Look, if we’re going to talk about “Babylon”, it’s not going to be easy. I don’t want to get into it, but it’s not like I can overlook it since the problem with the episode is, well, the majority of the episode. Bear with me, folks.
Elephant in the room time. Yep, that sure was an episode about Muslim terrorists. And unfortunately, there wasn’t any kind of twist. It’s lazy and, I think, wrongheaded in the current political climate. It felt like one of the more reactionary seasons of 24. I want to cut Chris Carter some slack since he’s given us so much. If you work backwards from the goal of doing a “faith vs. belief” episode that also plays with the afterlife and introduces the complication of a language barrier, it makes sense as a storytelling choice. And it’s not like FOX was going to let them have Catholics blow up an abortion clinic for an episode about religious extremism.
And in all fairness, this episode would likely have been written long before the ascendancy of Trump and his vilification of Muslims. It’s likely this could have been written back when violence over Mohammed depictions was in the news. And while I think the episode does make the point that faith turned to violence isn’t limited to one belief and it certainly doesn’t allege that all Muslims are terrorists, it’s still not good. In 2016, an armed platoon rushing a seemingly unarmed group of ethnic Muslims is a shocking image, especially when it’s so unambiguously portrayed as good vs. evil in a show where the people with the most guns are never the unambiguous good guys.
I don’t think any of this came from a racist place, but it’s shockingly tone-deaf. And it’s worse because the racist characters who get there say (and are pretty clearly portrayed as being wrong), they don’t sound much different from some of the pundits and candidates out there. And that moment at the end where we see footage of 9/11 next to shots of the arrest? I’m willing to give that bit credit as a jab at the media’s propensity to invoke the tragedy whenever a Muslim person is involved in violence, but it’s 2016 and that nuance is going to get lost.
Pre-Trump, this episode is maybe a little wrongheaded but ultimately well-meaning. But today it plays entirely differently. A couple of years down the line, separated from rhetoric about banning Muslims from entering the country, it might play better. Still, I spent the whole episode hoping for a twist that would redeem it, and that twist never came. Like I said, the racists are clearly portrayed as being terrible, but we still end up with “It’s wrong to say that all Muslims are terrorists but these terrorists are definitely Muslim.” I’ll cut Carter all the slack in the world, but that doesn’t mean he thought this through. There’s a part of me that thinks this might have started as a script for the original series. If this had aired in 2002, “Not all Muslims are terrorists” would have been a strong stance for a network show. But it’s 2016 and of course they aren’t.
And unfortunately, that leaves a stain on the whole episode. There’s some genuinely good stuff here, but it’s hard to get past all the cringing. Of course, this is me talking as a floor model white guy. If I were Muslim and/or Arabic, I doubt I would have made it through the episode.
(Also, a Twitter pal of mine pointed out that they’re pretty inconsistent with the languages used in the episode, mixing Arabic and Farsi, which are two different things. I wouldn’t have known that, but if I were making an episode of TV, I probably would have looked into it.)
Faith vs. belief, for lack of better phrasing, is a favorite X-Files trope, and I liked seeing it here. I always want to say “religion vs. science”, but Mulder’s well outside the realm of science most of the time. He’s a guy who wants to believe so he chases proof, while faith is belief in the absence of proof. (That’s a big simplification, but I’m not your go-to for theological depth, even if I did get a business degree from a religious college mostly known for its seminary program.) At first blush, it doesn’t feel like this added anything new to that discussion, but I still don’t know how this season fits together. It feels like Mulder’s version of faith is being shaken by something different in just about every episode. There might be a payoff to this thread in the finale, but I’m still confused as to how the chronology works. The only thing we know is that this episode definitely happens after “Home Again:.
It also feels a little jarring that there’s no mention of William in this episode, as long as we’re trying to work this out. The miniseries actually feels a little like we’re seeing episodes selected at random from a full-length season, and when I think of it that way, it holds together a little more. So we just didn’t see the episodes where they’re following up on the missing woman.
I liked the idea of the younger versions of Mulder and Scully. You may recognize Robbie Amell as Firestorm on The Flash and Lauren Ambrose from Six Feet Under. They feel a little like they could be X-Files: The Next Generation in the event that FOX wants to go forward with a younger cast. As far as I know, nobody’s even hinting at that, but they very much feel like they’re starring in a backdoor pilot.
I think it worked well to have Miller be a nice guy and Einstein be kind of sour – it gives them a different vibe from that of Mulder and Scully. I wouldn’t be upset it they appeared again is what I’m saying.
And all my gripes aside, I think the way Mulder and Scully each reached out to their opposites was clever. In Scully’s case, I think she figured Miller would be easier to work with. Mulder just needs somebody to butt heads with. And also a doctor who can give him psychedelics.
As for that…. well, I thought it was a hoot but I’m a soft touch for extended fantasy sequences. I mean, I could still talk about the “Test Dream” episode of The Sopranos at length, and it’s been years. I genuinely didn’t understand why Mulder thought that would be a good idea and I’m still fuzzy as to how a placebo sent him on a trip, unless his mental state is maybe worse than they’re telling us. But Chris Carter once played a full music video for “Horses” in an episode of Millennium, so it doesn’t take much for him to go full-blown hallucination.
Still, Mulder with his cowboy hat drinking with the Lone Gunmen and Skinner? Pretty great. And the part on the boat is accompanied by Tom Waits’ song “Misery is the River of the World”, and Tom Waits is my favorite.
Basically, it was the weakest episode of the season by a country mile. It’s a shaky plot even without the “mad bomber” angle, and that’s enough to overwhelm the things I really liked. I’ll be honest with you – I’m really hoping there’s a DVD commentary for this one. It’s such a misfire that I want to hear Carter and company explain exactly what went wrong. It’s just a bummer that with only six episodes, we get one that falls so short.
But man, Duchovny is still having a blast. “Dude, I was on fire.” HEE!
See you back here for the finale and then we’ll chill out and wait for them to announce more episodes. They’d be crazy not to, right?