How is that we're on the fifth episode of The X-Files revival already? If you're just catching on, this is what happened up until now: Mulder and Scully are back together... as partners at the FBI. Skinner brought them back, because things were getting weird, and yes, the government still has it's dirty little grabby hands on everything. So... they've pondered a lot about William, and how it's just maybe not all that okay that they gave him up. Also... Mulder met a were-monster, saw an Alien replica ship, met a guy that did some serious genetic manipulations and... Maggie Scully died in one seriously amazing Glen Morgan episode.
Now we're on to "Babylon" - the penultimate episode of the season and one controversial step written and directed by Chris Carter. For the recap and review, click after the jump.
“Babylon” opens with Shiraz (Artin John) focused on his prayers in Arabic. Once finished, he goes about his day: opening the fridge and pulling out the fixings for a good ol’ peanut butter and jelly sandwich, like any normal American would. The difference is that this fridge isn’t decorated with football scorecards but with Osama Bin Laden’s pictures. Shiraz finishes preparing his sandwich, grabs for a glass of milk and blesses his food. It’s all good.
Every time I watch this episode I can’t help but think that I’m watching Homeland instead of The X-Files. It feels grittier for some reason. Maybe it’s the theme, the music or the texture of the images.
Shiraz gets on a road of southwest Texas. When he stops at a red light, a couple of cowgirls cross over; one looks at him in disdain, the other is almost sympathetic. One is blonde, the other looks of mixed race. To his right, another obnoxious local revs up the engine of his truck, a real American truck. The man looks defiant. “Looks like we’ve go a visitor. A little brownie.” One of the girls in the truck taunts. If there was ever a picture of bad American customs...
Shiraz avoids them, rolls up his windows and moves on.
He arrives at a motel; a young man waits for him outside. He could be anyone, but he isn’t. He greets Shiraz in Arabic, kisses his cheeks; they’re buddies. They go inside, but soon enough they’re both on the road. Shiraz drives, but now the vibe has changed. They’re fidgety as they listen to some Arabic tune on the radio and navigate what looks like the streets of the center of the town. They park their car across the street from “Ziggurat” - a booming art gallery. They hold hands and pray to Allah to give them strength. Shiraz and the man cross towards the gallery and enter, other patrons go in and out and get their cars checked from the valet. It’s the picture of an educated community… and then a huge explosion destroys the gallery. People come rushing out from the smoke and flames, some hurt, some burning alive. Screams. This is a terrorist attack.
After the credits, Mulder and Scully are at the basement office. In the spiffy new widescreen that has replaced my beloved slideshow machine, Mulder shows her a video of reports of strange atmospheric sounds that resemble trumpets playing. But there isn’t a particular source. “Music from the heavens themselves. As if God himself was making music… blowing his own horn.” He says with a smirk, because this is Fox Mulder, the man that will believe in anything but religion. Scully challenges him on his theory, because this version would require for him to believe in God’s existence. He’s definitely not sold on that yet, regardless.
Investigators from all over the world have reported this phenomena and pegged it to an act of God. So it isn’t what he believes, but what others believe, the ear witnesses: “...and I saw the seven angels that stood before God and to them were given seven trumpets…” Mulder quotes Revelation 8:2. Scully reminds him that prophecies like this one have been going on for centuries only they never happen. Mulder also reminds her how Adam was supposed to die after eating the forbidden fruit, and he lived to tell the tale. Scully smiles, the stories are not supposed to be taken literally. “I’m just saying… it’s your book!” Mulder counters.
Someone knocks on the door. “Anyone down here?”
“Nobody but the FBI’s most unwanted…!” Scully says that she’s waited twenty-three years to say that. I want to hug her for that, I want to hug Chris Carter for this, let’s all have a group hug. Mulder is so proud of her too.
Enter Special Agent Miller (Robbie Amell) and Special Agent Einstein (Lauren Ambrose) or the Babyface Spooks as I’d like to call them. Scully recoils and acts surprised, hearing the famous last name, to which the younger redhead claims connection. Mulder then rushes to blame Scully’s impertinence on the fact that she wrote a paper on Einstein’s Twin Paradox back in the day. I’m going to reserve comments about his attitude for later. Einstein is confused, as she was told that Scully is a medical doctor, but this is Dana Scully we’re talking about, she can be a doctor and a scientist as well. Einstein shares that she’s a medical doctor too, and Scully jumps on the comparison train, asking Miller if he’s a profiler, obsessed with the paranormal… you know, like the impertinent man standing right next to her.
