Our Town (The X-Files)
|The X-Files episode|
A man wears a sacrificial mask. Director Rob Bowman found scenes featuring the mask the most difficult to shoot.
|Episode no.||Season 2
|Directed by||Rob Bowman|
|Written by||Frank Spotnitz|
|Original air date||May 12, 1995|
|Running time||44 minutes|
"Our Town" is the twenty-fourth episode of the second season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files. It premiered on the Fox network in the United States on May 12, 1995. It was written by Frank Spotnitz and directed by Rob Bowman. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, unconnected to the series' wider mythology. "Our Town" received a Nielsen rating of 9.4 and was watched by 9.0 million households. The episode received mixed reviews from critics.
The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. Mulder is a believer in the paranormal, while the skeptical Scully has been assigned to debunk his work. In this episode, Dudley, Arkansas is the site of the latest investigation for Mulder and Scully, who are sent to find a missing poultry inspector. The case takes a twist when another poultry worker is shot after she goes insane, giving Mulder a hunch that the townsfolk really are what they eat.
"Our Town" was future executive producer Spotnitz's first stand-alone episode for the show. Spotnitz was inspired to write the episode after thinking of cannibalism occurring at a chicken processing plant, an idea that he thought was one of the most despicable and vile things. Spotnitz later named the characters after real life cannibals.
In Dudley, Arkansas, government health inspector George Kearns follows his seemingly young lover, Paula Gray, into the woods. However, after losing track of Paula, Kearns soon finds himself surrounded by lights in the woods. He is then killed by an axe-wielding assailant wearing a tribal mask.
When Kearns is reported missing and a witness claims to have seen foxfire near Dudley, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate. At the site of the alleged foxfire, the agents find the ground burnt; Arens, the local sheriff, disclaims anything unusual occurring. After visiting Kearns' wife, Doris, the agents discover that he was about to recommend a local chicken plant, Chaco Chicken, to be closed down for health violations. While giving the agents a tour of the plant, floor manager Jess Harold claims that Kearns held a vendetta against Chaco Chicken. However, a hallucinatory Paula attacks Harold and is shot by Sheriff Arens. The plant's physician, Dr. Vance Randolph, later claims that Paula was suffering from headaches, which Kearns had also reported.
Paula's grandfather is plant owner Walter Chaco, who gives the agents permission to perform an autopsy. The agents believe that while Paula's personnel file gives her age as 47, she appears no older than her mid-20's. They also discover that Paula suffered from Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, a rare and fatal illness that causes dementia; Scully mentions that she "would have been dead in months." When the agents nearly collide with a Chaco Chicken truck, they learn that the driver also suffered from the disease. Noticing the blood-red color of a nearby stream (a runoff from the chicken plant), Mulder orders a reluctant Sheriff Arens to dredge it. They quickly find the bones of nine people, including Kearns. The agents notice that the skeletons are all missing their skulls, and that the bones appear to have been boiled as evidenced by how the ends of the bones were polished. Meanwhile, Randolph and Harold discuss the increase of Creutzfeldt-Jakob cases, and complain about Walter Chaco's inaction.
Using FBI records, Mulder and Scully find that eighty-seven people have vanished within a two-hundred mile radius of Dudley over the past half-century. Mulder suspects that the town's residents are practicing cannibalism in order to prolong life, possibly explaining Paula's youthful appearance. Mulder also realizes that Kearns originally had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and that the other residents caught the illness after consuming his body. The agents try to search the town's birth records for confirmation of Paula's age, but find that they have been destroyed. At Chaco's mansion, Chaco and Harold meet with Doris, who tearfully implies that she "helped" Chaco kill her husband; Chaco instructs her to obstruct the FBI's investigation.
Doris calls Mulder, believing that Chaco wants to kill her; after she hangs up, she is attacked by the masked figure. Scully goes to help Doris while Mulder searches for Chaco at his mansion. There, he finds the shrunken heads of Kearns and other victims in a cabinet. Mulder calls Scully on the phone and hears her being knocked out by Chaco. She is taken to a secluded field, where Harold has started a bonfire and led the townsfolk in consuming Doris. Chaco berates them for killing one of their own, but Harold chastises him for allowing the Creutzfeldt-Jakob epidemic to occur. He has Chaco executed by the masked figure. Scully herself is about to be killed when Mulder arrives and shoots the figure; he is revealed to be Sheriff Arens. The townsfolk flee, trampling Harold (who was attempting to shoot Mulder) to death.
In narration, Scully explains that Chaco's plant has been closed down by the Department of Agriculture, and that twenty-seven Dudley residents have died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. She reveals that Chaco was ninety-three years old at the time of his death, and had spent time with the allegedly cannibalistic "Jale tribe" after his transport plane was shot down over New Guinea during World War II (evidenced earlier when Mulder was at Chaco's mansion and saw of his time there before discovering the shrunken heads). She also states that his remains have never been found; the final scene suggests that Chaco's remains are being fed to chickens at his plant.
