Darin Morgan returns to deliver an immensely funny, satirical look at The X Files’ history in the latest episode. Baz Greenland reviews…
Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster was the highlight of season 10 back in 2016, and Darin Morgan, the man who brought us comedy classics like Humbug, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose and Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” (as well as that season 10 episode), is back to write and direct another comedy classic for the eleventh season. And I can say comedy and classic confidently, because this might be, quite simply, the best episode since The X Files returned in 2016.
It’s slightly less zany than his previous installment (though I adore Darin Morgan’s zany style) and probably a little bit cleverer too. Like everything about season 11, this is more confident in its dialogue, its storytelling and its performances. The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat sees Mulder and Scully encounter the somewhat crazy Reggie Something (Brian Huskey), a man who’s entire identity has been erased through a government conspiracy and the myth of the ‘Mandela Effect’.
Or is it the ‘Mengele Effect’. Or alternate realities? Morgan has so much fun with the premise of mass people remembering something incorrectly, that he is even able to offer different viewpoints and argue them against each other. The nature of memories is subjective at best, but Morgan takes this to a whole new level as he brazenly suggests that Reggie didn’t just know Mulder and Scully before a secret conspiracy wiped his identities and everyone’s memory of him, he was actually part of the X Files all along.
Cue an absolutely hilarious sequence with a new title sequence (complete with Reggie Something as the third FBI agent) and brilliant moments where he was inserted into classic episode moments, from the Mulder and Scully’s first meeting in the Pilot to the pursuit of Tooms, to the moment where Reggie, not the real Mulder, stops fake Mulder Eddie Van Blundht from seducing Scully in Small Potatoes. And this was a small segment of a wider, fantastically scripted sequence in a parking lot, where Reggie attempts to convince Mulder and Scully of the truth while debating their different interpretations of the theories at play.
It was also fantastically shot, Morgan proving his skill as a director as much as a writer. The flashback sequence to the invasion of Grenada and the scene from lost episode The Last Martian were delightfully kitsch B horror movie. The scene where Mulder encountered the mysterious Doctor They amid the ‘A-maze-ing’ bronze sculptures of Morton Park added a offbeat feel to an already zany sequence.
But if your thought the ‘alternative The X Files history’ segment was fun, the scene where Reggie retold their final case was pure comedic perfection, up there with some of the best moments of my favourite Darin Morgan story Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”. The three agents encounter a Martian on a segway wearing an Elvis jacket, who boldly announces that humanity with all its lies are a disease and they are building an invisible wall around the solar system to stop humans polluting the rest of the galaxy.
The overt-era of Trumpism is not lost on the viewer and while there have been a couple of digs at the current US President during the series, it is Morgan who makes best use of it; from the references to the FBI being the enemy of the White House to the Mandela Effect spreading ‘fake news’ to humanity being filthy immigrants that cannot be trusted, this really is The X Files for the modern era and massively relevant too. It takes an established icon like this show to provide a deeply satirical narrative on society and it is done much better here than the ‘war on terror’ being part of the alien invasion conspiracy alluded to in season 10 opener My Struggle.
Like most Darin Morgan scripts, almost every line is instantly quotable, every quirky performance immensely memorable. It was funny, witty and quite possibly the best episode of the entire revival period. Given that I said about the previous season 11 episodes suggests just how more confident this year’s The X Files are compared to 2016’s season 10. I suspect The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat will be one episode remembered fondly – and rewatched repeatedly – in the years to come…
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