X-Files Recap: The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat
Greetings, X-Philes, from the other side of season 11’s Darin Morgan episode! The fan favorite writer penned this week’s “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” a ridiculous romp through X-Files history with a bit of biting political satire and some awkward pacing that seemed even more pronounced by the fact that I’m watching this season live and with commercials. So many commercials, you guys. My fond nostalgia for this, a beloved favorite, does not extend to suffering through commercials in the days when I actually mimicked Mulder and taped everything, cataloguing and labeling religiously by season and episode title. The entire point of this episode was to question our collective nostalgia – did everything really happen the way we remember it?
The episode’s loose premise revolves around the Mandela Effect and how we remember things from history or our childhood collectively. The episode opens with a supposed episode of the Twilight Zone (purported to be Mulder’s first episode that he saw as a child), filmed at the same café in Vancouver where Mulder ate pie in season three’s (also Darin-Morgan-written) “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” That is my personal favorite Darin episode, and I was very happy with the self-referential plot of this fake Twilight episode – a man claims to have seen aliens and then sees himself reflected in the window as one. Cut to credits, which are unaltered. I thought maybe they’d mess with them a little (they do, but later).
Mulder comes into the Unremarkable House dressed in some sort of woodland camouflage. The phone is ringing – Mulder, its me! He was just “out squatchin’” which I honestly enjoyed. Mulder returning to the woods in his Sasquatch-catching gear, just to ponder and think. Sounds like the weirdo Mulder we all know and love. Apparently he and Scully are planning a dinner date, because she loves this weirdo. YAY. But someone lit the bat signal (the X on the window) so Mulder heads to a parking garage to meet up. A guy named Reggie is sweating and upset. He’s on about having uncovered a global conspiracy about the “Mengele effect” (which doesn’t exist) and unsettles Mulder by telling him that his first Twilight Zone episode never existed. Mulder goes home to dig through his tapes, but Scully is over and ready for their dinner date in jeans and a sweater/button-down combo. She looks cute, her hair looks nice, and Mulder blows her off with his fretting. Typical.
Reggie finds Scully in the parking garage and hands her a box of something…turns out to be a weird version of Jell-O that has a crunchy layer and she used to love it. Sitting at the desk in the LBO (Lush Basement Office) with her feet up and nary a Scully nameplate to be seen – hmph – Scully waxes poetic about it and Mulder asks her to come with him to meet with Reggie later. “Come on, it’ll be like a date,” and waggles his eyebrows at her. Ok, I liked that bit. Cut to them in their FORD SUV, in case we missed the product placement, and Scully says “Well, this is romantic.” “Isn’t it?” quips Mulder. Mulder, your lady needs some goddamn romance. So do we, we’ve been starving for 25 years!
So Reggie is there and says a bunch of stuff about invading Grenada and Mengele/Mandela Effect and Mulder goes off into parallel universe theories while Scully is like, I’m done with this, my homies. The Reggie says he discovered The X-Files, which of course he did not, but it stops Mulder and Scully in their tracks. After yet another commercial break during which I contemplate bleeping UFOs, we get a new credits, with Reggie as the third member of the X-Files team followed by a greatest hits of X-Files cases from days of yore.
This was probably my favorite part of a very weird episode. I don’t necessarily mean weird in a good way here, since I was put off by the pacing, by the actor playing Reggie (sorry dude), and by the general non-plot. This wasn’t a case, it wasn’t even like Darin’s “Weremonster” from season 10 – it was just downright odd – which is ok, but definitely was jarring after the first three episodes. I wish I could find all the fun little nods to our collective X-Files-ian past as something more than an excuse to insert Reggie into our greatest hits, but I couldn’t. I did squeal with delight as we saw bits from Tooms, The Unusual Suspects, Morgan himself as Eddie Van Blundht in “Small Potatoes” (another fave!), and a number of other classic moments fly past. However, it ultimately served to remind me what last season wasted and what I’m concerned about for the rest of this season. Which has been much better than 10 thus far, might I add. Reggie also keeps calling Scully “Sculls” and then later refers to Mulder as “Foxy,” which just makes me annoyed.