Miller’s request is exactly why they’re in the basement, even though Einstein claims they should be at the airport flying to Texas. They mention the bombing; the young men did it to protest the depiction of Mohammed at the gallery. While nine people were killed, one of the bombers survived: Shiraz. Only that “alive” isn’t quite the definition that Einstein would give to the man: he has a pulse but the extent of his injuries have him in a persistent vegetative state. Miller is sure that they imagine why they’ve come to them and Mulder is right on his same page, referring to so-called practitioners that have different approaches to this situation. Scully is already calling them out; neither she nor Einstein understand why Miller has come asking for help. Mulder infers that Miller, who he describes as a man open to possibilities, would like to communicate with the dead because Shiraz could have intel of a sleeper cell wanting to attack again.
Einstein is frustrated by this approach: she thinks they’re better off going after the terrorist cell than entertaining talking to a dead terrorist, and Scully agrees. Mulder and Miller cite numerous “authorities” that claim they could communicate with the dead based on different beliefs, including Madam Blavatsky, a known occultist. But she’s dead, as Scully points out. There isn’t someone that Mulder would recommend with the same set of abilities, much to Miller’s heartbreak. Einstein has just about had it and pressures Miller to catch the soonest flight to Texas. He gives his business card to Mulder as he leaves, Mulder thinks Miller is “a bright young man…”. Scully takes the card from him, noting that… Agent Einstein calls her partner by his last name… just like she does.
Miller and Einstein are at Dulles, waiting for their flight to Dallas. A talking points TV show plays on the screen, talking about the terrorist attack in Texas. The hosts cannot agree to each other’s point of view of the situation. The attack was protesting an art piece that desecrated Allah; one thinks it is highly offensive and provocative and the other thinks is just art. The tensions run high and Miller is visibly frustrated at it. He ponders about Shiraz, about how strange it must be to go into this suicidal mission. The kind of hate that drove Shiraz to commit such a crime has to be taught, and even when Einstein mocks that no necromancer or Shiraz would tell him who’s behind this, he still thinks going to Mulder and Scully was worth the try.
Einstein goes further into her despondency; she thinks that this kind of attitude is why no one takes the X-Files seriously, why they’re stuck in that basement. While Miller dreams of having such an assignment, Einstein reflects on the ludicracy of even considering it because no scientist with any self respect would entertain studying what can only be considered science-fiction. She’s convinced that Scully does it because she’s “clearly in love” with Mulder. Nothing else would explain it. Okay, Einstein, I like you. We’ll point you to all the fanfic pages when we’re done. Miller can’t deal with her explanation. “Maybe he values her open mind…” he proposes. “Maybe she challenges his B.S.” she counters… and I honestly don’t know if she’s talking also about her own relationship with her own partner.
Miller’s phone rings; it’s Scully. He’s a little surprised that she’s calling but Scully has an idea that might help him communicate with the terrorist, “something she’d like to try” - she says as she fiddles with Maggie’s quarter pendant. She’ll have to go to Texas.
Einstein’s phone rings too. Mulder is on the other end, and he has an idea on how to communicate with the terrorist too. She’s baffled by his call and thinks he’s better off talking to Miller. Mulder got her number from Skinner, who sings her praises since she managed to get rid of migraines that apparently were caused by Mulder himself. He refrains to comment further on that, asking if it would be possible for her to delay her trip to Texas, and she’s not amused. He could explain over the phone, she claims, but Mulder wants to elaborate further. and convinces her by saying that his idea could save lives. She leaves Miller behind claiming that she has to catch the crazy train.
Meanwhile, in a dark room filled with chemicals, a screen shows the same TV show that played at the airport. The hosts are engrossed in a shouting match about freedom of speech. Screaming about how this freedom to hate is pushing people to act like Shariz. As we travel through the room, we can see a bearded man, definitely of Arab descent at least, carefully welding the components of a suicide vest covered in explosives.
Back in the basement, Mulder browses through a book; it's pictures show mushrooms of different shapes. Einstein walks in, feisty about having to come back to him; she has no time to waste when she could be in Texas investigating the attack. If there happens to be another bombing while she’s stuck entertaining “woo-woo” theories, she couldn’t forgive herself. She should carry a sign with her that says “Just no…”. Mulder is cautious to appease her, he doesn’t do “woo woo”, he claims. I think this is where Scully would let her Skeptic!Brow™ go wild had she been in the room.
