X-Files writer Darin Morgan teases Twilight Zone-inspired episode
In 25 years and 11 seasons of The X-Files, almost no writer has had more of an influence on the show than Darin Morgan. In the show’s original run of 202 episodes, Morgan was singlehandedly responsible for only four, but those four — “Humbug,” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “War of the Coprophages,” and “José Chung’s From Outer Space” — were some of the most creatively complicated and beloved hours the show has ever seen. (He also starred as two very different X-Files monsters: the notorious New Jersey sewer monster the Flukeman and the shape-shifting janitor Eddie Van Blundht, who was born with a tail.)
While early episodes dabbled in comedy, it was Morgan who fully pushed the boundaries of what the show could be. (“Clyde Bruckman” is still the only episode to win an Emmy for writing.) The backbone of The X-Files has always been its mythology episodes, establishing Mulder and Scully as agents of truth and justice battling nefarious government overlords, but Morgan’s standalone monster-of-the-week episodes weren’t afraid to inject a little farce or meta-commentary on the very nature of storytelling. There are rarely black-and-white good guys and bad guys in Morgan’s episodes; instead, you get a lot of investigations into universal human experiences and ordinary people just trying their best to make their way in the world. Also, they’re frequently hilarious.
Morgan returned for the season 10 revival, penning the 2016 fan-favorite “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” and now, he’s back with season 11’s funniest and most insightful episode yet. “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” finds Mulder and Scully meeting Reggie (Brian Huskey), a panicked conspiracy theorist with some surprising knowledge of Mulder and Scully’s past. “I wanted to do a conspiracy episode,” Morgan explains. “I hadn’t really done one before.”
The result is a twisty tale of false memories and nostalgia, packed with tongue-in-cheek Trump references, Twilight Zone throwbacks, and a deep dive into the Mandela Effect. (The effect refers to the phenomenon where multiple people misremember a fact or event. To use a popular example, if you were shocked to learn that the beloved children’s book series about an anthropomorphic ursine family is spelled The Berenstain Bears, not The Berenstein Bears, you’ve been a victim of the Mandela Effect.)
Before the episode airs, EW chatted with Morgan about writing Mulder and Scully in 2018 — and how the show’s investigation into truth and facts is more relevant than ever.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the initial idea for this episode come from?
DARIN MORGAN: The initial thing was trying to find some sort of Trump thing. I wanted to write something about it because [the show’s] whole premise is “The Truth is Out There,” and now your fictional characters work for someone for whom the truth is a bit fuzzy. So, you should write something about that. Rather than coming up with a story idea or a plot or the weird phenomenon thing, I actually started from that viewpoint. Which is a bit different from what I’ve normally done.
And how did that evolve into focusing on the Mandela Effect?
I guess the appeal to the Mandela Effect to me was that it’s such a small thing: You have a memory of some cultural thing that nobody else does. It seems like such a tiny thing, and a lot of people can relate to that. But then if you keep exploring the idea, it can kind of drive you crazy. If you have a memory of a certain thing, a childhood memory that turns out it’s not true, you start thinking, “Well, what else do I remember that may not be true?” And if you continue down that path, you’ve gone insane maybe. So that was the appeal. It was a very simple idea, and if you let it snowball, you end up like one of these Twilight Zone characters who are trying to convince everybody that the world’s gone mad, and you’ve got a lot of forehead sweat. [Laughs.]
This is an episode that is such a love letter to The Twilight Zone, which itself was such an influence on the original run of The X-Files. What was it about The Twilight Zone that you really wanted to explore with this episode?
The thing as a kid that I loved about The Twilight Zone was something viewers who watch those nowadays don’t know: You had no idea what you were going to see. I watched The Twilight Zone in syndication, and you had no idea what the episode might be about. It could be a lousy one; it could be one of the greatest things you’d ever seen. And there was just sort of that excitement, where you had no idea what it was going to be.
I think a lot of shows now have become so serialized. Audiences, they don’t know the plot twists of what an episode is going to be, but they basically know what the show is going to be like, what the tone is going to be like, who the characters are. It’s all pretty familiar. And I guess that was one of the appeals about writing for The X-Files. You could write [episodes] that were very different from the previous ones. That might drive modern-day audiences a bit crazy, but I enjoy watching shows like that, where you don’t know what you’re going to get. And I’ve enjoyed writing for that more than I have for serialized series that I’ve done.
One of the things I’ve always loved about your episodes is the way you write Mulder. You kind of deconstruct the idea of him as this mythological hero on a noble quest for truth. How do you approach Mulder in 2018, when, like you said, truth is such a political, hot-button issue?
Well, I think back in the day I made a lot of fun of Mulder. Now both the character and myself are older, and I think I can relate to him more. I think as you get older, you become aware that you don’t know as much as you think you do, and you’re not sure of certain things. You learn to accept that or deal with that. So I think these past two episodes that I’ve done, I can kind of relate to Mulder more in a way that I couldn’t.
Check back with EW after “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” airs for more from Darin Morgan, breaking down some of the episode’s more spoiler-y moments.