What Scully finds is that Paula was suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal neurological illness. And after our heroes nearly collide with a truck carrying chickens for the plant, they learn the driver of that vehicle is also a sufferer of that malady. This statistical improbability stuns Scully, since the disease itself is generally non-communicable. Meanwhile, townsfolk congregate with Chaco and believe they need to get rid of the problem quietly and purge themselves of outsiders. Talking in hushed tones, they speak of some sort of beliefs or practices.

After dredging the bloody stream where the chicken truck driver drove off into, Mulder and Scully find several skeletons (including the inspector’s) with their skulls missing, some going back decades. Moreover, their joints are smoothed over, which is exactly what happens when animal meat is boiled in preparation to be eaten. Taking one of his intuitive leaps, Mulder theorizes that the townsfolk participate in ritual cannibalism, which would explain the multiple cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob in such a small area. This is pretty much dead on, and results in the capture of Scully I mentioned above, when the population gather to make a final purge of outsiders to ensure the continuation of the rituals. Chaco himself, trying to talk some sense into town leaders while excoriating them for a lack of belief, is overruled and sentenced to the same fate as Scully. Thankfully, Mulder arrives at the scene before Scully loses her head, and shoots the would-be executioner (who turns out to be the sheriff). Eventually, the plant is closed down by the government, and Scully reports that over thirty people have died from the disease.

This episode is an interesting sort of “breather” before the fury of the season finale. It’s not exactly an original conceit (the episode was inspired by the film Bad Day At Black Rock and also has connections to Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery”), but Frank Spotniz essays a solid riff on the themes of ritual and belief. Much like the school board members of “Die Hand Die Vereltzt,” this episode is about what happens when beliefs become perverted, and the townsfolk of “Our Town” reap the repercussions of this.

Radhika: Ah yes, “Our Town,” where The X-Files explores its love of creepy small towns, while also introducing us to a Colonel Sanders story gone horribly horribly wrong. For as the episode informs us, Chaco is the one who introduced cannibalism to his little town after spending time with some alleged cannibals when his plane was shot down during World War II.

I think at the end of the day, “Our Town” is just a fun little mystery, with the majority of its gross-out/terrifying factor being that it causes viewers to wonder what’s in the poultry they’re devouring. (As numerous articles over the years have unveiled all sorts of unsavory practices, it appears that The X-Files’ interpretation of events may not be so far off.) There are also a few silly moments amid the cannibalistic rituals and gross meat factory scenes, such as the sight gag of watching tiny business-like Scully marching around with a giant bucket of fried chicken.

But speaking of Scully and going back to Max’s opening: Man, she really has had it rough this season, and after watching the episodes in such a condensed period of time, I do have to ask (again) why the writers had to resort to putting her in danger so much. I mean, I guess it’s the easy way out and possibly realistic to have a tiny lady get into trouble a lot. It’s not like she and Mulder are investigating particularly safe crimes and mysteries half the time. But it’s just a terribly cruel thing to do to such a well-loved character, a character that the writers — despite their tendency to use her as a sacrifice — clearly loved deeply as the series went on. And though as time goes by, Mulder certainly suffers quite a bit, the amount of suffering Scully goes through in season two just seems a little too excessive.

But anyway, we’re due for some Mulder angst very soon, and so, I shall get off my soapbox. Onto “Anasazi”!

YES, IT’S THAT GUY

Gary Grubbs – While not necessarily a guest star of Tony Shalhoub or Bradley Whitford caliber, Grubbs is definitely a recognizable face from a number of TV programs, including Growing Pains, Will & Grace and Treme. Fans of Buffy-spinoff Angel may also remember him playing the role of Fred’s father.

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