“The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” is the best X-Files episode so far this season. It’s a mess, no doubt, built on a self-destructing narrative. I understand if you hate it. I loved it, but it has problems. More than anything: It is a lot. There are fantasies, flashbacks that never were, metafiction, the argument that reality itself is metafiction, the phrase “phony fake news.” It is sort of a clip show, and sort of a parody, an attempt toward Trumpian art, and — maybe — a final statement.
The episode’s written by Darin Morgan, whose previous scripts pushed the show to its own outer limits of comedy and tragedy, surrealism, cockroaches, and Alex Trebek. “Forehead Sweat” breaks through the last Great Barrier of sanity. You think of that old Warner Bros. cartoon, where Daffy Duck runs into white space and begs the animator to paint him a background. Or—more recent, less classy, much weirder—you think of the end of The Hills, when it turned out the fake real people were really fake all along.
There’s a scene where Mulder meets the most evil man in the world, creator of the conspiracy to end all conspiracies. They have a long conversation about the nature of everything. Our hero declares, uneasy, that there is “still an objective truth, an objective reality.” Sure, but also: They’re walking through an outdoor art installation, statues of men whose silent laughter seems to taunt Mulder. This Yue Minjun sculpture series is called A-maze-ing Laughter, and it’s in Vancouver. X-Files has mostly shot in Vancouver, of course, but usually the show hides that reality, filming on nondescript street corners, repeating that establishing shot of FBI HQ. So this obvious location shooting feels like a wink from Morgan, who also directed this episode. You halfway expect Mulder to look around, eyes wide open for the first time: “Dear god, I’m in Canada!”
The tone is set by the prologue. It’s a scene from “The Lost Martian,” a Twilight Zone episode that Mulder remembers the way Proust remembered Aunt Léonie’s spongecake. We see a guy tell a bartender that aliens have already invaded. The guy sees a Martian outside a window; he points toward the window, to us, through the fourth wall. But the window is a mirror. And when the guy looks in the mirror…he sees an alien! Or maybe it’s not a mirror, and did I mention the bartender was an alien, too? Cut to Fox Mulder, eight years old, a moment of epiphany: “Now I get it!”
“The Lost Martian” matters to Mulder. But it’s not important because it’s important. “It’s about my memory of seeing my first Twilight Zone,” he tries to explain, a legendary TV character worshipping legendary TV. And now “The Lost Martian” has gone missing, like it never happened, canceled from history. Mulder checks the internet, scans through his DVD boxed set, pages through his episode guidebooks. This is a quest through bygone ages of fandom: You imagine Mulder clicking through wikias, grabbing DVDs off a dusty bookshelf, pulling guidebooks out of boxes no next of kin will ever bother opening. His final recourse is digging through his own videotapes, a personal archive leftover from the ancient period when everyone wasn’t an archivist.
This quest begins with a mystery man. Reggie Something (Brian Huskey) meets Mulder in a parking lot. This is a double reference, of course: Mulder used to meet shadowy informants like Steven Williams’ Mr. X in a parking lot, because the creators of X-Files were obsessed with Watergate the way modern TV creators are obsessed with OJ, and Watergate informant Deep Throat met journalist Bob Woodward in a parking lot. Reggie tells Mulder a strange story about erased memories. And he seems to know Mulder, well enough to tell him his favorite Twilight Zone episode never existed.
He knows Scully, too. Enough to call her “Sculls,” enough to give her an old snack from long-ago, something called a Goop-O. “I have such wonderful memories associated with it,” says Scully. “I remember family vacations over the summer holidays, and Fourth of July, fireworks, America, God, love.” Gillian Anderson reads those words like she’s scenesetting the great American novel, and David Duchovny cuts her off with perfect snarky wonder: “That’s some Jello!”
“Forehead Sweat” has big ambitions. It wants to talk about the Mandela Effect, the theory that mass misremembrance is proof of some existential conspiracy. And it wants to talk about alternate realities, a science-fiction concept gone so mainstream that it’s peddled by bloated reactionary gasbags and dramedy billboards and every fan theory about every TV show. “Forehead Sweat” is so specific in its politics that it features a Martian direct-quoting Donald Trump, and so absurd in its politics that Martian Donald rides a Segway.
