Darin Morgan delivers another comedic home run of an episode as he tackles the perception of memory and the fascinating “Mandela Effect”
“Submitted for your approval…”
Now this is my kind of X-Files!
Darin Morgan’s season ten offering, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is not only the best episode of the season, but it’s arguably one of the strongest episodes from the show’s entire run. Morgan might have expressed his extreme anxiety over writing more X-Files episodes and his concerns over running out of ideas and not being able to deliver, but thankfully he is back and his writing is just as sharp and unusual as ever. “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” is an episode that’s as Darin Morgan as they come. It makes for a strong addition to the writer’s collection of episodes, but it’s also without a doubt the best entry of the season.
“The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” is all about memory, especially when it comes to its giant faults and blind spots. Morgan’s inventive, frenetic episode is basically the closest The X-Files comes to playing with a storyline and concept catered to Community, which is frankly the very best sort of mash-up possible (it also makes me deeply curious about the idea of the show recruiting Dan Harmon to write an episode, since people like Vince Gilligan don’t have the time to return). Community gets creative with its dissection of memory by putting together a “fake” clip show full of moments from adventures that the audience has never seen before. Morgan’s script does something similar by taking a number of previous X-Files episodes and memories and then it injects Reggie Something (Brian Huskey) into them. The fun here is in how Mulder and Scully—and the audience—obviously have no recollection of Reggie being apart of their past cases, which is where the sticky topic of memory begins to see examination.
This episode bases itself around the amazing reveal that Reggie was apparently not only Mulder and Scully’s former partner, but that he also started the X-Files with ol’ Foxy and Sculs’! Morgan’s episode does some inspired wok by (sloppily) editing Reggie into a bunch of old X-Files memories (including the theme song) and it makes for some pretty delicious fan service. I bet there are a whole lot of fans that would prefer Reggie’s rendition of the events from the final X-Files more than what actually happens in “The Truth.”
All of this is apparently the result of a phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect (or the Mengele Effect, depending on who you ask) where people have a tendency to collectively remember events incorrectly. It’s name stems from the idea that many people are positive that they heard that Nelson Mandela died while he was in prison during the ‘80s, when he actually died as a free man in 2013. This is a fascinating little social experiment to dissect and Morgan attempts to attack it from as many recognizable angles as possible. As much as the characters in this episode receive a lesson about the Mandela Effect, so does the audience, and that’s part of the beauty of this entry. Morgan also digs through a cornucopia of pop culture to help prove his episode’s point, like how people misremember if it’s the “Bearenstein” or “Berenstain” Bears and if that movie about a genie in a boom box is Kazaam with Shaq or Shazaam with Sinbad. These niche topics are Morgan’s bread and butter and rambling on about these things are a clear strength for the script.
Even though this episode covers a lot of ground, it’s actually an installment where there’s very little action that goes down. Instead, the episode is interested in Mulder, Scully, and Reggie getting into a debate over what exactly is going on here. Is the existential anguish that Reggie finds himself in proof of parallel universes? A hypno ray gun? Or is he just misremembering Occam’s Razor?
Most of the installment is spent in a parking garage as the three of them come up with various theories and then try to hash them all out. This might not seem very exciting, but Morgan’s winning dialogue actually turns the episode’s verbose structure into an asset. Duchovny and Anderson always seem to particularly come alive in Darin Morgan’s episodes. Maybe they’re just happier when they get to do comedic installments, but the “sleepwalking” effect that sometimes happens is never present in Morgan’s episodes. Additionally, Brian Huskey is a delight here and the perfect person for the role of Reggie. He’s got wonderful chemistry with Duchovny and Anderson and Huskey makes for a fine addition to Darin Morgan’s incorporation of comedic actors Rhys Darby and Kumail Nanjiani in his episode last season. Here’s hoping that his next entry puts someone like Jason Mantzoukas or Brett Gelman in the spotlight.
Reggie’s ramblings point Mulder and Scully in the direction of Dr. Thaddeus They, a radical doctor who nobody knows about because he’s erased all traces of himself (including his Kazaam knockoff). The episode posits that this “mad scientist” is essentially responsible for every major decision in the “free” world, Trump included. Morgan presents this absurd idea via documentary-esque footage that continues to have fun with the myth of Dr. They. This creepy man who looks a little too much like Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu has apparently erased Mulder, Scully, and Reggie’s minds of each other because they’re the only ones who are capable of stopping him.
These radical theories all broach the bigger idea that nobody knows what’s real and what’s fake news anymore. There’s no longer a “truth” to get out there because everything is so warped and why even bother when we’ll never know the facts behind it all? Collective consciousness and uncertainty is enough to forever plant seeds of doubt and let lies and misinformation fester and grow. Dr. They points out that the proliferation of the Internet makes it impossible to get to the truth of anything anymore, even without his additional brainwashing.
At this point, this is certainly the standout episode of the season, but in some ways it feels like one of Darin Morgan’s weaker entries. Granted, something like this looks a whole lot better in comparison when the rest of the condensed season is so dour and overly serious. It’s clear that Morgan’s done a ton of research for this episode and it looks like he’s had a lot of fun in the process. That being said, certain elements of this episode feel “easy” or that they’re able to coast by simply because everyone has such a fun time with the material. For instance, that gag where a young Mulder has adult Mulder’s head is a bizarre, amusing visual, but I’m not sure if it exactly “works.” At the same time, Morgan gets a little too silly with all of this and by the end of the episode his message feels a little less precise. So all of this was just a big Trump allegory in the end? The aliens build a space wall in order to keep us away from them and secure their safety? That’s the kind of conclusion that I can see Darin Morgan finding to be absolutely hilarious, but Trump is a figure that’s already come up a few times this season and he yields diminishing returns.
These minor criticisms don’t stop “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” from being a delirious, good time. It’s outrageous in the best way possible and in spite of any missteps that The X-Files may take as a whole, it’s episodes like this that continue to justify its existence. If nothing else, they act as proof that Darin Morgan deserves his own vehicle where he can turn out unpredictable, supernaturally fueled stories. Viewers shouldn’t have to wallow through melodramatic plans of colonization and genocide in order to get to gems like Mulder’s hunt for a lost episode of The Twilight Zone.
If the audience does too much of that then they’re bound to find themselves locked up in Spotnitz Sanitarium just like dear old Reg’.
“The X-Files’” 11th season will continue Wednesdays at 8pm (ET) on FOX