The X Files Revisited: 10.05 Babylon
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The X Files ran for nine seasons between 1993 and 2002, spanned two movies and then came back from the dead in 2016 for a revival series of 6 episodes. In many ways, the show is as much a cultural phenomenon as it ever was and The Digital Fix has been looking back at key episodes across the show’s run starting with the pilot episode, reviewing numerous classic stories and the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. Now we're in the final stretch of our revisited as we cover the last season of the original run, the second movie and look back at 'season 10' a year on. Next we come to the penultimate episode of the revival, the controversial Babylon...
And it seemed like it was going so well. After the baffling mythology rewrite in the season opener My Struggle, The X Files revival seemed to be doing well with a run of three strong episodes topped by the hilarious Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster. But Babylon, the first episode written and directed by series creator Chris Carter since the opener, feels like a major stumble - and it won't improve with the upcoming cliffhanger episode either.
On re-watch, the flaws and successes of Babylon became even more apparent. Chris Carter's attempt to tap into the war on terror, a concept that only emerged at the end of the show's original run, is half baked at best and at worst, offensive. With the exception of the grieving mother, no attempt is made to cast the Muslim characters in a positive light. They are largely terrorists, working in cells within Texas, their only goal seemingly to destroy the white population. And they don't come off well either; we're treated to a panic as the hospital is evacuated because of a potential terrorist attack and the intensive care nurse, played Janet Kidder, is just a horrible, horrible person. Hospital dramas have gone to great lengths to show that the duty of care should always override personal feelings towards patients. But here she is caught trying to turn off the suspect's life support and then ranting to Mulder and Einstein about how migrants are stealing jobs and part of a larger conspiracy. Given how sensitive this subject was last year and continues to be, Carter's script does more damage than good.
This was the perfect opportunity for The X Files, which was a forerunner in many ways, to treat the subject of terrorism, immigration, and Islam with care and sensitivity. But it made worse by the fact that it is shunted in alongside the 'in joke' that Miller and Einstein are the mini Mulder and Scully doppelgangers and a bizarre magic mushroom acid trip that features the Cigarette Smoking man whipping slaves on a boat while Mulder tries to talk to the suspect as he lies dying in his mother's arms.
So let's talk about these two things. First up, Miller and Einstein just aren't that good; the vehement dislike from fans will certainly crush any plans Carter might have had to turn them into a The X Files spin-off. Robbie Amell's Agent Miller is still a bit bland, offering none of the charm and wit of Fox Mulder. Though I will admit, his character seemed better on repeat viewing, engaging enough rather than just boring. And I loved Lauren Ambrose in Six Feet Under but there was nothing likeable about her character here. It doesn't help that carter tries to make her too much like a mini-skeptic; a red head doctor Scully? Really? Ambrose fails to convey even a fraction of the passion and warmth that Gillian Anderson brought to the role, coming across as brash, rude and cold. She isn't redeemed by playing the placebo card with Mulder's trip; it just makes her a bit of an idiot instead.
And Mulder's 'trip'... I'm still not convinced by it; the scene in the club with Mulder line dancing to Achy Breaky Heart is a lot of fun and the cameo by the Lone Gunmen - while a blink and you'll miss it moment - is admittedly wonderful. But then slave ship with the whip-wielding Cigarette Smoking Man and suspect is cringe worthy. I think I would have preferred it if Mulder had been given magic mushrooms; the fact that it is all the placebo effect feels odd to say the least.
Needless to say, on rewatch, my look back at Babylon is far more negative than my original review. The best parts are of course Mulder and Scully, though Chris Carter repeats the crime of the second movie and the subsequent My Struggle II by splitting them apart for most of the episode. Scully's 23 year wait to say "Nobody but the FBI's most unwanted" is a great moment of comic banter between them while the final scene as they walk hand in hand through the grass is a lovely moment of two kindred spirits. After all they have been through, I love the relationship they have now; it isn't romantic but it is just as close in many ways. It's a shame Carter would split them up for the entirety of the finale.
Babylon is a misjudged, ill timed episode filled with caricatures and cliches. It doesn't treat the subject matter with the respect it deserves and truly marks the biggest misstep in the revival by a mile. On repeat viewing I might even judge it one of the worst episodes the show has ever done. And that includes taking into account Teso dos Bichos and its killer cats. At least that episode wasn't quite so offensive...