This new season of ‘The X-Files’ is apparently determined to give us every type of episode from the old show, from some of the best to the worst. This week reminds us of how wildly the show could swing between those extremes, even within an individual episode.
‘Babylon’ was written and directed by series creator Chris Carter. It opens with an uncharacteristically matter-of-fact, even mundane tone as we’re introduced to a young Muslim man. We witness him saying his morning prayers, eating breakfast and preparing for the day. As he heads out of the house, he encounters some racist Texas rednecks but doesn’t engage with them. Eventually, he meets up with a friend, and together they walk into a building. Almost like some episode of ‘Homeland’, these scenes systematically build in tension and lead us to worry that the characters may be terrorists. Sure enough, as soon as they step through the doors, the building explodes. Victims who weren’t immediately killed run out of the wreckage, their bodies aflame.
It’s a very unnerving scene, but what does it have to do with the X-Files? We get the answer to that after the opening credits. Mulder and Scully sit in their basement office debating religious faith. While Mulder himself has never been religious (Scully is the believer on that topic), he’s fascinated by stories of people randomly hearing the sound of trumpets coming from the heavens. Their conversation is interrupted by two young FBI agents, Miller (Robbie Amell) and Einstein (Lauren Ambrose). The latter claims a distant relation to the famous Einstein. They’ve come for Mulder and Scully’s help – or at least Miller has. The two of them are like young clones of Mulder and Scully from their early days. He’s the enthusiastic believer in all things paranormal, and she’s the hard-nosed sceptic who can’t stop rolling her eyes at her partner.
One suspected terrorist survived the explosion, though he’s terribly injured and comatose with minimal brain activity. Miller hopes that Mulder might have some unconventional ideas about how to communicate with a person in such a state, because he believes the man has information that could lead them to the rest of his terror cell. When Mulder doesn’t have anything immediately useful, Einstein pulls her partner away so they can fly to Texas to do some real investigative work.
Before they get on the plane, Miller receives a phone call, not from Mulder, but from Scully. Einstein likewise gets a call from Mulder offering to help. Both groups split up and reform into new teams (one believer and one skeptic apiece) to approach the case from different angles, Scully with Miller and Mulder with Einstein.
Scully tries to convince Miller of a scientific solution to his problem. She sets up medical equipment to measure the terrorist’s brain wave activity and believes they might be able to reach him enough to get simple yes/no answers to their questions.
Meanwhile, Einstein is all business and has little patience for Mulder’s shenanigans, especially when she finds out that his brilliant plan is to take some magic mushrooms and have a psychedelic vision to unlock a mystical connection with the terrorist.
The latter plot thread leads to a truly hilarious scene where Mulder has a crazy drug trip and wanders through the hospital, out onto the town, and into a bar for some country line dancing. Things then get really surreal when his vision incorporates his friends the Lone Gunmen (who were killed off in the final season of the old show) and the Cigarette Smoking Man, eventually culminating with his seeing the terrorist held in the arms of an old woman.
Mulder wakes up back in the hospital with Asst. Director Skinner hovering over him, furious both at Mulder for making the FBI look like a bunch of buffoons and at Einstein for letting him do it. Einstein protests that what she gave Mulder was a simple placebo, no psychotropic drugs in it at all. Mulder nonetheless insists that he experienced something powerful, and that the terrorist tried to talk to him. Sadly, Mulder doesn’t speak Arabic and has no idea what was said.
As he’s being discharged from the hospital, Mulder sees the old woman from his vision trying to get in. She’s the terrorist’s mother. She says that the boy’s name is Shiraz, and that he came to her in a dream and told her that he tried to back out of the bombing but couldn’t stop it in time. Shiraz dies moments after his mother finds him.
Now convinced that his vision was real, Mulder recites the words Shiraz said to him. Fortunately, Miller speaks Arabic. The clue points to a place called Hotel Babylon. An FBI team raids the building and finds the terror cell there, arresting them all as they gear up for their next attack.
For some reason, this main plot of the episode wraps up about ten minutes early, leaving time for an awkward and pointless musical montage set to that annoying Lumineers song “Ho Hey” from four years ago that we all wish we’d heard the last of. Mulder and Scully meet up again to hold hands and walk through a field, talking about God. Suddenly, Mulder hears the sound of trumpets from the sky. Scully doesn’t hear anything.
This episode is all over the place. It starts out tense and suspenseful, turns goofily comedic, and then ends up really preachy and speechifying. Sadly, the last part is most clearly Chris Carter’s voice at work.
The funny bits with the young Mulder and Scully wannabes are the best parts of the episode, though even there Lauren Ambrose overplays her “rational skeptic” as too much “stone cold bitch.” After a while, her character is grating. Mulder’s drug trip, however, is a riot.