Mulder wants to establish Agent Einstein’s concept of the nature of reality as she perceives it. She humors him; her reality is that there’s more chatter on the internet about more suicide bombs. But does she believe that thoughts have “mass”? That faith and forgiveness have weight like so many other materials? She scoffs and can’t believe his crazy proposal. When she stands on a scale and thinks about ice cream, her ass doesn’t grow and thank god for that. Dammit, now I want a sundae. I appreciate her humor and so does Mulder.
His point is that words have weight to influence people, like Shiraz was moved to kill. But she isn’t buying on this concept. People and their weapons are responsible for killing people, words can only incite. Mulder then toys with the idea of “sucking on a lemon” - the sensation that it leaves behind a quasi-measurable effect. She’s had about enough of Mulder by now. I can relate, and she can now get a taste of what Scully goes through every day.
Mulder continues, reminding her how some think that every spoken word is a step forward into evolution. She knows this, how everything is about cause and effect, the butterfly effect one of those phenomenons, but that butterfly as she says won’t be defusing a bomb. The bottom line for Mulder is that Shiraz is currently in a state between life and death and if there’s a chance to get any intel from him to prevent more attacks, she’s going to have to be more open minded about her beliefs and the material world. She isn’t enthused.
Cut to Scully arriving in Texas. Miller waits for her, thankful that she’s made it there to help him. She believes that there’s a scientific way to go about it, and she’s also motivated by her own personal pursuit. Having just lost her mother before she had any way to clarify so many questions, discovering there’s a possibility to communicate with this young man in a vegetative state might bring some redemption.
We go back to the basement, where Einstein is now definitely ticked off at Mulder. She thinks that even though she’s amassed quite a lof of academic achievements, he still thinks that she’s a simpleton. But Mulder tries to clarify: not a simpleton, a Mugwump. She resents it even when she doesn’t know what that means. “It means sit down and shut up…” I want to smack him, she wants to smack him and I think I’d smack him again for claiming that he treats Scully like this when she’s being a “Mugwump” - I’ll come back to this later as well.
She gives him two minutes to make his point and he begins his slideshow about the so-called “magic mushroom” - one that has been studied extensively by many laureates. She claims those studies have been highly contested, “but with highly uncontested results,” he counters. The test subjects report going through experiences that transcend space and time, including the notion that when the barriers of the physical body are removed, deep truths have been revealed to them. Concepts that the conscious mind wouldn’t process. She’s appalled that Mulder is proposing to administer a magic mushroom to the terrorist, but what he really wants to do is to use it himself and so he’d be able to communicate with Shiraz. He’d learn what he knows and prevent future acts of terror. I wonder if anyone has used this excuse to get a marihuana card.
To Mulder the concept of death is more fluid, it’s just another plane of existence, and he doesn’t even believe that Shiraz is in that plane already. He might still be reachable in our plane. He needs Einstein to administer this substance to him so he can reach out to Shiraz. He didn’t ask Scully for it because she’s gone through her mother’s death recently and he didn’t want to bother her with it. He actually would prefer if she didn’t mention any of this to Scully. Einstein doesn’t mind obliging this request, because she’s just not following suit with any of it. The only people she’d love to talk to would be to Internal Affairs to try to explain the lunacy of this plan. She vows to never come back to the basement office, leaving Mulder slightly amused at her headstrong ways and still hedging for her help.
Miller and Scully are at Shiraz’ hospital room. He’s looking like a shell, his skull caved in, many other injuries that would indeed make anyone question if he’s really alive. But Scully points out that research has shown that there could be cerebral activity even in the most brain damaged. She’d like to try something that while novel, is not untested protocol. Miller is endearing; He marvels and believes that so many answers lie out of their reach, and Scully is candidly amused, she believes that he believes.
According to her, doctors recently managed to communicate with a patient through magnetic imaging. They did so by prompting his unresponsive brain with mundane questions that prompted electric activity. These questions lit up parts of his brain that translated into yes and no responses. And while it sounds incredible, this test can be done through an electroencephalogram. She warns him, though; even if they do reach Shiraz’ psyche, it will be difficult to get the intel Miller is hoping for.
Two agents from the Department of Homeland Security arrive then, and request that Scully and Miller leave the room. They declare that the FBI no longer has jurisdiction over the case. Miller explains that they’re trying to communicate with the terrorist, plans that are dismissed by the two men. They nastily claim that the body isn’t a human. They have zero empathy going on. After they suggest they call their superiors in Washington to verify, Scully digs her heels and says they’re not leaving the room. That’s when the most aggressive of the agents whispers in Arabic to his partner and Miller catches on. They’re there for retribution. He proceeds to snap a picture of their faces for record.
