Darin Morgan did it again. The elusive writer, who’s only penned six of what will eventually be 216 episodes of The X-Files, is considered amongst fans and critics to be one of the series’ best writers. Hallowed ground indeed for a show that has writing credits like Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Howard Gordon, and Vince Gilligan, just to name a few.
Just as Morgan did last season with “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” the writer/director provides a meta, humorous deconstruction of The X-Files in “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat.” Commentating on our political climate, the spread of fake news and disinformation, and fan culture, the episode asks what does “The Truth is Out There” mean today when it seems no one can agree on what is fact and what is fiction.
We spoke with Morgan ahead of the episode airing to discuss the Mandela Effect, taking tonal risks, and the Twilight Zone influences of “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat.”
Den of Geek: Have you personally experienced the Mandela Effect?
Darin Morgan: Last season after my episode aired people online had reactions like “X-Files has never done a comedy before.” I said “what?” That was my whole career! On the opposite side of the Mandela Effect, I haven’t experienced the main ones online. I have a really bad memory in general. My whole life has been one long Mandela Effect I guess.
So there’s a pretty good running commentary on the episode about fan culture and the state of television revivals. So you were inspired by the fan reaction to season 10?
More the thing was you get criticism when you bring something back and people say “why?” or “let it rest.” I thought for this episode at least, the current political climate gave it a reason for doing this episode. It wasn’t just an act of pure nostalgia.
In the last two episodes you wrote, you really deconstructed Mulder, Scully, and what The X-Files is all about. Generally speaking, genre fans can be picky when it comes to taking big tonal risks like that. There’s been a tremendous love for your episodes over the years. Why has it worked out so well for this franchise?
From the early days, the show started off as a cult hit on Friday nights. Not everybody had the Fox channel. Chris did some weird stuff that fans appreciated and from that it gave everyone confidence. Maybe the premise of the show with supernatural phenomenon made audiences more open to weirdness in general? So you could do episodes with completely different tones from all the others without people being so closed minded about it.
The Twilight Zone was another show that broke a lot of norms on television at the time and you paid homage to it in the episode. Was young Mulder watching “The Lost Martian” based on your personal Twilight Zone experience?
Oh yeah. The Twilight Zone was my X-Files. I didn’t see it until it was in syndication. Younger people have no idea what it was like when you watched old shows. There were no episode guides. You couldn’t go online. You didn’t know what you were going to see. It was the thrill of not knowing what you were about to watch. It made it even more mysterious. Now even with this episode, you have previews and people online are already talking about it. The press has seen it. Everyone already sort of knows what the episode is about. It’s just a different experience.
Is that part of the reason why you enjoy writing standalone episodes more than the alternative?
Yeah. I had no intention of being a television writer. I wanted to make films even though I grew up watching TV. I’m more into doing self-contained stories that have a beginning and ending and you can say whether you liked it or not once it’s over. That’s the appeal to me. I watch shows that are serialized but I don’t like writing them.
You reference George Orwell’s 1984 line, “who controls the past controls the future” in the episode. Are we past the point of no return with the spread of disinformation online? Or is that the point of the episode, that we need to fight harder than ever to expose the truth?
I’m a bit more cynical than I thought I was. I don’t think it has to do with the spread of disinformation, I think people in general are pretty stupid [laughs]. I don’t know what is going to help them. I don’t know the solution. I think people are always going to be idiots and do dumb things. There’s nothing we can do but try to survive. I’m being kind of serious. With all the disinformation stuff, who are these idiots who read this stuff online and then don’t bother to check if it’s true? They just swallow it whole. How are you going to prevent people from doing that? We’re all doomed, that’s my answer [laughs].
What exactly is the role of The X-Files in the post-conspiracy age?
I hate to tell you, the shrug is my answer. It’s ambiguous on purpose. I don’t know what the role is. Like I said, we’re all doomed. That was the idea behind the episode. You have a show whose catchphrase is “The Truth Is Out There” and what does that mean today?
Mulder seems to have had his faith in his job restored since he had a midlife crisis in your last episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.” In your mind, what evolution has the character undergone from then to now?
I made a lot of fun of Mulder in the past. What’s different in these past two is that I’m also older as well. I can kind of relate to some of the stuff that Mulder has gone through. I tried to give him a midlife crisis in “Were-Monster.” Sort of: What was the purpose of his life? That’s something I can relate to. With this episode, I feel like I’m doing the same stuff Mulder is doing. He’s questioning has the world gone mad. What does it matter if you’re trying to discover the truth or as a writer trying to write what is true when it doesn’t seem like anyone cares. I’m giving him my own self-doubts and concerns.
How did you land on casting Brian Huskey as Reggie?
I have been aware of Brian for awhile and I’ve always liked what I’ve seen him in. I always thought he was really funny in Childrens Hospital. He had the look of the part and I thought he could pull it off. I think he’s great in it.
At the end, Mulder gets the book of All The Answers. If an alien came down to earth and handed you that book, what chapter would you first open up to?
[Laughs]. Oh wow. That’s a good question and I’m not going to tell you. I am in possession of the prop book. I actually have one and it’s my bedside reading. I’ll get to a particular chapter that speaks to me then I can answer you.