The X-Files – The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat
By: Kelly Kearney
The Mandela Effect occurs when a group of people collectively remember an event that never took place. Memories manipulated to create films like Shazam starring Sinbad (never happened) and an entire generation of children who swear by the Bernstein Bears books (Berenstain bears) have baffled pop culture enthusiasts for decades and this week the mind game makes its way to Mulder and Scully’s desk. It’s amazing that after two and a half decades the FBI’s most unwanted can still stumble on a case that shocks them, but The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat not only throws the duo for a loop, it forces them to search for their own truths in a world that has all but abandoned the skills to recognize it.
What do single men (debatable) do for fun, who are into aliens, conspiracies and the paranormal? They go Squatchin’! At least that’s what Mulder (David Duchovny) is up to when Scully (Gillian Anderson) calls to confirm their dinner date. Dressed like some kind of animal crossed with a topiary bush, Mulder’s been on the hunt for Bigfoot because the world is crazy and this is what keeps Agent Spooky centered. Like most of us, Mulder has spent too much time watching the news and waiting for the country to swallow itself whole and that can be stressful for even the sanest person and this is Mulder we’re talking about. It’s all too much for Fox and communing with nature in search of a Sasquatch really aligns his chakras… but most importantly, SCULLY AND MUDLER ARE DATING? Who knows as their relationship is as ambiguous as ever, but the dinner date is on and that’s all Scully cares about.
As Mulder rambles on about his Squatchin’ adventures, he notices an X taped to his window – a sign that inevitably followed some Deep Throat rendezvous with an informant about a case. This time is no different and Mulder heads to his usual spot, the FBI’s garage, where a sweaty man chomping on sunflower seeds waits for him. “Mulder, it’s me,” he says. And while that saying is familiar to anyone who knows the Scully/Mulder dynamic, Fox has no idea who this guy is, but the man seems to know him. He knows him well enough to mention the very first “Twilight Zone,” experience and then proceeds to tell him that episode doesn’t exist. But how can that be? In the opening sequence we saw the black and white episode about Martian invasions and devilishly debonair diner patrons and now this guy is saying “The Lost Martian” never existed? The nameless man who we soon learn is Reggie-Something (Brian Huskey) knows Mulder thinks he’s crazy especially when he can remember as a young boy watching it for the first time. Jiffy Pop in hand an 8-year-old Mulder with a 50-something head, gleefully enjoys his late-night Sci-Fi binge. He remembers it like it was yesterday, which is why Reggie’s story is hardly believable. But is it so hard to believe that adult Mulder’s memories have been polluted with his own spin in lieu of the facts? Reggie thinks so and this sets Mulder off on a hunt for any information about “The Lost Martian.”
At home, Scully’s isn’t happy their dinner date was postponed for Mulder’s video search. Reggie might’ve been right about the “Twilight Zone” there’s no episode information online, his tape is amongst the missing and until he finds some evidence that concludes his memory is real, he’s never eating again. Flustered and tearing apart his entire VHS collection, Scully frustratingly laments, “It can’t be that good of an episode!” She suggests that perhaps it was another show in the genre, but Mulder is insulted that she would even question his fanboy status. Besides, it wasn’t the episode itself he loved but the feeling of nostalgia it gave him. A time of innocence and firsts, something that adult Mulder will never forget and apparently a hangry Scully doesn’t understand.
With dinner called off, Scully grabs take out where she runs into Reggie in the parking garage. Knowing she’s a tougher nut to crack, Reggie hands her a knock off Jell-O brand called Goop-O A-B-C-, something that sends Scully into a nostalgic flashback of her own. Over the years, she’s searched for this delicious treat without any luck so how did Reggie know this? The agents meet him in the rendezvous spot where they learn about a program to manipulate the memories of the masses that somehow wound up erasing Reggie from existence. Similar to the Mandela Effect, Reggie claims this program is being used on our collective consciences to erase any negative experiences in the consumer world. Kind of like if Tide convinced everyone that eating their Pods was somehow beneficial to a healthy diet. Companies are using this technique, The Mengele Effect (his term for the Mandela Effect) to erase our memories and keep the Capitalist spending wheel turning. Mulder who usually jumps on any bandwagon, isn’t buying Reggie’s theory and even points out that the man keeps referring to “They’ as the ones behind this conspiracy. “Who is they” he asks and Reggie provides a photo of Dr. They, a neuroscientist whose life’s work was erasing memories. Picture or not, Mulder’s still not buying it until Dr. They (Stuart Margolin) calls the agent for a meeting and Agent Skeptical Spooky agrees.