Meanwhile, Einstein arrives at the hospital and outside of the room they’re in, has to identify herself as Miller’s partner to the FBI field agents posted at the door. The men inside the room rush out, looking nervous and annoyed. That’s when she spots Scully in the room; Einstein is surprised. Do I detect a hint of professional jealousy?
The field agent asks, if she’s is Miller’s partner, then who’s Scully? Annoyed Einstein is annoyed. She grabs her phone and dials. “Agent Mulder, this is Agent Einstein. How soon can you be in Texas?” So that’s how she’s gonna play it…
Can I make a comment about how it’s become a trend to have this little musical cue when going to commercials? I kind of dig it.
Mulder arrives in Texas, where sure enough everyone dons cowboy hats and leather and plaid and jeans. He sticks out like a sore thumb. Einstein meets him; she’s found a couple of pills with the magic mushroom mixture as it seems that one of the research pioneers is from the state. “So this is the real deal?” he asks, and she can’t speak for the dosage and wouldn’t take both without trying one first. But why did she change her mind, he wants to know. She confesses that she discovered Scully working with her partner. Mulder can read between the lines, but in any case this helped him get his way and she’ll deal with her partner later. They have to be discreet about their use of this hallucinogen. She anticipates that there will be results but she can’t yet accept that he will be able to communicate with the terrorist.
At the hospital, a nurse brings in an the electroencephalogram machine to Shiraz’ room. Special Agent Brem (Erik Breker) comes in and tells them that the hospital is under a bomb threat that was called in by an anonymous source. They need to clear the wing; there’s a large and unassimilated Muslim community in the area that according to him, just wants to wipe America off the map and honor Osama Bin Laden. All of this is happening while the nurse tinkers around the room.
Scully defies him and Miller warns him that there are other people that want to see Shiraz dead, but Brem assures him that he’s not one of them. He sarcastically responds that the last thing he wants is for him to go to the promised land where he’d be rewarded for his martyrdom. Miller gets ticked off, he’s sure that Shiraz can hear everything they say and Bren is thwarting their efforts to gain his trust. While they have to agree to evacuate the place, they are clear that no one is budging on their intent. Miller and Scully leave reluctantly. The nurse is left behind, tending to Shiraz… and this is a very bad idea.
The woman has been listening to every paranoid, judgemental fear that everyone has been throwing around, and she’s going to do something about it. She turns off the life support, just when Mulder and Einstein arrive. She turns it back on right away when they enter, informing them that they’re evacuating the wing because of the bomb threat. Einstein identifies herself to the woman, claiming special authorization, but the nurse doesn’t believe her. Mulder doesn’t waste a minute to get by Shiraz’ side. The nurse is annoyed by the fact that the man has gotten so much attention, especially since according to her, he isn’t worthy of it. The woman continues a rant about how the immigrants are coming to America, taking the jobs and overloading the system, while church groups continue to bring Arab refugees. Einstein is about to propose they come back later but Mulder has already taken the pills. She distracts the nurse and takes her out of the room while the woman continues to complain about how the government is behind this as well.
Mulder settles and sits by Shiraz’ side, expecting the ride to begin. Outside, the nurse claims that the UN has plotted to bring all these Muslims into the US to form terrorist cells. Maybe she’s a Tad O’Malley fan. Einstein just humors the woman; appeasing her. The nurse looks past Einstein and asks, if they’re there doing research, how come did Mulder leave?
And so it begins… to the tune of “Something Bad” by Miranda Lambert. I don’t even have it in me to make a pun about the title of the song. Mulder walks past patients, doctors and nurses in a very evident trip, a silly smile plastered on his face, high fiving people and dancing. Like… the drugged up Mulder from “Bad Blood” would probably tell this one that he took a hit of the wrong stuff and he better sit down.
He continues onto the middle of the street, miraculously being avoided by oncoming traffic. Then to colored lights and a change of music when he gets into a very Texan, hoedown dancing, crowded barn blasting “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus.
Mulder has discarded his jacket, stolen a hat and proceeds to join the line and do his best rendition of a dad dance, totally embarrassing bootie shaking and back flip jumping that you can imagine. I’m actually thankful that Scully isn’t around to see any of this. This is a kind of embarrassment from which you can’t come back. He imagines himself some kind of sensation.
