3×20: Jose Chung’s From Outer Space

“That was Detective Manners. He said they just found your bleeping UFO.” — Dana Scully

Novelist Jose Chung talks to Mulder, Scully and a multitude of witnesses about an alien abduction involving two teenagers. Hilarity and absurdity ensues.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Radhika: There is something almost daunting about writing about this episode of The X-Files, long heralded as one of the show’s best episodes of all time. The final Darin Morgan script of the series, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is one of the most convoluted, ridiculous and outright enjoyable stories, full of in-jokes and the occasional kooky guest star. There’s no way I can be more hilarious than Darin Morgan, but I’m going to talk your ear off about it anyway.

For all the delightful nonsense in the episode, the heart of it is quite simple: A teenage couple is abducted by a couple of aliens, who are then abducted by another alien himself. (Whaaat?) And so, Mulder and Scully are drawn into the case, and we see them — well, mostly Scully — being interviewed by novelist Jose Chung, who plans on writing about … what else? Alien abduction. The rest of the episode is really like an absurdist game of Telephone, with different characters — major and minor — recounting their version of events (a method that would later turn up in season five’s “Bad Blood”), lampooning every cliché about alien abductions, authority figures, teenage romance, and… nerds like you and me.

It is this episode where we meet characters like Blaine, a Roswell-obsessed geek who wants to get abducted by aliens, so that he can get away from people and not have to worry about mundane matters like getting a job. (It’s like he was a character on Girls, nearly 20 years before that show existed!)

It is this episode where we meet characters like Detective Manners, named after director Kim Manners who had a real blankety blank swearing habit, just like his on-screen counterpart.

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

It is this episode that gave us the unholy duo of Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura playing a pair of Men in Black, well before Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones did.

It is this episode that gave us gems like Mulder’s shriek (okay, yes, you could call it a girlie scream) and sight gags like a smoking alien (who just turns out to be a pilot dressed like an alien in charge of a military UFO). This is where we see the more humorous side of alien abductions all being part of some ridiculous government conspiracy to discredit us all.

What makes “Jose Chung” such a joy is the fact that while it doesn’t necessarily tie into the series’ overall events, it doesn’t exactly ignore how ridiculous some aspects of the show happen to be — even though it normally gives a plausible voice to alien abduction enthusiasts. On some level, you can even see how Mulder and Scully might come across as a bunch of conspiracy-perpetuating government goons themselves, when we see Blaine remember them as a couple of Men in Black. (“One of them was disguised as a woman, but wasn’t pulling it off. Like, her hair was red, but it was a little too red, you know?” as one of his classic lines says.)

Between the inside jokes and the deadpan delivery, it’s clear that the cast and crew had to have been having a blast shooting this episode. It’s this delightful little gift for both fans and the show’s players to enjoy, and while this wasn’t the last time Darin Morgan played a role in The X-Files universe, it’s rather fitting that this was his last script — one final absurd offering to remind the show that it really was all right for it to laugh at itself.

Max: I’m with Radhika in this boat. “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is a helluva episode to try do justice to, and rather try to top Mr. Morgan, I’ll merely gush about my favorite moments and try to come up with some illuminating morsels of analysis.

Jose Chung's From Outer Space

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Morgan’s reverence for what has come before occurs right off the bat when the crane shot of a mysterious object (which turns out to be an electrical utility truck) hearkens back to when a Star Destroyer blasted its way over Tatooine in the opening scene of the first Star Wars film. Another choice pop culture moment was when Mulder did his best Dale Cooper impression straight out of Twin Peaks, downing slice after slice of some damn good pumpkin pie.

There really is a litany of fabulous moments that have stood as touchstones for the faithful, and Radhika did a fabulous job of outlining those moments above. While Morgan’s previous efforts were always dense multilayered affairs, the brilliance of this episode is the way it unfurls its chaotic brilliance in a Matryoshka-esque dance of ever increasing levels of WTF. This design is evidenced in the abduction within an abduction that kicked off the episode.

Morgan’s work is always notable for its wonderful character beats and wry observations about the peculiarities and absurdities of life on this planet, but here we also get a taste of some awfully delicious dialogue, especially the confounding koans spouted by Jesse Ventura’s intimidating Man In Black. “Your scientists have yet to discover how neural networks create self-consciousness, let alone how the human brain processes two-dimensional retinal images into the three-dimensional phenomenon known as perception,” is a masterclass in high-wire writerly gymnastics. I recall watching this episode (as a repeat) over the summer in the break after this season had already concluded, and while I enjoyed the episode plenty back then, with age and experience I definitely appreciate it on a deeper more satisfying level.

Jose Chung's From Outer Space

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

“Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” continues the deconstruction of the show and our heroes that began with “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” his first episode of the season. The inclusion of the eminently watchable The Stupendous Yappi (hawking the “alien autopsy” footage taken from Blaine the Roswell enthusiast) only strengthens this thesis. That footage itself is a callback to this season’s mythology episode “Nisei,” and these Morgan written bookends to this, our third season, act quite nicely as connective thematic tissue to larger concerns of The X-Files as a whole.

Radhika mentioned how much the cast and crew seemed to enjoy shooting the episode, and I think special consideration should be paid to the way that Gillian Anderson seemed to dive right into the deep end and relish her scenes with Charles Nelson Reilly’s bravura Jose Chung. It is episodes like this that make me think that stuff like this is what they lived for, where the work of producing an hour of a weekly television series just melted away and became profound moments of pure play. The machine was firing on all cylinders, and we as fans get to indulge in the end result.

Jose Chung's From Outer Space

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Darin Morgan is not quite done with series yet, as he comes back to be in front of the camera (and not in a Flukeman suit) in next season’s “Small Potatoes,” but for his gifted pen, this is indeed the final frontier. He may not be prolific, but his track record proves that when you do see his byline, expect greatness ahead.

Lord Kinbote thinks it apropos to end this review with an excerpt from Jose Chung’s novel, From Outer Space:

“Then there are those who care not about extraterrestrials, searching for meaning in other human beings. Rare or lucky are those who find it. For although we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways on this planet, we are all… alone.”

YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS

Charles Nelson Reilly – Here as the titular character, Jose Chung, Charles Nelson Reilly was an all-around entertainer, who appeared in the original Broadway production of Bye Bye Birdie and was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Reilly passed away in 2007.

Alex Trebek – One of the Men in Black in this episode, Alex Trebek has done quite a few things, but most notably: He has been the host of Jeopardy! for 30 years and sometimes guest stars as himself on random TV shows.

Jesse Ventura – Our other Man in Black in this episode, Jesse Ventura has also done a whole bunch of things. He was probably best known for his pro wrestling tenure at the time this episode aired, but he would also go on to become governor of Minnesota. Well played.

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9 thoughts on “3×20: Jose Chung’s From Outer Space

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