This X-Files review contains spoilers.
The X-Files Season 11 Episode 4
For a show that spent ample time attempting to uncover the truth, the past often took a backseat to fighting the future in The X-Files. You know the drill. Evidence goes missing. Unsubstantiated reports are filed. Multiple accounts of the same event are unreliable at best. At worst? Someone or something could be running interference with a witness’s memory. If the series dwelled on unsolved phenomena instead of moving along to bigger, more important subject matter, Mulder and Scully would still be in the woods hunting for the Jersey Devil.
By definition, the truth has to be out there, but there’s no official explanation for why it’s been so damn hard to nail down. In the season three episode “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” Scully asks the titular character if he’s trying to record the truth for his “non-fiction science-fiction” novel. He responds: “How can I possibly do that? Everybody there had a different version of what happened. Truth is as subjective as reality.”
Was Jose Chung foreshadowing things to come? The writer of that episode, Darin Morgan, also happens to be the writer/director for The X-Files fourth episode of season 11, “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat.” Almost 22 years after “Jose Chung” first aired, as a sign of the times, Morgan has no concreate answer for the abject loss of grip on the truth and what that means for The X-Files going forward.
Even something as textbook as the past is vulnerable to attack in an episode that literally asks us to question everything. “The Lost Art” may have a cynical outlook on our current cultural and political climate, but intentionally or not, Morgan gives a compelling thesis statement for why the hunt for the truth is more important than ever, and delivers it with his trademark wit and charm. Morgan is known for penning offbeat, light-hearted episodes that are not just fan favorites, but they’re also considered by critics to be some of the series best episodes – “Humbug,” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “Jose Chung” and season 10’s “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” among them. “The Lost Art” is another worthy addition to a group of classic episodes.
From the outset, we’re met with dripping paranoia of what feels like a Twilight Zone episode, paying homage to an undeniable influence to The X-Files, and genre televisions as a whole (shoutout to the X-Files costume department for the opening and closing scenes). Rod Serling does not appear, though, because it’s not actually an episode of The Twilight Zone. When Mulder is summoned by a strange, sweaty man named “Reggie Something” (played by comedian Brian Huskey), a larger conspiracy comes into play. Someone is using the Mandela Effect, or the incorrect memory of a certain fact, to manipulate the public. It could slightly throw people off, as we see Mulder dig through his Twilight Zone collection like a madman only to realize “The Lost Martian” was actually from a knockoff sci-fi series and Scully misremember the contents of a gelletine snack.
Reggie Something warns that the Mandela Effect is being used for far more nefariously purposes. Borrowing from George Orwell, he says “who controls the past controls the future.” And yes, those were Orwell’s words from 1984, you are remembering correctly!
In trying to justify his case, Reggie Something helps deconstruct The X-Files in an amusing fashion, calling Scully “little miss skeptic” and outright dismissing Mulder’s “sci-fi nerdboy” parallel universe theory. The banter between Huskey, David Duchovny, and Gillian Anderson is the kind of on-point comedic timing you’d expect from TV’s best comedies, let alone The X-Files. In the best scene of the episode (and potentially of the season), a clearly delusional Reggie reveals he was an original member of The X-Files team. Cue the opening credits with “Reggie Something” and clips from some iconic moments in the series with Reggie digitally placed in.
The broader point Reggie is trying to make is that the people in power want you to think all conspiracies are nutty because it makes it easier to hide the truth. That might always have been the case, but it takes on a new wrinkle when Reggie shows Mulder and Scully a video of Dr. They, the man who is responsible for the memory manipulation.
In a timely and overtly political sequence, we see how the narrative is being controlled. As Dr. They later explains to Mulder when they meet up, people in power would once do anything to keep their secrets from getting out. Now? Fake news. We’re living in a “post-conspiracy age,” which causes Mulder to lose the plot: “The world has become too crazy for my conspiratorial powers!”
Truthfully, an alien abduction could be a pleasant vacation from this world right about now. There’s no clear answer in how to combat the spread of misinformation. The rift between the FBI and White House already muddied a previous episode and nearly got Mulder and Scully killed. They are no arrests to be made. No Scully voiceover while she’s writing a case report. Much like the writings of Rod Serling, man is the monster this week.
“The Lost Art” is a well-executed, laugh-out-loud funny, and perfectly cast episode. And once again, The X-Files has something meaningful to say about the world. As these things usually go, it’s more effective when it’s viewed through the lens of comedy.
Something I’ve come back to in interviewing cast and crew and writing these season 11 reviews is: What is the role of The X-Files in 2018? Like the statues where Mulder meets Dr. They, the episode ends with a shrug on solving any conspiracy on memory manipulation. How could you prove Dr. They right or wrong? It’s a clouded and dark path to bring these criminal actions to light. But be assured, Jose Chung was wrong. There is an objective truth and reality. And we still need people like Mulder and Scully (and Reggie Something), a team that will fight to the end to preserve the truth. If we don’t? Let’s hope we’re not so insufferable that aliens block us off from the rest of the solar system.
– Mulder ends his first interaction with Reggie Something with “submitted for your approval,” a phrase used in a handful of Rod Serling’s opening monologues.
– Reggie is taken away in a Spotnitz Sanatorium car, an ode to former executive producer Frank Spotnitz. It also appeared in one of Morgan’s Millennium episodes.
– The beat up gold record is a reference to The Voyager. It contains sounds and images of life on earth.