The X-Files Season 11, Episode 4
“The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat”
Posted by Sage
There are a couple of hot topics of conversation that fans and critics alike want to discuss when The X-Files is coming back with new episodes. Are we finally getting a love scene? Where William at? And what does Darin Morgan have up his sleeve this time?
It pleased me very much that Darin’s name got a big cheer from the audience at the show’s NYCC 2017 panel. (More recognition for our most inventive TV writers, always.) Because fans know that any episode he pens is going to be a biting satire of the very show he’s writing, the funniest hour of the season, and wholly unexpected, plot-wise. He’ll also make Fox Mulder look as stupid as he possibly can. You wouldn’t think it would work for a writer to have an ongoing vendetta against a lead character, but The X-Files isn’t an average show.
In the case of “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” — a fantastic title, as per usual — Darin’s target is the show’s tetchy relationship to its own continuity. Look: The X-Files has been a narrative mess for years. Do we love it in spite of that? Fuck yes. And that’s basically the theme of this episode. As Chris Carter piles ret-con over ret-con and gives interviews paraphrasing the penguins in Madagascar, we just shrug our shoulders in annoyance, rail about it on Tumblr, and then move on with our lives. Because there’s no way any one has a prayer of making sense of this NOW. So we may as well just enjoy what we get.
The Cigarette Smoking Man was able to survive a mano a mano fight with a missile in this universe we’ve chosen to live in — so is it any less possible then that The X-Files division could have originally had THREE members, one that the government in league with Dr. They has compelled us and Mulder and Scully to forget?? If anything, it’s MORE believable. It’s certainly a better theory than parallel universes, okay, Nerd Boy?
— David Duchovny (@davidduchovny) January 24, 2018
Brian Huskey of Veep and People of Earth is the aptly named Reggie Something in this episode, a man who somehow knows Mulder’s secret window call signal (which Scully is adorably jealous about), though Mulder believes he’s never met him before. In the obligatory parking garage locale, a frustrated Reggie throws Deep Throat-y cliches at Mulder, which Mulder brushes off, because who even is this guy? Fortunately for Reggie, it’s pretty easy to get under Mulder’s skin (and Darin Morgan is the master of doing just that). He throws out the name of Mulder’s first and favorite episode of The Twilight Zone before he disappears into the night — and that explains the very Morgan-esque cold open to the episode.
There’s just one problem: that Twilight Zone episode doesn’t appear to exist. (Maybe Jordan Peele can make it happen in his reboot? LMK, Jordan.) The perils of dating Fox Mulder (and, you guys, they are SO dating, it’s adorable) is that he’s very easily distracted. Scully just wants to go to dinner, but she finds her partner in an avalanche of video tapes and official Twilight Zone guide books. Mulder cannot find any sign of “The Lost Martian” anywhere and it has him shook. I know what’ll take your mind off of it, Mulder. Take your woman out to a nice restaurant and woo her for a little bit. SHE WANTS TO BE WOOED.
Scully is next up for an encounter with Reggie, who asks if Mulder has stood her up “again” (ROUGH), and calls her Skulls. He pitches her the same case — his own. Reggie begs Scully to find him and tosses her her own false memory: a box of Goop-o ABC, a three-layer gelatin treat. The cherry, not the lemon lime, obviously. That one tastes that “leprechaun taint,” according to Special Agent Dr. Dana Scully, marking the second time in four episodes that The X-Files made a taint joke. We’re all adults here.
Their respective memories are meaningful to Mulder and Scully, which is why it stresses them out that they can’t seem to validate them against any other evidence. “The Lost Martian” sparked Mulder’s fascination with the paranormal four years before his sister was abducted. It woke up his imagination, and he treasures it for making him the person he is today. Scully’s Goop-o is associated with her own ideals: family, god, love, America. (“That’s some Jell-O!”) And being that her parents are both gone now and her own son is out of her life, that All-American family togetherness exists only in her memories.
Mulder, who knows what memes are, brings up the Mandela effect, wherein several people claim to have remembered something that isn’t true or provable. He’s clearly lurked on the Shazaam/Kazaam Reddit thread, though Scully has no idea what he’s talking about. (“What if I don’t remember either movie?” “YOU WIN!”) And if you’ve been there yourself like I have, you know how passionate people get when arguing for their own version of the past. It’s not easy to let go of something that your own memory has reinforced (let alone several dozen other Reddit users, feeding off one another), and so the debate rages stupidly on. If Sinbad had made a genie movie, there would be evidence of it SOMEWHERE. Yet there are people who just won’t admit defeat. Like Mulder, apparently. A good distraction from all that angst? A night-time stakeout. And she can roll her eyes all she wants, but in Mulder-and-Scully-land, stakeouts are always and have always been dates. (“If there’s an iced tea in that bag, it could be love.”)
