At the core of THE X-FILES, there was always just enough reality to make the series’ entire world of government conspiracies, alien abductions, flukemen, and various other monsters seem not so far-fetched. Although it was wrapped up in an obvious madman’s rantings — and, for once, that madman was not Fox Mulder — the same could be said of Darin Morgan’s “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat.” When Reggie Something visited the FBI’s Most Unwanted and presented to them the possibility of an alternate reality, which “They” removed from our memories and replaced with what we now see as reality, THE X-FILES took viewers on a humorous ride that made even Mulder himself a little bit unwilling to believe…
But with just enough references to the real world’s sad state of affairs, with a government actually seeking to control facts, how far out there was Reggie’s personal truth?
Squatchin’, missed dinners, and something about goop. THE X-FILES started with a black-and-white episode of some knockoff sci-fi series, in which a man was convinced the aliens had taken over…yet nobody believed him. Maybe that was because the man himself was an alien; and so was everyone else. Given the many references to Mulder’s “first TWILIGHT ZONE episode,” which turned out to actually be a story from some forgotten relic called THE DUSKY REALM, one can only assume that this clip came from our wayward hero’s life-changing show. Regardless, it was the perfect setup for “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” as a whole, an episode in which all of our main characters found their known realities turned upside down.
One might even say that Mulder’s own life’s work was the exact sort of screaming into the void that the main character in “The Lost Martian” had experienced; and, of course, if one were to go that far, the same could be said for Scully and her insatiable need to prove the science behind every case she’d investigated on The X-Files, including her own.
Regardless of whether or not we’d like to find some sort of allegorical meaning behind Fox Mulder’s first episode of whichever series it was, Mulder himself was certainly going through a certain crisis of reality as THE X-FILES’ latest episode opened. And so, as Agent Spooky does, he ditched Mrs. Spooky all day, failing to return her calls, only to go off in search of his latest monster: Sasquatch. But Mulder’s “Squatchin’,” as he called it, wasn’t what it seemed on the surface. He might have been out in full camouflage all day, searching for Bigfoot — but he didn’t really expect to find anything.
In one of the formerly rare, yet increasingly common in THE X-FILES’ final episodes, moments of openness, Fox Mulder admitted to Dana Scully that he simply needed a mental health day: “I just had to get away from the madness for a little while. It seems this past year, all I’ve done is watch the news and worry that the country’s gone insane.”
First off: Same, Foxy. Same. Second, let’s just take a moment to appreciate how fitting it is that Mulder’s idea of getting away from our increasingly disturbing reality is going on a monster hunt. Now, that’s how we love our X-FILES.
And speaking of love and THE X-FILES: Scully’s reason for calling (other than simply worrying about her partner and, you know, wanting to hear his voice) was to make sure that they were still on for their dinner date the following night. Fox assured Dana that dinner was still a go before launching into the fond memory of his first Bigfoot sighting, which his partner had heard far too many times over the past twenty-five years. When Mulder wouldn’t stop Muldering on about the story, even after having been interrupted to be told that Scully didn’t need to hear it again, she ended the call. (We love totally-done Scully!)
And that wasn’t the only connection that was cut. Dinner, sadly, was put on hold. Mulder met a sweaty, crazy man in a parking garage, learned that his favorite TWILIGHT ZONE episode never existed, and then had to obsessively search his old VHS collection for proof that he wasn’t wrong all along. So, rather than taking his lady out for some fine dining, Mulder gave an unhinged recap of the meeting, complete with the full story on when he’d first seen the lost episode in question. He even passionately explained that it wasn’t the episode itself that mattered; it was the memory of seeing it and the massive effect that all of that alien science fiction had on his outlook on life.
And this was all while poor Scully (im)patiently waited for some grub.
When Mulder didn’t take the (at least 900) hints that Scully was starving and just wanted a night out — hints that included her trademark skeptical looks, arms crossed over the chest, and even outright asking if they could just talk over dinner — she jetted…only to have her own run-in with Mulder’s mysterious informant. This time, it was Scully’s beloved Goop-O A-B-C, which nobody but Dana Katherine seemed to remember, that planted the seeds of…something. Doubt? Not likely, given Scully’s utter bafflement at the man’s, well, everything.
