Warning: SPOILERS ahead for The X-Files, "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat"
The X-Files is back for a new – and possibly final – season. The series first began in 1993, and a lot has changed since then. In addition to stories about monsters and aliens, the core mythology of the series hinged on its portrayal of the deep state of the US government; inspired by conspiracy films of the 1970s, which were in turn inspired by President Richard Nixon and the Watergate conspiracy that ultimately forced him to resign his office, The X-Files featured shadowy cabals who operated in secret and would go to extreme lengths to keep the truth hidden from the public.
Today, the world is different, and The X-Files has changed to offer perspective on the breakneck, nausea-inducing pace of Donald Trump's America. This new season has had winks and nods towards the current administration, beginning with the season premiere, "My Struggle III," in which The Cigarette Smoking Man utters the phrase "fake news," and then grew bolder with episode two, "This," and has finally reached a fever pitch with the latest episode, "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat."
The main plot of "This" throws shade at the current US President by showing the Executive Branch (the office of The President) hindering an FBI investigation into a private contractor, Purlieu Services. The episode pulls no punches and outright states that Purlieu is an American company, though headquartered in Moscow, and its operations have ascendancy over those of the FBI, through direct (and classified) order of the Executive Branch. Elsewhere in the episode, an operative of Purlieu utters the provocative line, "Americans would have been just fine losing the Cold War if they could only make a little money off of it." Some would argue that such a scenario has actually come to pass, depending on the results of the pending investigation into the Trump campaign's knowledge of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The text at the end of the opening credits, rather than the traditional "The Truth is Out There," instead reads, "Accuse Your Enemies Of That Which You Are Guilty." This quote is generally attributed to Joseph Goebbels, the infamous architect of Nazi propaganda, whom the Trump campaign was often accused of emulating. After all, Trump was a businessman, a member of the wealthiest 1%, who ran with the promise of "draining the swamp" of corporate interests and appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton for her supposed crimes.
Ultimately, the swamp was not drained. Trump's Presidential Cabinet is full of wealthy billionaires with no experience in the fields to which they were appointed, and a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, is currently knee-deep into an investigation of potential crimes committed by, and on the behalf of, Donald Trump.
"The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat"
The X-Files's anti-Trump sentiment really came to a head in the latest episode, "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat," written and directed by series veteran Darin Morgan ("Clyde Bruckman's Final Response," "Jose Chung's From Outer Space"). The episode, through the pretense of The Mandela Effect, manages to become a scathing indictment of the president and his supporters, as well as their anti-thought rallying cry of "Fake News."
Reggie "Somebody" drops into Mulder and Scully's lives and claims to know of a vast conspiracy involving shared memory alteration by a mysterious Doctor Thaddeus Q. They. Like most of Morgan's episodes, the plot is a self-aware farce which subverts the holy cornerstones of X-Files lore and pulls them apart for maximum comedic effect, but this one boldly points its finger directly at Donald Trump.
The Mandela Effect is when a large group of people remember things differently from the way they actually happened, and is named after the curious phenomenon of people mistakenly believing that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s. Other examples include vivid recollections of a non-existent movie called Shazaam starring Sinbad as an 'irrepressible genie' (likely confused with Kazaam, starring Shaquille O'Neal as an 'irrepressible genie'), and the spelling and pronounciation of the Berenstain Bears book series (parodied here with Dr. Wuzzle... Or is it Wussle?)
The episode first makes the connection when it makes fleeting reference to the crowd at the president's inauguration, claiming that Doctor They (wearing one of those gaudy "Make America Great Again" hats) was seated atop the Washington Monument during the event. It was "the last remaining seat available," due to the "hundreds of millions who attended," making it impossible to observe the ceremony from anywhere else.
This, of course, is a reference to the underwhelming crowd size at the 2017 inauguration, which was infamously misreported by then-press secretary Sean Spicer, as well as the president himself. In defending Trump and Spicer's remarks about crowd size, Trump surrogate Kellyanne Conway coined the term, "Alternative Facts," which is where The X-Files comes in.
I Want To Believe?
Near the end of the episode, when Mulder finally meets Doctor They face to face, the eccentric old man immediately opens up with a monologue about the shameless nature of powerful people in the 21st century.
"When's the last time someone admitted doing something they're ashamed of? Even if they're caught on tape, they just say, "That was taken out of context." ...Your time, Agent Mulder, has passed. When people of power thought they could keep their secrets secret and were willing to do anything to keep it that way. Those days are gone. We're living in a post-coverup, post-conspiracy age."
He jokingly calls this era PoCo.
"No one will care whether the truth gets out, because the public no longer knows what's meant by the truth. No one can tell the difference anymore between what's real and what's fake. Take this Mandela Effect. In the old days, I never would have come out and admitted to you that yes, I can change people's collective memories."
And that's the truth of this particular X-File. A man who is happy to share his terrible secret because nobody believes him - or, if they do, they just don't care.