Like Morgan’s splendidly goofball 2016 outing “Mulder and Scully and the Were-Monster,” this episode takes a tough look at Mulder’s legacy, which doubles for the very explicit legacy of The X-Files. At one point, our sly Fox declares that the world has simply become too crazy for his, ahem, “conspiratorial powers.” Scully has her own theory about that. “Maybe you’ve just lost your taste for it,” she says, “especially after all this birther stuff.” That’s right: The Big Man in the White House got there because he peddled his own conspiracy theory. Mulder = Trump: Discuss? But why take things so seriously? Morgan has a fascinating perspective on the show’s resident paranoiac. He pushes Mulder’s renegade-believer act to the point of spaghetti-western absurdity—I could hear Duchovny say the word “Squatchin’ ” all day—and yet there is something quite sad in the silliness. At one point, insulted by some young feds, he positively squeals with declining self-regard:
Do you know who I am? I’m Fox Mulder! I was fighting the power and breaking conspiracies before you saw your first chemtrail, you punks! I’m Fox Freaking Mulder, you punks! I’m Fox Mulder! Fox Mulder!
This is the “I’m the Goddamn Batman!” of X-Files, except definitely funny and unquestionably sad. I cherish Morgan’s cockeyed vision of what this show can be, admire how he can make Mulder seem so much weirder than usual and so terribly human. His peacocking is egotistical (FOX FREAKING MULDER) but also sounds like the chestbeating of a dying animal. Credit to Duchovny, for really going for it. (Credit, too, to Chris Carter, the producer who still sees something marvelously essential in the Darin Morgan version of X-Files.)
All this in one episode— plus, a brief chronicle of the downward moral spiral of the federal government in the past few decades, told via montage within a single office cubicle? Witness poor everydud Reggie descending through recent history, from cheerful Postal Service employee to bored “enhanced interrogation” waterboarding torturer to drone pilot accidentally blowing up another wedding. That’s some Jello!
Morgan is a brilliant writer. He has the peculiar ability to craft what you might call “bleak introspective philosophical spoofs,” a subgenre peculiar to Thomas Pynchon novels and Rick & Morty and a couple episodes of Atlanta. His X-Files corpus constitutes a strange miniseries, the tones silly but incisive but heartfelt, self-parody-as-criticism-as-tragedy. This is only his sixth X-Files script. But he also carries one earlier “story by” credit. And he played two monsters of weeks past, fearsome Flukeman and shapeshifting Eddie Van Blundht. By my fake math, that makes “Forehead Sweat” Darin Morgan’s eighth-and-a-half episode, the same number that led Federico Fellini to title his autobiographical 8 1/2.
And, if you’ll indulge overthinking, this episode has trace elements of autobiography. Morgan’s actually onscreen for a moment, in a phony flashback. We see Mulder transform into Eddie, an actual moment from “Small Potatoes.” But this memory has been Forrest Gump‘d, and Reggie shoots Eddie. Is this an act of self-immolation? Reggie himself feels like a Darin Morgan analogue. He claims he’s always been a part of the team, that he actually created the X-Files. In another memory—fake?—we see Scully arrive in the X-Files office for the first time. It’s the pilot episode, 1993, so Mulder’s there…but so is Reggie. “Move along, sugarboobs!” he says. “This is the X-Files! No women allowed!” This is a half-funny line that feels all-the-way true, given Anderson’s own complaints about the show’s all-male writing staff.
I admire the spirit, self-reflective, self-recriminating. But as a director, Morgan’s choices are strange, even bland. There are nifty visual ideas—that cubicle montage!—but too much of “Forehead Sweat” is one long conversation between Mulder, Scully, and Reggie, standing stolid inside a parking lot. That garage gets so much attention that this could almost be a bottle episode, except for the montages that play out over long walls of exposition. (This was a minor problem with “Were-Monster,” too, which became a long Rhys Darby narration for most of its middle act.)
You have to remember that, on top of every other reason to love it, The X-Files used to look [screamingly desperate Duchovny voice] freaking COOL. Shadows sliced by flashlight beams; budgets big enough to build convincing weekly Thing From Another World riffs. Morgan’s finest episode, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” was directed by Rob Bowman, one of the series’ stable of steady pros. And so part of the gag was how “Jose Chung’s” mostly looked like a regular eerie mythology episode. So the dissonance was mindbending when, say, Jesse Ventura showed up, or the foulmouthed local lawman kept saying “Bleep!”
This decade’s X-Files can’t match the original show’s visual flair. Actually, this current season just looks stale, especially next to all the smallscreen visual experimentation that the original X-Files helped to influence. That Mr. Robot “single-shot” episode came almost 20 years after Chris Carter did his own long-take wonder, “Triangle.” But Mr. Robot pushed the form forward, achieving a new pinnacle of breathtaking realtime-thriller imagination. Meanwhile, Carter opened this season with narratin’ Mulder on a never-ending drive somewhere important.