The next day, back at the office, Mulder wanted to hear all about Scully’s encounter. Then, he just had to impress the girl across the desk with his random factoids about the so-called “Mandela Effect.” This whole gratuitous display of useless knowledge was totally his way of building up to asking Scully out on a date. Was it to make up for dinner? Not in any sane reality, no. But this is THE X-FILES, and these characters are Mulder and Scully. Their reality is not our reality. So, yes: Meeting with an informant in an abandoned parking garage is absolutely a hot date. Just check out the flirty looks between the two agents, complete with Scully’s coy hinting that she wanted an invite in the first place, for verification.
What’s the Truth, and does anybody even care? Mulder and Scully’s hot date in the parking deck got them the full (seemingly insane) story from their informant. “Reggie Something” explained all about how he’d found his Mr. Wuzzle books mixed in with his mom’s stuff, but the name was spelled differently than how he remembered it. This sent him on an investigation to a memorabilia (junk) shop, where he learned that this type of misremembering of childhood favorites had been happening to people with increasing frequency. It was, as he called it, the Mengele Effect.
Or, in the alternate reality of THE X-FILES, we were back to Mulder’s Mandela Effect.
Arguments ensued; Mulder gave up the possibility of alternate universes, which Scully the Serious Scientist shot down. Reggie Something’s personal truth, which involved memories that “They” had created after erasing old ones, all as part of some government-alien-nonsense cover-up…Well, it definitely made one Fox Mulder seem like the sanest person on the planet.
Mulder finally explained that, as “a fellow nut,” Reggie needed to clarify who “They” were, but it turned out that “They” was actually a Dr. They, who had been tasked with manipulating astronauts’ memories for the space program. But then Dr. They started mixing up other realities…and even attended the 45th president’s packed inauguration, all while sporting his MAGA hat. Yes, this is all bizarre. No, it’s not pointless.
Once Reggie started discussing They’s involvement with aliens, Scully finally met her breaking point and was all, “I’m sorry. I’m out” after symbolically wiping her hands of the whole conversation. No, that’s not sassy paraphrasing — those were actual lines. “I’m sorry. I’m out.” Amazing. Totally Done Dana strikes again, with beautiful everything.
Mulder was also “out,” which was surprising, given his glee at hearing anything that might prove he was right about the aliens. The agents were, however, stopped dead in their tracks when Reggie talked about how he dropped out of medical school and joined the FBI before he and Mulder started The X-Files. The history of THE X-FILES was rewritten through Reggie’s eyes, complete with a slightly-altered theme, new opening credits that featured the agents’ names, and the type of sexist “sugar boobs” crap that would’ve been more the norm when a wide-eyed Dana Scully first entered a certain basement office than the actual respect she received from moment one.
For all of Scully’s ability to fit in at the FBI’s boys’ club, THE X-FILES has always had a certain underlying disrespect for her and additional female characters, though, so we again have a case of Reggie’s reality not being quite as off-kilter as it may seem on the surface.
Just as Fox Freakin’ Mulder was about to give up on putting the case’s pieces together, “They” called him. While Scully was busy back at the office, unraveling the real, sad truth behind Reggie’s past, Mulder was off being chastised for being unable to find Dr. They in all of his lifelong searching for the Truth. Dr. They bragged about the fact that he could tell Mulder everything now because nobody cared for the truth anymore; and even those who did were no longer able to believe it when they saw it. He even brought up real-world instances of men claiming their words were “taken out of context” when caught on tape, as well as the “post-cover-up, post-conspiracy age” that we all live in.
And let’s not forget that “They” created “Phony Fake News: It’s a presentation of real facts but in a way that assures no one will believe any of it.”
Stranger than fiction. So, whether Reggie’s story of having worked with Agents Mulder and Scully was true or not didn’t matter. Even his story of their last case together, when Scully “finally” saw an alien and Mulder was handed “ALL THE ANSWERS,” was fake, Reggie still managed to point them in the direction of one of our biggest truths. Sometimes, that beloved treat from your childhood isn’t actually the Goop-O A-B-C that you remembered it to be; it’s Jello-O 1-23. And sometimes, THE TWILIGHT ZONE is actually some other science fiction series.
