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TV Waffle - THE X-FILES Episode 5: Babylon

Mulder and Scully attempt to communicate with a comatose terrorist.



Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)




Looking back, the 1990s was a decade of relative global calm. Sandwiched between the end of the cold war and 9/11, The X-Files rarely found itself tackling real-life concerns during its original run. The show's paranoia was a fictional novelty back then; now it's become a conventional reality.
It was jarring then to see an X-Files episode featuring Islamist suicide bombers. Even more jarring was the shift in tone from a dramatic pre-credits sequence that wouldn't feel out of place in Homeland or 24 to the comedic hijinks that followed the credits and remained in place for most of the episode.
The aforementioned pre-credits scene introduces us to a young Muslim man saying his morning prayers in Texas, a state so often used in drama to personify the American heartland. Rolling up his prayer mat, the young man then makes himself that most American of meals - a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, before meeting up with a fellow Muslim. In a static shot, the two men enter an art gallery (which we later learn featured images of Muhammad), which explodes in a fireball seconds later. The resulting horror, with burning bodies flailing around the car park, is arguably the darkest imagery the show has ever presented, chiefly because it's so close to home. 'This isn't going to be your average X-Files episode', the audience surmises.
How wrong we are. Immediately after the credits, the show switches gears into comedy, complete with some terrible, clownish music on the soundtrack. Mulder and Scully are visited by Agents Miller (Robbie Amell) and Einstein (Lauren Ambrose), a sort of mini-me version of themselves; Miller is tall and dark, while Einstein is a petite redhead. Turns out one of the suicide bombers survived, and is now lying in a coma with half his head missing, and Miller and Einstein want the veterans' help in communicating with him to locate the whereabouts of the remainder of a sleeper cell.
Scully teams up with Miller to adopt a scientific approach involving the laborious recording of the comatose killer's brain wave patterns. Mulder however has a far more hair-brained idea; enlisting Einstein to provide him with an illegal psychotronic drug, believing he can communicate with the terrorist while in a hallucinogenic state.
Mulder's resulting comedy drug trip is a low point for a show that's generally maintained a consistent dignity for 10 seasons. Any possibility of a serious examination of Islamist terrorism and western governments' response to it flies out the window as Duchovny mugs it up in the sort of sequence you might expect to find in a Seth Rogen movie.
Written and directed by showrunner Chris Carter, whom we usually associate with 'myth-arc' episodes, Babylon feels like the result of Carter exercising a desire to 'stretch himself as an artist' and deal with real-life issues, but it's exceptionally mishandled. We're told through dialogue at several points that "not all Muslims are terrorists", but all the Muslims we spend time with here clearly are. The show is telling us one thing and showing us another. "Not all Muslims are terrorists" isn't exactly the most revolutionary notion to begin with, but Carter can't even communicate that simple concept effectively.
Babylon is the worst episode of a revival that's thus far seen a lot more troughs than peaks. The only positive I can take from this episode is its effective pre-credits sequence and a great performance from Ambrose. With only one episode remaining in this short season, it's going to have to really knock it out of the park to qualify The X-Files' return as warranted.

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