WARNING: This review contains spoilers!
You never know what to expect when Darin Morgan pens a new episode of The X-Files. The acclaimed writer responsible for some of the weirdest (and funniest) X-Files episodes, Morgan has never been one for diminishing returns. How appropriate then that The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat, his latest foray into the world of Mulder & Scully, deals heavily with themes of nostalgia, cheating memories and the Mandela Effect.
Exploring the Mandela Effect, an internet phenomenon in which a large number of people share false memories of past events, the episode uses said-phenomenon to its full comedic effect, as Mulder and Scully encounter a strange individual called Reggie (played by Brian Huskey), who claims to have worked with Mulder and Scully on their investigations for years. As with most Morgan scripts, the tone is wildly off-kilter, at times verging on self-parody.
The episode treads a similar narrative to Morgan‘s 2016 episode Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster – long scenes of talking peppered with random flashbacks and insane non-sequiturs (not to mention lots of Easter Eggs and callbacks to past episodes for fans to spot). Like Were-Monster, Forehead Sweat has a deeper meaning for both the characters and the fans, with a strong emphasis on the power of nostalgia and how past glories can actually be better or worse then you remember. At times, it feels like Morgan is literally writing an argument against these new episodes of The X-Files, so damning is the final line from Scully about “wanting to remember how it all was”.
Great as the episode is, it’s never quite as clever or as funny as it thinks it is, though there are genuine moments of hilarity throughout (the scenes of Reggie inserted into past episodes, the Twilight Zone parodies, death by Lawn Dart, “I’m Fox freakin’ Mulder, you punks!”). David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are on fine comedic form, delivering every line with superb deadpan wit, whilst the aforementioned Huskey brings a great degree of charm and comedic presence to his role – especially in his willingness to go full throttle with the more absurd aspects of the script.
Where the episode loses some of its power is in the blindingly obvious anti-Trump sentiment. The quote-unquote villain of the piece, Dr. They (Stuart Margolin) gives a long old speech on how people just believe what they want to believe in this age of alternate facts and fake news, whilst the episode ends with an alien who talks like Donald Trump speaking a load of fluff about ‘many fine people’ and the building of walls. All subtlety goes out of the window here, and whilst it’s nice to see The X-Files try and tackle such relevant political themes, the gags are so painfully obvious and in-your-face that they remain pretty ineffective and dull.
The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat is a somewhat diminished return to the show for Darin Morgan, though strangely this final result is at least in keeping with the central theme of the episode (perhaps not intentionally). Small missteps and niggles aside though, it’s still a solid comedy outing for the show, one that isn’t ashamed to go into full-on silly territory, bolstered by excellent performances and bold directorial choices. The memory may well indeed cheat, but for this latest X-Files outing, it will certainly stick around in your hippocampus for some time to come.
The X-Files returns next week at 9pm on Channel 5, as does our series blog. Be sure to check out our review.