Nobody Knows For Sure: The X-Files, ‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat’
"I want to remember how it was. I want to remember how it all was.”
In frightening times, we turn to art for comfort. Sometimes that art takes the form of a dramatic film like Steven Speilberg’s The Post. Other times that art takes the form of an episode from a TV show about conspiracy theories and aliens.
The first three episodes of Season 11 of The X-Files have subtly hinted at the idea of a parallel universe. In “My Struggle III,” viewers were left wondering if what we were seeing was real and if so, where it existed in the world of The X-Files, particularly since the events depicted seemed to take place after some of the events from Season 10 but before others. Episode 2 imagined an alternate society populated by the consciousness of dead people who found new life on a computer server, while Episode 3 hinted at what might happen if alternate versions of Mulder and Scully existed. (Spoiler Alert: they’d have sex.)
In “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” the idea of a parallel universe is postulated but a frustrated Scully is having none of it. Nevertheless, the idea persists. What if there was a world in which the Mandela Effect was really called the Mengele Effect? What if there was a world in which Mulder became fat and part of the Deep State? What if there was a world where the truth was out there but no one believed it?
Mulder is confronted with the idea that his time has passed, “a time when people of power thought that they could keep their secrets secret and were willing to do anything to keep it that way,” a “post-conspiracy age.” What’s scary about this new age is that “the public no longer knows what’s meant by the truth.” What’s real and what’s fake? When Mulder insists that there’s still an objective truth, he is met with condescending laughter from a mysterious figure known as Dr. They: “So what?”
It’s not only a brilliant commentary on this post-truth age, but a self-reflexive look at The X-Files. Do we still need The X-Files in a world where Alex Jones and Pizzagate exist?
As it turns out, yes, we need it more than ever.
Listing all the hilarious moments in this episode would ruin the surprises for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. The real pleasures of “Forehead Sweat” don’t just come from its continued, savage skewering of the current White House Administration, but also from the way the show pokes fun at itself and its characters, not to mention the human race.
If you haven’t been watching this season of The X-Files, whether it's because you didn’t like last season’s episodes or because you think that the show's time has passed, then the joke is on you. “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” proves that The X-Files is more relevant than ever and will likely go down as one of the top five episodes in a series that is, unfortunately, nearing its end.