Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review - The X-Files Season 3 Episode 19 Hell Money / 20 Jose Chung's From Outer Space

"Hell Money"

Unlike the previous episode, "Hell Money" actually has some interesting ideas. There is a particularly cruel lottery in which the loser loses an organ instead of a dollar, and spirits in freaky masks going about the place. The family drama behind the lottery is potent as well, a sick daughter and a father needing money for an operation. The set-up is decent and could have made for a good episode.

Unfortunately, the episode suffers from the same problem as "Teso Dos Bichos"--Mulder and Scully aren't involved. They follow-up on leads and do normal investigation stuff, but none of it seems particularly special. There isn't much of a supernatural presence, and their input hardly makes a difference in the episode. Eventually, they reach place of the lottery, bust in with their guns, arrest Chao, and it's over.

Score: 8.1/10

"Jose Chung's From Outer Space"

"Jose Chung's From Outer Space" is possibly the best episode of The X-Files. Regardless of where you think it ranks, though, the episode is undoubtedly an instant classic. Penned by Darin Morgan, it's an incredible episode from beginning to end--funny, delightful, insightful, everything. The episode is more peculiar than most episodes, but Morgan, who wrote most of the other funny episodes ("Clyde Bruckman," "Humbug," "War of the Coprophages"), knows the exact balance and when to pull back on the absurdity.

The premise of the episode isn't that complicated: Scully is visited by the famed writer Jose Chung, who is doing research for his latest book. He wants her account of a particular incident, and this frame narrative of their discussion leads us through various characters and wildly differing accounts. And you can kind of piece together a general idea of what happened. The two teenagers Chrissy and Harold  were probably taken by people from the Air Force dressed as aliens in order to hide the existence of an experiment. It's possible that the kidnappers, Chrissy, and Harold were then taken by actual aliens, though only Harold and Roky seem to recall this. In between all of this, two men in black who look like Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek are going around warning people to be quiet.

Of course, none of this has to do with the central mythology of The X-Files--no Syndicate, no black oil. But it has lots to say on the entire show in general and the search for the unknown. Every character has their story, their beliefs of what happened. And through this, they form the way they think. Jose Chung sums this up nicely at the end: "For although we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways on this planet, we are all alone." Peering into the darkness, all these people who seem to have experienced the same events, or were at least in the same vicinity, are on vastly different tracks, believing what they may believe, desiring what they may desire.

The frame which the episode operates through is incredibly effective. Humor permeates the episode, inside jokes flowing from one line to the next as the story unfolds.As Scully talks with Jose Chung, the story is slowly strung together, and by the end of the episode, we have a much better idea of what happened. It is also not clear exactly what happened. Were Chrissy's memories stolen through hypnotism? Was Mulder with the Air Force pilot in the diner? Who were the men in black working for? At the end of the day, the truth is not known by anyone, despite multiple stories.

The opening of the episode--what appears to be a spaceship flying through the sky and the camera pulling back to reveal a basket holding an electric worker--shows the exact problem. Everyone sees things from close-up, at the ground-level. Even the most intuitive person cannot hope to get the full story without pulling back to see the larger picture. In this case, the government likely knows what happened, but muddles things up even more by messing with Chrissy and Harold.

Score: 9.8/10
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