Morgan’s flat staging gives “Forehead Sweat” its own peculiar magic, though. The strange men who keep appearing to chase Reggie aren’t remotely scary. The long conversation feels leisurely: You feel you’re watching Mulder, Scully, and Reggie talk about an X-Files episode, like they’re the robots from Mystery Science Theater 3000. And in the climax of the episode, Reggie conjures up a false(?) memory of the team’s final case. The scene is clearly synthetic—surf-rock soundtrack, rear-projection driving, convertible red as Mulder’s speedo once was. But it’s exactly as synthetic as the rest of the episode. They spend so long in that damned garage that you feel you’re watching actors on a stage, complete with distant police-siren sound effects.
The problems of 2018 X-Files are all over this episode. There’s not enough Scully, and even within the goofery, there’s a feeling of the Mulder legend being printed. Those nefarious young feds insult him by saying: “You start out a rebel, but then you get fat, and the next thing you know, you’re Deep State. Sad!” Again with the presidential tweet-quoting, ho ho. But something that’s bothered me this season: Was Mulder ever actually a rebel?
Here’s a second-generation federal agent twice over—his supposed father and his actual biological father were both members of the world-devouring conspiracy. Oh, the FBI gave Mulder a crappy office, sure, but those travel expenses, that badge opening every door! The phrase “cult hit” gets tossed around with the show, but it was also just an actual hit—a big hit, huge— earning more than 20 million viewers at its peak. This is a larger conversation, I guess, one we’ll be addressing in the next couple years as the network that shares Mulder’s first name works out a post-Disney future. (Will history recall Fox as a bold outlier, or the cultural tip of Rupert Murdoch’s spear?)
There’s a version of The X-Files that reckons with that legacy, connecting the dots between Mulder’s renegade act and the cheap conspiracy cynicism of today. “Forehead Sweat” comes closer than the revival ever has. Witness Stuart Margolin as “Dr. They,” the man behind the curtain. Except there’s no curtain. He’s in the phone book, if anyone still knew how to use a phone book. Dr. They is technically a mad scientist who invented “a ray of some kind” to change people’s memories. Is this science-fiction? Or just typical propaganda: Is his “ray of some kind” like Ted Stevens’ “series of tubes,” the very internet itself? Dr. They is a YouTuber, just like Logan Paul. (The first comment under his YouTube video: “I think the editing could have been a little tighter.”) And his greatest trick was convincing the world that his existence was too unbelievable to believe, just like the Devil and Logan Paul.
He quotes Trump, too: “Nobody knows for sure,” a line that needs no context because it could fit into any context. You can plumb the depths of “Forehead Sweat” for political relevance, but I loved how Morgan used Trump as a metaphor, a way of rethinking The X-Files. And ending it? Reggie’s tale of the team’s final mission has so many symbols of a fading generation, of cultural memory that only time will erase. A Voyager space probe brought home, like the one in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. A great big alien ship rising into the sky, its exhaust lighting up the face of staring humans, like the earthlings left behind in Close Encounters of the Third King and E.T. That red convertible, straight out of American Graffiti, the ’70s myth of the ’60s. And the Martian Donald wore Elvis’ old cape. (Theory: He was Elvis?) The alien even handed Mulder a book with all the answers—even the truth about Bigfoot, the first urban legend everyone learns about the remaining un-urban America.
This is my X-Files series finale. Not the last episode I’ll ever watch: I’m in for this season, and maybe there will be more. Maybe someday the Disney subsidiary that America will become can open up a whole X-Files Land, converting a whole neighborhood of Washington DC into a facsimile of Vancouver pretending to be DC. But after an awful 2002 series finale, a listless 2008 movie, and now a couple seasons of strange alien-baby-obsessed meandering, “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” feels like the strange, awkward, transcendent ending I always wanted for the show. It takes me back to my memory of my first X-Files episode, the one where the green flies attack the lumberjacks, the dark forest, the couch in my pal’s living room, a Friday night sleepover, pizza delivery, Sega Genesis, ToeJam & Earl, Friday nights, Saturday mornings, youth, America!
I loved The X-Files and remembered loving some episodes especially, like Carter’s own black-and-white “The Post-Modern Prometheus.” In memory that episode was everything I admired about the show, everything I believed television could accomplish. I remembered specifically how Cher had a cameo, as herself, in the wonderful and romantic final scene. When I rewatched it again a couple years ago, it was like someone refilmed a fake version of “The Post-Modern Prometheus,” like Netflix edited the episode or rewrote new bad scenes. Still funny, sure, but wait, was the episode always about forced impregnation, isn’t this a rather tone-deaf treatment of this material, did I just not notice this when I was younger, did I really not care? At least there was still Cher at the end, except it wasn’t Cher, just some body double, and actually I guess that last scene never happened at all, it was an illusion.
