This was a profoundly weird hour, even for The X-Files. I freely acknowledge that the franchise’s looser standards of the supernatural than most modern series make it difficult to take some of the more out-there cases seriously, but “Babylon” in particular felt like ten different ideas of a story stitched into one, to the point that David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson just barely held everything together.

It goes without saying that terrorism is always charged subject matter, and certainly trades in different imagery and ideas today than The X-Files might have utilized in its heyday 15 years ago. I get the sense that Chris Carter wanted to use what little real estate this particular mini-season had to make a larger point about belief and the philosophical weight of certain extremist ideas, and it’s almost a given that “Babylon” couldn’t create the most nuanced portrayal in the span of a solitary hour.

There’s even lip service intended to soften the approach, between Texas locals ready to pull the plug on an already vegetative suicide bomber, ranting boilerplate arguments against refugees, to the boy’s mother claiming her son fleetingly relented in his mission, as supposedly confirmed in her dreams. An inelegant approach like that might have held together on its own, but gets particularly tone-deaf when the other two-thirds of the hour traffic in over-the-top hallucinations of Mulder’s played for laughs*, as well as dividing time between four FBI agents all pursuing ridiculous personal experiments, rather than actually attempting to solve the case.

*Well, at least Skinner and the Smoking Man got to appear outside the season’s bookends, but the Lone Gunmen return was so blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, I almost did.

The other major piece of tonight’s puzzle served to introduce Flash star Robbie Amell’s Agent Miller and Six Feet Under alum Lauren Ambrose’s Agent Einstein, thinly-drawn analogues of Mulder and Scully’s younger selves, albeit with less nuance for the sake of shorthand. We know at one time there was at least some talk of a spinoff, though one wonders how far the conversation went, considering how stretched the sense of discovery has become in this universe, to treat psychic interrogations as something a young FBI agent would actively pursue.

Lauren Ambrose brings a natural highlight to everything she does, and I admire the choice to pair Mulder and Scully with their respective counterparts (as opposed to their younger selves), but it’s tough to say what purpose “Babylon” might have needed them for in a less-crowded hour. Even as both learn lessons of embracing the mystery in their work, Miller and Einstein even acknowledge contributing relatively little to the terror cell’s ultimate apprehension.

That is, to say nothing of their contribution to slash fiction.

If anything, the pair serve as another meta-extension of this particular half-season, to reference the literal X-Files as something no one takes seriously anymore, and lament falling into their older counterparts’ place. By the end of the hour, Mulder attempts to tie everything together with philosophical rumination on angry gods, and will made manifest through belief, even threading in the overall emphasis on motherhood as an antidote to extremism. Again, that message might have landed, even shakily, were “Babylon” not trying to have so much fun with Mulder’s hallucinogenic line-dance, including its inexplicably brief cameos, and the resulting suggestion that Mulder deduced a terrorist plot by tripping on placebos.

There might also be some attempt to attach biblical overtones to whatever lies in store for next week’s mythology-heavy finale, between horns of Revelation that Mulder himself hears at the hour’s end, and an Earth-wide zoom-out suggesting a global focus to come. Still, as the last standalone episode of the season, this was a particularly out-there stab at something Carter knows the series can’t actually explore in-depth, and the allegory feels particularly troubled for it.

*Again worth mentioning, the season’s second episode “Founder’s Mutation” was originally scheduled as the fifth, while “Babylon” would have served as the fourth outing.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • For the record, the hallucination sequence was a delight perfectly in keeping with the witty rapport Mulder and Scully flash between casework, just tonally bizarre for an episode that opens on two suicide bombers destroying an art gallery, and never really returns to the gravity of that act.
  • That was “Achy-Breaky Heart” for the line-dance, and Tom Waits’ “Misery Is The River Of The World” for Dream-Smokey whipping shirtless Mulder. Again, terrorism episode.
  • Were we really meant to accept the vision as placebos, or was Einstein simply covering to Skinner?
  • I have never been to Texas, but I refuse to believe that many people in a given space wear cowboy hats.

The X-Files Season 10 will return February 22 with finale “My Struggle II”, airing at 8:00 P.M. on FOX.

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