When I first heard that The X-Files was getting a reboot, my first thought was not “Will this new version redeem the 2008 movie’s sad attempt at continuing Mulder and Scully’s story?” or even “Will we find out if The Smoking Man is actually dead this time?” (We do — he isn’t.) No, my first thought was “Is Darin Morgan going to write any of the new episodes?” Every true X-Files fan knows that Darin Morgan is the backbone of what makes the show so special, even more than the creator himself.
From “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” to “Jose Chung’s from Outer Space,” Morgan’s episodes exemplified the wacky, darkly funny tone that fans of the show came to know and love. You can spot his writing from a mile away, and this episode, “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” is no exception. This episode of The X-Files contained many of the “Darin Morgan” staples that once made the show so great.
He Uses Flashbacks … Again and Again and Again
Remember “Jose Chung’s from Outer Space”? Where the titular Jose attempted to convince a skeptical Scully that the alien abduction he writes about in his book is real through a series of absurdist flashbacks involving Mulder, Scully and a man in black that looks eerily like Alex Trebek? Well, this episode follows in Jose’s footsteps. The plot centers around Reggie Something, a self-claimed conspiracy theorist who claims the government is orchestrating a mass manipulation of history by programming the nation to “misremember” major events. He proceeds to tell Mulder and Scully how he realized this fact by launching into a memory of a thrift shop and the odd man who owned it. Oh, and Mulder also has a flashback where his child body was blended with his human adult head in a way that doesn’t make the viewer feel uncomfortable at all. Which brings me to my next point …
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He Experiments with Style and Structure
If there’s one thing that can be said about Darin Morgan, it’s that he will never settle for a regular narrative structure. It’s not in his nature. As a writer and director, he is known for utilizing unique approaches to storytelling, which we can see right away from the episode’s opening scene, which places us inside a black and white TV show reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. Later, Mulder has a flashback in which he remembers the moment he saw his favorite Twilight Zone episode. Instead of showing us a young Mulder in this flashback, Morgan instead CGIs Mulder’s adult head onto his child body, making a creature that is worthy of its own X-File. The most interesting style manipulation, though, came towards the end of the episode, when Reggie Something claims that he started the X-Files and was once a member of Mulder and Scully’s team. This revelation sparks a montage of clips from the original X-Files, but with Reggie photoshopped into every scene (including, hilariously, the opening theme song.)
He Features Cartoonish Aliens
The humans in Darin Morgan’s stories are not the only ones that are a bit over the top — so are his aliens. In “Jose Chung’s from Outer Space,” a group of little grey men descend a spaceship and encounter a human couple, who promptly faint at the sight of them. Before the aliens can respond, a larger creature appears behind them, causing one of the aliens to turn to the other and ask “What is that?” In “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” another alien, one that looks like it’s been plucked straight out of an old Star Trek episode, addresses the group during one of Reggie’s flashbacks. He begins loosely quoting the President and blaming humans for their irresponsible behavior before jumping on a segway and gliding back up into his spaceship. Yes, a segway.
He Has Meta Jokes Within Meta Jokes
Last season, in “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” Mulder has a bit of a mid-life crisis that causes him to swear off monsters for good. It is at this point that he meets the “Were-Lizard”: a monster trapped inside a man’s body. This joke is funny, not just because it defies our normal expectations (a man trapped inside a monster’s body) but because it almost mocks Mulder’s previous concerns by revealing to us that humans can be just as “monstrous” as monsters. This is a classic Darin Morgan meta-twist, one that he brings back in “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat.” Not only does he comment on larger themes of politics by not-so-subtly barraging our current President and the McCarthy-esque atmosphere of distrust he has created, but he also slips in smaller meta jokes about the nature of memory, naming the conspiracy theorist who claims the government is trying to erase him “Reggie Something.” His last name is literally Something, the term we use when we can’t remember someone’s last name and we need a placeholder.
He Uses Screwball Humor
Mulder walking into his office in a Sasquatch outfit? The constant bickering about the Mandela/Mengele effect? Dr. They imitating President 45? Fox Mulder screaming his own name at a bunch of young FBI agents who insult him? Nothing beats this kind of X-Files humor.
He Nails the Sad-but-Touching Ending
At the beginning of “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” when Clyde cheekily tells Scully that he pictures them in bed together soon, we all laughed at his confidence. Forty minutes later, when Clyde dies in bed with Scully holding his hand, we all cried at the ending’s perfection and our own inability to write twists that beautiful. Morgan brings this trademark nostalgic flare to the end of this episode as well. When Scully finds an old Goop-O pack, a food she used to eat as a child, she and Mulder mix it up and prepare to chow down, only for Scully to abruptly drop the spoon and announce that she wants to remember the food as it used to be.
Is this a simple nostalgic yearning for the past? A jab at the nature of memory and how we remember things as we want to remember them instead of how they are? Or is it a deeper reference to how we all want to preserve the memory of The X-Files as it used to be 20 years ago? A Morgan-esque commentary on his own work? Tell us what you think in the comments down below.
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(Image courtesy of FOX)