Where was I? Oh, so “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” final thoughts: The editing really could have been a little tighter. But I loved this episode’s screwball spirit, the way it chewed up its own scenery. I loved the hat-tip to The Twilight Zone—and the hat-tip to the knockoff shows that followed The Twilight Zone, a proud legacy from Outer Limits to X-Files itself to Black Mirror and beyond. I will ponder this episode’s deeper meanings forever. I already want to argue about its place in the canon. Having proved decisively that everything Reggie said was a lie, the episode threw a final wrench in its own fake reality. Reggie’s carried away to the Spotnitz Sanitarium, tied up in the back of a crazyhouse ambulance. Mitch Pileggi’s crusty Director Skinner walks into the parking lot as he’s driven away. “Where the hell they taking Reggie?” he asks, the last man on Earth who remembers the man who wasn’t there.
And that ending: Tears! Mulder solves the episode’s first and most important mystery. The missing Twilight Zone wasn’t a Twilight Zone at all. “The Lost Martian” was an episode of Dusky Realm, some knockoff so lost to history that CBS won’t even reboot it. (Further referentiality here, wheels within wheels within worlds: Carter created a shortlived series called Harsh Realm, about a digital alternate reality.) Mulder watches the episode, which come to think of it isn’t good at all. The tape collapses when Mulder ejects it from his VCR. Soon the VCR will break down, too, and will our children remember videotapes, and will anyone remember Blu-Rays?
But the final lines belong to Scully: The voice of reason, and we need her now more than ever. She cooks up her own private Proustian spongecake, a Goop-o shaped like a sasquatch foot. But she can’t bring herself to actually eat this fantasy fruit. “I want to remember how it was,” she says. “I want to remember how it all was.”
It’s a happy line, a sad one, thought-provoking, ambiguous, conclusive. Optimistic read: She doesn’t want the thing, she wants her happy memory of how the thing seemed to be, because those happy memories make the world more magical than our world ever was.
Pessimistic read: In an episode so focused on the imperfection of memory, is this a moment of sad realization, not waving but drowning, a way of saying “I want to remember, but will I? And for how long?”
Deep, series-wrapping read: Is the line “I want to remember” a requiem for the show’s eternal tagline “I want to believe”? A way of suggesting that belief in The X-Files itself is just a kind of memory now, nostalgia for a show that was a time that ended long ago?
Morgan’s camera rises up from the couch to the night sky. We see the stars. Or rather, we see the light from distant stars, a visual echo from a light source centuries past. We’ll never see the stars up close, but they do exist. And Mulder and Scully still exist, real as any fake memory. Their truth is out there, where it never was and ever shall be.
The X-Files airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.
"The Unnatural" is the 19th episode of the sixth season of the American science fiction television series The X-Files, which first aired on April 25, 1999, on the Fox network. Written and directed by lead actor David Duchovny, the episode is unconnected to the wider mythology of The X-Files, and functions as a "Monster-of-the-Week" story. "The Unnatural" earned a Nielsen household rating of 10.1, and its first broadcast was watched by 16.88 million people. The episode received positive reviews from critics, and was well-liked by members of the cast and crew, including series creator Chris Carter and co-star Gillian Anderson.
The series centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called "X-Files". Mulder is a believer; although the skeptical Scully was initially assigned to debunk his work, the two have developed a deep friendship. In this episode, Arthur Dales (M. Emmet Walsh), the brother of a previously recurring retired FBI agent with the same name, tells Mulder the story of a black baseball player who played for the Roswell Grays in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 under the pseudonym "Josh Exley" (Jesse L. Martin). Exley was actually an alien with a love of baseball. Exley is later tracked down by the Alien Bounty Hunter (Brian Thompson) and executed for betraying his people.
Among other things, the episode was inspired by the history of baseball in Roswell, as well as the infamous 1947 Roswell Incident. Jesse Martin was offered the lead guest role as Exley after Duchovny noticed him in a production of the musical Rent and an episode of Ally McBeal. Originally, Darren McGavin was cast as Arthur Dales, but after he suffered a stroke, he was replaced by Walsh. Many of the outdoor baseball scenes were filmed at Jay Littleton Ballfield, an all-wood stadium located in Ontario, California. The episode has been critically examined for its use of literary motifs, its fairy tale-like structure, and its themes concerning racism and alienation.
In 1947, a mixed group of black and white men play baseball in Roswell, New Mexico. Suddenly, a group of Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members arrive on horseback, seeking one of the players: Josh Exley (Jesse L. Martin), a talented black baseball player. Men from the team fight back against the KKK, and when the mask of the clan's leader is taken off, the leader is revealed to actually be an alien.
