Skip to main content

Confuse The Twilight Zone with The Outer Limits? DO YOU EVEN KNOW ME?

The X-Files
11.4: The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat

(SPOILERS) Can Darin Morgan just write every episode of The X-Files? Even The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat, which teeters into the territory of the less than worthy of his talent in places by going for obvious targets – Morgan is generally signposted by his ability to do exactly not that – is leagues ahead of anything else in either this series or (mostly) the original.


Mulder: It’s the Mandela Effect. When someone has a memory of something that’s not shared by the masses, or the factual record.

As current age conspiracy theories go, the Mandela Effect is one of the leaders of the pack, and being an intrinsically quirky theory, it’s entirely appropriate that Morgan should present it in his trademark quirky, self-reflexive style. While it gets its name from the belief, as cited by Mulder, that Nelson Mandela died in prison, and includes such speculation as whether our internal organs, as per medical text books, are in different places from where they used to be, Morgan also references the more common idiosyncrasy of the effect, that it seems to weave its magic on innocuous pop culture events, such as whether there was a ‘90s movie called Shazam starring Sinbad (see also C-3P0’s never-used-to-be silver leg, or Jaws’ girlfriend in Moonraker’s lack of tooth-wear) or Scully’s childhood love for Goop-O (did Fruit Loops change their name from Froot Loops?) Although, the latter is most notable for Scully continuing the season’s taint referencing (“Lemon and lime tastes like leprechaun taint”).


Reggie: Were you followed?
Mulder: It would be a hell of a twist if it were Rod Serling.

And then there’s Mulder’s obsession with his memory of the first Twilight Zone episode,
(“But Mulder, isn’t you fake Twilight Zone memory also a Mandela Effect?”: “No, because my fake memory is real”) offered the altogether mundane explanation that, as the explanation would be with the beloved flawed memories of so many, that it was never an episode of The Twilight Zone at all; it’s from The Dusty Realm (ahem). That’s obviously the “wise’ conclusion of any rational minded type taking a cursory glance into these waters, and one suspects it’s Morgan’s too, given he only really gives the thing a smidgeon of credit in a late stage gag.


Mulder: Maybe, this is simply evidence of a parallel universe.
Scully and Reggie: WHAT?

He scrupulously avoids mentioning CERN, the holy grail of Mandela Effect theorists. Could that be because it’s already lined up for a devoted plotline (it is fairly irresistible)? But Mulder does kind of invoke it with his initial enthusiasm for a parallel universe answer to the conundrum (“We’re not going to do this parallel universe, sci-fi gobbledegook, nerd boy. Please, just drop it”).


Mulder: The Mandela Effect has been an Internet meme for almost a decade. It’s always been called that.
Reggie: Ah, you see, you’re having a Mengele Effect about the Mandela Effect.

The episode hinges on the testimony of one Reggie Something (Brian Huskey), in common with many Morgan structures required to tell shaggy dog stories (along with Dr They) in order to guide the narrative. He claims the government is trying to erase him from history, that he knows Mulder and Scully (or “Sculls”) and even that he actually started the X-Files (cue an amusingly re-jigged title sequence and clips from classic episodes, including the Pilot, Tooms, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, Home, Bad Blood and, er Tesos Dos Bichos).


His path began while tracking down Dr Wuzzle books that he remembers being spelt Wussle (“No, I remember the logo being racist in a different way”), and he claims the Effect is named after Josef Mengele, because of the memory some have of his apprehension in Ohio in 1970.  That Reggie turns out to be Reginald Murgatroyd, who suffered a nervous breakdown through recognising that, by serving his country he was betraying its very ideals, is perhaps inevitable (Reggie witnessed a UFO landing in Grenada, and embarked on a series of government jobs, from US postal service, to IRS, to SEC, DoJ and CIA and DoD). But Morgan offers the sliver, in keeping with the work of Dr They, that Reggie is telling the truth, when Skinner arrives to see Murgatroyd driven away by the men in white suits (“Where the hell are they taking Reggie?”)


The problem is, the choice to make the Mandela Effect about Fake News is something of a misstep, not that Morgan doesn’t hit some targets, but that he also launches at lazy, easy ones. This season has become overpoweringly overburdened by the weight of the Trump regime, whereas this is exactly the kind of show that shouldn’t take new incumbents so literally as exerting real power. Writer after writer is crying into their cornflakes for an America they don’t recognise any more, but the Morgan of old response would more likely be that it’s exactly the same one, just with a different set of obfuscators sticking their heads above the parapets.


Dr They: It’s a presentation of real facts but in a way that ensures no one will believe any of it.
Mulder: To what end?
Dr They: The bitter end.

Getting an almost unrecognisable Stuart Margolin (Angel in The Rockford Files) to play Dr Thaddeus Q They is something of a coup, and at least part of his pitch is astute as it relates to Phoney Fake News: that the objective is to make anyone and everyone uncertain about what to believe any more. Certainly, as this relates to the conspirasphere, not that you’re supposed to believe anything in such territory, it could never be more so. They makes a case for a post-cover-up, post-conspiracy age (“Po-co”) (“In the old days, I’d never have gone out and told you”) and Morgan takes up his own baton from last season’s Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster when They informs Mulder his time has passed (“Time when people of power thought they could keep secrets”). It doesn’t matter what comes out when no one can be sure how much veracity any of it has.


Mulder: To be honest, I’m not believing any of this.
Dr They: Well, believe what you want. You’re only proving my point, you twit.

