"Our Town"
Written by Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Rob Bowman



In which Mulder and Scully investigate a mysterious disappearance, and end up uncovering some very odd culinary practices in an Arkansas small town...

Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations





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Synopsis

For a short episode synopsis, please see the one provided at
Kevin's X-File Page.


Analysis

Like the final episodes of the first season, the writers take what could be called a “stock plot” for the series and inject a few hints about where the series finale is going to take the characters. Unlike the first season, however, the second season’s final push is uneven at best. While better than the last episode, there is little that can be said about this episode beyond the fact that it’s relatively unoffensive.

The episode begins with enough promise, as an apparent adulterous affair takes a completely unexpected turn. Tribal ceremonial garb is not the norm for Arkansas, and with an episode title like “Our Town”, this could have gone in any number of directions. Perhaps playing off the questionable food production motif of “Red Museum”, however, the writers choose to tread material from “Solyent Green”.

Far more interesting is Scully’s reaction to the case. In keeping with the end-of-season trend, this is when the agents begin to see the writing on the wall. Scully sees it very clearly, perhaps because she recalls what happened the last time she and Mulder rubbed the conspiracy the wrong way. After dropping a few clues regarding Mulder’s status following “Endgame” during the previous few episodes, it’s clear that whatever grace the agents gained after Scully’s return is swiftly running out.

That said, last season’s final stretch was far more effective. By the time the first season ended, there was little doubt that there were major repercussions coming for the agents, because they were clearly running out of time. The second season, despite a strong plot arc in the beginning, completely missed the mark in terms of communicating the agents’ situation.

At least Mulder gets the chance to once again chase after one of his many sacred cows: in this case, foxfire. It’s always good to see Mulder drag Scully along on one of his tangents, only for the situation to end up exposing far more disturbing. UFO-generated foxfire could have been interesting, but it’s clear that the writers were only using that as an excuse for Mulder to get interested in the assignment.

The episode quickly diverts into a statement about the conditions of chicken processing plants and the possibility that George Kearns was killed because of a report he wrote condemning the plant in Dudley. Considering that the episode began with tribal ceremonial garb, one quickly gets the feeling that the agents are going to take a while to uncover all of the necessary elements to solve the case.

However, it doesn’t take nearly so long for the audience to figure out who is behind the strange events in Dudley. Chaco is so off-kilter and confrontational that suspicion is immediate. By this point in the episode, the episode is all over the map in terms of what it wants to be about. Paula, the woman in the teaser, turns out to have been oddly well-preserved for her age and suffering from a rare degenerative disease. In short order, the episode runs from killer tribesmen, foxfire, line hypnosis, and artificial longevity.

At this point, the writers finally drop the element that ties everything together: cannibalism. Of course, this is absolutely fitting for an “X-Files” episode, but for some reason, it doesn’t inspire much more than a disturbing distaste for the entire episode. So much time is spent running through just about every other possible theory that the final explanation doesn’t quite strike with the necessary power.

The rest of the episode is spent running through the motions, as Mulder and Scully uncover the cannibalism cult while the cultists panic. The culmination of both plot threads is as predictable as it gets. So many of the early episodes of the series featured Scully in jeopardy that it simply began to lose meaning. Gillian Anderson does a capable job of making her situation seem mildly compelling, but after the abduction arc truly placed Scully in jeopardy, the writers cannot begin to think that the audience would believe Scully was truly a potential victim.

In the process, the ties between cannibalism and longevity are more or less buried, which is a shame. It’s the underpinning of the entire episode, after all! The focus was obviously meant to be on the people within the town, and the secret that they were keeping from the world at large. That secret is hidden well enough that it brings Scully’s initial question back to the table: why were Mulder and Scully assigned the case?

Recalling that the conspiracy largely found more value in keeping Mulder alive as a resource than dead, it’s reasonable to assume that the conspiracy felt that there was something worth knowing about the situation in Dudley. George Kearns could have been working for them, based on his apparent attempts to uncover the truth behind the Chaco chicken plant, spurring the conspiracy into investigating.

While it’s clear that the conspiracy wanted the agents to look into the Dudley situation, the real question is why they would want such a thing. The answer, of course, is the apparent longevity of the population of Dudley. Extension of life was one of the fringe benefits of the control chip that the conspiracy was developing, and that would have required specific regulation of body chemistry.

Of course, that’s a real stretch, especially when the episode is not all that absorbing. Besides some nice character interaction between Mulder and Scully, this is a fairly routine episode, and coming just before the massive season finale, it doesn’t give much momentum to the close of the season.


Memorable Quotes

(Nothing particularly memorable in this episode, unfortunately...)


Observations

- Interesting that nobody seems to be affected by the side effects of overdosing on OTC pain medication!

- The real X-File is how a woman on the I-10 could have seen something in Arkansas, since that interstate doesn’t run through Arkansas...

- Chaco Chicken, and the related character, are named after Chaco Canyon, where the mentioned evidence of Anasazi cannibalism was unearthed...

- “Good People, Good Food”...that’s priceless!

- The fact that humans can exploit them so well makes chickens “perfect creatures”?

- Could Mr. Chaco sound more suspicious during that initial interview?

- If the condition Scully describes in this episode was supposedly passed on by eating a victim with the disease, how could the victims have contracted the condition without eating the diseased tissue, since they didn’t eat the brain?

- And how could those symptoms present so quickly?

- How could that much runoff into a river be considered legal?

- There’s no way that so many bones would amount to only 9 individuals!

- Could they have made that Anasazi reference a little more awkward?

- Some people have the most interesting themes for a room...

- When the writers are cribbing off Scooby-Doo endings, it’s not a good sign!

- Just as an aside...using processed chicken parts to feed chickens is pretty twisted...

Overall, this episode was simply average. While staying true to the series premise and presenting an interesting spin on small town attitudes, the episode fails to capitalize on the fact that it leads into the season finale. By falling on several clichés, the episode does little to distinguish itself.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 6/10




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