Thursday, 22 March 2018

X-Files Rewatch | Our Town

image credit: fox entertainment/dvd bash
Small town America offers a cabinet of curiosities. In fiction, more often than not, these towns are depicted with a beautifully fake fa├žade that masks a seedy underbelly. Dark sensibilities lurk in the undergrowth waiting for someone or something to disturb and expose the underlying insanity that the lurid American dream supplies.

The beauty that comes with a show like The X-Files or Twin Peaks; two shows that arrived via the small screens of a slowly deteriorating American public, doped up on Prozac with an innate fear of what the millennium would hold. Government conspiracy was ripe, and the world of dreams was something that would never be in their grasp.

It’s these worlds of fictional characters, governmental conspiracies and alternate realities that became the American dream, and Mulder and Scully were there to uncover the gory details, no matter how far-fetched. The beauty of monster-of-the-week episodes is how self-contained they are; both from the mythology and the small towns they were frequently presented in. ‘Our Town’ is the cream of the crop when it comes to the downright insanity of it all, and isn’t that what audiences wanted – and what we want now – in these types of episodes?

The self-containment of these episodes allows for seemingly menial character development. Development that doesn’t seem to matter much in the episode itself, but in the overarching narrative of the season these small little progressions and transgressions amount to a deep personality. With a deep pool of writers behind Mulder and Scully, their quirks, likes, dislikes and behavioral patterns develop in these early seasons to mold them into the characters that became cultural icons in the nineties.


It’s in episodes such as ‘Our Town’ that Scully begins to unravel her conspiracy-accepting side – much to Mulder’s excitement – and begins to comfortably fit within Mulder’s viewpoint on these unsolved cases. She begins to see what he’s been pushing the entire time – that there is always something hidden, and often it is done so by people and organizations that we are meant to trust; i.e. law enforcement, the government and in this case, chicken manufacturers.

The small town of Dudley, Arkansas has been the epicenter of a strange – and rare – epidemic. One by one, the residents of Dudley are slowly going insane, and it all points to the town’s primary source of revenue – Chaco Chicken. At first, it is believed that the chickens have been contaminated with a form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, otherwise known as Mad Cow Disease. The effect this has on human’s transfers to a rare brain disease named Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Symptoms include psychiatric problems and behavioral changes, such is shown via the death of Paula Gray in the episode.

It isn’t until Mulder and Scully discover the bones of nine residents in the local river that they begin to suspect something all-together. The recovered skeletons are all missing their skulls, and the bones appeared to have been boiled. Mulder theorizes that the residents of Dudley have been practicing cannibalism to prolong life and that they had been eating the bodies of the victims via the chicken processing plant.

Once you dismiss the stupidity of a certain character getting kidnapped and nearly killed for the billionth time this season – hint: it’s a redhead - ‘Our Town’ envelops a frightening – and at often times bewildering – narrative by taking inspiration from the classic 1955 Bad Day at Black Rock with a hint of tribal cannibalism.

Frank Spotnitz transfers his terrifying vision to every small town in America at a time when the country had just gone through a widespread epidemic of bacterial contamination (the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak of ’93), where the thought of cannibalism honestly was not out of the realm of extreme possibility. American’s were anxious and oblivious as to how their meat was being handled, processed and prepared, and ultimately the dire effect that it could eventually have on them once it got to their plate.

Mulder and Scully’s investigation into one processing plant with an outcome of cannibalism was America’s worst nightmare; that’s what The X-Files preyed on. 

• Loving Mulder's shades; the epitome of style (and forever my icon for everything). 

• Scully casually walking around with a bucket of chicken is hilarious. 

• Why the hell would Chaco leave his cannibal/ritualistic stuff in the middle of his damn hallway in an odd-looking wardrobe? It's like a beacon of suspicion. Mulder notices said beacon of suspicion and breaks into it, only to discover severed human heads. 

• What is Foxfire? It's the bioluminescence created by some species of fungi present in decaying wood. The bluish-green glow is attributed to a luciferase, an oxidative enzyme, which emits light as it reacts with a luciferin. It is widely believed that the light attracts insects to spread spores, or acts as a warning to hungry animals, like the bright colors exhibited by some poisonous or unpalatable animal species¹.

