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TV Review: The X-Files (Season 11, Episode 4)

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The initial advent of the internet and its boom in the 1990s made for some interesting X-Files episodes. From the pre-Tinder dating sites featured in season three’s ‘2Shy’ to the Lone Gunmen hacking into the Defence Department’s computer network in season five’s ‘Unusual Suspects’. 

To see a series so affected by the sudden growth in technology re-emerge twenty or so years later makes for some fascinating evolution, and ‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat’ is a fantastic example of this.

Written by X-Files legend Darin Morgan, ‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat’ plummets both Mulder, Scully and the audience into a realm of existential crisis. Sauntering around a dinner date that never fully happens (eventually the duo digs into some Jell-O in a Sasquatch ‘foot’ mould), Mulder is contacted by the mysterious Reggie ‘Something’; a man who believes he is being erased from the world’s collective memory due to his knowledge of a governmental conspiracy behind the Mandala Effect, or as he calls it, the ‘Mengele effect’.

Surrounding the ambiguous narrative and continuously mind-numbing theories presented is Mulder slowly falling into a bout of manic depression over one of his favourite Twilight Zone episodes falling victim to the Mandela Effect. From being surrounded by DVDs, videotapes and episode guides to trying to connect all the theories presented together, Mulder’s obsessions surrounding finding answers certainly demonstrates life imitating art of die-hard X-Files fans (yes, myself included) trying to piece the mythology together.

We don’t just feel for Mulder either -  both Mulder and Scully spend the entire episode reminiscing about certain aspects of their childhood. The gleeful excitement that Scully has for her beloved Jell-O is contagious, and even if Mulder’s flashbacks included an image of Duchovny’s 57-year-old head morphed onto an eight-year-old head (which I’d rather forget), the elation is contagious. 

What is also contagious is the innate paranoia this episode creates. Morgan may be a pro at combining goofy comedy with dramatic elements, but there’s something about combining a recent and well-known theory into the confines of a show like The X-Files, where theories thrive and can be explored, no matter how farfetched it may seem. In this case, that the Mandela/Mengele effect was curated by a strange scientist named Dr. They, who has the ability to change collective and specific memories of the American public.

Morgan really flourishes off the whole Twilight Zone set up of the episode, combining a painstakingly confusing narrative with exaggerated performances, leaving the audience to wonder whether what they are seeing is actually happening. Which is the whole point of the episode, really. To have that doubt regarding the truth and the need for answers, and that when we get those answers, the thrill of it all is lost.

Even though the sequence in which Mulder is given ‘all the answers’ is a fantasy (or is it), and his overdramatized reaction is ultimately what we’d all be like. What else is there to find out after that? And where would The X-Files fit in a world where the truth has been answered?

Parallel universes, fake news and a world where Dr. Thing explains how ‘they want you to think all conspiracies are nutty, so you’ll ignore the ones that are true’ is pretty terrifying. If that sentence - or the episode as a whole - does not lull you into the depths of an existential crisis or into creating a pin-board such as Mulder, then I don’t know what will.

‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat' and its multitude of posed questions (and ultimately strange answers) is where a theory such as The Mandala Effect fully comes into play; we’re reaching a point in humanity where we no longer care – or know – the truth or lies, that we have decided to cling onto false truths from our past to feel a weird sense of safety?

Both Mulder and Scully’s experiences with the effect include aspects of their childhood they found comforting, and it’s the same for those stuck on the case of the Berenstein/Berenstain bears or the void that is 1994 in which Shazaam! Starring Sinbad did or did not come out in theatres across America.

As Scully says when she decides to not to taste the Jell-O she so fondly remembers, ‘I wanna remember how it was. I wanna remember how it all was.’ And we all know that the last line has some Mulder/Scully connotations to it … I think I’ve got some Jell-O in my eye.

Overall, 'The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat' completes this seasons' quota as the 'funny' episode, but also provides a deep (maybe too deep) analysis into the depths of Internet memes, conspiracy theories and the idea that one day a Trump-esque alien will visit Earth and ban us from the rest of the cosmos for our inability, to tell the truth. 

Sounds about right. 

The X-Files airs on Mondays at 9pm on Channel 5. 




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