X-Files Flashback: ‘Our Town’

Season 2, Episode 24
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: Frank Spotnitz

The X-Files continues on its conspiratorial path to make vegetarians of us all in “Our Town,” an episode dedicated to the joys of both cannibalism and poultry processing. Aside from yet another weak reliance on the “Scully’s in danger” running theme, the episode is clinically effective and deserves a far better reputation than it seems to have amongst viewers and critics alike.

We begin with a variation of the “teens parking in the woods” introduction. In this case, middle-aged George Kearns parks with his younger lover Paula. Rather than make out in the car, she runs off into the woods, enticing George to follow her. Disoriented, he loses sight of her and is quickly surrounded by multiple torch-bearing entities. George turns to face an axe-wielding man in a tribal mask who quickly cuts off his head. Mulder and Scully are brought in to investigate because George Kearns was a federal health inspector who was writing up multiple violations against Chaco Chicken, a local chicken processing plant. Through the course of the investigation, they discover that George suffered from Creutzfeldt-Jakcob disease, a rare illness that causes dementia. They uncovered this because multiple people in the town, Paula included, began suffering from similar symptoms, eventually leading to their deaths.

Turns out that Walter Chaco, Paula’s grandfather and the owner of the plant, had crash-landed in New Guinea in 1944 near a local cannibalistic tribe. Having learned their ways and the supposed age-defying benefits of cannibalism, he devised a plan to kill and cook local citizens and feed them back to the chickens, keeping both Chaco and selected local towns people young beyond their years. After Scully is kidnapped by Chaco, a ceremonial bonfire is held to effectively kill and eat her, but the townspeople turn against Chaco due to the ramping disease that will kill them all. Even the town sheriff is in on it, serving as the mask-wearing axe man. Mulder shows up just in time to free Scully but was unable to save the beheaded Chaco whose remains are likely fed to unsuspecting chickens in the final scene.

OK, so a lot of this episode makes absolutely no sense at all. Why would the government, after shutting down the cannibalism factory / chicken processing plant, allow someone to feed the suspect slop to chickens at the end of the episode? How is a small town able to keep that big of a secret when 87 people have died in a relatively short amount of time? If the sheriff is in on the crime, then why did he allow the dragging of the local river to uncover all those bones? Why did they even dump the bones in the shallow river to begin with? If the disease is passed through consumption of another diseased person, then why did Paula go insane so quickly after George’s death? Seems like that would take longer than 24 hours to take hold. Plus, she had obviously been experiencing symptoms long enough to warrant receiving medication from the plant doctor which she takes just before going insane. Why did Walter Chaco keep heads in his red cabinet of death? How did that not smell? And at the end of the episode, the plant floor manager is apparently trampled to death by terrified townspeople. How did that even happen? It’s not like there was any question as to which way to run when Mulder shot the axe man. They were in a field. Run anywhere… just not on top of somebody. Repeatedly. Killing them.

Despite the six or seven plot holes I just thought of in as many minutes, I did like “Our Town” for its intrigue and admittedly disgusting plot. What I felt was really missing, though, was an increased sense of irony. Clearly, the writer had irony in mind when he titled the episode “Our Town,” referring to Thornton Wilder’s early 20th century play about an idyllic small American town. Yet, none of that irony is inherent within the actual episode itself. The director and cast play “Our Town” in a deadly serious and straightforward manner, which is fine but a lighter, more satiric hand would have greatly benefitted the material.

I mean, after all, they are feeding human remains to chickens. There’s gotta be a joke in there somewhere. Right?

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