Season 10, episode 5: “Babylon”
Written and directed by Chris Carter.
[Photos courtesy Ed Araquel/FOX]
So far in this season of The X-Files, we got the hint that the government conspiracy behind the aliens went further than we realized, that there were some mutations going on that may or may not have something to do with it, we had our first humor episode, and then we went back to seriousness and family, getting hints at William’s off-screen plot line while Scully’s mother passes away. (You can read our prior recaps here.) This episode doesn’t really advance any overall plot, but it does bring up Scully’s recent tragedy, and has attempts to say something meaningful — all while destroying the theme it’s going for.
The episode opens with Shiraz (Artin John), an Islamic gentleman in the middle of his morning prayers in southwest Texas. After he completes them, he goes about his day, and then meets up with another gentleman at a hotel. The two drive to a building (according to IMDB, it’s an art gallery that’s showing potentially offensive artwork, but it’s not really explained in the episode itself), and then hold hands as they pray. They walk in, and then the building blows up in extremely bad CGI. (Like fiery outlines of people walking around after bad.)
And yeah — you read that right. In today’s political climate, we start with the obvious stereotype of Islamic terrorists. Kudos for not thinking outside the box there, Carter. We’re going to have words about that later. Needless to say, it’s yet another example of how this show continues to feel like it’s still stuck in the ’90s.
After the opening credits go, we’re back in the X-Files office with Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) showing Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) a video of an event that had eye witnesses, or rather ear witnesses. Apparently, it was the music of God — the sound of trumpets that may very well be the ones mentioned in Revelation. Despite Scully’s amazement at Mulder’s apparent capitulation to religion, he’s quick to say that it’s not important what he believes, but what they believed.
There’s a knock at the door, and the two agents are visited by Agents Miller (Robbie Amell) and Einstein (Lauren Ambrose). Scully is quick to acknowledge that the two are apparently X-Files 2.0, as Miller is a profiler (just like Mulder) and Einstein is a medical doctor (just like Scully). And, of course, Miller is a believer while Einstein is a skeptic. The two even look like younger versions, a copy of a copy of a copy away from our two leads.
We get through this not-so-meta moment to find out the reason the two young agents are there is because one of the bombers survived — technically. It’s good ol’ Shiraz, alive but not conscious, and pretty much at death’s door. Miller is hoping for some advice from Mulder on ways you can talk to the dead. After a fairly quick ‘Nope, can’t help’ from both of them, Miller and Einstein leave for the airport to head to Texas. Einstein basically sums up every single Scully/Mulder fanfic on LiveJournal explaining away that the reason Scully’s been helping Mulder for so long is “she’s clearly in love with him”.
Scully gives Miller a call at the airport; she’s got an idea of a way to communicate with the terrorist. She’ll meet him in Texas to explain. While he’s desperately trying to keep this phone call secret, Einstein gets her own phone call — from Mulder. It seems like he’s got an idea to communicate with the terrorist as well, and for it to work, she has to stay behind to help him out. The feminist in me picks up that in both cases, the women go to the men, and I sigh in exasperation.
We do a quick scene back to the terror cell, and they’re putting together a bomb. Yeah, he’s still going with the Islamic terrorist stereotype. By this point, I was really hoping that it was going to turn out to be a straw man argument.
So, now we have Mulder with the copy of young Agent Scully … I mean Einstein, questioning her on whether faith has weight and whether words have power. He then goes on to explain that she needs to expand her mind on the material world as to what is real and what is not.
We flip to Miller, who’s with Scully in Texas. She says that there’s potentially a way to connect to our comatose man through SCIENCE! She explains that this has become a personal quest due to her mother’s passing, and that she wishes she had attempted this before her mom died.
Back to Mulder and Einstein; Mulder insists she sits to listen. After a frustrated sigh that out-hams Anderson on her best (or would that be worst?) days, she does. Mulder explains that magic mushrooms have been known to cause effects that were potentially letting these people talk to the dead, and that deep lasting truths are revealed. He wants to take the mushroom and attempt to communicate with our suspect. Einstein is not happy that he’s wasting her time on this, and walks out unconvinced.
Scully and Miller are at our suspect’s bed, and Scully explains that she wants to attempt a protocol that has been untested. Doctors have been able to communicate with patients via MRI and electrical responses, as well as EKG. They’re interrupted by what appears to be two MIBs, but are actually from the Department of Homeland Security, and they try to bully Miller and Scully out of the hospital room. Miller combats them by the threat of … taking their picture?
Outside of the room, Einstein has arrived, and trying to gain access. She sees that Scully is there, and decides this is enough to call Mulder and have him come to Texas as well.
We get to the airport, where she meets up with Mulder, handing over two pills that are apparently the mushroom. When asked what changed her mind, turns out she’s being pissy about Scully being there with Miller. She tells Mulder that she’s breaking federal law to do this, so he better get results.