We transition to him being surrounded by a court of scantily dressed cowgirls rubbing themselves against him to his delight. He’s changed now into a t-shirt and holds some diamond studded brass knuckles with the words “Mushroom” on them. Skinner and the Lone Gunmen are there, also in cowboy attire, enjoying themselves. We’re really clear that this is a hallucination by now, right? I wish I were also hallucinating about the fact that this is happening. What follows is just a bunch of barely covered boobs, hips and butt sways at the camera, supposedly on Mulder’s point of view, to the beat of the “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” by Trace Adkins. Please… kill me now. There’s actually a couple of dudes witnessing all of this with weirded out expressions that I could totally commiserate with. More provocative dancing by the gals, Skinner smiles, Byers throws a “Yeehaw!” Langly and Frohike enjoy the show as the rest of the onlookers have began to look oddly at the “group”. The happy place goes away real fast as Mulder then transitions to a darker hallucination. I’m okay.
He’s now shirtless and strapped to the alien operating table from “The Sixth Extinction.” Its red lights confuse him, and then Einstein is there - dressed as a dominatrix - complete with a whip. “That’s all you wanted, Agent Mulder? Your woo-woo paranormal?” She demands he says it, and whips him until he does. How does one get off this bad trip?
Cut to an even darker part of this hallucination and the one portion that I can actually get behind. Mulder wakes up on board a boat where hooded figures row on a stormy sea. This is a trip where the whipping is being done by no other than the CSM and the song is “Misery is the River of the World” by Tom Waits. “You want the truth, Agent Mulder?” CSM says, threatening. “You’ve come to the right place.” and whips him once again. Can we take a minute to talk about the fact that this is his father punishing him?
Mulder spots a woman at the stern of the boat, straight out of a painting, a mother holding her son. The son is Shiraz. She’s completely out of it when he approaches, and the young man, while as injured as he last saw him, he mumbles words that we can’t make out.
We cut to the bearded man that was building the explosives. He’s now holding a meeting in a dark room, speaking to a group in Arabic: ‘Together you push the button. Bringing you eternal life. Bringing death to infidels. And bringing glory to Allah.” The shot widens, other men wear vests, he wears one himself and has a detonator in his hand. “God is the greatest!” he shouts repeatedly to the room full of suicide bombers, and they shout back.
Back in the hospital room, Scully stands by Shiraz’ side. He’s hooked to the electroencephalogram machine and she’s prompting him with questions but there aren’t any changes to his brain waves. Miller starts talking to him in Arabic; he did a tour with the FBI in Iraq. He keeps talking to him, and indeed there’s a shift on the waves. They can’t be sure that it is actual response, so they need to set up a baseline to discriminate and it will a painstaking process.
In the ER, Mulder wakes up to Skinner’s voice. The mushroom trip is over and it was apparently another embarrassing episode for the FBI, courtesy of Fox Mulder’s antics. I love how they just “dude” each other. Einstein arrives, Mulder urges her to vouch for him, and explain what they were doing experimenting with the shrooms under her supervision… but it turns out that she fooled him. She gave him a pair of niacin pills, it was a placebo. He doesn’t believe her; he was definitely under the influence of something powerful. She thinks it could just the “power of suggestion.” Mulder continues to try to convince Skinner: he was there and the Lone Gunmen and the Badonkadonk… I don’t know what’s more offensive: that any of this was provoked by a drug or that Fox Mulder would actually get himself to imagine the kind of reality he got in.
Skinner thinks he’s indeed under the influence of something by the ridiculousness of Mulder’s claims and Einstein thinks that the placebo may have further effects on him, but Mulder interrupts them because he claims he actually talked to the terrorist, only that he doesn’t know what he said because it was all in Arabic. Skinner dismisses the whole thing and goes to get him a wheelchair. Mulder turns to Einstein, telling her that she was in that hallucination as well… and she was “50 shades of bad…” Sigh, Chris Carter… just sigh. Einstein sneers at him and so does half of the female fandom. The other half will get there eventually, I’m sure.
Einstein wheels him out in the chair, so that he doesn’t dance away, frightening middle aged Texans. Mulder claims that she’s just covering her ass. She’s looking at disciplinary action for her failure of authority and probably will end up in a basement herself. That’s when Mulder spots a woman shouting to the agents just outside the hospital lobby. She’s the woman holding Shiraz in his hallucination.
