Give this to Chris Carter and The X-Files team, they’re cooking everything in the fridge for one meal and trying to figure out what the folks at the table like.
“Babylon,” the fifth episode of this miniseries revival, was without question the most “out there” episode of this 10th season thus far. A fictitious hour of a standard terrorism story, some forced stereotypical racism, Agent Mulder doing psychedelic drugs for “investigative” purposes, and more Mulder and Scully doppelgangers, leaves the viewer wondering what the hell was going on.
It starts out with foreboding music and a young Muslim man living in Texas, praying, with the obvious foreshadowing that he’s up to no good. After said prayer, he hops in a clunky car and is exposed to fairly tired stereotypes of rural hillbilly sorts.
Throw in a few Southwest-style valley girls in suggestive clothing, or a hillbilly in a pickup truck (obviously) sucking down beer with two racist females in the front seat by his side, and you’re left with a sloppy, almost forced caricature that comes off as a little too left-leaning political point-making.
The young man meets someone named Shiraz at a hotel and they proceed to go into an establishment to suicide-bomb it. The scene is sort of predictable from the jump, buoyed only slightly by the rather raw-looking footage of burning patrons running out of the upscale establishment to leave a visceral feel beginning the show.
From there, everything seems weirdly disjointed and forced. Carter has often introduced Mulder and Scully doppelgangers into the show, but Agents Miller (Robbie Amell) and Einstein (Laura Ambrose) play a little too junior high. The hook to get them there isn’t overly convincing either, though the best line comes from this scene, Scully re-enacting the “nobody but the FBI’s most unwanted” line from the pilot when she first met Mulder.
The X-Files was always unique in the sense that it didn’t take up the types of topics seen on plenty of other shows, such as terrorism, lazy stereotypes and questions about faith. So when Miller, a watershed frat boy painted as an ambitious FBI agent with an open mind, seeks the help of Mulder to speak to a nearly dead Shiraz to find out more, it feels like the writers are saying “we want to do an episode touching on racism, stereotypes, and terrorism, but need to mesh in these doppelgangers and don’t have the time to do it.”
As seen throughout the series, someone (Einstein, in this case) meets Mulder and Scully and comes away thinking she’s in love with him early on. It seems to foreshadow Einstein’s own feelings about her partner — medical doctor skeptic putting up with the tin foil hat partner out of deep love that cannot be professed — later in the episode.
Scully partners up with Miller, pairing the skeptic with the young tin foil hat, and she explains her personal interest in the case. Mulder works with Einstein, teaming the old tin foil hat with the young skeptic. For Mulder and Scully, splitting up has an “I want to be with what I used to have” feel to it more than trying to probe anything professionally.
Mulder convinces Einstein that he can speak to Shiraz, blown to pieces but still alive, through the use of psychedelic mushrooms. She agrees to go along with it (more on that in a bit) and they hightail on down to Texas. The scene where Einstein walks in on Scully and Miller working with Shiraz to try to get him to communicate shows the character’s obvious cattiness with her partner. We’re then treated to a Texas hospital nurse who tries to pull the plug on Shiraz and goes on a rant about some right-wing political points you wouldn’t expect from a nurse in continuing little snippets of a weird, unwanted, left-leaning political crusade Carter seems to be on these days.
“Babylon,” though, will be remembered for Mulder’s trip on the mushrooms (allegedly placebos), which is hideously awkward. The new, funny Agent Mulder that David Duchovny spoke of when explaining that he couldn’t play Mulder the same way in this new series has been charming mostly. But that charm departed for a second. One of the reasons supposedly that Mulder slipped off the original series was that Duchovny lost too many battles with Carter on how to advance the character. This seems to be more of what Mulder was going for.
The trip scene isn’t good, not one bit. For one, that’s not what it would look like. There was nothing really melting. It was un-researched and sort of lazy, like the Texan youth stereotypes and painting the entire state as racist rubes who just drink and flaunt skin.
Mulder flashes off his dance moves in a country bar while the Lone Gunmen and Skinner look on in western gear as he gets down to Billy Ray Cyrus. Then the sequence slips in something you figured was coming, some dream or illusion of either Scully or Mulder in a sexually themed scene, this one with Einstein whipping Mulder.
Finally, this gets somewhere, in what actually was a pretty smooth looking scene of Mulder getting whipped by the Cigarette Smoking Man while crossing the River Styx. He finally gets to “talk” with Shiraz, who whispers something to him that he only remembers when forced to leave the hospital later.
Mulder winds up in a bed with Skinner, who is pissed off at how much of a fool Mulder made himself out to be during his “trip.” Then Einstein confesses it was a placebo. That part is still confusing, though they try to clean it up with some power of suggestion type of theme. Personally, the thought here is that Carter was trying to plug into what is the “real” Mulder, at least so far as this series goes.
Predictably, Mulder saves the day at the witching hour, as his completely out-of-left-field investigative idea nets him the information everyone needs. Miller speaks Arabic (obviously) and learns that the rest of the terror cell is in a hotel called Babylon, so the agents bust in and make the arrests.
The juice in the episode comes at the end, where Miller and Einstein are at the airport in front of screens of news media walking out the arrest of the terror cell and then sort of have a moment with one another where both confess to not really doing anything (which would be somewhat accurate, other than Miller’s translating abilities).
It then slips off into the final scene, of Mulder and Scully out at Mulder’s place in the middle of nowhere pondering the meaning of life, what “God” really wants, “mother love,” and why people are to each other the way that they are to each other in such vile ways.
It ends with the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” as the camera pans up into space, a very deep and thoughtful ending to what at times was an incredibly plastic plot and unfortunate stereotyping. Much like the mentioning of the story of Babel, which splintered the human species so far apart to which it has never gotten back together, that’s sort of how this entire episode felt. Maybe that was the point.
With one more episode before signing off again, the sneak peek after “Babylon” looks like it’s going to be very difficult to ever bring the show back, given the overall mythology arc, which is a damn shame. Great episodes or sketchy, it’s clear the producers have more ideas than time to put them out.