The X-Files 11×04 went down a rabbit hole filled with paranoid delusions, false (true?) memories, nostalgia, and led to what is possibly the largest conspiracy in human history (or is it?)
With vast government conspiracies, alien plots, and evil old men with god complexes who want to destroy the world, The X-Files can sometimes get caught up in being overly serious. “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” set to correct that with an hour of increasingly unhinged scenarios up to and including humanity being banned from the rest of the universe due to constantly lying. After a relaxing evening of Bigfoot hunting (squatchin’!) to escape the madness of the world, Mulder (David Duchovny) received a phone call from a man who claimed to forget his own identity. Reggie (Brian Huskey) claimed to be a victim of memory alteration by Dr. They (Stuart Margolin). When Mulder mostly dismissed Reggie’s claims as crazy, Reggie decided to pull Scully (Gillian Anderson) into his paranoid delusions by having her question the name of a gelatin dessert from her childhood.
From there, the three continued to fall down Reggie’s rabbit hole of paranoid and increasingly insane explanations for his incorrect memories. Reggie founded the X-Files and was originally Mulder and Scully’s partner. Mulder suggested Reggie was from a parallel universe and came face-to-face with the man claiming to be Dr. They. It all ended with Reggie literally being dragged away in a straightjacket. The Twilight Zone-like twist involved Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) asking Mulder and Scully where Reggie was being brought off to, suggesting that he recognized him despite the duo having no prior memory of him.
RELATED | The X-Files Roundtable 11×03 “Plus One”
“The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” had all the makings of a standard episode of The X-Files but with a heavy dose of self-awareness, self-deprecation, and over-the-top conspiracies and explanations. Everything from the creation of the X-Files to humanity’s first contact with aliens to “hundreds of millions” of people being present during the U.S. presidential inauguration found its way into the episode.
While the episode made fun of various conspiracies and the absurdities of the current presidential administration, it also cleverly played with the Mandela effect (or the Mengele effect according to Reggie) by altering previous episodes of The X-Files. It injected Reggie into scenes from the show’s earlier seasons (complete with an a cappella version of the opening theme) and by having Mulder and Scully question their memories of events, products, and even episodes of The Twilight Zone. The episode also played with the concept of nostalgia and the way we selectively remember things in a more positive light.
So many over-the-top things happened in “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” that it’s difficult to know where to begin talking about it. But let’s meet this week’s roundtable guests and see where the conversation goes!
Briana (@sassy_scully) – PR student. Lover of cheese, bacon and all things Scully.
Anaka (@YngBloodRusher) – Student, animal lover, music/TV/movie nerd.
Soledad (@Solecalvo1) – Physical therapist, sci-fi nerd, X-Files fan for 20 years, smart is sexy.
Vicky (@MrsWilliams1704) – Lifelong X-Files fan, who would sit and discuss the show constantly given half a chance.
Gigi (@trilliaventuras) – Mom to triplets. Passionate, my glass is either full or not there at all. Sci-fi nerd since before it was cool. Fangirl extraordinaire.
1. This episode played around a lot with the concept of false memories. Do you have any memories of events, products, or people that you were convinced were true but later found out were incorrect?
Briana (@sassy_scully): Yes. For example, I once was 100% sure that my friend disliked an actress, and it turns out she actually loves her.
Anaka (@YngBloodRusher): The only one I can think of is more like déjà vu. That song “7 Years” by Lukas Graham, when I first heard it on the radio I was like, “Wow, haven’t heard this song for a few years!” Then it came to my attention that the song was actually released a few months earlier. But I swear I heard that song before when I was younger. I’ve looked for other versions or songs similar to it but as of right now I’ve had no luck!
Soledad (@Solecalvo1): I don’t have false memories, at least not that I recall of. What I do have is early childhood memories that I don’t know if they were real or dreamed. For instance, I have this vivid memory when I was in the first grade of seeing my French teacher over a balcony of a guest house that looked into the school backyard, and later I found out it wasn’t real.
Vicky (@MrsWilliams1704): Yes! I am absolutely convinced that in Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter says “Hello Clarice” on his first meeting with her. Convinced. But apparently, I’m wrong! How? I can see the scene in my head and hear Hannibal saying it. I spent hours on the internet last night, much like Mulder did with his Twilight Zone episode, trying to find proof that he says it. And HE DOESN’T SAY IT. But thousands upon thousands of people believe that did say it. I’m still not convinced he doesn’t, to be honest. I can feel another viewing of that movie coming on, just to prove myself right…
Gigi (@trilliaventuras): I’m still not convinced my memory is the wrong one! But, when I Want To Believe came out I had baby triplets at home and going to the movies to see it felt impossible. Then one night my husband came home with surprise tickets and he had even called my mother to take care of the babies. He doesn’t remember it quite like that. According to him, I whined about it for weeks and he caved. I like my memory much, much better.
