X-Files (2016) season 10, episode 5
WRITER: CHRIS CARTER
DIRECTOR: CHRIS CARTER
AIR DATE: February 15 2016
"Babylon" - a reference to the biblical and historical city and the tale of the Tower of Babel. It’s also the title for the fifth episode of season ten for The X-Files, an episode that is light on the supernatural elements of the series, and yet fitting in with the mood of the series. It takes on the issue of international terrorism, mixes in the tensions of religion and bigotry, and brings in a couple of younger agents who are counterparts to the protagonists of the series.
The episode starts on an ominous note, with a young Muslim man going through his day in Texas, experiencing derision and bigotry from white Americans. He meets a friend, and the two enter an art gallery- setting off suicide bombs. The moment’s shocking, and shot in a dramatic way; the sight of people on fire collapsing as they rush out of the burning building is a horrific sight. Despite what should be a certain death, the young bomber survives, but is effectively brain dead, having had suffered massive trauma.
Mulder and Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) are consulted by a pair of agents, Miller and Einstein (Robbie Amell and Lauren Ambrose) who are going to Texas to take part in the investigation. Einstein is skeptical about everything, even more so than Scully ever was, and she’s a bit dismissive of Scully’s time putting up with Mulder’s craziness. Miller is a believer, even more than Mulder, and the parallels between the veteran and younger agents are played out. And yet Mulder and Scully find themselves participating in the investigation with their opposites - Scully pursuing a scientific method with Miller, while Einstein finds herself reluctantly helping Mulder with a very different method of communicating with the comatose bomber.
Series creator Chris Carter wrote and directed the episode, which bears some of the hallmarks of his touch - wry humour, deep conversations between Mulder and Scully, strong visualization. If one wants to see any supernatural elements to the episode at all, it’s in more subtle ways - the notion of trumpets being heard without a visible source, hearkening to the Bible. Mulder has what can be described as an episode that would feel like a mix of dream and nightmare - in an attempt to commune with the bomber, he takes magic mushrooms - or at least thinks he does.
and the Lone Gunmen?
What unfolds in the sequence that follows is a mix of humour and darkness - Mulder takes part in country music line dancing (and Achy Breaky Heart becomes an ear worm once again in the process) in a dream sequence sort of thing that features Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) in western clothing, as well as an appearance by the late and lamented Lone Gunmen (Bruce Harwood, Dean Haglund, Tom Braidwood). After a brief transition, Mulder finds himself on what might be described as a boat being rowed into the after world, with the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) in attendance, and the young bomber being held by his mother. This part of the sequence has a dark, moody quality to the way it’s shot - I’m reminded of Ingmar’s The Seventh Seal.
Aside from the contrasts presented by the agents, I like the episode’s contrasts in people - we see the bigotry from the locals and the resentment it fosters in the young bomber. We also see the darkness presented by the cell of Islamic bombers seeking to bring terror into the heartland. And yet that’s also contrasted strongly by the mother (Nina Nayebi), who we find both in the dream and in reality - she’s strongly principled against the notion of jihad, a direct counter to both white bigotry and the people her son took up with, a believer who also believes in peace and co-existence. In a current day where a presidential candidate (and in my opinion the worst human being on the planet) singles out an entire religious group and panders to bigotry, the character is a refreshing answer.
Life after death
Along with the humour of Mulder’s drug trip, there’s humour in a post-trip sequence in the hospital in which Skinner scolds the agent - who would have thought Walter Skinner capable of saying the word ‘dude’? The writing and acting play to that sense of humour, and even Einstein’s certainty that she’s doomed to career hell for going along with Mulder’s out there idea has a hint of humour. The writing and acting also play strongly in the closing sequence of the episode. One of the hallmarks of the series has always been these deep conversations Mulder and Scully have - it’s fuelled many ‘shipper’ fan fic tales. The two characters have, often in the wake of dramatic changes, near-death experiences and emotional trauma, spent time talking and philosophizing. There’s this curious emotional intimacy the two characters share that shows itself most strongly at such times. Belief and faith are the subject of conversation this time, and that sense of intimacy between the protagonists underlies the scene.