It's often referred to as fairy fire, which makes the witches pegs that Mulder and Scully find even more ominous. Witches pegs charms used to keep witches from a home. They are often found in the rural areas of the Ozarks and are made from cedar pegs with three pongs, driven into the ground in a path to the door².

• The term Ozarks refers to witchcraft practiced in the southern mountains of Arkansas and Missouri often called the Ozark Mountains or the Ozark Plateau. Ozark Witchcraft openly rejects Christianity, as one might expect in the described 'bible belt' of the South³. 

• Human cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh or internal organs of other human beings. A person who practices cannibalism is called a cannibal ... some scholars have argued, however, that no firm evidence exists that cannibalism has ever been a socially acceptable practice anywhere in the world, at any time in history. 

In some societies, especially tribal societies, cannibalism is a cultural norm. Consumption of a person from within the same community is called endocannibalism; ritual cannibalism of the recently deceased can be part of the grieving process or be seen as a way of guiding the souls of the dead into the bodies of living descendants. 

Among modern humans, cannibalism has been practiced by various groups. It was practiced by humans in Prehistoric Europe, Mesoamerica, South America, among Iroquoian peoples in North America, Maori in New Zealand, the Soloman Islands, parts of West Africa, and Central Africa, some of the islands of Polynesia, New Guinea, Sumatra, and Fiji. Evidence of cannibalism has been found in ruins associated with the Anasazi culture of the Southwestern United States⁴.

• The Anasazi have been referred to in The X-Files mythology in multiple episodes, the beginnings of which are uncovered/referred to in 'Our Town'. The Anasazi become extremely important in regards to the mythos and conspiracy theories regarding 'ancient aliens', and their contribution to the Anasazi's 'advanced culture'. The evidence left behind by these tribes is mindbending, such as the Anasazi dwellings in Four Corners, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet and the amazement as to how these hillside residencies could have been built without the help of alien hands⁵.

• Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, otherwise known as Mad Cow Disease, is a fatal neurogenerative disease in cattle that may be passed to humans who have eaten infected flesh. Sound familiar?

In 'Our Town', those that eat human flesh are infected with Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Mulder and Scully first believe that the chickens from the local chicken plant had been infected with a similar disease to Mad Cow, but in actuality, it was the consumption of human flesh.

• Two years before the release of 'Our Town', there was the famed E.Coli outbreak within fast-food chain Jack in the Box, where 732 people were infected by the bacteria that came from contaminated beef patties. The outbreak occurred in 73 restaurants in California, Idaho, Washinton, and Nevada, with the majority of victims under 10-year-olds. Four kids died and 178 other victims were left with permanent injury, including kidney and brain damage.

The issue of contaminated meat was fresh in the minds of Americans when the release of 'Our Town' eventually rolled around, even though cannibalism was thrown into the mix.

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• SCULLY: I just came up with a sick theory, Mulder.
MULDER: Ooh, I'm listening.

• MULDER: Was this river searched after George Kearns's disappeared?
SHERIFF ARENS: Are you kidding? Talk about a needle in a haystack. 
MULDER: Well, I'd like it dragged as soon as possible. 
SHERIFF ARENS: Why would you wanna do that? 
MULDER: ... To see what's in there. 

• MULDER: Scully, I think the good people of Dudley have been eating more than just chicken. 
SCULLY: You think these people were eaten?!
MULDER: Look at these bones. They've been polished at both ends, suggesting they were boiled in a pot. Anthropologists have similar evidence to prove cannibalism among the Anasazi tribe of New Mexico * slight not to the next episode - the season finale - maybe? * 
SCULLY: Well, then Paula Grey may have contracted Creutzfeldt- Jacob by eating George Kearns. 
MULDER: And that could begin to explain her youthful appearance. 
SCULLY: ... What are you talking about? 
MULDER: Some cannibalistic rituals are enacted with the belief that they can prolong life. 
SCULLY: Cannibalism is one thing, but increasing longevity by eating human flesh-
MULDER: Well think about it, Scully. From vampirism to Catholicism, whether literally or symbolically the reward for eating flesh is eternal life. I don't even know how it works, but we both saw Paula Gray. 