The two men meet in a park where an elderly Dr. They, wearing enough eye shadow to make RuPaul jealous, talks to Mulder about the truth and how little it means in today’s world. It’s an obvious jab at the current U.S. political climate where truth only matters if it fits a certain agenda. Dr. They describes a culture where its people defect painful truths by labeling it “Fake News” and it’s allowed the memory man’s work to flourish. He poses the question, if nobody cares about the truth then perhaps Mulder’s quest has been for nothing? If the “truth is out there” but nobody wants to even recognize it, then Mulder might as well hang up his Squatchin’ suit and plan for retirement because the world doesn’t care either way. Truths only matter if people want to hear them and with the “Fake News” leading the collective consciences, what’s the point in even searching for them if nobody cares?
Its not a parallel universe!
After that depressing wake up call Mulder, Scully and Reggie debate their theories. Of course, Scully thinks this is all a coincidence, but Mulder courts the idea that this whole thing could be a parallel universe. He surmises that two or more universes which are almost identical with a few barely obvious differences have somehow imprinted those differences on people who’ve been able to bounce between universes. Scully and Reggie do not agree but then how is it that Reggie seems to have personal knowledge about the X-Files and their work? According to Reggie, his knowledge comes from the fact that he started the X-Files and they’re his partners!
With a new opening theme, we see the X-Files through a whole new lens where Reggie is an active part of every one of Mulder and Scully’s adventures. From the first time the fresh faced and skeptical red head walked into the FBI’s basement to every bizarre twist and turn their careers took, Reggie was there, like a third wheel spinning in their search for the truth. It was Reggie who bought the “I Want to Believe,” poster and who stopped Scully from kissing Edidie Van Blundht in “Small Potatoes.” He was there when Clyde Bruckman discussed the UFO invasion of Grenada and followed them on every case they did and didn’t solve until Dr. They muddled their memories. Scully, a woman of science, ends this insanity when she provides proof of who Reggie really is. With a little good old fashion detective work, she discovers that Reginald Murgatroyd is a man who took a blow to the head by way of a shovel in the Grenada invasion and went on to work his way through every government office job from the IRS to waterboarding expert for the CIA. Eventually, the man had a nervous breakdown and has been living in a mental institution for the last few years. Mulder and Scully made his radar when he wiretapped them for the NSA, becoming enamored by how incorruptible and woke they were to the forces that lurk in the shadows of our government. Reggie created this fantasy where he was part of a team that fought for truth and justice and Mulder can’t blame him. He’s “Fox Freaking Mulder,” who wouldn’t want a front row seat to that (insert Scully eye roll)?
The truth will set you free
Now that they know the Mengele effect was just a delusional fantasy, Reggie’s headed back to the hospital. As the men in white coats fit him for a straitjacket, Mulder asks the man one final question about the last case they all worked on. In a B-movie style flashback, Reggie tells them a tale about the space ship Voyager crash landing back to earth. The agents happen upon a swarthy alien (Keith Arbuthnot) who drops some major truth bombs onto their laps and totally ruins Mulder’s day. It seems that earthlings are the cockroaches of the galaxy and with all our violence and lying we are a huge turn off with life on other planets. So, as to not infect the universe with our dirty humanity, the aliens built a wall around our planet that will prevent us from spreading our disease and sullying their alien culture. The wall is like an intergalactic ray gun that zaps anyone who ventures too far from Earth This alien is less Rod Stirling and more Donald Trump and claims the universe agrees that we are criminals and we, “are not sending our best people.” He admits that while some humans are good people, the majority are not and it’s too risky. With that, he hands Mulder a book full of answers to all the questions of the universe and then he rolls out like the shade gangster alien he is. Mulder is devastated that not only are they universally hated but his entire life is wrapped up in one book of answers. He throws a full-on cry baby tantrum while Reggie flirts and consoles Scully.
Back to reality, and Reggie wonders if this whole thing wasn’t a search for the truth but a search for each other and the memories they shared that nobody could ever erase This leads us back to Mulder’s house and Scully’s Goop-O that she’s now molded into a Big foot and boy, is she giddy over this cherry flavored wiggly stuff. Mulder hands her a spoon and just as she’s about to taste her entire childhood in one big gulp, she puts it down and says she wants to remember it as it was. Her words go deeper than just Goop-O and old VHS tapes that coincidently, Mulder figures out was a knock off of the “Twilight Zone,” she’s speaking to their entire past, their work, their son and their current relationship. She wants to remember it in all its wonderful and painful glory, and no amount of cherry sweetness is worth rewriting their history.