Jose Chung's From Outer Space
|"Jose Chung's From Outer Space"|
|The X-Files episode|
|Episode no.||Season 3
|Directed by||Rob Bowman|
|Written by||Darin Morgan|
|Original air date||April 12, 1996|
|Running time||44 minutes|
"Jose Chung's From Outer Space" is the 20th episode of the third season of the science fiction television series The X-Files. The episode first aired in the United States on April 12, 1996, on Fox. It was written by Darin Morgan and directed by Rob Bowman. "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" earned a Nielsen household rating of 10.5, being watched by 16.08 million people in its initial broadcast, and also received praise 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. In this episode, Mulder and Scully hear, and promptly investigate, a story about an alien abduction of two teenagers. Each witness provides a different version of the same facts. Within the episode, a thriller novelist, Jose Chung, writes a book about the incident.
The episode is a stand-alone episode, like most episodes of The X-Files, and follows the normal Monster of the Week pattern of the show but features more humor than typical via manipulation of point of view, leading to multiple re-tellings of certain events with varying degrees of unreliable narrators.
A teenage couple in Klass County, Washington, are returning from a date one evening when their car suddenly stops, they see a UFO, and are captured by a pair of grey aliens. However, the aliens are themselves soon confronted by a giant third alien from another race. Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is interviewed about the case by famed author Jose Chung (Charles Nelson Reilly), who is researching a book he is writing about alien abductions and the UFO phenomenon. Scully notes that the girl, Chrissy, was found with all her clothes inside out, appearing to be the victim of date rape. Her date, Harold, is brought in by the police. He claims that he did not rape Chrissy, but that they were both abducted by aliens. The foul-mouthed local detective, Manners (whose profanity is humorously replaced with words such as "bleep" and "blank"), does not believe Harold's story, but Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) has Chrissy undergo hypnosis, in which she describes being on a spaceship surrounded by aliens. Harold claims to have encountered a cigarette-smoking grey alien on the ship who kept repeating, "This is not happening." Mulder is convinced that Chrissy and Harold were abducted by aliens, but Scully thinks it is more plausible that the two teenagers simply had consensual sex and are struggling to deal with the emotional aftermath.
The agents then speak to an electric power company lineman named Roky Crikenson, who claims he witnessed the abduction of Chrissy and Harold, and then turned his eyewitness account into a movie screenplay entitled "The Truth About Aliens." He recounts a strange visit to his home from a pair of men in black, who told him that the UFO he thought he saw the night before was merely the planet Venus, and threatened to kill him if he told anyone otherwise. Roky's screenplay describes his meeting with the third alien (who calls himself Lord Kinbote), who took him to the center of the Earth and told Roky that he had a great mission for him. In telling Roky's version of events to Jose Chung, Scully explains that Roky suffers from a "fantasy-prone personality." Mulder, however, thinks that Roky's story contains some partial truths and decides to have Chrissy re-hypnotized. This time Chrissy claims that she was captured by the U.S. military, not aliens, and they brainwashed her into believing that she was abducted by aliens.
Chung speaks to a science fiction and Dungeons & Dragons fanatic, Blaine, who frequently roams the woods of Klass County at night looking for UFOs. As Blaine tells Chung, one night he found an alien body that was subsequently recovered by Mulder, Scully and Detective Manners. Blaine thinks that Mulder and Scully are a couple of men in black. He claims that Mulder was emotionless, but shrieked when he saw the alien, and that Scully, whom Blaine believed was a man dressed like a woman, threatened him and told him not to talk to anyone about the alien body. Mulder allows Blaine to videotape Scully performing an autopsy on the alien, which is quickly released as a video "documentary" labeled "Dead Alien! Truth or Humbug?" that is narrated by the Stupendous Yappi (from "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose"). The autopsy reveals that the alien is actually a dead Air Force pilot in an alien costume. His superiors arrive to claim the body, but find it missing. Mulder tricks the military officers into revealing the identity of a second missing Air Force pilot, Lieutenant Jack Schaefer.
As Mulder remembers it, that night he found Schaefer, in a dazed state, walking naked down a highway in Klass County. After getting him some clothes, Mulder takes Schaefer to a diner, where the pilot explains that he and his partner were dressed as aliens while flying a secret U.S. military vehicle designed to resemble a UFO. He thinks that he, his partner, and the two teenagers were abducted by real aliens in a real UFO, but Schaefer is also unsure if his surroundings are real or a hallucination, and he tells Mulder that he may not even exist himself, as he cannot be sure. His superiors soon come to take him away; before leaving the diner with the military officer, he tells Mulder that "I'm a dead man." The diner's cook, however, has a different version of the story. He tells Jose Chung that Mulder was in the diner by himself that night with no one else, and that he kept asking the cook strange questions about UFOs and alien abductions while ordering piece after piece of sweet potato pie.
After leaving the diner, Mulder returns to their motel and finds the men in black seen earlier (played by Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek), in Scully's room. Scully appears to be in a trance, and has no memory of seeing the men in black. The next morning, Mulder, Scully, and Detective Manners hear about the crash of an Air Force plane and head to the crash site, where the dead bodies of the two Air Force pilots they met earlier are recovered. Mulder visits with Chung, pleading with him not to publish the book since it will further discredit UFO researchers and witnesses by making them look ridiculous. Chung dismisses Mulder and publishes the book anyway, which Scully reads in her office. In his book, Chung describes the fates of the various people he interviewed: Roky has moved to California and founded a spiritual cult based on the teachings he believes he received from Lord Kinbote, Blaine has replaced him as a power company lineman and continues to search for UFOs most nights, Mulder (whom Chung describes as "a ticking time bomb of insanity") watches video footage of Bigfoot, and Harold professes his love to Chrissy, who rejects him as too immature, as her UFO experience has given her a new commitment to philanthropy and helping humanity.
