‘The X-Files’ takes a look inward as religion, belief, and hallucinogens are put under the microscope in an episode heavy on characterization
“It’s not important what I believe. It’s what they believe.”
A case-of-the-week that’s all about the power of believing is in theory a pretty logical idea for an X-Files, and Carter’s decision to play it against the backdrop of censorship and terrorism makes a lot of sense, too. In terrorism beliefs are literally so strong that mass amounts of people are dying as part of the fallout. With the show flipping through its Rolodex of current topics to inject into their series from the ‘90s, the huge influx in bombings is a solid pairing, and one that feels right up Carter’s alley.
Subtlety is never Carter’s forte (that big, gaudy shot of the earth that ends the episode is testament to that) and it feels like he’s biting off a little more than he can chew with the racial battles that he picks here (of all the original X-Files writers that Carter wasn’t able to bring back here, it’s kind of funny that Homeland’s Alex Gansa would have been the perfect person to slot in here). It all feels a little hollow and cringe-y, like whenever he’d turn to his favorite Native American trope, but this never gets to the point where it’s distracting. However, I also don’t need to see scenes where someone that’s Muslim is getting called “brownie” just to remind me that racism is still alive and well in the world. In spite of all of this though, the end of that cold open hit me like an uppercut and is super effective. So fuck subtlety sometimes.
As Mulder begins digging into a case file involving the heralding of end times and collections of people hearing “the trumpets of angels,” this almost feels like more of a case suited for Frank Black from Carter’s Millennium. Mulder even begins to quote Revelations at a skeptical Scully (gasp!) as many separate threads about belief begin to get pulled together. Frankly, I’d be all in favor of the series moving towards some sort of apocalypse “End Times” scenario that somehow still manages to retcon incorporate the December 2012 date that was so pivotal to the show’s mythology. “Babylon” doesn’t exactly feel like it’s taking steps towards that, but if not, it’s still a solid standalone entry that touches on some pretty heady things that feel a little out of Carter’s grasp (and I’d say is partly to explain why Millennium failed to connect with audiences).
“Babylon” is a rather reflexive episode (Scully even gets to shout from the basement, “Only the FBI’s Most Unwanted” in some touching symmetry to the pilot) that plays Mulder and Scully in juxtaposition to Robbie Amell and Lauren Ambrose’s younger agents, Miller and Einstein, (I wonder if anyone out there is missing Xzibit and Amanda Peet’s FBI agents from I Want to Believe…) causing them to take a long, hard look at themselves. This isn’t the first time the show has used this setup for reflection either, with a number of episodes from the show’s final stretch dabbling in that territory. That being said, obviously this introspective look that Mulder and Scully take is going to work a little differently this time due to the thirteen years that have gone by. It’s a concept that is able to resonate especially well now, and come on, isn’t it just fun to see Mulder and Miller riff on Tibetan mystic rituals while Scully and Einstein double-down on the dismissiveness? Even if it is old hat here, Amell and Ambrose are the best iterations that we’ve seen of “Mulder and Scully Jr.” Knowing that they’re out there carrying the paranormal torch for these guys is a comforting thought. I could have gone without the heavy-handed deconstruction that they do of Mulder and Scully though. There’s enough meta going on as it is.
One of the smarter things that Carter does in this script is breaking up this fun and pairing up Mulder and Scully with their respective opposites instead of their approximates. Mulder working alongside Einstein as Scully teams up with Miller explores a whole new dynamic to the trope-y “Mulder and Scully” engine. It becomes a big deconstruction on why they work, and how much they’ve turned into one another, which is a perfect sort of grace note to explore before heading into next week’s mythology-heavy finale. “Founder’s Mutation” was originally supposed to be episode five, with “Babylon” being the fourth episode, and while this shift doesn’t change much, I would still agree with Carter’s decision that the tone of this installment is the better note to go out on.
One of the concepts that “Babylon” embraces is that of thoughts, feelings—and essentially any words—having tangible weight to them. This existential ideology then begins to correlate to psychically communicating with the comatose terrorist. The bomber lies within an ethereal realm between life and death, so Mulder tries to open Einstein’s mind accordingly to thinking in less black and white terms. He even gets to give her an old-school slideshow. As touching as these scenes are, I kind of love that after all of this build up Mulder’s big plan is to basically do mushrooms and chill with the coma victim. On the other side of things we have Scully pushing the power of science and nerve responses onto Miller, but what I didn’t expect to see what this connecting with Scully’s loss of her mother. It doesn’t hurt to get some connective tissue between these mostly isolated episodes, too.
I’ve also gone about as long as I can without discussing Mulder’s drug trip, which is either the stupidest or the best thing that the show has ever done. A lot of time is spent on this indulgent detour, which makes it even more of a spectacle and “what the fuck?” moment in the episode. It’s clear that Carter and Duchovny are just having a lot of fun here, but I was laughing pretty hard at just how ridiculous this gets (and it goes there, as this photographic evidence proves). Also, I had some extreme reluctance when I learned that the Lone Gunmen were returning to the series considering it would rob their death of most of its weight. So to see that they’re just a drug-fueled cameo in a Texan strip club is exactly what I needed.
“Babylon” ends up being an episode all about opening yourself up to other people’s beliefs, whether that’s in extreme cases like preventing terrorism that is trying to squash that right, or in the micro sense of empathizing with a new partner. Some of the beats of the entry might feel a little overdone and pat, but Carter still turns out a reasonably strong episode that does more for its characters than the supernatural.
I’ll just leave you with this.