Spoiler alert! What follows is an obsessive breakdown of The X-Files Episode 1104, "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat." Do not read until you have watched the episode. Need to catch up? Check out our recap of last week's The X-Files.
A strange man named Reggie reaches out to Mulder. He suggests that he is being erased, and that the government is controlling how people remember things. Mulder thinks he is suffering from the Mandela Effect, in which a person or people remember things differently than the majority of the public, and despite what facts say. It is a hilarious commentary about our culture's newfound belief in "fake news." Reggie also believes that he originally started the X-Files, and has been around since the very first episode. Scully discovers that he is a mental patient who used to work for a dozen different federal agencies, including the NSA.
Darin Morgan has consistently written some of the best episodes of The X-Files of all time: "Humbug," "War of the Coprophages," "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space,'" and last season's brilliantly funny "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster." This season he brings back the weird, the silly, and the hilarious with "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat."
Interestingly, this is the most political episode so far this season, and yet it never gets preachy. Previous episodes have made offhand reference to the president hating the FBI, but it never went further than that. Tonight's episode goes way, way further. The overall theme of this week's episode, the Mandela Effect, is a phenomenon in which people remember things differently than the general public does, and in defiance of facts. (Sound familiar?) It is so named because there are people who swear that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s, instead of as a free man in 2013, which is what actually happened.
The entire episode seems to be a dig at President Trump, suggesting that he is suffering from the Mandela Effect. I believe it was the Washington Post who estimated that Trump has told an average of five untruths per day since his inauguration. This episode could be seen as being sympathetic toward Trump, giving him an excuse for his distortion of facts. The scene in which Dr. They is at the inauguration, perched atop the Washington Monument wearing a "Make America Great Again" cap, seems to suggest that he manipulated the public into believing that there were far fewer attendees. However, this feels like a sarcastic, backhanded "compliment" that shouldn't be taken as a defense at all -- particularly with some of the other scenes in this episode. For example, when Mulder complains that the world has gotten too nutty and conspiratorial for him, Scully suggests he has lost his taste for it after the "Birther movement."
Then, of course, there is Reggie's "last case" with Mulder and Scully, where they meet the alien who gives, word for word, the Trump speech where he compares Mexicans to rapists and says other countries are "not sending their best people." Instead, the alien puts humans into that horrible comparison. Perhaps this is Morgan's way of trying to show Trump supporters how that kind of talk hurts. Maybe it was his way of saying Trump represents beliefs that are alien to most Americans. Or maybe Morgan just meant it to be funny as hell.
I absolutely love how "bat-crap crazy" Reggie's memories are. I watched this episode as a screener with unfinished effects, so this might change, but in the version I saw, the inserts of Reggie into old episodes are laughably terrible -- and I hope they remain that way. It feels totally on-point with Reggie's insane worldview.
What was the deal with Dr. They? While his appearance was amusing, it didn't feel like it added anything to the plot. Was he supposed to be there to suggest that maybe, just maybe, Reggie wasn't nuts? Skinner did recognize Reggie, which would lend credence to that theory, but that could have been from one of his many, many government jobs.
Interestingly, one of the final speeches Reggie gives to Mulder and Scully in this episode seems to be a direct message to X-Philes everywhere: "Time to face it, folks -- this is the end of the X-Files. Maybe the point isn't to find the truth, but to find each other. We will always have the memories of what we did together. No one can take them away or alter them." Maybe I am reading too much into that.
The obsessive recap (complete with snark):
Mulder has been out "squatching" -- dressed like a sasquatch, hunting sasquatch -- when he sees an X on his window. But he doesn't meet Mr. X; he instead meets up with an unsuspecting man who, yes, has a lot of forehead sweat. This guy, who will later tell us his name is Reggie ... Something, knows Mulder and in a fit of mania begs Mulder to believe that they know each other, and that he has "stumbled onto the conspiracy to end all conspiracies." Mulder is about to leave when Reggie insists that he knows the first episode of The Twilight Zone Mulder ever saw, called "The Lost Martian," doesn't exist. In a panic, Mulder goes home and searches for evidence of the episode, but can't. When Scully finds him, he is maniacally looking through his old VHS tapes -- with DVDs, episode guides, and the internet all failing him. Scully is more concerned with how Reggie knew how to contact Mulder, and suggests that they discuss it over dinner. ('Shipper alert: They had plans to have dinner tonight.) Mulder is too far down the rabbit hole, so Scully goes and gets takeout.
As she is returning to her car (for some reason, parked in the FBI parking structure), Reggie finds her. More disturbing, he calls her Sculls -- and she never calls him on it! He begs her to help prove he exists and gives her a small box that has his fingerprints on it. Looking at the box, she sees it is Goop-O ABC, a gelatin dessert that sets into three different layers with three different textures.
In the office the next day, Scully relates her encounter with Reggie to Mulder, and how much she loved Goop-O as a child. Mulder can't understand how Goop-O has never been an X-File. She had been looking for Goop-O for decades, and everyone told her it was Jell-O 123 she was looking for. Mulder chalks this up to the Mandela Effect. He has already left a marker for Reggie to meet, and invites Scully to come along. ('Shipper alert: "It'll be like a date.")
