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Best Episode Ever # 8: ‘The X-Files’

Guest columnist William Bibbiani picks the best of Scully and Mulder’s adventures, and it’s one of the “Monster of the week” episodes.

The truth, as we slowly piece together (as much as anything in “The X-Files” can be called “the truth,” even though it’s supposedly out there), is that the American government was performing secret brainwashing experiments under the guise of alien abductions, for eventual use overseas. These fake aliens were then abducted by a real alien, whom we eventually come to know as “Lord Kinbote.”

At least, that’s the only explanation that makes a modicum of sense. Jose Chung, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully investigate the incident and the hapless folks involved (and the certainly culpable United States military), but everyone’s story has holes in it, everyone embellishes their story in one way or another, and everyone copes with the traumatic incident – whatever it really was – in their own distinctive way.

Harold and Chrissy return home, “missing time” (as it is called), and although Harold remembers the abduction of himself and the fake aliens by Lord Kinbote, Chrissy was apparently left behind and abducted by the government, who hypnotized her into believing a fabricated story about a more stereotypical alien abduction. Chrissy believes, understandably so, that she was the victim of date rape. Harold knows himself to be innocent, but try as he might, he cannot convince Chrissy to move past the incident and pursue their relationship. Chrissy winds up devoting her life to activism. Harold ends up lovelorn and alone.

Witnesses to the incident and its fallout undergo similar life-changing situations. Roky Crikenson (William Lucking) writes about his alien encounter with Lord Kinbote (“in screenplay format,” Jose Chung sighs) and is visited by the mythical Men in Black, played by actor/wrestler/politician Jesse Ventura and famous “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek. Their casting is intentional, and describing the appearance of Trebek in particular makes anyone they visit look like a loon. But whatever really happened, Roky turns to spirituality for his answers to the episode’s dissatisfying questions, founding a cult based on his experiences at the center of the Earth, where he claims to have met (or at least avoided) Lava Men en route to enlightenment.

As for Mulder and Scully themselves, Jose Chung has some observations about them that strike close to home and, perhaps, touch upon a greater mystery embedded deep within the episode. Scully, her fandom noted by Chung, is ultimately described in From Outer Space as “noble of spirit and pure of heart,” even though “she remains, nevertheless, a Federal employee.” Fox Mulder doesn’t come across quite so well in Chung’s book, although that may be his own fault.

“Don’t write this book,” Mulder tells Chung in the final scene. “You’ll perform a disservice to a field of inquiry that has always struggled for respectability. You’re a gifted writer, but no amount of talent could describe the events that occurred in any realistic vein because they deal with alternative realities that we’re yet to comprehend, and when presented in the wrong way and the wrong context, the incidents and the people involved in them can appear foolish, if not downright psychotic.”

Then, after insulting Chung’s abilities with a backhanded compliment (and neatly encapsulating the episode’s theme of subjective interpretation), he adds the following bit of crazy: “I also know that your publishing house is owned by Warden White Inc., a subsidiary of McDougal & Kessler, which makes me suspect a covert agenda for your book on the part of the military industrial entertainment complex.”

It sounds like a joke – it is a joke – but Chung himself admits at the beginning of the episode that the idea to write From Outer Space came from his publisher’s mandate. So when the author ultimately describes Mulder in his tome as “a ticking time bomb of insanity, [whose] quest into the unknown has so warped his psyche one shudders to think how he receives any pleasure from life,” one has to wonder why the otherwise empathetic Chung reserves so much judgment for a figure whose goal in life is so like the author’s own: to uncover the truth. Was Chung merely offended that Mulder didn’t think he could do justice to the events in his own book? Or is this the hand of the military industrial complex at work, painting paranormal investigators not just as loons but as empty vessels, devoid of happiness and human connection in their search for the perpetually elusive answers to seemingly paranoid questions?

“Although we may not be alone in the universe,” Chung concludes, “in our own separate ways, on this planet, we are all alone.”

Through self-aware humor, “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” zeroes in on the point we should all have taken from “The X-Files.” The series was never about the aliens themselves, but about the impact unexplained phenomena – and personal tragedy without a sense of closure – has on everyone victimized by circumstance. The plots, the action, the mysteries themselves all boil down to how Mulder, Scully and the sad souls they encounter in their travels – monsters and innocents alike – choose to deal with life’s unanswered riddles. “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” presents a tapestry of figures who find deeper meaning in their own subjective realities, and gets a good chuckle out of us in the process. It’s the Best Episode Ever, damn it.

 

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