What makes the Mandela effect perfect X-Files territory is that there are supernatural explanations that could account for these mass failures of memory. (Mr. Robot also played with Mandela this year, possibly as a way to troll fans of the parallel universe theory — my favorite detail was Darlene torrenting Shazaam.) When they meet back up with Reggie, the agents hear his own. Reggie tells them about his own awakening, which came about courtesy of a Dr. Wuzzle book. (A nod to the Berenstein/Berenstain Bears Mandela phenomenon.) That “everything you know is wrong” feeling that you get when something you thought to be absolutely true is proven false is jarring, so Reggie goes on a mission to find out if some books were just incorrectly printed with a mispelling of Dr. Wussle’s name. (Which would be pronounced “wuss-ell” anyway, right? Come on, Reggie.)
Hilariously, he meets with a purveyor of vintage Americana who keeps all the shameful paraphernalia in one section. And Reggie is more upset that Dr. Wuzzle is Dr. Wuzzle everywhere than he is that the beloved children’s book writer was a Nazi sympathizer. Since he deals in memory, the shop owner is very familiar with the Mandela effect as expressed by his patrons (“I remember the logo being racist in a DIFFERENT way.”), only he and therefore Reggie call it the Mengele effect. (INCEPTION.) And the shop owner is also a conspiracy theorist. He’s convinced that the government is in on it, since memory control is perhaps the most powerful form of mind control. Then he shop owner ends up dead with a lawn dart shoved down his throat. (“And they sold these to kids?” “We were made of sterner stuff back then, Scully.”) And Reggie has to assume that he was on the right track. A conspiracy nut is right two times a day, after all.
So the government obviously has the “why” — as does the redacted corporation that Reggie tries to name. Altering memory could have infinite uses, from restoring consumer confidence to shoring up political power. But who had the “how”? That would be the “they” that conspiracy nuts have been talking about since conspiracy nuts started talking: neuroscientist Dr. Thaddeus Q. They, who had professional photos taken of himself for some reason. According to Reggie’s research, his own life’s work began when he was a med student in Grenada during the U.S. invasion, which is where he encountered Dr. They. He claims to have seen and heard the telepathic screams of an alien that became stranded on Earth after its UFO crashed. And this too is based in fact. Among the many documents made public by Wikileaks, there were some that prove that the United Nations was seriously looking into creating an UFO task force in 1978 after then-Grenada Prime Minister Eric Gairy made an apparently well-received presentation. Even so, Scully’s ready to bounce.
Per Reggie, the Grenada alien silently imparted to Dr. They everything that it could about how the human brain works, giving They absolute power of the very idea of “facts.” Reggie couldn’t very well go one with his normal life after that nice alien tried and failed to warn idiotic humanity about global warming, which is why Reggie left the medical profession behind, joined the FBI, and started the X-Files division.
In one of the great gags of the show’s run, Reggie is retconned back into the partnership. He’s there in the credits, bewildered staff photo on his very own badge. He’s next to Mulder and Scully when Eugene Victor Tooms is led away and when the true nature of the Peacock family is discovered. In a real Darin Morgan move, Reggie shoots Eddie Van Blundht when he finds him on the coach with Scully in Small Potatoes. Mulder talked to his former ASAC Reggie Pardue in canon, which was helpful. And while we’re picking at some of the most iconic moments in X-Files history, we also get to make fun of sexist trolls.
Reggie makes another run for it when two men come after him. They’re not shady operatives of Dr. They, just FBI frat boys who have no respect for the weird guy who hangs out in the basement. Why are they after Reggie if Reggie really is just a delusional fan? Well, if Mulder were actually the legend he says he is, he’d probably know already. Please enjoy Scully’s face in this scene. She’s like, “It’s okay, honey, let’s go home.” (Also, we saw Fox Mulder in his underthings just last week. He may be out of touch with the FBI after all that “birther stuff,” but he’s not out of shape. How dare they body shame him?)
Whilst raging about the Soy Bomb stage crash and the resulting Eels song to his wife, Mulder gets a call from Dr. They. He wants to meet, and he wants to do it out in the open. The man, like a certain sitting president, is fully untouchable. His job isn’t even hard any more, Mulder learns when they talk. They doesn’t have to make people forget facts any more, he simply has to place a suggestion somewhere and watch it spiderweb out into the public consciousness. (Dr. They probably has an unlimited budget for Facebook ads.) We’re in a “post-coverup” age, They says, and he’s onto something. No one needs to pave over their devious doings if their base either takes their word over facts without fail or if that base simply doesn’t care about the doings in the first place. (Po-Co, the kids will probably call it. Like some cool three block stretch of NYC neighborhood.) In the Fake News era, Dr. They is happy for Fox Mulder to know that he exists, chide him though he does for taking this long to find him. Or perhaps they HAVE met before. “Nobody knows for sure.”