The agents meet Reggie, and he reveals that he realized things were "wrong" when he found some of his childhood books. Written by a guy named Dr. Wuzzle, Reggie goes bonkers, insisting his name used to be spelled Dr. Wussle. I have to imagine that this is based on an internet conspiracy that involved the Berenstain Bears books, which I wrote about almost three years ago. Anyway, Reggie went to an antique store looking for answers, and he found nothing proving he was right -- just artwork signed by Dr. Wuzzle. The shop owner explains the Mandela Effect to Reggie, except that in his telling of the story, it is actually called the Mengele Effect (named after people remembering Josef Mengele being arrested in Ohio in the 1970s, when in reality he died in Brazil under an assumed name in 1979). The shop owner also tells him that the government knows about the Mengele/Mandela Effect, and may have a hand in spreading it. Reggie seems to think that the government decided to "silence" the shop owner, for when he went back, the shop-keep was dead, a lawn dart through his neck. Reggie doesn't mention the half-empty bottle of bourbon in the dead man's hand.
Despite this "proof," Mulder and Scully both insist this proves nothing. "They want you to think all conspiracy theories are crazy so you will ignore the ones that are true," he insists. "Take it from a fellow nut: Eventually you have to prove who 'they' is," says Mulder. But Reggie knows who "they" is: Dr. Thadeus Q. They, a neuroscientist who can manipulate collective memory. Reggie shows them a video of Dr. They, which suggests he has been involved in holocaust denials and was at the most recent presidential inauguration.
Reggie then explains the "most important part" of the video: the American invasion of Grenada. According to Reggie, he was going to medical school there when a UFO crashed and an alien was brought into the hospital. Dr. They was tasked with taking care of the alien, who said he was sent to warn them about the holes in the ozone layer. Someone would return in 35 years to see if we managed to avoid environmental catastrophe. The government showed up and took the alien. Repressed memory is where Scully draws the line, and that seems to be what Reggie is suggesting. She's out. Mulder follows her, until Reggie drops another bombshell on them. After the alien incident, he dropped out of med school, joined the FBI, and started the X-Files. "That's right! We used to be partners!"
When we return from break, we get the traditional The X-Files opening credits scene, but with "Reggie Something" added in. Reggie is also blatantly inserted into a few old episodes, including the pilot episode, "Squeeze," "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," "Home," and "Small Potatoes."
Anyway, a couple of men chase Reggie out of the parking structure, and a couple of FBI agents catch up with Mulder and Scully. The younger agents are dismissive of the two veterans. "The legend I've heard so much about would have already figured this out," he tells Mulder. "You start as a rebel. Then you get fat and the next thing you know, you are deep state. It's sad." Mulder then starts yelling at the agents like an old man yelling at kids on his lawn. "I'm Fox freaking Mulder, you punks!" Scully has to drag him away.
Back in the office, Mulder is hard at work at his conspiracy board. He gets frustrated because he can't find the hidden connections like he used to. Luckily a phone call interrupts his rant. Dr. They wants to meet him. What follows is a fun but ultimately pointless scene in which Dr. They is marketing "phony fake news," the presentation of real facts in a way that ensures no one will believe any of it.
Mulder pulls into the FBI parking structure, and Reggie is waiting for him. He wants to hear about his meeting with Dr. They. Scully appears from the shadows with all the details about Reggie. Real name: Reginal Murgatroyd. After getting his GED he joined the Army and was part of the Grenada invasion. While there, he was hit on the head with a shovel and sent to the hospital where he "claimed" he was a med student. After that, he had a series of bureaucratic jobs at various federal agencies. A great montage follows in which Reggie is working in the same nondescript cubicle. Only the age of the computer and the seal of the department he is working in changes. He went from the postal service to the IRS, SEC, and the DOJ. After 9/11 he joined the CIA (where he is waterboarding a prisoner in his cubicle), then the Department of Defense. His longest stint was at the NSA, listening to warrantless phone taps -- including Mulder and Scully's sasquatch conversation similar to the one from the start of this episode. A year ago, Reggie was committed to a mental institution.
His "ride" arrives, an old ambulance that looks suspiciously like Ecto-1. He makes the attendants put him into a straitjacket, but before he goes, Mulder can't help but ask about their last case together. And this gets hilariously bonkers.
According to Reggie, the three of them followed Mulder's "intuition" to find the alien that was coming back to check on the humans. A spaceship lands, an alien comes out (down an escalator) and announces himself as a representative of sentient beings from all known universes. He alerts them that they no longer want to have any further contact with Earthlings. He then launches into, word for word, Trump's speech about how they are building a "big, beautiful wall" and that Earth is "not sending your best people"; they are sending criminals and rapists. The alien fears that Earthlings could infect them with their lies. But, to show there are no hard feelings, the alien gives Mulder a book that is literally called "All the Answers." The alien leaves, and Mulder is upset at having all the answers just handed to him. He throws the book down and throws himself on the ground for a full temper tantrum, complete with kicking.
Returning to the here and now, Reggie assures them that they all lived happily ever after, and says his goodbyes. As his ambulance rolls away, Skinner comes into the garage and watches Reggie leave. "Where the hell are they taking Reggie?" he asks.
As dénouement, Mulder and Scully are back home. (Is it just Mulder's home still? Can I pretend they live together again?) Mulder found The Twilight Zone episode, except it wasn't The Twilight Zone -- it was a "knockoff show" called The Dusky Realm. Scully brings out her Goop-O dessert and eagerly digs in for a big spoonful. But she stops and puts it down. She would rather remember how special it was than risk discovering it doesn't live up to her hype.
Scully: "The lemon-lime [Goop-O] tasted like leprechaun taint."
Mulder: "The world has become too complicated for even my conspiratorial powers!"
Mulder, explaining the Mandela Effect: "People think they saw Shazam!, a movie with Sinbad as an irrepressible genie, when they are really thinking of Kazam! with Shaquille O'Neal as an irrepressible genie."
Scully: "What if I don't remember either movie?"
Mulder: "Then you win!!"