Einstein gets to Shiraz’ room; Scully and Miller are surprised by her presence and even more when Mulder walks in with Noora, Shiraz’ mother. Scully wonders where they’ve found her and Einstein tries to make her veer off from the subject. When Miller steps aside and the woman can finally see the extent of the damage on Shiraz’ body, she yelps and her legs give out. Mulder and Miller help her up and walk her to her son’s side. Scully seems to be channeling some of this woman’s pain.
Noora starts to pray next to him in Arabic, and the waves on the monitor shift. Scully tells her that they believe he can hear her. She begins to assure them that he couldn’t have killed anyone, that this is not how she raised him, to worship Allah through death. He’s better than that. She doesn’t think he made the bomb or detonate it because he would back out of the plan seeing the faces of the innocents. Mulder wants to know how does she know that, and she responds that he has told her so in her dreams and prayers. Miller presses on her to tell them more, to unveil who are these men that influenced Shiraz, but she doesn’t know their names.
That’s when Shiraz starts crashing, convulsing, the monitors go off, the spikes on the brain monitor go wild. Einstein runs for help, Miller thinks that Shiraz is trying to tell them who were the men that got him involved… but the line goes flat, and he dies. His mother throws herself on him, crying and screaming his name while everyone tries to give them space. Everyone but Mulder, who claims this is what he saw in his dream, when Shiraz spoke to him.
Einstein pleads for him to stop, embarrassed, and Scully demands to know what’s going on. Mulder tries to remember; everyone is frustrated around him, and even Scully is worried, but in his muddled memories of his hallucination he can finally make out some of it. Miller helps, piecing together what Shiraz tried to tell him: “Babylon the hotel”.
The task force storms the place where Shiraz drove at the beginning; there numerous men gather in prayer in one of the rooms. It’s the same men that held the meeting with the suicide bombs before. As the FBI apprehends them and we listen to “Secret Heart” by Ron Sexsmith we transition to Miller already at the airport. His headphones are on and he’s watching the reports of the raid on the multiple screens of the storefronts and restaurants. Einstein joins him they’re not staying for the congratulatory round. He doesn’t think he did anything to help the situation but she really thinks he helped save lives. He pins it on Mulder but that’s not how she understands it: he kept Shiraz alive and safe. Miller thinks that he only translated a few words and the real work was done by Mulder and her. She also thinks she did nothing and it actually worked. She can’t explain why and he just seems to think that some things are unexplainable.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” She says solemn. “The source of all true art and science.” Miller nods surprised at the abrupt reflection his partner just gave only that the author of the phrase is actually Albert Einstein.
For Einstein the agent the real mystery is that Miller brought Scully to Texas without consulting her but he counters that she also ditched him for the crazy train. They vow to not do it ever again even when now something is clear to her: the nature of reality. She’s now convinced that “words and ideas do have weight. The weight to move people to do the most psychotic things.” … like giving someone magic mushrooms Miller proposes and she is quick to fight back that was all on Mulder. She sneers he avoids her and puts his headphones back in… and now it’s time to listen to “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers.
We transition to Mulder checking himself in his bathroom mirror. He has two distinct bruises on his collarbone. From what? Some dreamland whipping perhaps? He comes out to his porch phone and headphones in hand. The song continues to play over it. The lyrics are quite telling… if you think about it specially with Scully arriving at his doorstep.
“I belong with you you belong with me… you’re my sweetheart…”
“Talk to me Mulder.” She begins but he wants to know as about her time apart as well. They were both on their own missions. She would have never entertained the whole shroom operation and Scully applauds Einstein’s ruse. Mulder doesn’t get how the placebo thing worked out and Scully chalks it up to her best typical Mulder face “wondrous never ceases with you.”
Mulder claims that he saw deep and unconditional love while on that trip of his… while Scully saw other things herself: unqualified hate that appears to have no end. How to reconcile the two extremes of human nature? he asks and that might be the question of our times according to Scully.
“Walk with me Scully.” Mulder invites her grabbing her hand and they set off to stroll on the field in front of the unremarkable house. The events of this case have him thinking about God much to Scully’s surprise. He reflects on the origin of the story of the Tower of Babylon the violent scatter of languages and it being a lesson to men. But that didn’t stick the anger remains though. Mulder wonders what is it that God is saying… to worship him in his anger? Scully thinks that’s a question that will remain for ages. Continuing to think about the prophecies Mulder appreciates the power they still have today to drive young men to kill themselves in the name of their angry God. Those boys were victims of the power of suggestion very much like he was. Scully wonders if these reflections are courtesy of the shrooms and he thinks so but also something else. Something that trumps all hatred. Mother love. Punch me in the gut now will you?