The idea of consciously manipulating the truth in order to slide subjects from the radar (“the gamut from holocaust denial to corporate product news. Products catch on fire, companies like G- spending billions to repress memories”) has a certain cachet, but Morgan doesn’t quite stick the landing, going from playful noodling to clumsily on-the-nose Trumpism that Carter might have written (“We’re building a wall” announce the aliens. Who no longer want to have any further contact with us because we lie. The barrel-scraping parting shot? “You’re free to explore Uranus”) Mulder’s summation of the situation is at least amusing (“So that’s the truth. We’re not alone in the universe, but not one likes us?”), but the last quarter finds some decidedly not-so-sharp writing.


FBI Agent: You start out a rebel. But then you get fat. The next thing you know, you’re deep state. It’s sad.
Mulder: Do you know who I am? I’m Fox Mulder. I was fighting the power to break conspiracies before you saw your first chemtrail, you punks. I’m Fox Mulder! I’m Fox freakin’ Mulder, you punks! I’m Fox Mulder! Fox Mulder!

Which is a shame, as for much of this ride, Morgan is delivering dynamite, from shots at Duchovny’s waistline to the explanation that no one gets probed by aliens anymore because of the Mandela Effect. And the clip from The Last Martian is a lovely little vignette worthy of Joe Dante’s Mant (“That ain’t a window. That’s a mirror”).


Mulder: I was out squatchin’.
Scully: Any luck?
Mulder: No, but that’s not the point. I just had to get away from the madness for a little while. It seems this past year all I’ve done is watch the news and worry that the country’s gone insane. I had to get out to nature, you know, where it’s simple and uncomplicated, where it’s just you and the elements. And possibly a cryptozoological, simian-like hairy humanoid with enormous feet.
Scully: I think you just like squatchin’.

So this is the rarity for me, the Darin Morgan episode that doesn’t get five stars. Perhaps he’s got fat. Oh wait… That would just be small potatoes to him.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Ex-coke dealer Tim Allen’s underwhelming box office career is, like Vince Vaughn’s, regularly in need of a boost from an indiscriminate public willing to see any old turkey posing as a prize Christmas comedy.  He made three Santa Clauses, and here is joined by Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple planning to forgo the usual neighbourhood festivities for a cruise.

It's their place, Mac. They have a right to make of it what they can. Besides, you can't eat scenery!

Local Hero (1983)
(SPOILERS) With the space of thirty-five years, Bill Forsyth’s gentle eco-parable feels more seductive than ever. Whimsical is a word often applied to Local Hero, but one shouldn’t mistake that description for its being soft in the head, excessively sentimental or nostalgic. Tonally, in terms of painting a Scottish idyll where the locals are no slouches in the face of more cultured foreigners, the film hearkens to both Powell and Pressburger (I Know Where I’m Going!) and Ealing (Whisky Galore!), but it is very much its own beast.

The guy practically lives in a Clue board.

Knives Out (2019)
(SPOILERS) “If Agatha Christie were writing today, she’d have a character who’s an Internet troll.” There’s a slew of ifs and buts in that assertion, but it tells you a lot about where Rian Johnson is coming from with Knives Out. As in, Christie might – I mean, who can really say? – but it’s fair to suggest she wouldn’t be angling her material the way Johnson does, who for all his pronouncement that “This isn’t a message movie” is very clearly making one. He probably warrants a hesitant pass on that statement, though, to the extent that Knives Out’s commentary doesn’t ultimately overpower the whodunnit side of the plot. On the other hand, when Daniel Craig’s eccentrically accented sleuth Benoit Blanc is asked “You’re not much of a detective, are you?” the only fair response is vigorous agreement.

Those were not just ordinary people there.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
(SPOILERS) Eyes Wide Shut’s afterlife in the conspirasphere has become so legendary, even a recent BFI retrospective article had to acknowledge the “outlandish” suggestions that this was Kubrick’s all-out exposé of the Illuminati, an exposé so all-out it got him murdered, 24 all-important minutes excised into the bargain. At the time of its release, even as a conspiracy buff, I didn’t think the film was suggestive of anything exactly earthshattering in that regard. I was more taken with the hypnotic pace, which even more than the unsympathetic leads, made the picture stand out from its 1999 stablemates. I’m not enough of a Kubrick devotee to rewatch his oeuvre on a loop, but that initial response still largely holds true; I can quite respect those who consider Eyes Wide Shut a (or the) masterpiece from the director, but it can’t quite reach such heights for me.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

What beastly luck!

The Jungle Book (1967)
(SPOILERS) The greatest Disney animation arrived soon after Sir Walt had pegged it, but, given its consistency with, and progression from, Wolfgang Reitherman’s previous Disney entries during the decade, its difficult to believe he wouldn’t have wholeheartedly approved. The Jungle Book is a perfect Mouse House distillation of irreverence and sentiment, of modernity and classicism, of laidback narrative cohesion and vibrant, charged set pieces. And the songs are fantastic.

So much so, Jon Favreau’s new version will include reprises of The Bare Necessities and Trust in Me, in a partially motion-captured world that seems (on the surface) entirely at odds with the goofy, knowing tone Reitherman instilled in Rudyard Kipling’s classic. That wouldn’t surprise me, as Favreau’s sense of material has been increasingly erratic since the giddy high of the first Iron Man. Andy Serkis’ competing Jungle Book: Origins (despite the abject misery of its title) will be entirely perfo…