In 1999, FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) look through Roswell newspapers from the 1940s. Mulder spots an article showing a young Arthur Dales (Frederic Lane)—the original investigator of the X-Files division who had previously appeared in the fifth season episode "Travelers" and the sixth season episode "Agua Mala"—Josh Exley, and the shape-shifting Alien Bounty Hunter (Brian Thompson) who has assisted the show's antagonists throughout the series. Mulder seeks out Dales in Washington D.C. but finds that he still lives in Florida. Instead, Mulder meets Dales's brother (M. Emmet Walsh), who is also named Arthur.
In flashback, Dales tells Mulder about first meeting Exley in 1947. Dales (portrayed as a young man by Frederic Lane), a member of the Roswell Police Department, has been assigned to protect a hesitant Exley. Dales travels with Exley and his teammates on their bus, and one night sees that the sleeping Exley is reflected in a window as an alien. The next day, during a game, Exley is hit by a pitch and starts making utterances in a strange language before returning to his senses. Afterwards, Dales notices that a mysterious green ooze appeared where Exley's bleeding head had rested.
Dales decides to investigate Exley's hometown of Macon, Georgia, and discovers that a boy with Exley's name had vanished about five years previously. That night at the hotel, Dales hears noises from Exley's hotel room and breaks in, only to find Exley in his true form as an alien. Exley tells Dales that he was forbidden from intermingling with the human race but fell in love with the game of baseball and remained on Earth. Meanwhile, the Alien Bounty Hunter, who has been pursuing the renegade alien ever since he deserted his alien heritage, takes Exley's form and murders a scientist who is investigating the green ooze that Dales found. After learning of the attack, Dales warns Exley that he is now wanted by the police, and Exley goes into hiding.
The narrative returns to the events at the start of the episode. The KKK leader is revealed as the Alien Bounty Hunter, who has arrived to assassinate Exley. The Bounty Hunter demands that Exley revert to his true form before he dies. Exley refuses and the Bounty Hunter then kills him. However, Exley miraculously bleeds red, human blood. Back in 1999, Mulder invites Scully to hit baseballs with him on an empty field.
Conception and writing
"The Unnatural" was the first episode of the series that Duchovny wrote by himself. He had previously co-developed the stories for the second season episodes "Colony" and "Anasazi" - both with series creator Chris Carter, and received teleplay credits for the third season episodes "Avatar" and "Talitha Cumi". As The X-Files entered its sixth season, Duchovny decided that it was an appropriate time to try writing a full episode. Before then, he had felt that he did not have the skills necessary; he said, "I didn't have the surety, the confidence in my mind, that I could write a teleplay ... It took me to the sixth year of the show to actually sit down and write one of my ideas." In late 1998, Duchovny met with series creator Carter and they agreed that Duchovny would write a late-season installment for the series.
While both Duchovny and Carter had wanted to write an episode about baseball for several years, Duchovny first conceived the basic premise for "The Unnatural" during the home run race in 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa when he read a newspaper report about Joe Bauman. Bauman was a baseball player who, despite hitting 72 home runs during the 1954 season—at the time, a record for a professional player—never made it to the Major Leagues. Duchovny immediately connected the story of Bauman, who played for the Roswell Rockets, with the 1947 Roswell Incident, saying "I just made the association ... What if this guy was an alien? and I just started working on that idea." Duchovny later said that "these happy chronological coincidences" facilitated the development of the story. Duchovny worked on his idea alone, later admitting that he was satisfied that he did not receive any help.
Duchovny decided to make the lead guest character black and set the story before the integration of the baseball leagues, inspired by Jackie Robinson, the first black player who was accepted into the Major Leagues in the 1940s. After Duchovny finished his first draft, Carter added additional plot points, such as the inclusion of the Alien Bounty Hunter and retired FBI agent Arthur Dales. The episode title is a play on the novel and movie The Natural. The tagline that appears in the opening credits for this episode is "In the Big Inning", which serves as a pun on the phrase, "In the beginning".[nb 1]
Jesse L. Martin was the first actor considered to play the part of Exley. Duchovny had first noticed Martin in a production of the musical Rent, and noticed him again during a guest appearance on the Foxlegalcomedy-dramaAlly McBeal. Watching the latter performance, Duchovny decided that Martin had the "right feel" for the lead role. Duchovny later noted that he had little involvement with the casting process since a majority of the characters in the episode were recurring.