2. Dr. They appeared to exist in some form if we can believe the scene showing Mulder meeting him. Do you have any theories about who he actually is? What were his goals beyond obscuring the truth?
Briana: I’m thinking maybe he’s another patient at Reggie’s mental institution and that’s where they met, and, through the power of suggestion, he created this whole universe that Reggie talks about.
Anaka: Honestly, I’m kind of lost on the who he is thing. But I think I’m going with Mulder’s theory that he’s some kind of non-human being who lives in a parallel universe and just likes to mess our stuff up and confuse us for no reason — or to please the government.
Soledad: I think Dr. “They” represented the always blurring figure of conspirators. People without an actual face that we suppose they control our lives by manipulating the facts. His conversation with Mulder is very interesting because it comments on the fact that today, the problem is not gaining information (or finding secrets) but actually having the ability to recognize the truth in a sea full of misinformation and fake news. With so many transparency policies, the only way to keep something secret it’s by spreading misinformation to make the truth unbelievable. This is a clear comment on the U.S. political situation and the loss of its credibility by the American people.
Vicky: As they say throughout the episode, those who control the past, control the future and what better way to control the general population by spreading disinformation and fake news to obscure that truth? For me, Dr. They was a disgraced doctor who found a way to erase or alter people’s memories and the government is using him to create their own version of history. What better way to win a silent war than by changing history to suit the victor’s needs? But then again, to quote another Darin Morgan character, Clyde Bruckman, how the hell should I know?
Gigi: This whole episode is from the extremely unreliable narrator point of view. Even Mulder, who is never wrong about these things, turned out being wrong about an important event in his life. To me Dr. They is an amalgamation of everything that’s ever gone wrong and kept Mulder and Scully from obtaining hard, cold evidence of whatever case they were investigating.
3. “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” was loaded with references to conspiracy theories, previous episodes, and even other shows (e.g., Reggie is effectively the man in the very first episode of the original The Twilight Zone). What were your favorite references?
Briana: I’m not sure this counts as a reference, but the whole explanation of the Mandela effect was actually pretty funny because I would have expected Mulder to explain the most well-known example (Star Wars’ “Luke, I am your father”), but obviously for copyright issues he couldn’t.
Anaka: Oh boy, I REALLY loved it when they showed the montage of scenes from the original episodes but Photoshopped Reggie into them. I couldn’t stop laughing. It’s always great seeing scenes from the old episodes in the new ones, but the Reggie twist just made it 10x better!
Soledad: I think the best references for me were the ones about the show itself, or the perception of how it was back in the day. Like Mulder’s reflection over Deep Throat’s grave about the past being a simpler time, we tend to remember the show with nostalgia and forget that for every brilliant episode there was another who wasn’t as good as we remembered like the one about killer cats.
Vicky: I loved the montage of all the old episodes where Reggie was involved and it’s made me want to do a full series rewatch. Again. I really enjoyed how the Mandela effect was in itself a Mandela effect because Reggie said it was known by another name. I loved how Darin Morgan was implying that the Mandela effect was actually a government creation to prevent people from learning The Truth. I loved how they brought back actors like Alex Diakun and Bill Dow (who played the superb Chuck Burks in the original run). Loved the Ghostbusters car at the end, loved the Spotnitz Sanguinarium, loved all the Easter eggs… it was just such a clever episode. Can you tell I loved it?
Gigi: One of the things I love about Darin Morgan, he always tips his hat to the fans. He knows we’ve been here for so long and he acknowledges that. I loved the call back to old scenes (from “Pilot!”), the meetings in darkened parking garages and generally the B-movie feel of it all. Hey, I was the girl who stayed up way past her bedtime watching old horror movies in black and white!
4. Several different explanations were given for who Reggie is. Is he simply a man that was hit over the head with a shovel and suffered from delusions and false memories as Scully discovered? Or was something more complicated actually happening? What’s your working theory for who he is?
Briana: I’m leaning towards him being an escapee from a mental institution, and, while I know that doesn’t explain why Skinner asks about him later, I’ve gotten used to not having full answers, and contradicting scenes on this show.
Anaka: Hmmm, I don’t know. I think that his background is kinda a mix between all of the different stories. Like maybe he was working for the FBI or government but then got fired and got hit by a shovel. Or maybe he was a doctor who witnessed the alien being taken, but then maybe that was traumatic for him and caused him to go crazy. Who knows?
