Babylon, the penultimate episode of the X-Files six-episode revival, begins with the suicide bombing of an art gallery by two young Muslim men. The case is assigned to a pair of young agents, Miller and Einstein, who are doppelgangers of Season 1 Mulder and Scully – both in appearance and disposition toward the paranormal. The fresh-faced agents end up in the basement abode of “the FBI’s Most Unwanted” because Miller thinks there may be an X-Filey way to communicate with one of the bombers; Shiraz, who survived the attack. He is in a persistent vegetative state – described by Agent Einstein (a medical doctor like Scully) as “dead, except for a heartbeat.” While at first, the senior agents can’t think of a way to help, each of them later pairs up with the younger version of their partner to take a stab at questioning Shiraz. Miller and Scully employ scientific means, using an electroencephalogram to measure brainwave responses to yes or no questions. Mulder and a reluctant Einstein, on the other hand, opt to feed Mulder psilocybin mushrooms so he can commune with the bomber on the not-quite-dead, not-quite-alive plane of existence he inhabits. Cue hilarious five-minute montage of Mulder tripping balls. In the end, the agents are able to communicate with Shiraz, who provides information that allows the FBI to apprehend a terrorist cell and thwart numerous future attacks. Pretty impressive, especially since Einstein swears she gave Mulder over-the-counter niacin pills and his whole trip was a placebo effect.
Where Does the Episode Fit?
It doesn’t. While the episode tackles some interesting concepts such as the power, meaning, and literal weight of words and sounds, it is neither a Monster of the Week nor an arc-advancing story. Speaking of the arc, wasn’t the whole point of re-opening the X-Files to combat an urgent, new threat of shadowy governmental malfeasance? We haven’t heard mention of that since the revival’s first episode’s alien technology aircrafts, murdered abductee, Deep Throat 2.0 and Cigarette Smoking Man cameo. This episode didn’t even overtly concern the agents’ son William, who was shaping up to be the substituted arc story. The closest mention of him was when Mulder referenced “mother love.”
Does that mean this was the episode that introduced us to Mulder and Scully, Mark II? Let’s welcome our new Chris Carter spinoff winners?
Miller and Einstein
Robbie Amell worked beautifully as a Mulder for the Millennials. Not only is he a total cutiepie, he’s got a wide-eyed enthusiasm for the unknown that is as strong as Season 1 Mulder, only sweeter. By the time we met him, original series Mulder had already become a bit jaded and defensive from his fall from being the FBI’s most rockstar profiler to its most ridiculed basement-dweller. “Spooky” Mulder was the first one to quip “nobody down here but the FBI’s Most Unwanted,” after all, 23 years ago when Scully first knocked on his door.
To be honest, Einstein left me kinda cold. I know Lauren Ambrose is an accomplished actor and was surely playing the role in the manner it was intended, but I found her abrasive and, frankly, mean. Scully was always skeptical and even poked fun at Mulder for his outlandish ideas, but she wasn’t hostile about it. She was professional about her debunking business, but nonetheless treated Mulder with a measure of respect and with compassion for him as a human being. As Mulder observed in this episode, Einstein is a bit of a mugwump.
A terrorist attack by Muslim extremists? We’re actually going there? Wow. It’s timely, I’ll give Chris Carter that, but it still made me wince when I saw where the opening scene was headed. This is a time when we have political candidates vilifying all Muslims based on the acts of a few. WWII-reminiscent extremes like banning Muslim immigrants and refugees and making followers of Islam register with the government and wear identifying symbols on their clothing are now campaign promises. We don’t really need another depiction of Muslim-as-terrorist on TV.
Mulder’s Magical Mystery Tour
Though it was somewhat whiplash-inducingly silly after the heartbreaking images of a terror attack, I have to admit Mulder’s magic mushroom experience was a hoot. Or maybe a hootenanny? The episode takes place in Texas and when Mulder wanders off in his altered state, he ends up in a country bar, line dancing to Achy Breaky Heart before transitioning into a Pulp Fiction-inspired batman dance. I finally got my wish to see The Lone Gunmen again, but alas, it was far too brief – merely a psychedelic glimpse of them at the cowboy bar.
Things get serious as Mulder travels farther down the rabbit hole, culminating with the agent amid black-hooded oarsmen on a river Styx-esque boat captained by a whip-wielding Cigarette Smoking Man. As Tom Waits’ Misery Is the River of the World plays, Mulder turns to find Shiraz, Pieta-like, in his grieving mother’s arms.
Am I the only one who flashed back to Season Five’s Post–Modern Prometheus when Mulder reached for Scully’s hand before their walk at the end of the episode? Swoon. I love that scene like a crazy woman. The walk itself was a pleasure, as well. Feel the love, people. Mulder and Scully are my OTP.