I love The X-Files more than I love most of my family members, and The X-Files breaks my goddamn heart.
It's always been a hit-or-miss show, with brilliant episodes sitting right next to terrible ones, and its recent revival—with six episodes in 2016, and a 10-episode limited series that's currently airing—has only exacerbated its frustrating dichotomy. In 2016, there was exactly one good episode ("Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster"), and so far, this season's episodes have, somehow, been even worse. As fellow my X-phile Ciara Dolan wrote a few weeks ago in the Mercury, this season "verges on nonsense" and, particularly in the thuddingly stupid episodes written by series creator Chris Carter, is best described "soapy and incoherent."
As was the case in 2016, apparently we're getting at least one excellent episode to balance out the execrable ones. Tonight's episode—"The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat"—is GREAT. In fact, like "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster," it's probably one of the series' all-time bests. Even if you're skipping all the others this season (and, based on what we've seen so far, you probably should), if you've got even a bit of love for The X-Files in your cold, cold heart, you've got to watch this one.
Written by longtime X-Files writer (and sometimes actor) Darin Morgan—the guy not only responsible for "Were-Monster," but a bunch of the series' other outstanding episodes, like "Humbug," "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space"—"The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat" is funny and weird and smart, managing to never take itself too seriously while also hitting at exactly what makes The X-Files so great.
I'm hesitant to say too much about "Forehead Sweat," because its surprises are too fun to ruin—but I will say that it features an alien riding a hoverboard, a missing Twilight Zone episode, the non-existent Sinbad movie Shazaam, secretive meetings in parking garages (natch), and a series-shattering reveal of the "They" that's been behind some of the greatest conspiracies of our time. Like Morgan's other episodes, it both plays with the X-Files' format and knows precisely what makes it tick; unlike the rest of this season, it stays far away from the show's exceedingly bewildering mythology. Instead, it focuses on the two best hallmarks of the show: The relationship between Mulder and Scully, and their relationships with various monsters of the week.
In other words, it's a blast, and in daring to have some fun, it somehow manages to also be the most involving episode so far this season. With its awkward, shambling return to television, The X-Files has consistently felt like it's trying too hard. Morgan, though, makes it look easy.