The X-Files: “Babylon”

Babylon“Babylon”

Written and Directed by Chris Carter

“I don’t do woo-woo.” —Mulder

Take me now, Lord. I have seen Fox Mulder in a cowboy hat, line dancing to “Achy Breaky Heart”; life can hold no more for me.  Tonight’s episode of The X-Files reminds us that Chris Carter has always broken barriers, crossed boundaries, and generally colored outside the lines when it comes to Fox Mulder, even if those are lines he drew himself. Just when we thought we had Mulder’s personality nailed, along comes “Humbug” or some other game-changing reflection on who this complex character is, just to turn everything upside down. Carter especially likes to look at things from the point of view of the outsider, which is why “Babylon” surprised me a little bit. In earlier years, this story might well have been told from the point of view of the terrorist, or some other character that we might automatically consider “the bad guy”. Carter likes nothing so much as to shake up our preconceptions, but in this episode, we pretty much get what we see. There are no real surprises on that front, but that’s just as well—the rest of the ride was a doozy.

“Do you think anyone takes The X-Files seriously?” — Einstein

Two young Arabic-speaking men blow up a Texas art gallery, killing dozens of people. One survives—if it can be called surviving when he’s in a coma and missing several body parts and chunks of his head. Mulder and Scully are deep into a metaphysical discussion based on worldwide reports of people hearing  heavenly trumpets, when their clones walk into the X-Files office and hand them the bomb case. Okay, not clones, perhaps, but pretty close. If you had a moment of déja vu, like I did, it’s probably because you saw “Hollywood, AD” back in Season 7 of The X-Files. That episode, written by Chris Carter, directed by David Duchovny, and starring Duchovny’s wife Tea Leoni, involved actors who were cast to look like Mulder and Scully. In tonight’s episode we have Agents Miller (Robbie Amell, The Flash) and Einstein (Lauren Ambrose, Dig): she’s a red-headed skeptic with a medical degree, and he’s a brash young believer in the paranormal. Mulder and Scully, amused, take a shine to these younger versions of themselves, and decide to help them find out who the surviving terrorist’s accomplices might be. But the alignments are not what one might suppose: the skeptical Einstein pairs up with Mulder, and the Scully enlists the aid of the believer Miller. Everyone winds up in Texas, where the entire populace wears cowboy hats. (Right. Like everyone in San Francisco wears tie-dye, and the population of Chicago dresses like Al Capone.)

“You were fifty shades of bad.” — Mulder

For my money, having Mulder suggest using psychedelic drugs to allow him to interview a suspect who is technically dead must rank as one of the most innovative ideas in criminal investigation to come down the pike. I mean, shouldn’t Mulder be reading the Miranda warning to a criminal suspect, even if he’s dead? Of course the use of “magic mushrooms” is a callback to the sixth season episode “Field Trip”, in which Mulder and Scully were forced to consider the possibility that “reality” is more fluid than they supposed, after being trapped underground in a giant mushroom. In “Babylon”, Mulder continues to question reality, even enlisting the help of Scully’s double to administer the drug. But she doesn’t, which opens up yet more questions about reality when Mulder apparently trips entirely on his own. Power of suggestion? Hypnosis? Wishful thinking? Ah, but just when we’re ready to concede that Mulder is once again deluding himself, he recognizes people and phrases from his trip, but here in the “real” world.

“She’s clearly in love with him.” — Einstein

We end with a lovely walk in the fields, as Mulder and Scully hold hands and discuss God, the Universe, and faith. Scully is smiling at Mulder more these days, with a bemused affection that acknowledges that he may be a nutcase, but he’s her nutcase. Mulder shows a great deal of sensitivity towards the recently bereaved Scully, by attempting to shield her from the pain of another coma patient’s bedside. Their conversation in the field continues the long conversation that they have had since the pilot, about reality and proof and faith and what it takes to believe, about what the universe or God is telling us, and what constitutes “proof”, whether it’s the Bible or something else. This is the heart of the Mulder/Scully dynamic, those brilliant and telling conversations that cement for us the truth of their relationship, that this is truly the marriage of two minds.