He refuses to believe that mothers are having children to be martyrs he says while holding her hands as they stand facing each other. Mothers have a greater purpose for all of us and Scully agrees. “A child is not a tool to spread hatred ” her face suddenly solemn her eyes looking past him. He’s struck a chord. But where does hatred end? She claims that it probably ends where it began by undoing Babel and finding a common language again. Maybe that’s God’s will. Maybe it is not about words but beyond them and they should do like the prophets and open their hearts and truly listen. Mulder smiles at her lifting his arms slightly as if saying “I’m opening my heart...” and then we hear those mysterious trumpets… only he’s the only one hearing them. Scully wonders what’s happening the camera pulls over them Mulder might be thinking he’s still suffering from the shrooms as they become distant dots on the planet Earth.
“I belong with you you belong with me… you’re my sweetheart. I belong with you you belong with me… you’re my sweet.”
Okay Chris Carter… we’re going to have to agree to disagree on your take on this episode. For the most part I’m always very respectful of what a writer wants to say but I don’t know if this week - and this episode - will allow me for that.
To be fair there are a few things I liked about “Babylon”. One of them is the beginning of the interaction between Mulder and Scully in the episode. It felt natural and quirky and enjoyable. Totally in character. This happens at a time where its lightheartedness doesn’t quite bother me when I take into consideration what has happened so far in the episode and the meaning of such event.
The actual examination of the Tower of Babel story through the plot is great as well. While I’m no longer Catholic I appreciate many of the stories I learned as a child and how they associated with the arts. It wasn’t a coincidence that the art gallery that they bomb is named “Ziggurat.” “A tower surmounted by a temple” that many times refers to Babel itself. The arts just like mathematics and science share that ability to communicate universally. Art finds itself fighting borders and limitations but at the same time in this particular episode it finds itself in the eye of the storm. Art has been used to provoke art has been used to punish art has been victim of desecration in and on itself.
I enjoyed how symbolism played through the episode especially when it came to throwing a reflection on the state of human affairs these days.
The whole concept of punishment as it was seen in different instances throughout was interesting. According to the story God punished humans for their ambitions to make a name of themselves in constructing the tower for a sense of pride that went against the humility that he strived for. This continues through our existence in so many ways: countries wanting to be better than others instead of rising together rivalries wars out of economic ambition and colonialist tendencies it is everywhere. But who’s the bad guy here?
Mankind doesn't communicate well misunderstandings and ignorance leads to hatred hatred leads to… the roll of news we get from CNN MSNBC and FOX News every day. As a theme and as the central skeleton of the episode this was an amazing proposal. It stems to many aspects of the exchanges had between the characters as they struggle to try to advance; between Mulder and Einstein between the many law enforcement agencies even for poor Shiraz. He was locked using a language that no one could understand. Overcoming that was ultimately what saved us all. Even Mulder’s religious disbeliefs that borderlines on intolerance evolved at the end of the hour. He gave himself a chance to be more open minded about the philosophical aspects of religions that are more universal than just what you can see on the surface.
One of the most controversial yet most engaging parts of Mulder’s hallucination was when he’s on the boat punished by CSM. He’s being punished by his father while he taunts and mocks… but if he lets go of that distraction he will find the key to what he’s looking for. Shiraz and his mother and the clue to the terrorists. I wish all the hallucinations had been like that. I just wish that this trip pun intended had been carried out differently.
So this is where my laundry list begins: while I really think that Robbie Amell and Lauren Ambrose are great actors and I thoroughly enjoyed her over-the-top expressions they really had no chemistry between them. Having spent most of the episode apart it might not be such a great disappointment but it lacks believability given that these two are supposed to be partners. An alternative would have been to have more insight into their partnership: how long have they worked together? Why are they even paired? Where are they based?
For a moment this episode reminded me of “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” - stay with me I’ll explain. Through “Babylon” Mulder and Scully - in their own way - take it upon themselves to teach these youngsters. To show them a different approach just like the ghosts did at some point with Mulder and Scully. We even get the final recap with that porch scene and their reflection on their own lives.
