I’m not quite sure how I feel about this one, but it’s growing on me like a Sasquatch suit.
Spoilers beneath the cut.
I’m late with this recap, because I’ve been putting it off. I think I wanted to like this episode more than I did. I had “Weremonster”-level expectations, but the result was more…complex. I had to watch it three times to follow what was happening, and I still didn’t catch the numerous X-Files-related Easter eggs scattered throughout.
In “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat”, Mulder and Scully meet Reggie, a man with copious sweat glands and a questionable claim — a nefarious character named Dr. They has been running around on behalf of shadowy government agents altering peoples’ memories of specific events.
Notably, Reggie himself is a long-lost X-Files partner. Mulder and Scully (aka Foxy and Sculls) just don’t remember it because they’ve been brainwashed! Dun-dun-DUN!
— Caroline Moore (@sixhours) January 25, 2018
At first, Reggie’s ability to recount the intimate details of Mulder and Scully’s lives is downright spooky, and gives some credence to his claims — Scully’s fond memory of a hard-to-find gelatinous dessert called Goop-O A-B-C, and Mulder’s love of an obscure episode of The Twilight Zone that doesn’t seem to exist are the focus of Reggie’s efforts, leading him to suspect an occurrence of the Mandela effect: when large groups of people “remember” something that is factually untrue.
Reggie tries to further prove his point by sharing knowledge from their past cases, leading to a fantastic mishmash of old episodes with Reggie’s form spliced in at comical moments.
Mulder, in fine form, immediately jumps to alternative realities as an explanation, while Scully tries her damndest to rationalize away Reggie’s behavior with lots of hand-waving and eye-rolling.
— Caroline Moore (@sixhours) January 25, 2018
But it turns our Dr. They is real, and he’s not a brain-bending mad scientist; at least, not the way Reggie thinks. Dr. They is the perpetrator of a “phony fake news” website; basically, he makes shit up. His philosophy is the “truth” doesn’t matter, because people will believe just about anything if it aligns with their world view. His diatribe paints a pretty depressing picture; we live in a post-factual society, where reality can be bent and twisted to suit the needs of the powerful, and Dr. They delights in presenting alternative facts aplenty.
“I’m Fox freakin’ Mulder, you punks!”
— Fox Freakin’ Mulder, you punks.
We eventually discover that Reggie is just a disgruntled, delusional NSA employee who’s been spying on Mulder and Scully’s conversations during work time, enamored by their persistent efforts to pursue the truth in the name of the common good. Reggie is all of us — he wants to believe that people like Mulder and Scully exist in the burning trash heap that is our political climate. Unfortunately, he takes it a step too far, becoming so invested in the idea that he believes himself to be one of them.
Before Reggie is carted off in a straightjacket (at Reggie’s request), Mulder wants to know: How did their last case end? According to Reggie, they discovered the truth — more accurately, the truth was handed to them in book form by an alien on a Segway, who offered it as a consolation prize for being barred from the rest of the universe.
“So we’re not alone in the universe…but nobody likes us?”
As Mulder breaks down in an epic toddler-esque tantrum at the too-simplistic revelation that everything can be explained by a manuscript the size of a coffee-table book, Reggie pontificates about the journey being more important than the destination, and we end scene.
I’m glossing over the multitude of amusing and bizarre bits and pieces along the way –leprechaun taints and Mulder in a Sasquatch suit and all — so you really have to watch it for yourself to get the full effect. It’s a lot to take in.
The episode draws sharp parallels to what’s happening in the U.S. — aliens building a wall around Earth to keep us low-lifes out of the universe, Dr. They’s presence at a certain president’s “record-breaking” inauguration crowds, complete with MAGA hat — but as much as I chuckled, I also sighed the same big, deep, resigned sigh I’ve been sighing for over a year now.
It’s almost too true to be funny.
“Forehead Sweat” ends on a poignant note, with Mulder and Scully at home, ready to dive into a Bigfoot-print-shaped mold of Goop-O A-B-C. But Scully pauses at the last second, putting down her spoon, realizing that she can’t go back. Trying to do so would only taint (snicker) her memories.
“I want to remember how it was. I want to remember how it all was.”
It’s a perfect metaphor for how I feel about this show’s return at times. Even if they air ten more seasons, I’ll never be able to recapture the feeling of sitting down in a darkened room with a handful of my dorm-mates at 9 pm, waiting for that week’s episode to air. I’ll never be able to fully re-live the moment I first watched “Ice” or “Tooms”, or the electric buzz I got the first time Mulder and Scully brushed hands. Alas, time only moves forward, and therefore so do we.
I liked “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” more upon a second and third watch, so I think it’s one of those episodes that will grow on me. It might have been an instant favorite if the plot didn’t hit so close to home.