Soledad: He is the Fool on a Hill. A guy who can be taken as delusional at first glance but actually has everything figured out. His recollections of the truth were accurate metaphors of the present situation. It’s like his brain was trying to escape the reality of our current reality as a form of denial and make his own version of reality that contained traits of the truth (sort of what happens on the movie Pan’s Labyrinth). Reggie tapped Mulder and Scully’s conversations, got to know them and eventually wanted to escape and be part of their story, much as fans sometimes like to write fanfic and shape Mulder and Scully and the show into their own visions and accept them as their reality (head canons). In a sense, we also like turn on our TVs and escape into Mulder and Scully’s reality to avoid this one.
Vicky: For me, Reggie was a lunatic. Sorry, but he was. He worked in various positions of powers and had the ability to spy on people in different capacities. It was shown that he had listened in on Mulder’s call to Scully after he’d been squatchin’ so the way I see it is, his mental illness made him target Mulder and Scully (Sculls). And we know the X-Files were digitised, so he only had to hack into them to get all kinds of information about them and their work. He was clearly nuts enough to imply he worked with them and mess with their heads like he did. This is why I love Darin Morgan episodes. They never fail to make you think.
Gigi: I’m siding with Sculls on this one! Perception of reality can only be taken so far and if it’s not parallel universes, I just think it happened the way she says. He was hit over the head with a shovel and made up this entire fantasy world with bits and pieces gathered from his many, many, and I’m gonna guess menial, jobs. It also works better with my head canon, that while under surveillance, at some point, Mulder called Scully “Sculls” and she called him “Foxy.”
5. The alien in Reggie’s recollection of his last case with Mulder and Scully listed several human traits that were being used to ban humanity from the rest of the universe. If aliens exist, do you think the traits Reggie’s alien listed would cause them to reject our species? Should they reject us for those reasons?
Briana: That was the funniest scene. I fully expect that, if any alien race is out there studying us, that is exactly what they think. And I applaud it.
Anaka: I’m torn. One side says they should reject us ’cause, to be honest, people aren’t all that great. But the other side of me thinks about all the wonderful and amazing things that people can also do. I think overall we’d be worth visiting. But maybe for short amounts of time or only if the world really needed alien assistance.
Soledad: I think that whole speech was a metaphor about the current U.S. immigration policies in the hands of President Trump. In that sense, humans were treated as inferior species who weren’t welcomed by aliens to even make contact. I think the human species is on the low scale of spiritual evolution because our human frailties are too many and cloud our judgment to see the world as one. We are like intolerant, greedy little children who want to possess all the candy and not share it with the rest of the class (also, it adds to “My Struggle III” and “This” notion that the aliens are not interested in reclaiming the planet we’re currently destroying). I think aliens wouldn’t reject us but rather take pity on us, or worse, not take any interest in us at all.
Vicky: I completely agree with the alien at the end. Humans as a species are dangerous, despite our intelligence. We don’t use our intelligence wisely and so we lie, cheat and kill to get our own way. Obviously not everyone kills, but you get my point. But, if those traits ARE contagious, why shouldn’t we be prevented from spreading that infection throughout the galaxy and universe? I wouldn’t blame the superior beings that inhabit our universe for wanting nothing to do with us. We’re clearly insane!
Gigi: The biggest fault the alien accused us of was lying, which is also the most human of traits. Lying, outright lying, not deception or bluffing, requires self-awareness, knowledge and intent. It can’t just be a learned behavior. To lie effectively we need to know something the other doesn’t and we need to know he doesn’t know it, too. So, no, they should love us for that, not reject us. It shows we are more than just a product of evolution. We are conscious of ourselves and have a rich and developed collective unconscious.
6. Reggie appeared to be a man suffering from some form of mental illness. However, Skinner appeared at the end of the episode and wanted to know where Reggie was being taken. Assuming our memories of the scene are correct and haven’t been altered, how would you explain Skinner’s comment?
Briana: Like I said before, I’ve gotten used to not having a full explanation for everything that happens on this show. I guess one theory could be that maybe Reggie got to Skinner first? And Skinner actually believed him?
Anaka: I think Reggie really did work at the FBI, just not on the X-Files. Skinner probably knew him from the time Reggie was doing mail or security or such. That’s the only explanation I think makes sense.
Soledad: I think it was meant as a punch line but maybe Skinner knew Reggie from the CIA while he was tapping Mulder and Scully’s conversations. Let’s remember we still don’t know exactly where Skinner’s loyalties stand.
