THE X-FILES “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” Review
BY The Screen Spy Team
Published 4 years ago
THE X-FILES “THE LOST ART OF FOREHEAD SWEAT”
BY CHRIS B.
Martians with giant heads and multiple appendages are here, outside the window of a diner that could have been fashioned by Jose Chung, but which emanates all of the black-and-white glory days of The Twilight Zone.
Or does it?
Mulder is contacted for a late-night parking garage meeting by…wait, who is that again? The man is beyond despair to realize that Mulder hasn’t the foggiest notion who he is nor why people aren’t getting probed by aliens anymore. Alas, has he been victimized by “them,” the authors of “the conspiracy to end all conspiracies?”
According to this forgotten man, the first episode of The Twilight Zone that Mulder ever saw, “The Lost Martian,” never existed. Mulder checks his tapes. And his DVDs. And the internet. Despite all his searching, the memory seems to live only within him, put there by the impressionable eight-year-old child he had been—you know, the one with the greying beard and puffy fifty-something head.
Parking Garage Man returns, handing Scully a box of Goop-O ABC and begs her to prove that he is real. It seems the substance is a treasured memory from Scully’s youth, the miracle gelatin that saw her through vacations and holidays alike. She’d sought it out for decades with no success, constantly being told that what she wants does not exist.
Mulder terms this The Mandela Effect, “when someone has a memory of something that’s not shared by the majority or the factual record.” Do you remember seeing the movie Shazam with Sinbad or Kazaam with Shaquille O’Neal? Because only one of them is real. Remember neither? “You win!”
Parking Garage Man (a.k.a., Reggie Something) has a tale of “life-questioning revelations” that came to him while moving his mother’s belongings, amongst which he finds some of his own treasured items from childhood, such as his Dr. Wussle books. Only Dr. Wussle had become Dr. Wuzzle—and ripped open the fabric of the known universe.
When Mulder explains to poor Reggie the origin of The Mandela Effect, “so named because some people have a memory of hearing that Nelson Mandela died in the 80’s while in prison when, in fact, he died a free man in 2013,” Reggie disputes his label; according to him, the phenomenon is The Mengele Effect “because people have a memory of Josef Mengele getting apprehended in Ohio in 1970.”
All I want to know is if I can purchase the Nixon poster in the “historical repository of vintage Americana” that reads “They can’t lick our Dick.”
The shop owner shows Reggie a cartoon drawn in 1940 by the author in question. It shows an America First figure as a brother-in-arms with a Hitler-esque Nazi. However, while his drawing may have been exactly right (no pun intended), his name is still signed with two z’s, much to Reggie’s chagrin.
According to the shop owner, there’s been a wave of people coming in over the last couple of years asking for some fondly remembered item from their childhood, all frustrated because they “remember the logo being racist in a different way.” What’s more, he swears the government knows more about this than they let on “because the government always knows more than they let on.”
Mulder does him one better: it is evidence of a parallel universe. When it overlaps with our own universe, the memories get jumbled from one to the other; thus, people aren’t misremembering things but are simply remembering something that happened on the other side.
Scully, though, sticks with her faulty-memory theory because of Occam’s Razor—or is it Ozzie’s Razor? Or Occam’s Ass? We may never know.
Reggie claims that when he learned what “they” were up to, The Mengele Effect was turned on him. He whips out his high school yearbook, pained to announce that he appears nowhere within, nor do any inscriptions from his classmates. It’s as if he never went to that school.
“They” have also murdered the shop owner via a Jart through the back of the throat. Ouch.
Mulder tries to talk poor Reggie down from the fences, he being “a fellow nut” who knows only too well the danger of assigning blame to some omnipresent entity “to give intentionality to random events or external explanations for psychological ones.”
That’s when Reggie drops his biggest bomb: he started the x-files. The three of them used to be partners. To exemplify this, we are treated to a montage of a rewritten X-Files history: a new opening sequence, complete with the FBI badge of Reggie Something; a young Mulder and his giant late-80s mobile phone taking a call from “Reggie” as Mr. Something puts up his UFO poster in their office; Scully entering the office of “the FBI’s most unwanted” on her first day assigned to the unit, only to be shooed away by Reggie, who helpfully announces to Sugarboobs that no women are permitted. (No, silly, that’s only the writer’s room!) Next, Eugene Victor Tooms walks by on his way to freedom, as Reggie deems him “so creepy”; Clyde Bruckman suggests a scenario in which the U.S. does not invade Grenada, and Reggie’s there to pitch a fit; the mother in “Home” slides back under her bed as Reggie figures out her grotesque punchline; and when fake Mulder is about to kiss Scully in “Small Potatoes,” it is Reggie who bursts in to stop him.
What is the truth about Reggie? After spending just weeks at his high school and not graduating, he enlisted and participated in the Grenada invasion, only to be whacked on the head by a shovel; he had a series of menial government jobs, from delivering mail for the post office to office-cubicle waterboarding for the CIA to casual phone surveillance for the NSA.