"Our Town" was written by future executive producer Frank Spotnitz and directed by Rob Bowman. The episode was Spotnitz's first stand-alone episode for the show. He had wanted to do an episode about cannibalism occurring at a chicken processing plant, thinking it was one of the most despicable and vile things he could imagine. Spotnitz was inspired by the Spencer Tracy movie Bad Day at Black Rock, which is about a town holding a terrible secret. He was also inspired by an article he read at UCLA about salamanders getting sick from eating other salamanders; Spotnitz's brother later suggested him to include the theme in the episode.
The concept of discovering human bones that had been boiled in pots was inspired by research done for the episode "Anasazi". Despite having trouble locating books on cannibalism, Spotniz even named the characters after real life cannibals. Chaco Chicken was based on Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, which is where bones consumed by the Anasazi were found. The idea of cannibals being afflicted by a degenerative neurological disease was inspired by Kuru, a Creutzfeld-Jakob-like prion disease that afflicted the Fore people of Papua New Guinea through cannibalism. Howard Gordon came up with the idea to start the episode with a love affair between George Kearns and Paula Gray. Gary Grubbs, the actor who played the sheriff, was later cast as the fire captain in the 1998 X-Files film.
Of the end result, Spotnitz said "I was very pleased with the way it was executed, and I think it was a good mystery. He later wrote that he "liked [it] more as time has gone on." Director Rob Bowman admitted to being tired and not inspired by the time this episode—the second to last of the season—was produced. This lack of interest later resulted in the episode taking extra time to finish. Bowman later recalled that the most difficult aspect of the episode was filming the climactic human sacrifice scene, if only because of the ceremonial mask featured. He explained, "the mask scared the hell out of me only because I thought, 'Boy, if I don't shoot this right, it's going to be silly."
"Our Town" was first broadcast in the United States on May 12, 1995, on the Fox Broadcasting Company. In its original broadcast, it was watched by 9 million households, according to the Nielsen ratings system. It received a 9.4 rating and a 17 share among viewers, meaning that 9.4 percent of all households in the United States and 17 percent of all people watching television at the time, viewed the episode.
The episode received mostly mixed reviews from television critics. In a retrospective review of the second season, Entertainment Weekly gave "Our Town" a C+, describing it as "scary — but mostly because of what transpires in a chicken processing plant." Writing for The A.V. Club, Zack Handlen rated the episode a B–, criticizing the clichéd opening sequence—"Haven't we seen this before? Like, a million times, in dozens of horror movies, and even on this very series"—the bland characters and lack of humor. However, he did compliment the fact that the plot explained enough of the villain's motives and that the episode had "some sense of a community behind everything". Furthermore, he wrote that the resolution worked well despite again resorting to Scully in danger.
Television Without Pity ranked "Our Town" the fifth most nightmare-inducing episode of the show. Robert Shearman and Lars Pearson, in their book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen, rated the episode two stars out of five. The two wrote positively of Spotnitz juxtapositions, praising the idea to frame the themes around cannibalism. However, they wrote that "Spotnitz pushes the metaphor too far", citing the ending scene as evidence. Shearman and Pearson also criticized both Bowman's directing, noting it lacked the flourishes to make "Spotnitz' strange black comedy work", and Mark Snow's score. They noted that Snow was on "autopilot" and that his soundtrack was "the same horn anthem he gives any character who's taken a little too much from a tribal culture." The two further criticized the series' use of the capture of Scully as a mechanism for Mulder to spring into action.
- Lowry, pp. 222–223
- Lovece, pp. 174–175
- The X-Files: The Complete Second Season (booklet). David Nutter, et al. Fox.
- Hurwitz and Knowles, p. 66
- Edwards, pp. 125–126
- Lowry, pp. 223–224
- Chris Carter, et al (1994–1995). Behind the Truth: Our Town (featurette). The X-Files: The Complete Second Season: Fox.
- Spotnitz, Frank (2011). "BigLight.com - The official website for Frank Spotnitz's Big Light Productions". Big Light Productions. Retrieved 17 May 2012. Note: To retrieve information, click "Season 2" and navigate to "Our Town"
- Lowry, p. 249
- "X Cyclopedia: The Ultimate Episode Guide, Season 2 | EW.com". Entertainment Weekly. November 29, 1996. Retrieved October 19, 2011.
- Handlen, Zack (June 27, 2010). ""F. Emasculata"/"Soft Light"/"Our Town"/"Anasazi" | The X-Files/Millennium". A.V. Club. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
- "Photo Gallery - X-Files: The 11 Most Nightmare-Inducing Episodes Ever - TV Shows & TV Series Pictures & Photos". Television Without Pity. Retrieved February 28, 2012.
- Shearman and Pearson, p. 53
- Edwards, Ted (1996). X-Files Confidential. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0316218081.
- Hurwitz, Matt and Knowles, Chris (2008). The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series the Myths and the Movies. New York, US: Insight Editions. ISBN 1933784725.
- Lovece, Frank (1996). The X-Files Declassified. Citadel Press. ISBN 080651745X.
- Lowry, Brian (1995). The Truth is Out There: The Official Guide to the X-Files. Harper Prism. ISBN 0061053309.
- Shearman, Robert; Pearson, Lars (2009). Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen. Mad Norwegian Press. ISBN 097594469X.
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