Vicky: Well, Reggie did say that he’d worked for the government in some capacity for years, so who’s to say that Skinner hadn’t come to know Reggie through his work as an Assistant Director? I don’t believe that Reggie ever worked with Mulder and Scully. If neither of them remembered him, but Skinner did, surely he would have mentioned Reggie at some point and asked if either of them had seen Reggie lately. Again though, this is Darin Morgan’s way of messing with our heads.
Gigi: I do believe Reggie once worked for the FBI, just not as an agent, probably at some unskilled job that allowed him to overhear a lot of what was going on. So Skinner knowing him isn’t that far fetched.
7. Darin Morgan has written a lot of fairly unique episodes of The X-Files and “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” certainly fits that description. What did you think of the episode overall? How does it stack up against other Darin Morgan episodes?
Briana: I thought this episode was classic Darin Morgan, and I loved it for that exact reason. One of my favorite episodes is “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” and I don’t think anything will ever top that one. But this one shares many of the same elements. As well as with “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” the whole critique of the human race, which I love.
Anaka: Overall I thought it was really good. The jokes were great, and the nostalgia was there, but I wish they had gotten out of the parking garage a little more. But it gave us new classic scenes like 8-year-old Mulder, Scully and her Jello and the Bigfoot tantrum. The only thing I’d say I didn’t like was the ending. The jokes got kinda annoying, to be honest. But I got over it once we saw Mulder and Scully at the house together! Even though we were robbed of a kiss scene (again). Overall it was definitely a great episode and meets the standards for Darin Morgan!
Soledad: To be fair, this episode felt confusing at first watch and I certainly have to rewatch it to catch all the details and appreciate its meaning fully. I think this was a crossover between a B-(sci-fi) movie and a black political comedy, and as such, it was clever, because it commented on the show in the context of the current political situation as well as an exercise in what nostalgia is. Having said that, my favorites Darin Morgan episodes are still “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “Small Potatoes” and “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.”
Vicky: I absolutely adored this episode. It was classic X-Files and classic Darin Morgan. I love pretty much all of his episodes, aside from “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” (controversial, I know), so knowing he was doing another episode this season made me extremely happy. “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” is an instant classic and for me, easily the best. It was hilarious, tongue in cheek, deep, moving, modern. The Trump speech by the alien was a genius move. Genius. I imagine that there will be plenty of rewatches done of this episode and because Morgan’s episodes are always so layered with meaning, I imagine that I’ll spot something new every time. And I for one, can’t wait. Thank you, Darin Morgan!
Gigi: Please don’t send me hate mail, but I really didn’t like it. I was expecting the political commentary to be more subtle and it was anything but. I’m not American and maybe that contributes to my feelings towards it. I guess this is one of the episodes from “the great fandom divide.” You either love it or hate it.
Final Verdict: “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” is every bit as creative, unhinged, and entertaining as its title suggests it to be
“The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” is a difficult episode of The X-Files to describe. Part The Twilight Zone, part normal episode of The X-Files, and completely crazy (or perhaps truthful depending on your perspective) are probably good places to start. From the opening moments of the episode, it was clear that it was going to be playing games with viewers while also making some interesting points about collective false memories. Reggie, who had what is best described as permanent forehead sweat syndrome from being in a constant state of panic, as a character could have easily become overwhelming or annoying. But Brian Huskey managed to strike a near perfect balance between a likable guy and a paranoid conspiracy theorist wondering what was and wasn’t true.
The real heart of the episode was in its exploration of the Mandela effect, which occurs when a group of people share similar false memories. “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” immediately got to work having the characters and viewers wondering what was and wasn’t true by making extensive use of Reggie narrating while remembering the events that led to his current state of mind. Some of those events even took place during early seasons of the show with Reggie being edited into scenes with Mulder and Scully. Darin Morgan has previously written some of The X-Files‘ more outrageous and humorous episodes such as “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” and the more divisive “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” brilliantly continued in that tradition. How brilliant? We’ll need to watch it many more times to know for sure.
Given how out there “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” becomes before its conclusion, the episode may not be as accessible as other episodes of the show. It rapidly goes from scenario to scenario and throws an almost overwhelming number of references and possibilities at the viewer. Previous episodes in season eleven have briefly addressed the current presidential administration. But “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” dialed up those references to 11 and rapidly worked to say just how little the writers approve of said administration. Or at least how little the main characters approve. For example, Reggie’s alien became an alien version of President Donald Trump and directly quoted him. Some may find the concepts being discussed and the heavier politicization frustrating or off-putting. “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” was anything but subtle.
Using “Ozzie’s razor,” we can conclude that “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” was one of the most convoluted yet intelligent looks at truth, memory, and the perception of reality that The X-Files has ever done. What was true and what was a simply a symptom of Reggie’s alleged psychosis? We suspect that we’ll be debating that question for quite some time.