Originally, Darren McGavin was set to reprise his role as Arthur Dales; the character had previously appeared in the episodes "Travelers" and "Agua Mala". Two days after filming began, McGavin suffered a stroke, forcing Duchovny and the producers to remove from the episode the few scenes he had shot, rewrite the script to explain his absence, and replace his character with M. Emmet Walsh. Because many of the scenes featuring a younger Dales had already been shot, Duchovny was forced to give Walsh's character the same name as McGavin's character; this was justified in the episode as a quirk on behalf of the two brothers' parents. The two scenes that were filmed with McGavin included the sequence in which Mulder asks Dales whether all great baseball players are aliens, and a scene in which Mulder asks Dales why he joined the FBI. McGavin, who eventually recovered, later allowed the scenes to be included on the sixth season DVD as bonus features. Executive producer Frank Spotnitz later called it a "great sorrow that" the show had to replace Darren McGavin because the series' producers were "huge fans" of his role in the 1972 film The Night Stalker and television series of the same name.
Actor Frederic Lane had previously appeared in "Travelers," playing the younger version of McGavin's character. Since McGavin was written out of the episode, Lane played the younger version of Walsh's character.Los Angeles Dodgers radio announcer Vin Scully, whose name was the original inspiration for Dana Scully's name, played the baseball announcer in this episode. The announcer was initially unable to appear owing to budgetary issues, but later agreed to record his part for free.Daniel Duchovny, David's brother, appeared in this episode in a minor role as a bench jockey.
Filming and post-production
"The Unnatural" was the first entry of the series to be directed by Duchovny. While Duchovny was working on plot points with Carter, the two agreed that the episode would serve as Duchovny's directorial debut. As the episode did not heavily feature his character, since it is framed as a flashback, Duchovny was able to focus on pre-production. This narratological method also gave Anderson a minor respite from her work. While Duchovny later expressed gratitude that "The Unnatural" enabled him to get a feel for directing, he also experienced severe anxiety during the production process because of the stress of both writing and directing. However, when the episode was finished, Duchovny was pleased, calling the results "great." He later noted that his stress was largely uncalled for because the episode would have been made even "if [he] just showed up and drooled for 24 hours a day."
The first five seasons of the series were mainly filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, but production of the show's sixth season was based in Los Angeles, California. Jay Littleton Ballfield, an all-wood stadium located in Ontario, California, was used as the setting for the Roswell Baseball Stadium. The show's producers advertised in local newspapers and on local radio for fans to attend the game dressed in 1940s clothing. During filming, a raffle was held between takes, and signed copies of The X-Files' movie, soundtrack, and film poster were given away. The scene featuring Mulder teaching Scully how to play baseball was filmed at Cheviot Hills Park in Los Angeles. The park was later used in the eighth season episode "Three Words" and the ninth-season episode "Lord of the Flies".
Costume designer Christine Peters crafted the episode's baseball uniforms after visiting Sports Robe, a Hollywood costume house. Dena Green from the hair department gave extras haircuts so that they would be in the style of the 1940s. Car coordinator Kelly Padovich rented two 1947 model Flxible buses for the Roswell Greys on-bus scenes, as well as various other 1930s- and 1940s-era cars. Researcher Lee Smith worked with the Baseball Hall of Fame to ensure the accuracy of the statistics used in the episode. The props department developed from scratch the Peter Rosebud Bank that Dales shows Mulder; it was one of the most expensive props of the season. The score by Mark Snow, the show's composer, was recorded with musicians rather than synthesizers for the first time in the series' history; slide guitar player Nick Kirgo and harmonica performer Tommy Morgan assisted Snow with the music.
Near the beginning of the episode, Mulder uses one of William Blake's "Proverbs of Hell" from his 18th century book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in an argument with Scully: "The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom." Sharon R. Yang, in her essay "Weaving and Unweaving the Story," writes that Mulder is using affluent literature to "justify his passionate dedication to questing for knowledge in arcane areas scorned by mainstream intellectual authority". In addition, Robert Shearman and Lars Pearson, in their book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen, argue that the episode functions as a fairy tale, and that its conclusion is an example of a happy ending; Exley bleeds red blood as he lays dying, granting the alien his wish to become human. In addition, the two mused that the meta nature of the episode is similar to the way fans of the series reacted to new episodes of The X-Files.
Ideas of racism and segregation also permeate the episode. Sara Gwenllian-Jones in her book Cult Television argues that, throughout the entry, "the blacks are equated with aliens," turning them into a certain type of "other" that is "never allowed to fit in or feel safe". Gwenllian-Jones highlights the scene in which Dales, late one night on the team bus, wakes to see Exley's sleeping body being reflected as an alien in a window as an example of the racial comparison. She points out that, despite coming to Earth, Exley has moved from one segregated society—that of the aliens—into another. She points out that Exley, after revealing his true form to Dales, says that "my people guard their privacy zealously. They don't want our people to intermingle with your people". This quote expresses a similar sentiment to the segregated mentality of the 1940s.
