X-Files writer breaks down his Trump-inspired episode 'about truth and lying'
Plus, the scene Darin Morgan 'couldn't stop laughing' about
WARNING! Spoilers are out there. This post discusses plot points from the X-Files episode “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat.”
There are X-Files episodes that are scary. There are X-Files episodes that are funny. There are X-Files episodes concerning aliens and sewer monsters and Mothman, and there are X-Files that dig into heavy themes of truth and humanity and the very nature of good and evil.
And then there are X-Files episodes like “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” which is about 5,000 things all at once. Part Twilight Zone homage, part rebuke of “fake news,” part parody, and part meta-commentary on the very existence of the show, the fourth episode of the season 11 revival is a delight, following Mulder and Scully as they come face to face with a mysterious conspiracy theorist they know as Reggie Something (Brian Huskey).
If nothing else, it’s an episode that is distinctively Darin Morgan. The longtime X-Files veteran wrote and directed “Forehead Sweat,” and he’s responsible for penning some of the most thoughtful and idiosyncratic hours in the show’s 25-year run, including “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” and “José Chung’s ‘From Outer Space.'” (He also appeared over the years as memorable monsters the Flukeman and the shapeshifter Eddie Van Blundht.) “Forehead Sweat” has all the hallmarks of a Morgan special, from one-liners and fantasy sequences to fourth-wall breaks that poke fun at the show’s 11-season legacy. Like the show’s FBI protagonists, this is an episode that questions everything, but the questions it raises can’t be answered and wrapped up neatly in 45 minutes.
EW caught up with Morgan to talk about “Forehead Sweat” and reveal a few of the episode’s secrets. (He talks in general, less spoiler-y terms about the episode here.) Below, he breaks down some of the hour’s biggest moments, from the Twilight Zone references to that scene-stealing alien on a scooter.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You previously mentioned how in 2018, the show is so informed by the current political climate. There are a lot of references in this episode to Trump — like aliens building walls around Earth, for example. How did you find the right balance in talking about the political stuff? Were you ever hesitant to inject it too much?
DARIN MORGAN: Oh no, I wasn’t hesitant … that was kind of the main purpose behind [writing this episode]. And it’s sort of another tie-in to The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling created the show. He wasn’t really into sci-fi, but his original purpose was because he was writing stories that had a political message and he felt they were being censored. So he figured if he took a sci-fi setting, then maybe it’ll get his messages across. And I felt that this is kind of a similar opportunity, although obviously I did it in a much sillier way.
But that was a thing that The Twilight Zone often did. They made people look at a different perspective than a person was used to looking at. And I thought, people who support Trump or who support the wall, what would they think if an alien came down and flipped it on them? How would they regard it? I’m not a political writer, per se, and you don’t want to offend anyone. You don’t want people to just turn everything off because they don’t share your political viewpoint, but you’re making sort of a general comment about people’s perspectives and about the truth and lying. And that seems like everybody can understand it and relate to it.
Which is not to say that everyone’s going to like the episode! Some people I’m sure will be offended by it. But that’s the price you pay, I guess.
I think this episode raises such fascinating questions about a person’s personal relationship with the truth and how you can convince yourself that something is true, regardless of whether it actually is.
Yeah, we seem to be at a stage now where nobody knows what’s true and what’s not, and I believe that’s another definition of insanity. [Laughs] It’s the feeling that the world’s gone mad. That’s what it feels like.
I have to ask about the scene where Mulder is remembering his childhood, and you’ve got young Fox Mulder with adult David Duchovny’s head. Where did that come from?
Well, there was a speech afterwards that Scully gave about memory and how we can change and shape our memories. They’re not recorded bits of information. Which I had to lose for time. But the idea there is, when we think back on our memories from our youth, we have a tendency — or at least I do — to imagine my current mindset. Whenever I think about my youth, I’m like, “Why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I do that?” And then you drive by high school students and you go, “Oh, that’s why I didn’t do it. Because I was a kid.” You tend to think of your adult consciousness, and you take that with you when you’re thinking back on your memories and things you’ve done in the past. Our memories are sometimes not quite accurate. That’s one of the reasons of many, I guess. So that’s that idea, and of course, it’s just a funny way of doing it.
Along those same lines, I also wanted to ask about the ending, where Scully decides not to eat the Goop-o ABC and not revisit that beloved memory. Instead, she chooses to remember things as they were. Why did you decide to end on that note?
Oh. [Laughs] I don’t want to be a jerk, but I’m going to leave that ambiguous. One of the things I actually kind of like about the episode is it’s about a lot of things, but it’s actually kind of hard to pinpoint exactly what it’s about or what it’s saying. And there are certain things that are hard to pinpoint or explain. That ambiguity, I kind of like that about the episode. And I think that’s part of what the ending is. So I’ll leave it there. I’m sorry!
You don’t have to apologize! I think it’s a perfect ending. I also love the fantastic montage of old episodes, re-edited to include Brian Huskey as Reggie. How did you decide which old episodes or scenes to include?
Well, that was the last thing I wrote. My script was due, so at like 3 in the morning, I was going through old episodes. [Laughs] I thought it would be much easier than it turned out to be. Some of the episodes that I thought I was going to use, or certain scenes that I wanted to use that were famous for fans, the problem was those scenes, I remembered them incorrectly. Which I guess is in keeping with the theme of the episode. [Laughs] But so many of the important scenes are played out in tight close-ups between Mulder and Scully. There was no place to fit Reggie in. So I ended up [choosing] certain episodes, and how I could fit Reggie into a particular shot sort of dictated it. And like I said, it was like 4 in the morning, so I ended up picking a handful and letting it go at that.
Eddie Van Blundht makes an appearance, which made me laugh.
I get a residual. I’m no dummy.
The last thing I wanted to ask you about was that final scene with the alien on the Segway, where you reference the Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man.” That’s where the episode goes into full farce. Walk me through how that scene came together.
The most interesting thing with that was that it was not intended to be on the little scooter. The actor [who played the alien] was in full makeup and costume when we started setting up the lighting and stuff, and that’s his own little scooter. That’s how he gets around. He was riding around on that thing, and it just looked hysterical. I grabbed the DP, Greg, and I go, “Greg, we gotta use this. It just looks too funny.” So that was sort of an unexpected special treat. When we were shooting that, I couldn’t stop laughing. Fortunately, the alien speaks telepathically, so it didn’t matter that I was ruining takes by laughing. That made it all worth it, just to shoot that thing. Usually shooting this stuff is really hard, but shooting that scene… I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.
The X-Files airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.