Part 5 of 6 synopsis: A pair of eerily familar young agents call in Mulder and Scully to help speak with a comatose terrorist who survived a suicide bombing.
As The X-Files started to get long in the tooth around the seventh and the beginning of the eighth seasons, Chris Carter started to float the idea that the show could go on forever with a model similar to Star Trek, with new investigators coming every few years, each bringing in their own dynamic and personality as they investigate American mythology and ufology.
It’s hard to tell how sincerely Carter believed this and how much of it was him covering his butt as the show started to leave behind the days of being a ratings juggernaut and he does gamely attempt to push the idea with Agent Dogget and, to a much less successful extent with, Agent Reyes.
In a lot of ways, it seems like “Babylon” is Carter trying to prove that there’s something fundamentally timeless about The X-Files, but he weirdly decides to do that by making an episode that’s almost mind-numbingly contemporary.
After a pair of suicide bombers attack a Texas art gallery, Mulder and Scully are drawn into the case by young agents Miller and Einstein, a pair of fresh-faced recruits who superficially resemble Mulder and Scully and have corresponding belief systems with each one.
What’s most interesting about “Babylon” isn’t that it recreates the dynamic of Mulder and Scully with new characters, but that it focuses on the differences between skepticism and belief and the relationship those play in seeking the truth. See, Mulder has always been a believer because in some way it’s the only way he can make sense of what happened to his sister and that faith in something bigger than what he can see or feel or identify is the only way to have hope for finding the person he’s lost. In the same way, Scull’s skepticism is a tool.
They’re both complicated people, pragmatists whose belief systems often complicate or further their goals. What’s interesting about putting them alongside Miller and Einstein is that the new characters don’t have those same complications, at least that we see.
Einstein’s a pure skeptic, devoted to the truth, yes, but without the openness that defines Scully. Miller’s too obsessed with endless possibility to temper his fantasies with the truth. It’s essentially Mulder and Scully getting to shadowbox with the perceptions others have for them. So much of this is clear in the scenes where Scully barely stifles a laugh when talking to Miller about what he believes and Mulder lectures and verbally spars with Einstein in his office.
It’s a good thing that this dynamic works because god, the rest of this episode is a fucking mess. It’s trying to be fun and goofy and knowing and winking but instead it’s ponderous and dull and unsure of whether it’s making a larger point about terrorism and multiculturalism or mocking those who fear such things.
It uses the visual language of 24 and Homeland to attempt to give relevancy and urgency to its loose plot, but it just falls in the most obvious, expected ways and it’s not helped by an oppressive soundtrack that would be more at home on Monday Night Football than a sci-fi procedural. Mulder’s psychedelic trip is mostly fun and I’m sure will spawn gifs until the end of time but it’s as unfocused, loose, and bothersome as the episode’s larger points.
Worse, nothing really makes sense. We never get any characterization or motive, much less a name, for the inciter who drives the bombers and the larger themes of the episode make almost no sense. Scully and Mulder have a talk at episode’s end about the nature of a vengeful, Old Testament God as well as the state of the world and human relations but it’s flat and odd the ways so many of these episodes’ larger metaphors have been.
It’s not as bad as last week’s, “I hope our baby doesn’t see himself as trash, y’know, because we just met someone named ‘The Trashman,’” but that’s at least partially because it’s so much less concrete.
By the end, “Babylon” wants to say that Miller and Einstein have changed, that they have the potential to continue the work Mulder and Scully started but it’s almost impossible to buy. It’s not that the performances are bad, but it has the feeling of kids performing in a play, reading the right lines, and making the right expressions but unable to capture more than the idea of a character or scene.
I imagine that similarly to episodes like “Killswitch,” “The Post-Modern Prometheus,” “Hollywood AD” and many more, “Babylon” will probably be best remembered for one profoundly goofy moment, namely Mulder’s prophetic, profoundly silly trip but it’s not enough to save a lackluster, uninspired hour. It’s a scene that’s enough to raise the hour from the dregs of some of The X-Files worst episodes, but not by much.