• SCULLY: I think we've got something here, Mulder. Take a look at this. 
MULDER: What am I looking at?
SCULLY: It's a specimen from Paula Gray's brain. She suffered from a rare degenerative disorder called Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. It's characterized by the formation of sponge-like holes in the brain tissue. 
MULDER: Why didn't they show up on any of her charts? 
SCULLY: Well, short of an autopsy it's a very difficult disease to diagnose. Outside of a textbook, I've only seen infected tissue once and that was back in medical school. 
MULDER: Could that be the reason she attacked Jess Harold?
SCULLY: Absolutely, victims of Creutzfeldt-Jacob suffer from progressive dementia, seizures-
MULDER: Is it fatal? 
SCULLY: This girl would have been dead in a matter of months. 
MULDER: Except that Paula Gray was no girl. This is her personnel file, Scully, check it out. Says here that Paula Gray was born in 1948 which means that this woman, Chaco's granddaughter, was 47 years old. 
SCULLY: There's got to be some kind of mistake. 
MULDER: Let's find out. Her birth certificate should be on file at the Seth County courthouse. Who knows, Scully, this could turn out to be even more interesting than Foxfire. * The sheer SASS coming from Mulder *

• SCULLY: We saw the feed grinders at the plant; what if somebody put George Kearns's body there. Creutzfeldt- Jacob is a prion disease which means it could have been passed on to the chickens and in turn to anyone who consumed them.
MULDER: So anyone eating chickens out of Dudley would be a risk?
SCULLY: Well, it's possible. You know, sometimes in England, they'll incinerate cattle to keep them from passing mad cow disease onto people.
MULDER: Yeah, but chickens from Dudley are shipped all over the country. If what you're saying were true, we'd be seeing an epidemic, not just a few local cases.

• SCULLY: All of them share one strange detail, though.
MULDER: Well, they seem to have lost their heads.
SCULLY: Well, besides that. The older bones show signs of decay and surface abrasion just like you'd expect. But for some reason, all of them, even Kearns's, are smoothed and buffed at the ends.
MULDER: It's almost like they've been polished.
SCULLY: Well, it could just be from the erosion from the water, but-
MULDER: No, that water had hardly any current. This level of erosion wouldn't be confined just to the ends of the bones.
SCULLY: Any theories?
MULDER: ... Maybe.

• Mulder making sure Scully is okay when he rescues her at the end. He tenderly tucks her hair out of her face, and comforts her like in 'Irresistible', and is not overly dramatic with it whilst asking if she's hurt and alright. It's extremely subtle and natural, which makes it all the more ... FEELS.

• SCULLY: I'm not questioning the legitimacy of the case, just their motives in assigning it to us. I mean, doesn't it bother you at all that they're trying to undermine your work? 
MULDER: They may think they are, but on the night that George Kearns disappeared a woman on the I-10 saw a strange fire in an adjacent field. 
SCULLY: Yes, I read that report, she claims that she saw some kind of a fox-fire spirit. I'm surprised she didn't call Oprah as soon as she got off the phone with the police. 
MULDER: Folktales dating back to the 19th century from the Ozarks describes people being taken away by fireballs. It's supposed to be the spirits of massacred Indians. 
SCULLY: Those are only legends, Mulder. 
MULDER: Well, most legends don't leave behind twelve-foot burn marks. That photo was taken by state police in the field where the woman claims to have seen a Foxfire. 
SCULLY: This could have been made by anything, a bonfire. 
MULDER: I thought so, too. Until I remembered this: It was a documentary I saw when I was in college about an insane asylum, it gave me nightmares. 
SCULLY: I didn't think anything gave you nightmares. 
MULDER: Yeah, I was young. His name was Craigton Jones. Pulled off the road on May 17, 1961, to take a nap. They found him three days later so deranged by what he'd encountered that he had to be committed. The state police found his car on the I-10. Right in the middle of Dudley, Arkansas - home of Chaco Chicken. 

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