Until he went crazy and was committed to a mental institution.
The Ephemeral Truth
“I know you think I’m crazy, but it’s not me…The world’s gone mad.”
Mulder, who apparently had the time to commission the creation of a giant fuzzy moss suit, goes out “squatching” to get away from the general madness that has engulfed the country over the last year, and few could disagree that seeking the attention of a “cryptozoological simian hairy humanoid with enormous feet” is far less insane than what one is likely to hear during any given news cycle.
The relative lunacy of this episode is offered up as a reflection of how far our society has allowed itself to stray from reasonable acts of critical thinking. We’ve come to see demons in the shadows and question the evidence of our very own experiences.
Reggie posits that “The Mengele Effect” is being orchestrated by someone operating on Orwell’s idea that “he who controls the past controls the future.” The ability to manipulate memory can allow someone unlimited power in political, cultural, and economic arenas. It runs the gamut from Holocaust denial to corporations erasing recognition that their products are faulty or dangerous.
This magical feat is attributed to Dr. Thaddeus Q. They, “a neuroscientist who has discovered a way to manipulate collective memory,” had started his work in order to help NASA scientists who might one day go on a one-way mission into space, so that these individuals would not be plagued by memories of a life back on Earth. However, he went awry when also convincing these astronauts that they were chimps. His research was perfected in Grenada, and is now available to a variety of unseen clients—hence, our invasion of that small country. Which totally happened, I swear. And a crashed UFO and a dead alien off the country’s coast had everything to do with it. Unless it didn’t.
When Dr. They’s “henchmen” turn out to be just a couple of fellow agents, who then scoff at Mulder as “fat” and “deep-state,” he tries to make sense of it on a wall of images, article clippings, and string. But no wall that sports the face of Ted Cruz is ever going to lead to something sensical and cohesive.
Mulder feels beaten. “I’ve lost the plot,” he opines. “I can’t find the hidden connections between things anymore. The world has become too crazy for even my conspiratorial powers.”
But the answer could be simpler than that. In a world that seriously and openly debated “this birther stuff,” secret conspiracies aren’t even fun to contemplate anymore. Perhaps Mulder and the rest of the weary public have simply lost a taste for it.
Dr. They’s last appearance was rumored to be “at the last Presidential inauguration where, amongst the hundreds of millions who attended, he was seen occupying they last remaining seat available,” perched atop the Washington Monument in his asinine red baseball hat. But that was until he called up Mulder and arranged a meeting. According to the man himself, Dr. They isn’t hiding—he’s in the phone book (if anyone would care to remember what one is), and he’s got a new enterprise: “phony fake news, a presentation of real facts but in a way that ensures no one will believe any of it.”
Dr. They informs Mulder that his time has past. Mulder had a gig “when people of power thought that they could keep their secrets secret and were willing to do anything to keep it that way [but] we’re now living in a post-cover up, post-conspiracy age.” He asserts that no one cares if the truth gets out because the public lacks the ability to discern what is true and what is not. Objective truth is irrelevant because it can hide in plain sight.
Mulder is dubious, but Dr. They shrugs him off: “Believe what you want to believe; that’s what everyone does nowadays, anyway.” In the end, the good doctor does not have to be able to control people’s minds; all he has to do is get a laptop and convince people that any idiot notion is “possible,” to sow the seeds and let our own gullibility and ignorance do the rest.
Before Reggie is carted off in a Ghostbusters-style paddy wagon (from Spotnitz Sanitarium), he recounts his supposed last case with our agents: a campy trek in which they find the crashed remains of Voyager and have a UFO land in front of them, out which descends via escalator a Martian wearing Elvis threads and riding a Segway who announces that the rest of the known galaxy wants nothing to do with our species. To make this clear, the aliens are building a “beautiful, albeit invisible, electromagnetic wall” too foil any attempt to venture beyond our solar system, but we are “free to explore Uranus” as much as we’d like.
Over the last couple of years, we certainly have done that plenty of that, some so much that some craniums have become permanently lodged there.
And here’s the proof: Why has the rest of the galaxy decided this? How could it be so desperately short-sighted and reactionary? The explanation sounds eerily familiar: “You are not sending us your best people. You’re bringing drugs, you’re bringing crime; you’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”
What, did you think that tripe was not going to come back on us at some point?
The Martian insists, “But we have no choice—believe me. For although the rest of the galaxies all have their share of these same problems, we fear you can infect us with the one trait that is unique to Earthlings: you lie.” Then, he hands Mulder a collection of All the Answers. Ultimately, we are NOT alone in the universe, “but nobody likes us”; this realization, along with the truth he reads about his beloved Squatch, send Mulder crumpling to the ground in tears.
And they lived happily ever after?
I guess it is all a matter of perspective. If you’re one who once had a measure of faith in humanity, and if you’re one who has watched this show since faithfully recording it on a library of VHS tapes and replaying them until they were blurry, perhaps we should take Scully’s advice: let’s try to remember how it all was.