The X-Files: Babylon

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Nobody but the FBI’s most unwanted. I’ve been waiting 23 years to say that!

Ever since season three, it feels like Chris Carter has been trying to compete with Darin Morgan (and later to some extent Vince Gilligan) for the title of funniest X-Files writer.  And every time that Carter has tried to prove that he can be funny too, it feels like his episode goes over a bit like a lead balloon.

It’s not that Carter can’t find humor in things and that he hasn’t done some pretty interesting things to stretch himself a storyteller and film-maker, but I just have to think that going for the funny bone may not be exactly up his alley.

Watching “Babylon” I couldn’t help but think that this was an episode that was trying to on the one hand be funny, on other hand be an observation about our current world and political climate and on another hand, an attempt to set up a spin-off should the schedules of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson not coincide any time in the near future for an eleventh season of the show.

It all added up to an episode that felt a bit scattershot in tone and all over the map.   And I can’t help but think that it we’d had a few more episodes this season that Carter might have been able to devote a bit more screen time to developing these plots more than we got on-screen.

In recent years, Carter has never been one to shy away putting his own views on the state of the world into his artistic output.  If you watched the second movie, you’ll recall the scene with the photo of George W. Bush and then the famous theme playing over it.  Carter is clearly making a statement there — and he’s making one here.   The opening scene feels a bit more like it’s something out of 24 than The X-Files with an young man apparently of the Islamic face going in and blowing up an art gallery.   As I saw this opening, I couldn’t help but think that maybe Carter was going to do something different than follow the standard “extremist blows up something” thread, but he didn’t.  And I think the show was weaker for that.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Mulder and Scully are debating a case where people claim to hear a trumpeting sound and wondering if this could be an indication of a message from above and the beginning of the end times.  One of the things that I found interesting in the initial run of stories was the dichotomy of Mulder and Scully’s beliefs.  They each had their beliefs — but while Scully was prepared to give Mulder’s beliefs a bit of credence and to look further into them, Mulder often came across as dismissive of her religious beliefs.  It was nice to see that Mulder has become a bit less dismissive of them in this episode and could possibly be hearing something more when the episode comes to an end.

Carter’s notion that people aren’t born to be extremists is an interesting one.  The commentary that mothers don’t give birth to children, thinking they will take their own lives to fulfill some kind of extreme religious conviction was also a nicely realized point, even if it was a bit heavy-handed by Carter.   I also felt like the theme of motherhood was once again on display here, leading me to wonder if this might not be a motivating factor in whatever decisions Scully makes about finally going to find William and make sure he’s alright.

Large portions of the rest of the episode are turned over to the attempted spin-off, complete with two new agents who are meant to remind us of the early days of Mulder and Scully.  Having each of them pair off with the older version of their opposite was a nice touch, but honestly it felt like Carter was working too hard to put this plate into the air as well.  I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see these two again in the finale next week. (And if we do, boy is it going to be packed).

It’s interesting to see that Mulder is sneaking behind Scully’s back to try and have a new, mind-altering experience.  In this case, he wants to take some psychedelic new mushrooms that he’s convinced will allow him to communicate with the young man we saw in the teaser who now lies in a coma in the hospital.  (Scully’s also got a plan that involves reading the guy’s brain waves for yes and no answers).   The goal is to find out about other cells in the United States and put a stop to them.

I can’t help but think Mulder can’t or won’t tell Scully about the shrooms because he already knows what her answer will be.  And based on the several mentions of Mulder being on medication for depression, I can’t help but think that there could be some crazy interactions of his meds and these mind-altering mushrooms.   But with Einstein, Mulder is able to find a willing enabler for him — even if we’re lead to question if he was given the mushrooms or a placebo.  If he wasn’t given the mushrooms, that’s quite a bender that he took.

It’s the bender and the visual images we get there that intrigued me most.  From seeing the Lone Gunmen to having Mulder line dance to the image of Einstein in his head, Mulder has some fascinating visions.  None more than the CSM sitting on a barge of the dead.  I keep wondering if there is something more to this vision than just the conversation Mulder has with our comatose young man and seeing his mother.  Could his subconscious be putting together certain clues about the bigger picture.

Even more interesting is that this experience seems to have opened Mulder up to some new possibilities.  If “Were-Monster” were about Mulder getting his grove back, I can’t help but wonder if this experience was about restoring his faith or some of his beliefs.  I can’t help but wonder if the vision made him realize that he’s lost a lot allies in his quest and that all he’s really got left are Skiller and Scully.

And then we have the final conversation with Mulder and Scully which seems to bring some peace to their relationship and their estrangement to start the season.  I also can’t help but feel like shippers were eating that one up like candy.

Finally, it’s Mulder who apparently hears the trumpets and not Scully.  Could this mean that Mulder has found religion?  Or has he just found a new faith or had it restored from his line-dancing hallucination?

I can’t say I loved this one.  It was easily the weakest of the five installments we’ve seen and it worries me about if Carter can stick the landing next week for the conclusion of this mini-series event.

 

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