In a story that discussed the possibility of literal angels singing from the heavens, this episode was incredibly tone deaf. The fifth episode of this reboot/restart/10th season/miniseries/whatever you want to call it, “Babylon,” was shameful in the way it addressed a topic that should have been handled with seriousness and gravitas.
When you open an episode of The X-Files with two Muslim terrorists suicide-bombing an art gallery, and then show us innocent victims completely engulfed in flames, you are setting a very specific tone, one that the audience will trust you are going to take as serious as the subject matter. What they don’t expect is to follow that up with some wink-wink, nudge-nudge, jokey-joke comedy, which is exactly what happened here.
Before we even get to that though, let’s examine the opening scene. Now I give deference to storytellers that need to tell a story that needs to be told, no matter what comes with it. I’m not sure I wanted one of these six episodes to wade into these specific waters, but if that’s the story to tell—tell it.
However, I will say that when viewed in the context of this season it felt like a major misstep, solely because of what happened in episode one. If you can remember the since abandoned story, the whole reason Mulder and Scully returned to the FBI was because of this new, bigger government conspiracy where we aren’t at risk because of an alien invasion, but rather because our own government was out to get us. In that episode, we were told that terrorist attacks would be used as a smoke screen for more nefarious plots.
It made me sure that this opening was not going where it looked like it was going. Even when the two terrorists held hands and asked for strength for what they were about to do, I did not think this was going to be an instance of a big-time network presenting Muslims in this way, not on a show where we just watched a man turn into a giant lizard. That would be lazy, and it would ring hollow. Then it happened.
Okay, fine, you readjust as a viewer. Maybe you find it to be a strange choice, but the story is the story and you choose to go with it or not. It’s such a loaded premise that it’s probably easier to ignore the larger implications of what all of it says about our culture and just go with the story on its own, in a vacuum.
You cannot follow that opening the way they did. You can have fun when your victims are being eaten in the woods and a lizard-man runs by, but not when your victims are blown up and burning to death. Those are not equivalent premises from which to build.
Rather than get a tone worthy of big important topics like terrorism, free speech, faith, justice, and redemption, we get Agent Einstein. We get a drug-induced dance video. We get S&M fantasies.
This is how you decide to follow-up innocent people blown up by terrorists? With an entire middle story of silliness? On its own, watching Mulder doing the honky tonk would have been a classic X-Files moment, but here it was distasteful. Even the whole “Ha, see, a new Mulder and Scully, isn’t this fun?” was bizarre. Poor Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Amell were really quite good (and I liked how the “nut” young-Mulder was the quiet, soft-spoken one and the “reasonable” young-Scully was the abrasive one, playing against the real Mulder and Scully), but their performances were lost in a show whose inconsistent tone was distracting and confusing.
It’s too bad, too, because I think there was an interesting story here, one that was ultimately about the power of words and faith. I could have dealt with the opening if it was followed up with some reverence for the subject matter and themes, but instead the show wanted to be funny and ironic. There’s nothing ironic about this specific story, though.
I can already hear some people saying, “Yeah, but that’s why you need comic relief.” Even then it’s only 44 minutes of television, hardly a five-hour Shakespearean tragedy, but comic relief does not mean turning into a comedy. It means a line or two to ease the tension so you don’t get emotionally drained before the climax. The “Were-Monster” episode was the best of the five so far, but that episode was supposed to be funny. It wouldn’t have worked if in the middle it suddenly was about an art gallery being bombed.
I have some problems with the show trying to redeem a terrorist responsible for the deaths of nine people (who was helping to plan the deaths of many more), even if he did regret his actions at the very last second, as well as the heavy-handed and clumsy attempt to address attitudes towards Muslim Americans, but whatever, fine, again, deference to the story being told. Except, by that point the episode had been nothing but comedy for twenty minutes. An innocent mother simultaneously dealing with the grief of her dying son and with the horrible act he committed should have been powerful, but you don’t get that moment as a show when you just had us tripping out with Mulder in a cowboy hat.
I don’t understand how an episode like this happens; I don’t know how someone along the way doesn’t see the inconsistency in voice is a fatal problem. Unfortunately tonight perfectly encapsulated everything wrong with this reboot so far. It has no idea which story it wants to tell or how to tell it, and I don’t understand why it’s happening at all. There are some really good, interesting ideas, with some powerful moments full of pathos, but they keep being undercut by an inconsistent tone and purpose.
Next week’s the finale, and I have no idea what to expect, which would normally be great, especially for The X-Files, but not this time. Just like the story of the Tower of Babel, the show and I are not speaking the same language, and it’s causing lots of problems.
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Tell us in the comments section below.