The mysterious suits chasing Reggie stopped to make fun of Mulder, ending with a “sad!” in yet another nod to current president Cheeto Satan in an episode full of them. Mulder was all irritated and yelled several times that he was “Fox Freaking Mulder” as Darin offered up a bid for Mulder’s paranoia to seem relevant again. I understand the underlying gist of this whole convoluted non-plot, which is to question why The X-Files, and Mulder, are still relevant in the era of fake news and Russian interference and actual government conspiracies. Who would believe Mulder now, anyway? Reggie tells Mulder about Dr. They, played by The Rockford Files’ Stuart Margolin, and Mulder meets with him in a park with odd sculptures. Dr. They is on about making people remember things in certain ways, and the whole exchange is a metaphor for greater relevance in our current society of “phony fakes news”.
For the last time, Reggie finds Mulder in the FBI garage but Scully is waiting for them with Reggie’s real identity in hand. He’s a perpetual government employee, cycling through agencies like the SEC and Homeland Security, all in the same cubicle, who went more than a little crazy. A very Ghostbusters-like paddywagon pulls up, ready to put Reggie back in his straightjacket and back to “Spotnitz Sanitarium” (a nod to the great Frank Spotnitz, XF writer/director extraordinaire). Mulder asks about what Reggie remembers as “their last case” before he’s hauled off, and we cut to the three of them in a bright red convertible, chasing a light in the sky. They come upon the broken remains of the Voyager probe (Star Trek shout-out?) and an alien spaceship lands, a tall, bald grey alien with a goatee and an Elvis cape floating down the gangplank. Or whatever you call it. It was kind of an escalator. Alien Dude stepped off and onto a Segway/hoverboard combo (definitely a hilarious moment I ejoyed) and goes over to the trio to tell them that the aliens don’t want anything to do with humans anymore. He says they are building a wall, an invisible, electromagnetic wall that will incinerate probes and block out all the rapist, drug-dealing humans. Sounds familiar…ya think? He then hands Mulder a book with “all the answers” in it and Mulder yells “nooooo!”, falling to the ground in a tantrum. I know that feel, Mulder. I know it every time you don’t kiss Scully and take her on dates you promised.
Reggie gets taken away as Skinner exits the stairwell, asking “where the hell they taking Reggie?” Ok, that was funny! Mulder and Scully head home to the Unremarkable House, where she made her weird not-Jell-O in Mulder’s bigfoot footprint mold. But she decides not to eat it, wanting to “remember the way it was.” They smile at each other on the couch, a piece of furniture I am becoming very fond of, and that’s that.
Overall, I am ranking this episode third out of the current four we’ve seen. The reigning order is:
- Plus One
- The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat
- My Struggle 3
We’ll see where next week’s “Ghouli” ranks but from what I’ve heard, it is pretty epic! In the meantime, I will probably be rewatching “This” on repeat, it was by far my favorite.
Part of me thinks that this episode, “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” was a rather subtle “f*ck you” from Darin to Chris Carter. In the altered scene from the Pilot, Reggie calls Scully “sugarboobs” (full grimace in effect here) and says “This is the X-Files, no women allowed.” That is incredibly true, as you can count the female writers and directors on one hand – out of 218 episodes and two movies. Nice. I liked the acknowledgement of that, despite it being extremely late in the game. I also think that maybe Mulder is not nearly as relevant in 2018, but only because Carter didn’t do anything great with him in 2016 when they returned from a 14-year TV hiatus. That pains me deeply to say, as I want Mulder to find his answers and successfully expose the terrible plot that the CSM is perpetuating. But you need to earn relevance by writing modern storylines to update your beloved characters.
As I noted in my recaps of season 10, what bothers me the most is that I could see so easily how to make The X-Files really awesome (answer: put Mulder and Scully on cases. Together. That’s so simple yet I have no idea how they strayed from it!) and, yes, tell a relevant story. Glen Morgan obviously knew how to do it, as season 10’s “Home Again” and his episode, “This,” from two weeks ago were completely spot-on, action-and-drama packed outings. But we are all being held back by Chris Carter and “His Struggle.” In seeing Darin’s clips from episodes of yore, my wee heart grew five sizes and I felt happy. That feeling is now almost a “lost art,” although this season is bringing sexy poaching back and – what’s more – we’re still here for it. Such is the devotion inspired by those early, fantastic, groundbreaking seasons.
For now, here’s hoping that Mulder and Scully get their dinner date before dealing with flesh-eating monsters next week. I’ll be here, and until then, on Twitter @lightstar1013.