Broadcast and reception
"The Unnatural" originally aired in the United States on the Fox network on April 25, 1999, and was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on Sky 1 on July 4, 1999. In the U.S., the episode was watched by 16.88 million viewers, and ranked as the 17th most-watched episode of any series on network TV for the week ending April 25. It earned a Nielsen household rating of 10.1, with a 15 share. Nielsen ratings are audience measurement systems that determine the audience size and composition of television programming in the U.S. This means that roughly 10.1 percent of all television-equipped households, and 15 percent of households watching television, were watching the episode. In the U.K., "The Unnatural" was seen by 870,000 viewers, making it the channel's second-most watched program for that week after an episode of The Simpsons. On November 5, 2002, the episode was released on DVD as part of the complete sixth season.
The cast and crew of the show were complimentary towards the finished episode. Carter said, "I think that David, a person who has a very intimate understanding of the show, made the best of his opportunity to tell a very different kind of X-File, and expand the elastic show that it is." Anderson was also pleased, saying, "I was proud of David for writing the script. I thought it was wonderful. He was kind and gentle and respectful and humble, and always tried to do his best."
Initial reviews were positive. Eric Mink from the New York Daily News, in a pre-premiere review, said that it "ingeniously grafts classic X-Files story elements and wry, self-mocking wit onto a delightfully fresh premise". The Lexington Herald-Leader's review was mostly positive, complimenting the clever writing and noting that the "show was full of visual delights".Sarah Stegall awarded the episode five points out of five, praising Duchovny's analysis of "bigotry from two angles" and his ability to tie the "ongoing X-Files conspiracy arc ... into a comic tragedy like this". Stegall also called Duchovny's direction "innovative and interesting", and applauded a transition scene, in which the camera apparently moves through a television screen, as "a wonderful visual metaphor for The X-Files itself".
Paula Vitaris from Cinefantastique gave the episode a largely positive review, awarding it four stars out of four. Vitaris was complimentary towards the episode's exposition, and wrote, "above all, 'The Unnatural' is about the power of storytelling. We don't really know if Dales' story is true or if it's the liquor-fueled ramblings of a broken-down man, but in the end, this is irrelevant." Melissa Runstrom from Michigan Daily called it a "charming independent story," but that it "seems to say more about the human condition than about any extraterrestrial plot". Tom Kessenich, in his book Examinations: An Unauthorized Look at Seasons 6–9 of the X-Files wrote, "In his entertaining debut as an X-Files writer/director, Duchovny took us down a very familiar path this season: [humor]. But unlike some previous navigators, Duchovny stayed on course, made sure we saw all of the spectacular landmarks along the way and, when we reached our final destination, I found I thoroughly enjoyed the ride."
Recent reviews have also applauded the episode. Shearman and Pearson rated the episode five stars out of five, describing it as "[a] delightful ... comic fable". Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club awarded the episode an "A–" and wrote that it "works because it takes this very silly idea and proceeds to take it seriously." He criticized the program for its "corniness" and its reliance on the "magical black guy" stereotype, but concluded that "The Unnatural" was successful "because it embraces this side of the show’s profile [that] could do something sweet and lovely and moving". VanDerWerff also complimented Martin's performance, calling his acting "terrific". Cynthia Fuchs from PopMatters wrote that Duchovny's directing debut was excellent.
Since its debut, the episode has been ranked as one of the best episodes of The X-Files. Kessenich named it one of the "Top 25 Episode of All Time" of The X-Files, ranking it at number six.The Vancouver Sun listed "The Unnatural" on their list of the best standalone episodes of the show, and said that the story was heartbreaking. In addition, the scene featuring Mulder teaching Scully to play baseball was well received by critics. Shearman and Pearson wrote that it "is especially delightful, and gives this sentimental episode an extra warm glow." Jean Helms of The Mobile Register named it one of the "Top 10 X-Files Clips We'd Like to See in the Official Video of Bree Sharp's 'David Duchovny'". Vitaris called the scene "one of the most charming finales in an X-Files episode" due to its "utterly endearing" qualities and its "unspoken subtext".
- "Hollywood A.D.", the second episode of The X-Files written and directed by Duchovny
- "William", the third episode written and directed by Duchovny
- ^For the first eight seasons, the series' title sequence ends with a shot of a gloomy sky and lightning striking a mountain. During this scene, the show's tagline "The Truth Is Out There" flashes onto the screen. However, for "The Unnatural", the line was changed to "In the Big Inning".
- ^ abcThe X-Files: The Complete Sixth Season (booklet). Manners, Kim, et al. Fox Home Entertainment.
