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THE X-FILES Was Weird, Funny, and Timely All At Once

THE X-FILES Was Weird, Funny, and Timely All At Once

The following contains major plot spoilers for The X-Files episode “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat.” If you have not yet seen this episode, we encourage you to do so before reading the below. If you have, then proceed, because the truth is out there…or below!

The six episodes that made up The X-Files‘ revived 10th season were a mixed bag of terrible, fine, and pretty good, but the one truly standout episode was “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” written and directed by Darin Morgan. Morgan’s episodes were the highlights of the series’ third season back in 1996, and his episode “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” won him and guest star Peter Boyle an Emmy. “Were-Monster” was a hilarious and weird episode, but Morgan’s episode in season 11, “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” hearkened back to episodes like “Bruckman” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” meaning it was damn near perfect.

Morgan–brother of X-Files producer/writer/director Glen Morgan–has always taken the Mickey out of The X-Files and Mulder as a character. The show certainly had a tendency to be hyper-serious at times, and Mulder could be a huge doofus. “Forehead Sweat” called everything we thought we knew about about The X-Files into question in the best way possible using conspiracy theorist nut Reggie, played perfectly by Brian Huskey. What bigger conspiracy is there right now than whether things we think are true are really true? Can we even really trust the collective memory? The “Mandela Effect” (or is it the Mengele Effect?) makes us all question what we truly remember…and maybe we don’t remember anything.

This season has mentioned what’s really going on in the country a fair amount, especially as it pertains to the president’s vendetta against the FBI. “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” tackles the idea of what is or is not “truth” in the age of accusations of “Fake News.” Morgan brings in versions of the simple collective misremembering of things like KaZam vs. Shazam, and BerenSTEIN vs. BerenSTAIN and mixes it with larger-scale perpetration of incorrect information and the show’s usual brand of paranoia and government cover-up. What if the government is trying to make people forget stuff? Or what if it’s a parallel universe?

The show’s centerpiece moment comes at the introduction of a mysterious scientist named, appropriately, “Dr. They” (played by special guest star Stuart Margolin). The internet video about Dr. They comes across like the best Douglas Adams-y short film ever made. Morgan layers real events with their fictitious counterparts–They makes astronauts believe they’re chimpanzees; he was last seen at the last presidential inauguration amid “hundreds of millions of people”–to create the perfect conspiracy theory video you might find on YouTube. This becomes even more outstanding once Mulder actually has a meeting with the doctor himself…or did he?

While the end of the episode makes us realize the Occam’s Razor truth of the matter–that Reggie is just a lunatic with knowledge of the X-Files through paper-pushing jobs–we’re still never sure if Dr. They is real or just another crazy person who seems credible through coincidence. Reggie’s extreme knowledge of Mulder and Scully’s history, to the point that he’s inserted hilariously into some of the show’s most famous episodes, comes not from firsthand knowledge but third; he, like us, has nostalgia for The X-Files‘ good ol’ days, and maybe he remembers them differently than we do.

Tying all of these shared delusions to the show itself is a genius touch, as is making the titular alien from the never-was-a-Twilight Zone episode “The Lost Martian” look exactly like the alien Dr. They found and the alien Reggie saw in Granada. Childhood memories are the most powerful (Scully’s not-Jello memory is the same way) and yet are the most likely to be remembered inaccurately. On the best of days our memories are questionable, and nostalgia clouds that even further. What we feel like we remember is usually not what actually happened.

“The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” is a sci-fi farce for the ages, and will go down as one of the best episodes of a show that many (including me, I admit) thought had passed its prime 18 years ago. But maybe it didn’t. Skinner seemed to remember Reggie, so maybe The X-Files never passed its prime and never dipped in quality, and Mulder never left the show for the last two seasons, and there was never a gap between seasons nine and 10, and aliens exist and the president isn’t a lying bigot. Only Dr. They and Darin Morgan know for sure.

Images: Fox

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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