We go back to Miller and Scully, where they’re now visited by a special agent, telling them that there’s a terror threat on the hospital: there’s been a bomb threat. There’s a Muslim community nearby, and then he spouts some Islamophobic rhetoric about how they’ll do anything for their religion. (You know, unlike other religions that do things like bomb clinics.)
They are sent out, and the nurse closes the ward door. She approaches the patient/suspect, and after a quick look around, she disconnects the equipment — basically attempting to murder our suspect. She is thankfully interrupted by Mulder and Einstein. The nurse spouts a diatribe against immigration and how it’s all connected to the Syrian refugee crisis, and Einstein takes the hit of getting her away from the room so that Mulder can take his drugs and attempt the communication. But he’s apparently quick when he’s drugged, as he’s out of the room before our nurse is done with her rant.
We’re then subjected to Mulder’s literal drug trip, as he walks through the hallway, then on a street, then a club where he does the (IIRC) Electric Slide to “Achy Breaky Heart” that segues into an imitation of both Pulp Fiction and Saturday Night Fever. We’re given a VERY brief moment with the (apparently still dead) Lone Gunmen, as they join Mulder in a night of strippers and booze (the after life is apparently very good for straight men, and Skinner is there, too). He then winds up on an alien autopsy table dealing with Einstein in stereotypical BDSM gear (of course she is), and then he flashes to a ceremony where he’s being whipped by Cigarette Smoking Man at a temple. He turns, and sees our suspect in a Christ-like pose in the arms of an older woman. He speaks to Mulder, but we don’t hear what he says.
We have another flash to the terrorist cell, as they are training for the next bombing before the commercial break.
Miller and Scully have a conversation where Miller casually drops that because he spent some time in Iraq for the bureau, he apparently speaks Arabic fluently. They also notice that the suspect apparently can hear what they are saying.
We’re back to Mulder, where AD Skinner is dressing him down for the drug-induced whirl across town. While Mulder tries to defend himself, Einstein reveals that she actually gave him just Niacin … a placebo, in other words. She starts wheeling him back to the other hospital room when Mulder asks her to stop, recognizing a woman outside the hospital. It’s the woman from his drug trip. They meet up with Scully and Miller, and in a coincidence that can only happen on The X-Files, the woman is Shiraz’s mother. She chastises the (still comatose) man for joining the terrorist cell. She then explains she would help our agents, but she doesn’t know any names. Shiraz has a seizure and dies, leaving Mulder insisting that Shiraz had spoken to him while he was under.
The four agents talk, but as usual, Mulder takes over the conversation and tries to explain. He starts to say the words, and Miller reveals (again) that he understands Arabic. One of the words is the title drop “Babylon”, the other “hotel”: this leads the team to the Babylon Hotel, where the terrorist cell has been. Somehow, just on the say-so of Mulder, there’s a raid on the hotel and the group is arrested.
In the post-case wrap up, Einstein talks with Miller. They talk about how maybe some things are unexplainable, and the nature of reality. Words and ideas do have weight after all.
We flash to Mulder at his house as Scully pulls up for a visit. How was he able to see anything when it was just a placebo? They talk about the extremes of our nature, unconditional love and unqualified hate, and how they were both in Mulder’s vision. Mulder admits that the case got him thinking of God, mostly the angry God of the Old Testament. They then talk about the power mothers have with babies (of course they did), and then they hear the sound of trumpets, leaving me wondering when this show turned into Touched by an Angel.
I wasn’t just disappointed in this episode like I’ve been with most of the others in this season — I was outright insulted and more than a little offended. For an episode where the theme was ‘words and ideas have power’, to have Carter use the tropey stereotype of Islamic terrorists and to have no one question or comment on the Islamaphobic and anti-immigration stances of two of the characters was outright ironic.
On top of that, to have been teased for a return of The Lone Gunmen (Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood, and Dean Haglund) — both for the series, and for this episode specifically (as we mentioned in this week’s “Week in Review” video) — to not even give them lines was an insult to their characters and how they died. (I fully expected, once we got the news that Mulder was going to try and talk to the dead, that they’d be intermediaries of some sort. You know, like they used to be in the show.)
I’ve repeatedly complained that this reboot/miniseries/season 10/whatever we’re calling it has mostly come across like Carter seems to think it’s still the late ’90s. This episode isn’t any better. Mulder goes back to his caveman ways of barreling through the conversations of both women he interacts with, and the plot falls together far too easily.
So far, out of the six episodes, I’ve only really liked five. I really wanted to like them. But times have changed, and Chris Carter, apparently, hasn’t. I’m starting to wish the series stayed off the air.
The X-Files airs Mondays at 8/7c on FOX.
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