Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The X-Files: Jose Chung's From Outer Space (3.20)

Everybody knows the stock characteristics of an alien abduction. You've got the short little aliens with the enormous heads and giant eyes; the metal slab you're pasted to; the wacky sci-fi leather outfits you're dressed in; the mysterious men in black watching your every move. This episode, another Darin Morgan masterpiece, beautifully subverts those clich├ęs, creating an episode that works not only as a comedy X-File, but also as another brave commentary on humanity and everyday people.

While Jose Chung eventually spirals into something entirely insane in regards to aliens, alien impersonators and the military, Morgan's script is essentially all about individual characters. As always with his work, the guest stars are inventive and memorable. The tough-talking detective with his various "bleeping" curse words, the aimless teenage girl discovering her passion for environmentalism, her scared-shitless boyfriend, the bizarre FBI hypnotist, and various others. Having all experienced an extra-terrestrial encounter or, at least, what they thought was an extra-terrestrial encounter, each character too experiences some kind of emotional and physical break-through, all summed up in that wonderful closing monologue. We laugh at the delusions of both Roky and Blaine, but both end up completely changed by their visions of aliens, and both for the better.

The episode is also memorable for its stunning characterization of Mulder and Scully. Morgan seems to "get" Scully better than all the other writers on this show, writing her subtle boredom and increasing frustration with her investigations with comedic sensibilities, making her far more likable than the various "pissed-off Scully" episodes other writers have attempted. Mulder, too, always has a defining characteristic in these episodes: at the core of his being, he's actually pretty sad. As Chung narrates, he's a ticking time-bomb with no real pleasure in life. It's disheartening to see, but it's ridiculously honest.

Anybody can write an episode of this show which pokes fun at its premise and its characters, but what makes Darin Morgan's work so special is that there's always an emotional under-current buried beneath the surface. The script here does spiral out of control and become something of a convoluted mess, but its heart always remains in the right place. It has a wonderful structure, great spoofery, and a general feel that is cinematic and ambitious. One of the best ever. Rating A+

Credits
Guest stars Charles Nelson Reilly (Jose Chung); William Lucking (Roky Crikenson); Daniel Quinn (Lieutenant Jack Schaeffer); Jesse Ventura (Man in Black); Sarah Sawatsky (Chrissy Giorgio); Jason Gaffney (Harold)
Writer Darin Morgan Director Rob Bowman

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