Last evening’s search for the truth was more on the nose than usual. “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” was Darin Morgan’s traditionally satirical episode. Classics like “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (my all time favourite of Morgan’s) and “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” (not high on my list of favourites…) to Season 10’s “Mulder and Scully Meet the Weremonster” all capture a certain flavour of The X-Files. A flavour that is, admittedly, not for everyone. While “Repose” for me is to Scully Cherry Flavoured “Goopo”, tonight’s installment was a bit more “Lemon Lime Leprechaun Taint” for me. More cringe-y than funny at its worst and more scary than insightful at its best.
The largest theme in this episode about the Mandela Effect is the ever present search for the truth. Are you a Berenstein Bears reader or a Berenstain Bears reader? Who taught you how to draw the “Super S”? Looney Tunes or Looney Toons?
These objective “truths” are really not the focus of the episode at all; rather, it’s the omnipresent, looming, horrific reality of the state of the nation. There were more jabs at Donald Trump in this one episode than on my Twitter feed all day. What is truth? What is falsehood? Does perception have anything to do with the answer to those questions? Am I going to ask another question instead of writing a sentence with an answer?
Living in the United States since Donald Trump was elected president has been a rollercoaster ride for everyone involved, supporter, detractor, and undecided alike. Even Mulder thinks so. Multiple major mass shootings, the pendulum of threat of nuclear war with North Korea, a fake bomb scare, the Russia Collusion scandal, Trump’s nearly daily Twitter meltdowns and the coining of the term (on a wide scale basis at least) of “Fake News” — it is nearly impossible, in this land of Facebook and Twitter and constant Internet stimulus, to know what is really true. Only this past Fall, I spent a day with my freshmen teaching them how to gauge the trustworthiness of their sources. When sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, it can be a very difficult world to navigate. As politically charged as this episode was, I do think that, no matter how you feel about the current President of the United States, this message should ring true for everyone.
Don’t believe everything you read. Avoid Confirmation Bias at all costs. Double check your sources before you send along an email, retweet or tell someone something that you read, because, on the internet, who knows who wrote it. Do they have a journalism degree? Do they have expertise in their field? Do they have firsthand knowledge? Is the source reputable? And sometimes that’s not even enough.
For Mulder and Scully though, I think the lesson was less in how to identify the Truth — that was solely for our purposes — but rather a lesson in nostalgia. Morgan is lauded for being able to make fun of The X-Files (especially Mulder) in a self–satirizing manner. In this episode, Mulder and Scully get a lesson in nostalgia, which filters through clearly as a critique on the Revival itself.
Mulder’s beloved episode of The Twilight Zone turns out to be a rip–off. Not lost, not forgotten or misremembered. Not part of an alternative timeline, a parallel universe. A rip off. This is particularly unfortunate for Mulder, considering his line about mixing up The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits in his discussion with Scully early in the episode (“Don’t you even know me?” he cries, surrounded by piles and piles of VHS tapes. I have never felt so personally called out by a TV show in my life.).
As for Scully, her (likely far beyond its best eaten by date) Goopo ABC is left uneaten, in her attempt to preserve her memories of Fourths of July, freedom, God and the American Way. As she put it, “I want to remember how it was. I wanna remember how it all was.”
There is little by way of pretense throughout this episode. The outright references to Trump, to Fake News, to George Orwell’s 1984 and the alteration of fact and history to change the present aside, I didn’t really expect Morgan to take aim at nostalgia. Throughout the episode, various scenes from classic The X-Files episodes have Reggie superimposed into them (sometimes in ways that don’t even make sense) which grated on my nerves. That was not the way “Small Potatoes” went down. And isn’t that the point?
I’ve been wary of “remake/reboot/sequel culture” since Disney’s marketing scam with Star Wars (pardon my opinionated stance). I was initially pretty wary of Twin Peaks coming back. And, needless to say, The X-Files Season 10, didn’t really live up to anyone’s expectations. It’s a hard thing to do, adding new material to one’s understanding of something beloved. I’ve written extensively on the topic for both Twin Peaks and Star Wars, and here I am now, with The X-Files, but Darin Morgan’s already done it for me.
As much fun as it can be to watch these new episodes, a rather large part of me still wishes they’d never happened at all. A part that can’t reconcile Seasons 10 or 11 with the show that ended in 2002, or the movie of 2008. Nothing feels more like coming home than rewatching The X-Files. I’m currently on Season 3, and I feel that warm, glowing effervescence characterized by nostalgia. As much as I enjoyed the last two weeks’ episodes, and parts of this week’s, I feel none of that when I sit down on Wednesday nights. David and Gillian are as beautiful and moving and funny as ever, but something important is missing. A certain truth that The X-Files used to imbue. Maybe Reggie was right. Maybe The X-Files is over. Maybe I should, like Scully, decline to partake in that nectar of a bygone age.
What’s the phrase again?
Take me back to the start.
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