[Warning: There are spoilers below for the entire The X-Files episode, "Babylon"]
Editor At Large Aaron Sagers and Contributing Editor Tara Bennett talk about “Babylon,” the fifth episode of The X-Files revival. Written and directed by Chris Carter, this installment puts Mulder and Scully squarely in the middle of the terrorist plot, but also brings back some old faces and introduces some interesting new ones to X-Philes.
Aaron: This episode covered a range of emotions and tonal beats, and it was so close to going off the rails – or becoming gratuitous and too controversial -- but it somehow managed to work for me. X-Files existed in a pre-9/11, largely Clinton-led America. It was the good ol’ days, and Spooky Mulder was an odd man out, a paranoid believer surrounded by sane people. And in this episode, the rest of the world has caught up to being paranoid, afraid and insane. By comparison, Mulder is now the sane-sounding one. Well, except when he wants to go on a drug trip.
And what a drug trip it was. Watching Mulder go all Hank Moody and getting trippy, moving through Texas was a treat. As he attempted to communicate with the young bomber, he encountered a lot of his own past, such as the Cigarette Smoking Man and the Lone Gunmen (who returned from the dead just for the trip). It was psychedelic fun seeing our agent let loose, and genuinely appear happy as he swaggered and danced. And he did so to an eclectic soundtrack!
“Somethin’ Bad” by Miranda Lambert/Carrie Underwood; “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus; “Honky Tonk Badaonkadonk” by Trace Adkins; “Misery is the River of the World” by Tom Waits; “Secret Heart” by Ron Sexsmith; “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers. Whether he was using them for humorous effect or to pull our heartstrings, the tunes added to the episode instead of distracting from the story.
Tara: I loved that so much of the Mulder and Scully of this episode was again diving into their history. Einstein and Miller were great at deconstructing the duo as they were in the early days of the series, which in turn set up the very deep conversation Fox and Dana engaged in at the end of the episode. The full-circle aspect of Mulder and Scully in this episode was the most successful narrative. It built off previous episodes, and again their long history of life events in the series overall. Plus, come on, Mulder and Scully looking very happy and holding hands is like head-exploding stuff. If you're a shipper, there's like a gallery of screen caps to keep you in nirvana for a while.
Otherwise, Duchovny just went there with the comedy. He out "Were-Monstered" himself during his mushroom high. And after 10 seasons playing a character, it's so great to see him clearly enjoying himself and the absurdity of what was asked of him. Ambrose also matched David in the comedy department as the pair went toe to toe over his ridiculous idea that she allowed herself to get sucked into. Great stuff.
Aaron: I was rooting for the young mirror image team of Einstein and Miller, played by the gifted Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Amell, and they did not disappoint. The younger agents paired nicely with Mulder and Scully, and it was fun seeing Einstein call Mulder on his crap (like Scully) before giving in to it (maybe a little less like Scully). The Scully/Miller team-up worked well by merging her science and his belief. They reflected our heroes effectively. I like these two, and my only disappointment is I did not see enough of them.
There was a lot to accomplish in the episode, and while I think Carter did a mostly good job, it was pretty busy. He threw a lot at the wall, and not all of it stuck. Too much controversy, not enough time, and a lot of other elements to juggle do not a tight plot make. (Note to Chris Carter and Co: When you make more episodes, and we want you to, you can slow things down and break up stories more.)
Tara: I'm all for controversial and experimental storytelling about touchy subjects, but once the cold open for this story got to the gallery bombing, the entire plot already felt very muddled. Why that bombing happened, the clarity of the personal issues of the young man dying and his association to the cell in that hotel, and even his mother's connection, all felt very disjointed. Adding an Islamophobic nurse and then another dark cell (was that even what they were?) infiltrating the hospital felt like Carter really wanted to address and explore some important issues about religious perceptions and bias, but the way in which he framed it all was rather incoherent. None of the scenes involving the bomber added new perspective with clarity or understanding and that's not great storytelling for the kind of climate we as a nation are suffering today.
Best Fan Service
Tara: Welp, once Mulder took the magic mushrooms the whole episode devolved into delirious fan service. Mulder line dancing, the dead Lone Gunmen & Skinner cheering him along, that trumpet of the gods sound in the sky...twice; I feel like I took mushrooms watching this one. Plus the existence of mini-Mulder and Scully in Agents Miller and Einstein is fan service taking us to the core of the characters. Putting them up against an older Mulder and Scully is like looking into a fun house mirror of who they characters were and who they are now. Strange but entertaining all the same.
Aaron: I knew the show couldn’t undo the death of the Lone Gunmen, but how I wished they’d find a way to bring these guys back to life. When I spoke to Carter about this at New York Comic Con, he told me not to worry that they found a way without breaking the rules of the show, and I agree their appearance in Mulder’s drug trip did it. We missed you, Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood), John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), and Ringo Langly (Dean Haglund). Even at a roadhouse card table with a high-as-a-kite Mulder, it was good to see you gents back. Of course we also saw the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) as part of Mulder’s trip, and I assume he will be showing up again very soon. Interestingly, actor Eric Breker returns to this show for his fifth appearance, and once more he is playing a dark-suited man. Finally, I think it’s a little bit of fan service that we get a nod to Mulder’s kinky tastes in the BDSM portion of his hallucination, where Einstein disciplines him.
Aaron: I am finding myself thinking a lot about this story, having watched it twice. There’s much to like about it, even as I continue to think about its “Words have weight” message. It manages to make us care about the “bad guy,” a terrorist. And it put the ugliness of our own fear-based culture into focus -- but it doesn't all work. It combined humor (“Nothing but the FBI’s Most Unwanted;” “I don’t do woo woo”) and heart. It is too loose at times, too jumbled, and the plot suffers. Yet I still dug it.
But the final scene where Mulder takes Scully’s hand and goes for a walk: That made me a tad misty. Seeing these two friends and former lovers laugh and cry together again feels authentic and earned, and Mulder’s philosophizing with Scully about life, parenting, all of it really got to me. Mulder hearing the trumpets was a bit heavy-handed, but I’ll still go for it.
And once again these revival episodes strike me as parts of one larger finale. I am getting the sense that The X-Files might actually be heading toward a conclusion.
Tara: While I was really entertained by some of the strange detours this episode took, and I very much enjoyed Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Amell's energy as they did their riff on Scully and Mulder, there was a lot of disconnected parts overall. Populating bizarrely funny and surreal elements around a rather controversial A-story involving the really sensitive subject of Muslim terrorist bombings was a stretch that didn't work in my book. Maybe if the bombing plot was able to just play out against an equally dire or more metaphysical exploration of Mulder's visions, it would have felt like a really tight episode. Instead this is the most schizophrenic episode of the pod; plenty of excellent parts but not a cohesive piece.
What did you think of “Babylon”?