But our truths are what make us, and reality is a constantly shifting, complex thing that we have to desperately hold on to, lest it be ripped out from under us by those whom would control us. That, sadly, is true. We’re living in a world that is insane, and the sane ones among us seem to be crazy. But the best that we can do is try to remember those things that shaped us and do everything possible to keep our grip on reality, even in a world where there’s a concerted effort to strip it away. And maybe sometimes, it’s best to leave those beloved memories lie, rather than digging through the past in some effort to make sense of them, only to find out that what we believed was never the truth.
Sometimes, too, you don’t find the Truth that you set out to find. Fox Mulder certainly never has managed to get there; but just like when THE X-FILES drew to what was supposed to have been its conclusion, yet ultimately wasn’t, he and Scully have found their own Truth along the way: each other. “The Truth we both know” seems to come to mind. That was so long ago, and THE X-FILES’ creator Chris Carter has re-written the series’ history so many times, though, that it may, at times, seem as if that Truth was never real. But the one constant (the one touchstone!) between Reggie’s world and ours was that Mulder and Scully were together, wading through lies and darkness, flashlights in hand, in their unending search for Truth.
And that Truth is simply this: “It’s time to face the facts, guys. This is the end of The X-Files. But maybe the point wasn’t to find the Truth. It was to find each other.” Forget the fact that Reggie and Scully made googly-eyes at one another as a collapsed Mulder pouted about his answers. We all know who the real “each other” was.
And so does Dana Scully.
As “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” closed out, it finally seemed as if Mulder and Scully were getting a chance at that missed dinner date. Instead of actual dinner, it was a homemade Bigfoot mold of Goop-O. After all of that anticipation, however, Scully simply wanted to leave her memories as they had been. “I want to remember how it was. I want to remember how it all was.”We don’t stare at one another after that kind of line, with that kind of tension between us, if “it all” only refers to some childhood treats. The reality is so much more.
- Just let Scully get her dinner already! Mulder should know by now that a hungry Scully is an agitated Scully. (And don’t try to waste her time with light cream cheese, either.)
- No, Reggie. Mulder didn’t stand Scully up again. She’s just grabbing some takeout so she doesn’t actually starve to death while he works his rambling out of his system. She’s taking that massive bag of food home to him, though. Promise.
- I really could have done without all of the Mengele talk. There are so many other names that could’ve been used as an alternative to Mulder’s Mandela Effect…and really, we don’t need to give the modern-day equivalents of Mengele’s party any ideas.
- The “AMERICA FIRST” and swastika poster with “BROTHER’S IN ARMS?” on the bottom was far too on the nose. And while we’re on things found in that shop, how did the “YOU CAN’T LICK OUR DICK” poster manage to make it into FOX?
- Also too on the nose: The Trumplieum. (That’s Trump plus alieum, for those of you who don’t go around making words up for fun.) “You’re free to explore Uranus all you want, but we can’t allow your kind to infiltrate the rest of the cosmos. You’re not sending us your best people. You’re bringing drugs. You’re bringing crime. You’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people; but we have no choice. Believe me. For, although the rest of the galaxies all have their share of these same problems, we fear you could infect us with the one trait that is unique to earthlings: you lie.”
- “We’re not going to do this parallel universe, sci-fi gobbeldy-gook, nerd boy.” Scully’s not a fan of people calling her man “nerd boy.” That look was not remotely friendly in any reality.
- “Well, this is romantic.” Baby, you know it!
- “Confuse THE TWILIGHT ZONE with THE OUTER LIMITS?! DO YOU EVEN KNOW ME?!!!” She does. Very well. Also: Fandom knows this incredulity very well. We don’t mix up our favorite series with others!
- Don’t call her “Sculls.” Ever. I guess I can’t say not to call him “Foxy,” though, since I do it all the time. I mean, it’s a little bit too easy, especially since season 11 Mulder is particularly, well…that.
- “It’s true, Scully. I’ve lost the plot!” Mulder must have watched “My Struggle III.”
- But he’s Fox Freakin’ Mulder (you punks), so he’ll find a way to make sense of everything — in his own way.
- “Just the cherry flavor. I mean, the lemon-lime flavor tastes like leprechaun taint.” That’s the second time this season that THE X-FILES has involved both Mulder claiming Scully’s food to be an X-File and the mention of taint. Dana Scully has a dirty mouth, and Fox Mulder likes it. That’s my reality, and I’m sticking to it.
The next all-new episode of THE X-FILES airs on Wednesday, January 31, at 8/7c on FOX.