- ^"The X-Files, Season 6". iTunes Store. Retrieved August 28, 2012.
- ^ abcdMeisler (2000), pp. 253–61.
- ^Hurwitz and Knowles (2008), pp. 236–40.
- ^ abcdefVitaris, Paula (April 2002). "Creating Episodes that Re-Think The X-Files". Cinefantastique. 34 (2): 54–55.
- ^ abcdefghijklmnopqMeisler (2000), pp. 262–63.
- ^ abcdefMorris, Peter (2000). "David Duchovny Interview". BBC News. Retrieved August 9, 2009.
- ^ abcHurwitz and Knowles (2008), p. 167.
- ^ abMeisler (1999), pp. 198–211.
- ^Meisler (2000), pp. 170–80.
- ^ abSpotnitz, Frank (1999). Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Frank Spotnitz: Scene 17A—Darren McGavin Instead of M. Emmet Walsh. The X-Files: The Complete Sixth Season (DVD). Fox Home Entertainment.
- ^Shapiro (2000), pp. 229–40.
- ^ abWeintraub, Joanne (September 8, 1999). "'X-Files' Star in Character for Interview". The Washington Times. Retrieved September 15, 2012. (subscription required)
- ^Carter, Chris et al. (2000). The Truth About Season Six (DVD). 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
- ^Vitaris, Paula (October 1998). "X-Files: A Mixed Bag of Episodes and a Feature Film Pave the Way for Season Six". Cinefantastique. 30 (7/8): 27.
- ^Fraga (2010), p. 84.
- ^Fraga (2010), p. 82.
- ^ abYang (2007), pp. xii–xiii.
- ^ abcdShearman and Pearson (2010), pp. 184–85.
- ^ abcGwenllian-Jones (2004), pp. 136–38.
- ^ abMeisler (2000), p. 294.
- ^"Prime-Time Nielsen Ratings". Associated Press Archive. Associated Press. April 27, 1999. Retrieved September 15, 2012. (subscription required)
- ^"BARB's multichannel top 10 programmes". barb.co.uk. Retrieved January 1, 2012. Note: Information is in the section titled "w/e June 28 – July 4, 1999", listed under Sky 1
- ^Manners, Kim et al. (2002). The X-Files: The Complete Sixth Season (DVD). 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
- ^Mink, Eric (April 23, 1999). "Red-Letter Sunday for 'X-Files'". New York Daily News. Retrieved August 9, 2009.
- ^"X-Files Hits a Homer". Lexington Herald-Leader. April 30, 1999.
- ^ abStegall, Sarah (1999). "Straight Over the Top—Review of 'The Unnatural'". The Munchkyn Zone. Archived from the original on August 24, 2013. Retrieved September 14, 2012.
- ^ abVitaris, Paula (October 1999). "Sixth Season Episode Guide". Cinefantastique. 31 (8): 26–42.
- ^Runstrom, Melissa (November 27, 2002). "'X-Files' DVD Showcases Highs, Lows of Season Six". The Michigan Daily. Retrieved August 9, 2009.
- ^Kessenich (2002), p. 59.
- ^ abcVanDerWerff, Todd (October 20, 2012). "'The Unnatural'/'Seven And One' | The X-Files/Millennium | TV Club". The A.V. Club. Retrieved October 22, 2012.
- ^Fuchs, Cynthia (April 15, 2005). "House Of D". PopMatters. Retrieved August 9, 2009.
- ^Kessenich (2002), p. 219.
- ^"A Look Back on Some of the Best Stand-Alone Episodes From the X-Files Series". The Vancouver Sun. July 25, 2008. Archived from the original on January 18, 2012. Retrieved August 9, 2009.
- ^Helms, Jean (August 24, 1999). "'X-Files' Scenes We'd Like to See". The Mobile Register. Retrieved September 15, 2012. (subscription required)
- Fraga, Erica (2010). LAX-Files: Behind the Scenes with the Los Angeles Cast and Crew. CreateSpace. ISBN 9781451503418.
- Gwenllian-Jones, Sara (2004). Cult Television. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816638314.
- Hurwitz, Matt; Knowles, Chris (2008). The Complete X-Files. Insight Editions. ISBN 9781933784724.
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- Meisler, Andy (1999). Resist or Serve: The Official Guide to The X-Files, Vol. 4. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061073090.
- Shapiro, Marc (2000). All Things: The Official Guide to the X-Files Volume 6. Harper Prism. ISBN 9780061076114.
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Series creator Chris Carter applauded the episode and called it "a very different kind of X-File"
Gillian Anderson, series co-star, said she was "proud" of Duchovny's script.