10×05: Babylon

“Dude, I was on fire.” — Fox Mulder
“Dude, you were an embarrassment.” — Walter Skinner

A bombing at a Texas art gallery sends Mulder on a Magical Mystery Tour as he tries to figure out a way to communicate with a terrorist in a vegetative state.

Babylon

20th Century Fox

Radhika: I love The X-Files. I love The X-Files enough to admit when I don’t like an episode — and frankly, I did not like this one. The hot mess I saw on my television screen tonight further confirmed suspicions that many fans have at this point: Chris Carter may have been brilliant enough to come up with a wonderful concept, but he often manages to write his own show into the ground. This episode, penned by the creator himself addresses the subjects of terrorism and religion while trying to incorporate elements of comedy. But while a number of comedic X-Files episodes can be considered some of the series’ best, this episode falls short and instead just leaves you with a terrible overplayed Lumineers song stuck in your head.

“Babylon” begins with us meeting a young Muslim man going through his prayers and driving through Texas (with some stereotypical hicks mocking the “brownie”) before meeting up with a friend and walking into an art gallery that proceeds to blow up. We’re greeted with the imagery of victims running outside on fire before we switch to the credits.

Babylon

20th Century Fox

As the episode goes on, we’re introduced to young Mulder/Scully-doppelganger types, Agents Miller and Einstein. Miller wants help communicating with the bomber who “survived,” who also happens to be in a vegetative state. Somehow this all culminates in Mulder taking magic mushrooms, hallucinating all kinds of crazy things — including a brief appearance by The Lone Gunmen, who must really be dead if that’s all we got — and recognizing the bomber’s mother from his visions in real life when she comes to the hospital. Eventually, a terror cell is busted after something said to Mulder during the aforementioned trip is translated and we’re given a nice moment between Mulder and Scully toward the end that includes the unfortunate “Ho Hey” song by The Lumineers and the sounds of trumpets (which only Mulder can hear).

I get where this episode was trying to go, but the material was so awkward and heavy-handed and generally so uneven, I just couldn’t feel it. I don’t need terrorism-related episodes to be serious if done correctly, but this one wasn’t done correctly. How do you go from bodies on fire to this? And portraying Muslim characters as terrorists doesn’t automatically become offensive if it’s done well. But aside from at least showing the pain the bomber’s mother was going through, every character here was stereotypical and that entire plot was carried out in a much-too-obvious manner. (And for what it’s worth, the xenophobic Texans were very stereotypical as well).

Babylon

20th Century Fox

“Obvious writing” is a problem I’ve had with parts of this revival as a whole, including the episodes I like. The grace of subtle writing is absolutely lacking at times and it really shows in this episode. I couldn’t even really enjoy when Scully echoed Mulder’s words from the pilot by telling Miller and Einstein that no one but the FBI’s most unwanted were in the basement office. It should have been a cute moment (and fine, I smirked at Mulder’s reaction), but it was another one of those “Hey, we’re back” references that sounded too unnatural and intentional to work as a clever inside joke.

Babylon

20th Century Fox

On top of that, the hallucination sequence seemed to be trying to recapture the magic of other comedic installments, like “Bad Blood,” and that final zoom-out shot toward the end made me think a little of “Improbable” (yeah, the Burt Reynolds episode). But again the comedy here felt forced and seemed to go on too long. There were ultimately some good ideas here, but they were so poorly executed that I can’t pretend that this episode is remotely close to recapturing some of The X-Files’ better days.

I have been forgiving of some the revival’s flaws. After a few rough points in the show’s final seasons (during the original run) and the second movie, I expected there to be some growing pains in this six-episode run. But it makes me sad that this is one of the episodes we got. Of course, now that all the promotions are going on about next week’s “season” finale, implying that we have more X-Files to come, maybe the show will really get a chance to show what it’s made of. But this episode doesn’t really do that, in my opinion.

Babylon

20th Century Fox

Max: Six episodes are a blessing and a curse. Mulder and Scully have indeed been on our television screens for almost a month, but this season’s episode count means that so much needs to be put into so few outings. Glen Morgan was quoted as saying that last week’s episode started out as two separate entities — a Scully episode centered around her mother dying, and the critique on how we treat the homeless which was that episode’s MotW. The combination of the two meant that “Home Again” suffered as a result. Here, an interesting concept wasn’t given the writing that it deserved, and in a six-episode season, that means a big dent on the already shaky batting average.

That is not to say that I didn’t really like parts of the episode. In conversation, Radhika mentioned to me how little an impression Agents Miller and Einstein made on her, but I appreciated the way they were used in this episode. Over the course of the original run, you would need more digits than your hands and feet have to count how many times the faith vs. science angle was used, and it got dull and repetitive by the time Mulder got abducted by aliens. I give Chris Carter credit for pairing Mulder and Scully off the way he did here, revitalizing a stale X-Files trope — particularly with Einstein giving Mulder placebos instead of mushroom pills, even if this led to the absolutely abysmal sequence of Mulder “tripping out” and an utterly wasted appearance by The Lone Gunmen.

Babylon

20th Century Fox

The result of the four agents’ investigations came from a little bit of the science and a little bit of the spooky. Yes, the same can be said for countless other episodes, but I appreciated the way it was couched by Scully in the story of the Tower of Babel, how life can be said to be a quest by humanity to relearn that common language we all allegedly possessed. I wish this part was teased out more not only in the deliberations between the pairs of agents, but also in the simplistic depiction of the ways religious extremism and geopolitics divide us more than any number of angry gods can. Philosophical discussions have sometimes been the best parts of any given episode.

I think that “Babylon” did a lot of damage to what it set out to do by incorporating current events into the fold, which is a case of The X-Files‘ usual clunkiness in regards to this matter — if only Chris Carter found something else on which to drape his ideas. I think the characters of Miller and Einstein would have been better received, since I believe the quality of an episode goes a long way in determining how we react to new characters (see “Fight Club” and “The Field Where I Died”). And the terrorism angle was done much better in “The Pine Bluff Variant.”

Babylon

20th Century Fox

All of this for me can be summed up by saying that there are times when these new episodes feel like The X-Files, and there are times where they do not — coming off rather like an eerily close imposter. It is hard sometimes to reconcile longtime fans’ wants, desires, and hopes with any finished product, particularly when that results in cosmetic fan-service winks to the audience. In a way, this season — and audience reactions to it — has been a meta-commentary on the show, the fans and the dynamics of such that have gone on for 23 years. Things we’ve loved and hated are still there, but with the added pressure of having to justify the existence of these episodes. We have one more chance at bat, and I hope it is worth it!

YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS

Robbie Amell – Perhaps most recently known as Ronnie Raymond/Deathstorm on The Flash, Amell plays the young Mulder-esque Agent Miller in this episode. Additional credits include The Tomorrow People and Revenge.

Lauren Ambrose – Seen here as Agent Einstein, Ambrose is known for playing Claire Fisher in the acclaimed drama Six Feet Under. Additional credits include Torchwood, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Dig.

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