High Strangeness: UFOs from Outer Space

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

UFOs from Outer Space

Ok, I know I'm 20 years behind the rest of the world in watching The X-Files, so forgive me if this is old news to you...

Last night we watched the 3rd season episode "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" and I thought it was one of the best critiques of UFO world ever.  Which is kind of amazing, considering it was made 20 years ago.

For those of you who have watched even less X-Files than I have (there must be some of you out there, right?), the episode concerns a novelist writing a "non-fiction science fiction" novel about a bizarre UFO abduction case. The framing story involves the writer interviewing Agent Scully about the case, and we see the story unfold in past tense, told Rashomon-style by multiple witnesses. It's messy and confusing and non-sensical, and makes a complete mockery of the show's famous catch-phrase "The Truth is Out There," but it's a joy to watch.
Agent Scully: still not buying it.

First, the casting is a hoot. Charles Nelson Reilly as the novelist? Crazy. Governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek as the sinister Men in Black? Insipred.

Second, David Duchovny and Gillan Anderson have so much fun with this story that you can't not love them both. I swear, Gillian Anderson's lips must have hurt like hell by the time they wrapped this episode, because she was pursing them in disapproval with so much gusto in every scene...

Third, the science-fiction and UFO references are hilarious: the story takes place in "Klass County," named after UFO skeptic Phillip Klass, and the two doomed Air Force pilots are named "Vallee" and "Scheaffer" and one of the military men is named "Hynek." One of the witnesses is a power company lineman, a la Roy Neary in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and in one scene one of the pilots sits in a diner and carves a little Devil's Tower out of his mashed potatoes...

The episode is chock full of so many throw-away in-jokes that I lost track of them all, but then just when I started to think that the whole thing was a joke, there comes a jarring moment of truth -- well, "truthiness," maybe -- when Agent Mulder has a tense conversation with the lead Man In Black, played by Jesse Ventura:
MIB #1: "Some alien encounters are hoaxes perpetrated by your government to manipulate the public. Some of these hoaxes are intentionally revealed to manipulate the truth-seekers, who become discredited if they disclose the deliberately absurd deception."

MULDER: "Similar things are said about the Men In Black, that they purposely dress and behave strangely, so that if anyone tried to describe an encounter with them they come off sounding like a lunatic."

MIB #1: "I find absolutely no reason why anyone would think you crazy if you described this meeting of ours."
At which point MIB #2, played by Trebek, puts his hand on Mulder's shoulder and says, "You're feeling sleepy. Very relaxed..." After which Mulder and Scully wake up the next morning with fuzzy memories of what happened the night before.

Never let it be said that the writers of The X-Files were blind to the amount of pop culture power nd influence they wielded in the show's heyday. These guys know what that were playing with, and they played the hell out of it. I mean, insert any of the names of the "Roswell slides" hoaxters into that Mulder/MIB conversation and it would ring completely true... Makes you wonder.

Oh, and along those lines, there was one more treat in this episode full of treats: the UFO geek who responds to every attempt to muzzle him by screaming "ROSWELL! ROSWELL! ROSWELL!" My wife and I were both ROFLing like crazy...
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