It also reminded me of “Bad Blood” with the Mulder approach and the Scully approach and even his dismissive ways when it came to refer to Scully at certain moments. “Mugwump” seems like a rather harsh way to refer to her though. Calling her impertinent was also a low point. It seemed out of character but I’d peg it to a dose of cheekiness and even the naked look of un-romanticized relations between these two. It’s fine normal relationships don’t always have to sing enamoured praises of one another.
And it’s fine when this show reminds me of this show… but when at some point The X-Files reminds me of Homeland meets Fringe meets Californication… meets CBS... I just scratch my head and say No. No means No guys. I’m looking at you Fifty Shades of Grey reference that came out of nowhere.
While I don’t particularly have anything against the “shroom” element - it’s an interesting take why not? - I did wonder why not tap into elements that the show has introduced before and left underdeveloped… like Mulder’s ability to read minds because of his alien makeup. We’re heading to a season finale that will touch upon those previous experiences and themes that we already tapped into with “My Struggle” and it seemed like a missed opportunity.
Continuing on with the device; if you’re going to make Fox Mulder hallucinate given that David Duchovny has been part of shows like Californication and even Aquarius where his characters have experimented heavily with any kind of substances bringing this element to The X-Files had to be treated differently.
For me the way his hallucination went was out of character and it went on for an unnecesary amount of time. It is not that Fox Mulder having a hallucination was the element of dissonance but the way it played out was what did not match. It resembled too much of other characters; even when it’s supposed to show a world freed of inhibitions Mulder has hallucinated before and he possesses a darkness that should have carried through more. There’s a long list of things that Mulder could have tackled in this hallucination especially if it wasn’t limited to people “in the room”; he hallucinated with the Lone Gunmen that are dead a Skinner that was in Washington at the time and even Einstein… So why not hallucinate with Scully? The excuse that she didn’t interact with him until the end of the case isn’t valid. My favorite part of the hallucination is when CSM appears because it is actually something I could see Mulder having nightmares about. Where was Elvis in this funky trip? Even Mulder porn infatuation could have been included in a far less cheapened way.
The other aspect that bothered me is that Scully’s mission doesn’t come full circle. She begins with the motivation to help Miller because of her recent experience with Maggie’s death. However achieving communication with Shiraz through her idea gets bogged down and she even admits it’s not the most steadfast of solutions. It’s a side of the story that doesn’t quite serve much purpose other than “keeping Shiraz alive” so that Mulder can meet Noora associate the veracity of his hallucination and try to make a leap. But as an active achievement? Not so much.
That brings me too to another missed moment; while you can see the empathy and compassion on Scully’s face when Noora is about to lose her child there’s no exploration in this aspect that could have been a great moment between these two women. They stand at turning points of their lives: where Scully looks for answers that she never gets and Noora is a mother that somehow trusts her life to deliver answers to questions that spoke of her love for her son. Whether they are the truth or not her beliefs are strong enough to provide an end to her quest.
We can even ponder deeply into the theme of Responsibility that was tackled on the previous “Home Again”. This was a mother that fought to defend her work bringing up her child accepting and battling for him for who she knew he truly was.
The end scene is a redeemable moment of this episode for me beyond just how pretty it looks. There’s symbolism in the song choice in the conversation had once you read between what they’re not saying to each other. They’re opening to each other again they’re comfortable with each other again. She comes to him no longer in animosity but in complicity and even acceptance of his own ways. It shows that she’s tired of questioning when she knows it will lead to nowhere. I’m not the greatest fan of the song but I appreciate the meaning behind it.
While I disagree with so many things I really wanted to make peace with the character of this episode at some point because each writer makes a choice on how to tell their story. Which brings me to this: I wonder about the somewhat ironic somewhat meta storytelling. The choice to create a quasi comedic episode in which the inciting incident was a terrorist attack provoked by religious satire... And isn’t this what just happened in “Babylon?” This episode tackles such sensitive topics as the Muslim religion and community terrorism Muslim terrorists our inability to communicate as a society the great pain of a mother losing her child and even the goriness of Shiraz’ state… a list of such dramatic themes through an episode that doesn’t quite settle between comedy and the absurd and I wish it had been taken more seriously than a bunch of girls shaking it to the the beat of the Badonkadonk.
Maybe the actual achievement that this episode tried to accomplish through its weird combinations was the ability to tolerate uncomfortable conversations at this level. To have the ability to laugh at ourselves and the unknown and try to make sense of such ambiguous concepts to some such as freedom of expression… without it having to become an aspect of separation but an element of unity.
The final episode of this season airs next week. Bring it on.