A new Darin Morgan X-Files episode airs tonight. Longtime series fans need no further explanation—that name is reason enough to drop everything and watch it. If you need a little more convincing (especially if you suffered through the season 11 premiere and swore off the show forever), stay tuned.
Darin Morgan—director and co-writer of tonight’s episode, “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat”—began his association with The X-Files through his brother, Glen Morgan, one of the show’s producers and writers. Darin’s first credit was actually as an actor; he played the sucker-faced “Flukeman,” spawned from radioactive waste and gripped by the urge to spawn, in the season two episode “The Host.” The human-worm thing spent most of its time lurking in a sewer, and the creature suit and prosthetics looked pretty cumbersome... though given what scripts Morgan would later have his name on, one suspects he was pretty stoked to play the monster. (In season four, he’d return for another acting role, this time playing a shape-shifting janitor with a tail in “Small Potatoes.”)
His name next popped up on season two’s “Blood”—about a small town besieged by violence after chemicals make people start hallucinating and obeying disturbing messages (“Kill ‘em all!”) that appear in electronics with digital displays, like ATMs and microwaves. Morgan had a story credit on the script (which was co-written by Glen Morgan and Glen’s regular collaborator, James Wong); though “Blood” doesn’t contain a wacky monster, it does hint at Darin Morgan’s interest in shadowy government plots that wreak all kinds of havoc and collateral damage on everyday citizens. In other words, The X-Files was the perfect place for his talents.
The true Darin Morgan era began later in season two, with “Humbug.” The episode is elevated by its guest casting, which included two legendary character actors (Twin Peaks’ Michael J. Anderson and Ghost’s Vincent Schiavelli) as well as real-life personalities from the 1990s alt-circus scene (including human blockhead Jim Rose and stomach-of-steel anomaly “The Enigma”).
But it’s the story that really makes it special, with a unique and specific setting—a Florida town where “freaks,” both retired and still performing, dwell between shows and tours—and themes of otherness (interpreted many ways) and self-acceptance (ditto) that bring dramatic heft to what’s also a delightfully bizarre murder mystery.
Morgan’s next episode, season three’s “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” is probably his best-remembered, since it won a pair of high-profile Emmys: One for Morgan’s screenplay, and one for guest star Peter Boyle, who plays a reluctant clairvoyant who helps Scully and Mulder track down another psychic who’s obsessed with killing others who claim they can see the future. It has some campy moments, notably introducing the character of “the Stupendous Yappi,” a Uri Geller-esque celebrity who became one of Morgan’s recurring characters. But, again, concealed in a story with plenty of hocus-pocus and auto-erotic asphyxiation jokes at Mulder’s expense, there’s deep, thoughtful poignancy, as Boyle’s title character grapples with the weight of his “gift,” forming an especially close bond with Scully as the episode progresses.
Morgan might’ve picked up the Emmy for “Clyde Bruckman,” but his other season three episodes—roach-infestation tale “War of the Coprophages,” which features a hilarious bit about Scully literally phoning in her detective work; and alien-abduction tale “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” which features a meta-plot with Charles Nelson Reilly as the title author, who writes a book about the incident in the episode—are also memorable standouts in the X-Files’ huge pool of entries. Morgan also helped with Kim Newton’s script for “Quagmire,” a sea monster story that worked in some callbacks to previous Morgan episodes.
“Quagmire” is also a bridge to Morgan’s season 10 episode, which he wrote and directed: “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” which many fans declared the best installment in The X-Files’ uneven revival as a “special event” series. The newer episodes that have explored the series’ tangled mythology take themselves way too seriously—this is definitely still happening in the current season 11 so far—but “Were-Monster” reminded us why we were so damn excited for the show to return in the first place. It’s about a lizard monster who turns into a man (delightfully played by Rhys Darby), much to his horror and the horror of everyone around him. It also contains a lavish amount of much-appreciated fan service, bringing back the burnout couple from “Coprophages” and “Quagmire”—and finding a new dog for Scully in place of the one she adopted in “Clyde Bruckman,” flea-bathed in “Coprophages,” and tragically lost in “Quagmire.”
So, yeah. Tonight, we get a new Darin Morgan X-Files episode. It’s called “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” and it’s about the mass mis-remembering phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect (“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?”Morgan told Entertainment Weekly. “And if you continue down that path, you’ve gone insane maybe.”) Here’s the bonkers trailer, with a glimpse of guest star Brian Huskey (appropriately, of alien-abduction comedy People of Earth).
Hell yes. The X-Files airs Wednesday nights on Fox.