The X-Files: Jose Chung's "From Outer Space"

Case: A well-known author is writing about a case of alien abduction that Mulder and Scully investigated.

Destination: Washington, D.C., Klass County, Washington

The truth is out there. It is also relative.

As we experience the events of our lives, our memories of them become tainted with our perceptions and our beliefs. Although you and I may have had exactly the same experience, our later recollections and the story we will tell others will alter based on those perceptions and those beliefs. Both stories, although they may differ slightly or wildly, will be the truth to each of us.

Darin Morgan takes this idea and tells a brilliant story about the stories we tell. Each person we meet along the way has a different version of events. What makes this episode such a classic is that we, as the viewers, are never told The Truth. We are left to decide, within the prisms of our own perceptions and beliefs, what it is.

The Truth can be manipulated. The alien autopsy video has been edited to show one version of what happened. Chrissy’s story changes dramatically each time she is hypnotized. The stories appear to reflect the most recent version of the story she has heard from someone else, not the truth of the event that happened to her.

Roky’s version of events makes him the hero of the piece. In truly biblical terms, he is told that he will save humanity. His perceptions are colored by popular culture. The men in black are celebrities and the car they drive is identical to the Batmobile.

Blaine’s version of events makes him the victim. Threatened and slapped around, he sees himself as being stymied in his search for the truth by expressionless, sexless government agents.

All of these stories, finally, are put through two other filters. The first is Scully’s. It is she who is narrating the tale to Chung. Her natural skepticism and continual search for scientific explanations colors her memories of events. The scene where Mulder is reading Roky’s story is the perfect example of this. Scully remembers even Mulder being mildly skeptical of what he was reading.

The final filter is that of Jose Chung himself. His book is his version of the truth. Ironically, he is not searching for The Truth. He is only searching for a place on the best seller list and the resulting money the book will bring.

According to Chung, Scully is “noble of spirit and pure at heart” while Mulder is “a ticking time bomb of insanity.” While we all smile as we hear this because there is an echo of two people we have come to know, how much of this description is Truth and how much is Chung’s reaction to Scully’s being a fan of his work and Mulder not so much?

While on the surface this episode is hilariously funny, it is also deeply sad. The Truth is unknowable; all we have is our truth. The search for our truth, however, alienates us from each other and leaves us, ultimately, alone. Those who are searching for answers are actually searching for something much deeper; they are searching for the meaning and purpose of their life. The tragedy in all this comedy is that because there is no truth, there can be no meaning or purpose.

Blaine will search in vain for something larger than himself while Roky will try to convince others that he has found the answers. Chrissy will try to make the world a better place, but if the posters in her room are any indication, will try to improve the lives of strangers while the man who loves her does so in vain.

Even Mulder and Scully are alone. Scully sits in the basement, reading Chung’s version of herself with astonishment. Mulder lies in bed, watching a Bigfoot video. These two are growing closer, but they are still miles apart.

Other Thoughts

The names in this episode are all based in reality:
  • Klass County is named for UFO skeptic Philip Klass whose Venus explanation is used in the show;
  • The pilots are named after Robert Sheaffer and Jacques Vallee, both UFO authors;
  • Sergeant Hynek is named for J. Allen Hynek, a UFO researcher;
  • Roky Crikenson is named for Roky Erickson, an alien abductee;
  • Reynard is French for Fox;
  • Detective Manners is named for Kim Manners, a long time director and producer on the show who was famous on set for his swearing;
  • Lord Kinbote is a reference to Charles Kinbote, the unreliable narrator of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

Alex Trebek is yet another reference to Duchovny’s Jeopardy! appearance.

There are references to Rashomon (the different points of view), Close Encounters (the pile of mashed potatoes), Star Wars (the opening shot of the episode), Men in Black (men in black), and Twin Peaks (Mulder eating the pie).

This would be the last episode that Darin Morgan wrote for the series. The alien autopsy video, “Dead Alien! Truth or Humbug.” is a reference to his first. The Stupendous Yappi, the narrator of the video, plays a role in Morgan’s other great episode, “Clyde Bruckman.”


Chrissy: “Harold, what are those things?”
Harold: “How the hell should I know?”
Jack’s Alien Friend: “Jack, what is that thing?”
Jack: “How the hell should I know?”

Mulder: “So what if they had sex?”
Scully: “So we know that it wasn’t an alien that probed her.”

Blaine: “I didn’t spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage.”

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

Final Analysis: A standalone episode that deserves its place as among the best of the entire series. Worth the price of admission just to hear Mulder shriek.

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.


Billie Doux said...

I loved this episode. And this is the one where Mulder does the girly scream. Hard to forget. :)

Juliette said...

I find seaons five's (or 6?) Bad Blood a bit more funny and re-watchable, but this ep is a classic, and definitely thematically richer

ChrisB said...

Bad Blood is my favorite comic episode of the entire series. It may even be my overall favorite.

Josie Kafka said...

This is an excellent episode. I love the guest stars, too.

TheShadowKnows said...

I never would have believed I would say this about anything involving Charles Nelson Reilly, but I feel that this is, thematically and artistically, the best episode of the show.

Heather said...

This episode, Darin Morgan and this review are all too good for this world. :)

drnanamom said...

Great fun but with a deeper meaning that I didn't totally realize until this review. Thanks Chris.

Billie Doux said...

This might be my favorite X-Files episode, although I have yet to rewatch some later ones. The layers of each person's perceptions, the abduction lore, the girly scream, the pie. Wonderful performance by Charles Nelson Reilly. And Gillian Anderson's expressions alone are priceless.