“How to reconcile the two — the extremes of our nature?” — Mulder

I have to wonder if Chris Carter isn’t poking a little fun at himself. From the very beginning, the magic of Mulder and Scully has been that each one reversed the traditional intellectual roles of males and females, at least as portrayed in popular culture. The male half of the duo was the intuitive, sensitive, even gullible half, the one focused on relationships and empathy; the female half was cool, rational, intellectual. I’ve always believed that at least half of the genius of Chris Carter’s invention was his reversal of these roles, and it’s one reason Agents Doggett and Reyes never filled in for them very well: those two echoed the usual male/female dynamic we see in other shows. So, just to make that point very clear, Carter gives us another role-reversal pair, with the male believer and the female skeptic. Is he having a little joke on his audience? If so, it’s with tongue planted firmly in cheek, because the one aspect of Mulder and Scully that Miller and Einstein do not replicate is the sexual tension. There is absolutely zero sexual shimmer between these two; Einstein’s disdain for her partner does not mask a hidden desire for his sultry looks, and Miller’s cool dismissal of her exasperated protests does not echo any concealed longing for her. It’s an interesting look at what Mulder and Scully might have been if Carter had actually gone through with his often-stated intent to never allow a romantic relationship between his iconic characters, as if he was saying, “See? This is what I thought I wanted.” But after this season and the last couple of seasons of The X-Files, along with two movies showing Mulder and Scully as partners, that genie is not only out of the bottle but has rented it out to someone else. Mulder and Scully are lovers and partners both of the mind and the heart, and perhaps this is Carter’s way of acknowledging that it is, after all, a good thing.

“He spoke to me.” — Mulder

And as long as Carter is in this mood, apparently he brings back another bunch of characters that he was perhaps not so fond of at first: The Lone Gunmen. I had heard conflicting rumors from Day One that they might be back, and of course having been killed off in Season Nine would hardly keep them from re-appearing in The X-Files, which has resurrected more characters than one can count. So it was wonderful to see them again: Ringo Langley (Dean Haglund), John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), and my TV boyfriend, Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood), if only in a psychedelic haze. The Smoking Man (William B. Davis) has a cameo role, and Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) actually has a few pithy  lines. It was Old Home Week in Texas, apparently, and had very much the feel of a family reunion. Or perhaps a family come together for a funeral: there is a definite sense of closure to this episode.

“Maybe some things are unexplainable.” — Miller

I loved the conceit of a worldwide aural phenomenon of heavenly trumpets heard by different people in different places. I love the attention to detail, that Mulder forgot until he was actually in the altered state of consciousness that his suspect would be thinking in Arabic. Of course I loved Mulder and Scully’s walk in the sunshine. And as a former Texan, I note the irony, if that’s the word, of setting this story in a state famed for its annual blooming of the magic mushrooms. Best of all, I got to see a dance number in The X-Files, with Duchovny showing off his moves. Would any other writer for The X-Files be bold enough to do that? I don’t think so. Thanks, Chris.

This episode gets five out of five sunflower seeds.

6 comments on The X-Files: “Babylon”

  • mag

    I fell with love with this episode. I’m glad I’m not the only one who see some interesting things in this eventless plot.
    Story of terrorist’s mother resonates pretty well with the previous episode. It raises (repeats) a question how the creator (mother or God, depends on personal view) is responsible for the actions of the child.
    Home again posed a question: are the creators responsible for its “products”? Scully answered yes to this, blaming the trash man for not foresee what future may come. And we agreed with her. In this week’s episode we see the other aspect of the very same question. Terrorists mother came to the scene and bring her own rights. Who filled his head?- asks agent Miller.

    I doubt if Mulder saw unconditional love in his dreams, well maybe he did, but surely he witnessed it here on Earth, not in his dreams.
    Is everything in this world a placebo? Everything we see, witnesse, experience and believe, is this a placebo for existence anxiety?
    As Mulder said in The Truth:
    I want to believe that the dead are not lost to us. That they speak to us as part of something greater than us. Maybe there’s hope.
    I love Chris Carter’s scripts and your reviews are remarkable 🙂

    • munchkyn (author)

      Thanks for your very kind words! Yes, I also want to believe that the dead are not lost to us. And I liked the way CC used the mushrooms as a metaphor for that gateway. He’s always coming up with something new–and something very old. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  • theMorrigan

    I love this review. I’ve gobbled up all your reviews on the new episodes in one sitting. Love seeing the positivity!

    One minor point, though. Duchovny wrote Hollywood AD.

    • munchkyn (author)

      By golly, you’re right. I’ll let the mistake stand, so I can leave your correction here. Thanks for having a sharper memory than mine! My alien implant must be acting up again….

  • David

    I’m very happy to find a review praising this episode – it was remarkable! Glad to see your reviews back after all these years, too, Sarah – they’re marvellous 🙂 I first came across your reviews in the late 1990s as a teenage X-Files fan, they were not only wonderful takes on the episodes but an excellent introduction to pop cultural criticism. Welcome back, hope there’s a season 11 to furnish us with more of your reviews as well!

    • munchkyn (author)

      Thank you! Nice to meet a fan from the old days. 🙂 I miss alt.tv.x-files sometimes, where I used to post. Nowadays there are so many forums, it’s hard to keep track of them all. I’m glad you found me. Thank you for reading!

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