Carl Sweeney continues our alphabetical breakdown of The X-Files by looking at one of the show’s most memorable guest characters…
Jose Chung is one of the most memorable one-off X-Files characters. He was created by the mercurial Darin Morgan and played by Charles Nelson Reilly. He appeared in what was, until the revival, Morgan’s final script for the series, before returning in an episode of Millennium.
‘Jose Chung’s From Outer Space’ is, I would suggest, one of the highlights of the entire series. Chung is a well-known author researching reports of a small-town alien abduction for a book project that somewhat recalls Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. He interviews Scully in the X-Files office, as part of an attempt to reconcile conflicting information about the abduction. This is the framing device for a unique episode that demands repeat viewing.
It surprised me, on revisiting this episode, to discover that Chung is not onscreen for nearly as much time as I’d thought. He’s an important but not dominant, part of a strange mix that includes a foul-mouthed detective, Alex Trebek & Jesse Ventura as Men In Black, and a bizarre creature inspired by the films of Ray Harryhausen. Not to mention a moment that’s never-not-hilarious to rewatch, where Mulder emits a high-pitched yelp.
The role of Chung is very well-written, but Reilly’s performance is also important to the success of the character. The actor is not an obvious fit for The X-Files, but he’s utterly credible as an eccentric author and turns in a well-modulated performance that’s very amusing without being too broad. He also seems to bring out the best in Duchovny and Anderson, who both shine in their scenes opposite him.
Chung evidently finishes his book (which renames our favourite agents as Muldrake and Lesky) by episode’s end, despite lingering confusion about the events in question. It’s a hallmark of The X-Files, of course, that some things won’t be resolved, and I think that Morgan’s achievement is really quite dazzling. His script utilises multiple narrators, flashbacks and repeated scenes in service of a story which could crumble due to complexity, but is never anything but thoroughly entertaining.
The character returns in ‘Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defense’, Morgan’s first episode of Millennium. It’s a very strong hour of television that helped to broaden the parameters of what Carter’s second series could do, by introducing humour to the world of Frank Black. The plot sees Chung becomes embroiled in a murder case involving the Institute of Selfosophy, a not-so-subtle parody of Scientology. Chung meets a grisly end in an episode that’s well worth watching even if you’re not a Millennium fan.
We’re never sure exactly how good a writer Chung is supposed to be, though the fact that both Scully and Frank Black like his work suggests he’s not bad. It’s tempting to see Chung as an embodiment of aspects of Morgan’s downbeat worldview which had been explored in his other scripts for the show. This is perhaps best summed up in the strangely moving voiceover that closes ‘Jose Chung’s From Outer Space’: “For although we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways, on this planet, we are all… alone.”