Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully and David Duchovny as Fox Mulder in The X-Files 11x04 "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat"

The X-Files 11×04 Review: The Lost Magic of The X-Files

The X-Files’ “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” doesn’t just have an annoyingly long title in common with Darin Morgan’s Season 10 contribution, “Mulder and Scully Meet The Weremonster,” it has Mulder going through another sentimental mid-life crisis. It has its moments, but I’m afraid it shows, in sharp relief, that The X-Files has lost its magic.

“Your Time Has Passed”

Darin Morgan has written some incredible episodes of The X-Files. “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” from Season 3 won him a well-deserved Emmy. His episodes have had solid ranking in my top 10 lists. That’s why Season 10’s “Weremonster” was so disappointing. I had high hopes.

“The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” reaffirms what I thought: The magic these silly, meta episodes once had is dead. Unfortunately, their time has passed. Searching for the elusive Truth was best at a time when it was still a noble purpose; not what it is now — a collective truth, or a subjective truth, or possibly even fake news.

It makes sense that Fox Mulder would have a mid-life crisis over this. He doesn’t really have a place in today’s murky waters of conspiracy.

Mulder: The world has become too crazy for even my conspiratorial powers.

“Forehead Sweat” achieves what last season’s “Weremonster” was unable to in the sense that it effectively portrays Mulder’s disillusionment, but the outcome is still underwhelming. And it’s a bit depressing because it really hits home that this show has taken such a damaging turn with Chris Carter in the driver’s seat that these funny, goofy episodes that poke fun at the series itself can no longer deliver. Delightful as both “Weremonster” and “Forehead Sweat” are, they don’t fit the current doom and gloom landscape of the show. “Forehead Sweat” had the potential to rank alongside Darin Morgan’s best work if we didn’t know the truth of what The X-Files had become.

Revivals are about recapturing past magic and revisiting nostalgic emotions. When an episode that examines those exact feelings fails to do that, it’s a problem. We may have the All The Answers book, but I’m left questioning whether it was a good idea to bring back The X-Files at all. Maybe in a parallel universe where Chris Carter isn’t the absolute worst, it might’ve worked; in more capable hands, it might’ve been great. But, sadly, we are in this platonic universe and everything sucks.

As the season progresses and we have decent episodes that still don’t work overall, it’s looking more and more like the entire revival was a mistake. Like Scully with her Jell-O or Goop-O: “I have such wonderful memories associated with it,” and later she doesn’t want to sully it, saying wistfully, “I want to remember how it was.”

“A Conspiracy Nut Is Right Twice A Day”

There is a lot to like about “Forehead Sweat,” and I laughed pretty steadily throughout. But, the fact that it still doesn’t sit right makes it less funny-haha and more funny-sad. Aesthetically and tonally, it feels very similar to “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” It’s tapped from the same campy vein. “Jose Chung’s” is another remarkable episode, but it worked at that time. Now that Carter has choked the life out of the series, nutty absurdity seems somewhat trite.

Darin Morgan, though, still has talent. The Mandela Effect is the perfect phenomena for Mulder and Scully to explore. Their conversations about it are heartfelt and significant — and very in-character, which is surprising because it seems to be a theme in this revival to have everyone act totally out-of-character.

“In-character” in a Darin Morgan episode is its own special treat. Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny really devour this kind of material, and it is fun to watch. “Forehead Sweat” is teeming with funny facial expressions, playful bantering, and jokes (“Taint” AGAIN!). Even though everything is a little over-the-top and wacky, Mulder and Scully are exactly how they should be in the face of such lunacy.

However, Darin Morgan still seems to be going with this break-up nonsense. It trips up the continuity of his own story, making it confusing, and corrupting that in-character-ness I was just praising. Glen Morgan, rightfully and successfully, ignored it in “This,” and I wish his brother would’ve followed suit.

The Fan Fic Effect

If the truth no longer matters, and this show that bases its identity on finding the truth is coming up with “realities” that I’d rather not contend with, then “I’m out.” There is a ton of fanfiction out there that can become my truth when we finally get to “the bitter end” of this series.

Reggie: This is the end of the X-Files. But, maybe the point wasn’t to find the truth, but to find each other. No matter where we go in our lives, we will always have the memory of our time together, and no one can take that away.

Carter and Company have really given me no choice but to strap on a fan fic fantasy straightjacket of my own making, and go willingly to Spotnitz Sanitarium where my OTP “lives happily ever after.”

These reviews are becoming exceedingly more difficult to write. Carter has made such a mess of my beloved series that I can’t even tell if I like something or not. I like this episode while simultaneously not liking it. Can I be living in two different universes at once? Like Mulder says, “I’ve lost the plot.” My existence as a fan of The X-Files is coming into question.

If this final season is like getting the book of All The Answers, then I’ll throw an existential tantrum, too. For the first time as a Phile, I don’t want to believe.

Stray Observations:

  • In many of Darin Morgan’s episodes a main character fantasizes about being loved by Scully, and that is super relatable.
  • I was right in my review of “My Struggle III” when I predicted that I wouldn’t find Mulder in a Sasquatch suit very funny.
  • Mulder buried in his stacks of VHS tapes really brought back memories of when I first got hooked on The X-Files, and I appreciate that.
  • “It’ll be like a date.” YAAASSS!
  • “Well, this is romantic.” “Isn’t it?” Yes, it is! On this stupid show, it is!
  • The Mandela Effect versus The Mengele Effect is genius. This is how I like my Darin Morgan.
  • Reggie’s redacted letter to himself is also perfect and very Darin Morgan-y.
  • The a capella X-Files theme, though. I kinda want it as a ringtone.
  • Let’s throw “sugar boobs” into the bonfire when we burn all the My Struggles from existence.
  • Knowing what we know from the final minutes of “My Struggle III,” it was in poor taste to use a clip from “Home” — and from “Small Potatoes,” for that matter.
  • Scullz and Foxy.
  • I like the bureaucratic jobs montage. Water-boarding in a cubicle. That’s pretty funny.
  • This Elvis alien bringing the savage Trump shade. Feel free to come abduct me anytime.
  • “Bing bing bong bong bing.”
  • It ends with Scully making Jell-O in THEIR home in Mulder’s Bigfoot impression…and an offscreen kiss.

The X-Files airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on FOX.

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this is a random mix of whatever. some book, tv, and movie reviews. reviewing all episodes of the x-files, slowly but surely. thanks for visiting!

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