Dr. They maybe real, but Scully is lurking fashionably in the parking garage shadows to tell all you bitches what’s what. His existence mean that Reggie’s whole story is true. While Mulder was making a murder board about Bob Dylan, Scully was doing the actual investigatory work, tracking down Reginald Murgatroyd’s records. Basically, he’s a government agent wannabe who tried almost every brand of federal service that he could and was unable to hack it at any of them, leading to a nervous breakdown. (Though, who among us wouldn’t like to spend even a few short weeks monitoring Mulder and Scully’s late-night phone calls?) On the last “sounds like your ride’s here” running joke, Reggie is loaded up into a vehicle from the Sponitz Sanitarium (big ups to Frank.)
All that’s left is for Reggie to tell his two ex-partners what happened on their last case together, which led to the very memory of him being erased, from his high school yearbook down to his own sanity. In a sequence that resembles the cheaply made not-Twilight Zone from the cold open, the trio speed down to the site of a UFO crash, where they encounter a Segway riding alien who’s tasked with telling humanity, “It’s not us, it’s you.” As Mulder has always suspected, the aliens HAVE been watching us. They’ve seen war, famine, and the Twilight movies, but the dealbreaker is not just that people in power lie, but that the rest of us have decided to just accept that. So they’re building a sturdy, invisible wall to prevent us from sending them more of our worst people. (“You’re free to explore your anus, all you want.”)
But as a parting gift, the alien hands over in good faith the secrets to life, the universe, and everything. It’s Fox Freakin’ Mulder’s worst nightmare. David Duchovny jokes about how much Darin Morgan hates Mulder, but I don’t think any demonstration of that will ever touch this. Mulder is the seeker. That’s his thing, that’s his passion. And juuuuuust to spite that character, Darin has Mulder’s dream turn into the ultimate nightmare scenario. He takes away all the reasons for Mulder to keep looking. He strips his life’s work away from him. There will be no more Squatchin’ Saturdays. Way harsh, Tai.
Fortunately, the real X-File was the friends we made along the way. Even if Reggie and Scully’s deep romantic connection has to remain unspoken for now, they’ll always have each other. And the episode could have ended right there, on a very silly but satisfying note.
Instead, we get one more scene, which reminds us that the reason Darin kids is because he loves. Scully makes the Goop-o ABC in Mulder’s Big Foot mold, carcinogens be damned, while Mulder queues up “The Lost Martian” episode of The Twilight Zone rip-off, The Dusky Realm. She’s so adorably excited to take a bite, but she just can’t make herself do it. Mulder asks her what’s wrong. “I want to remember how it was,” she says, serenely.
Scully’s expressed this same sentiment before. Mulder has beaten himself up over what’s happened to her because of their work, and yet, she’s the one who’s there to remind him that it was all worth doing, even if there’s pain and uncertainty. I love this look he gives her, because it communicates his awe of her strength. She still wants to be there next to him on pointless stakeouts and on trash TV nights. Because even the worst memories are rooted in their connection to one another.
Are there some things I’D like to change about The X-Files? Of course. I really would go back in time to save Scully from at least a few bodily violations. But those other, smaller flaws, I don’t think I would touch. The X-Files is too much a part of my personal history, warts and all. Memory is malleable, but it’s strong and it’s personal. I want to remember how it all was.
- Head canon that the diner in the cold open is the same one as in The Shape of Water.
- Scully hanging up on Mulder while he tells Sasquatch stories she’s heard a million times before = married activity.
- This week, in Duchovny humiliation:
- Mulder playing with his tie is never fail good shit.
- As is Scully’s casual wear.
- “That’s science, Scully.” “Theoretical science at best, MULDER.”
- “Ozzie’s razor.”
- There are as many irrepressible genie movies as there are parallel universes.
- Simple but brilliant production design and set dec on the Reggie federal agency montage.
- “Our last case together. What happened?” “We found the truth that’s out there.”
- “Where the hell they takin’ Reggie?” GIVE MITCH MORE COMEDY.
“The Lost of Art of Forehead Sweat” is my favorite episode of Season 11 so far, and a tough one to beat. How’d you guys feel about? Put your thoughts and favorite lines in the comments below.
Featured image source: Fox