Writer Darin Morgan had pieces of the script for a long time, drawing inspiration from research he had done on hypnosis and a book on government coverups and UFOs that theorized that UFOs are a phenomenon that manipulate space and time, but are not piloted by aliens. Morgan had the idea for the teaser in mind before becoming a staff member on the show. The narrative style was influenced by a casting session Morgan witnessed where an actor auditioning sounded like Truman Capote. From this he came up with the idea to have a writer covering the case. Capote died in 1984, and second choice Rip Taylor was unavailable, so the role of Jose Chung ended up going to Charles Nelson Reilly. Jesse Ventura was cast as one of the men in black, while the other, which Morgan had originally wanted Johnny Cash for, went to Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek. The role of Lord Kinbote went to stuntman Tony Morelli.
The episode contained a number of references and in-jokes. Klass County was named after UFO skeptic Philip Klass, whose use of the planet Venus to explain some UFO sightings was used by one of the men in black in the episode. The pilots dressed up as aliens were named after UFO authors Robert Sheaffer and Jacques Vallee. Air Force Sergeant Hynek was named after UFO researcher Dr. J. Allen Hynek. The character of Roky Crikenson is named after musician Roky Erickson, who claims to be an alien abductee. Chung gives Mulder the pseudonym Reynard, after the legendary fox. The alien autopsy video: "Dead Alien! Truth or Humbug?" referenced Morgan's first episode for the series, "Humbug". The video was a parody of the real life Alien Autopsy video aired by Fox. Detective Manners was named after series director Kim Manners; the character's tendency to swear a lot was also influenced by his real life counterpart. Blaine is seen wearing a Space: Above and Beyond shirt during his interview. Lt. Schaefer molding his mashed potatoes into a mountain is a reference to the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. An additional reference to the film Close Encounters is Roky's job as a power company lineman, which is the same job held by Roy Neary, the character played by Richard Dreyfuss, in Close Encounters. The cover to Jose Chung's book was a reference to the cover of the book Communion by Whitley Strieber. Lord Kinbote was an homage to Ray Harryhausen, a director noted for his work in stop-motion model animation, with the footage of the character shot at high speed then slowed down and edited in post production to create a stop-motion effect.
This episode would be the last that Darin Morgan wrote for the series before its revival in 2016. The writer claimed that he could not keep up with the frantic pace of the show. Morgan would later write the similarly themed "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense" for the TV series Millennium.
"Jose Chung's From Outer Space" premiered on the Fox network on April 12, 1996. This episode earned a Nielsen rating of 10.5, with a 19 share, meaning that roughly 10.5 percent of all television-equipped households, and 19 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. This totaled 16.08 million viewers.
The cast and crew of The X-Files reacted positively to the episode. Gillian Anderson cited the episode as being among her highlights of the third season. She said the episode was like dessert, adding "That's what kept it fun and that's what kept it worth doing all the time." Chris Carter said of writer Darin Morgan, "It's been a wonderful coincidence of timing, talent, and the success of the show, allowing it to stretch in a direction it would never have been able to if it had been a less successful or if it had been a younger show. Darin is a truly original comic mind. I don't know anybody in the world working in film, and that's what we work in here even though it appears on television, who has the voice Darin has. He is one in many million." Co-Producer Paul Rabwin said of the episode "An instant classic. One of those seminal episodes. You know, when people talk about The Twilight Zone, they say 'Remember "Eye of the Beholder"?' Or "Trouble With Tribbles" on the original Star Trek. 'Jose Chung' is going to be one of those episodes that is immediately revered." Assistant director Tom Braidwood appreciated Charles Nelson Reilly's presence, saying that he captivated virtually everyone and gave everyone a lift, nicknaming everyone on the crew. Executive Producer Robert Goodwin said that the casting of Reilly was the most fun of the episode.
"Jose Chung's From Outer Space" received praise from critics as well. Author Phil Farrand rated the episode as his favorite episode of the first four seasons in his book The Nitpickers Guide to the X-Files. Entertainment Weekly gave the episode an A, writing "A series so bleepin' ripe for parody brilliantly turns the tables on itself. Two (of many) guffaw-worthy moments: Mulder's squeal and the smoking alien." Reviewer Todd VanDerWerff from The A.V. Club gave the episode a rare A+ and wrote that the episode "is one of the very finest episodes of television I've ever seen, but I'm not sure it's a terrific episode of The X-Files. [...] If The X-Files were a Lord of the Rings-length novel, then "Jose Chung's" would be its first appendix, a source that is at once in love with the main text and critical of it, a place where real human concerns creep around the edges of the show's chilly implausibilities." VanDerWerff's colleague Zack Handlen wrote that the episode was "brilliant", but he did not feel it was as satisfying as he anticipated because it did not contribute to the series as a whole. Review website IGN named it the fourth best standalone X-Files episode of the entire series, writing, "it was 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space' in Season 3 that showed that X-Files could create a true comedy masterpiece that almost completely broke away from the show's usual format and tone." Den of Geek listed it as the tenth best episode of the series.
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