Gillian AndersonDavid DuchovnyMitch PileggiDarin Morgan
The X-Files Season 11 ep.4: The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat
Medium: TV
Year: 2018
Writer/director: Darin Morgan
Keywords: The X-Files, SF, favourite
Actor: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, Brian Huskey, Bill Dow, Stuart Margolin, Dan Zukovic, Keith Arbuthnot, Alex Diakun, Susan Wright, Antonio Cayonne, Wolsey Brooks, Ryan Hesp, Shane Dean, Charles Andre
Format: 43 minutes
Url: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lost_Art_of_Forehead_Sweat
Website category: SF
Review date: 24 June 2020
I laughed and laughed, but it's all but destroying the show. Darin Morgan's pretty much breaking the X-Files over his knee and backstabbing in the pieces. That said, though, it's also one of the show's best episodes. It's saying things you'll have been waiting to hear for years.
A bloke called Reggie is hiding in an underground car park from "them". He wants to tell Mulder about the conspiracy to end all conspiracies. In other words, it's more of the usual... except that this time the episode's aware of how silly it is. It's genre-savvy. When discussing possible explanations, Mulder suggests parallel universes and gets shot down. "That crap gives me a headache."
Similarly, Reggie keeps explaining that "they" are following him and that "they" secretly control everything. As one crackpot to another, Mulder challenges this, although he might as well have been saying it to Chris Carter. "At some point, you're going to have to explain who 'they' are."
Mulder even meets "they". His name's "Dr They". (Meanwhile, Reggie's surname is Somebody.)
The episode is full of all different kinds of jokes. So many layers of absurdity, so many targets. The Trump administration's one of them. It's funny, but there's also something hard underneath. We can see that, but we're still laughing anyway. The world's trumped Mulder's conspiracy craziness by becoming even crazier, you see. "Birther stuff." "Believe what you want to believe. That's what everyone does now anyway." "The public no longer knows what's meant by the truth."
Mulder watches a lost episode of The Twilight Zone, which ultimately provides the episode's best visual gag. It's plonking goofy 1950s aliens into X-Files alien conspiracies.
We see Reggie's work history. He was asleep at the Securities Exchange Commission. He did some casual waterboarding with the CIA. He sent Department of Defence drones to blow up terrorists... usually. "Is that a wedding cake? Dammit, not again!"
We're reunited with Darin Morgan's weirder, funnier Mulder. Duchovny's tantrum just about killed me.
Oh, and there's an outdoors scene shot among weird laughing statues. This is real. It's called A-maze-ing Laughter and it's unmistakably, unambiguously in Vancouver. The X-Files was usually shot there, but in a "no, we're not really Vancouver" that was pretending to be America. Here, not so much.
It destroys the X-Files, but I loved it. Then, after reducing everything to rubble...
Skinner: "Hey, where are they taking Reggie?"
For what it's worth, Season 5 had a prequel episode set in 1989 ("Unusual Suspects") in which Mulder talks to a Reg on his phone. You can also glimpse Reggie's FBI ID in "This", two episodes ago.
So, was it all true after all?
Playing devil's advocate, for once might Darin Morgan have got too clever and meta? Some people had that reaction to Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster, which is nothing compared with this. At least people died in that one. I've no idea how this episode played with casual viewers. It's a flat-out pisstake. But it's also brilliant.