David DuchovnyChris CarterWilliam B. DavisMitch Pileggi
The X-Files Season 10 ep.5: Babylon
Medium: TV
Year: 2016
Writer/director: Chris Carter
Keywords: The X-Files, SF
Actor: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, Lauren Ambrose, Robbie Amell, Eric Breker, Stephen Lobo, Shaine Jones, Janet Kidder, Artin John, Nina Nayebi, Garry Chalk, Marci T. House, William B. Davis, Bruce Harwood
Format: 44 minutes
Url: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylon_(The_X-Files)
Website category: SF
Review date: 19 June 2020
This was my biggest surprise of Season 10. I loved it. I'd been expecting Darin Morgan to be good, but I'd only heard discouraging things about Chris Carter's episodes.
It's about Islamic terrorists, which stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest. Critics used words like "Islamophobic", "sloppy", "unfortunate stumble", etc. I think that's bollocks, personally, unless you think it's Islamophobic to show anything at all. We meet Muslims who support terrorism, oppose terrorism and will try to murder one of their brain-damaged comrades to try to silence him, while pretending to be Islamophobes themselves as a smokescreen. (Unless those really were right-wing vigilantes attempting amateur "justice". Either reading is possible.)
Ultimately, Mulder hears what might be the last trump. Scully suggests that "maybe we should do like the prophet and open our hearts and truly listen."
The nearest this episode gets to being offensive (i.e. not really) would be Mulder's musings at the end, which I could imagine annoying fundamentalist Christians more than Muslims. ("The angry God of the Bible. The Tower of Babel and Babylon, scattering people violently.") Mulder's wondering where terrorists' hatred comes from. "Those boys, they just swallow the pill. It's the power of suggestion." There are some unexamined assumptions in there, but: (a) it's just Mulder's opinion, not the word of God, and (b) I'm sure we've all wondered at times what makes a suicide bomber do it.
Anyway, the plot. Two young men blow up an art gallery that might have been showing depictions of Muhammad. One survives, but he's in no state to answer questions.
Mulder and Scully then meet younger, greener versions of themselves. Special Agent Kyd Miller is an intense young FBI agent who's open to the same wacky beliefs as Mulder and has some imaginative ideas for questioning a man in a coma. Meanwhile, Scully Mk II (including the hair colour) is Special Agent Liz Einstein, a fiercely intelligent sceptic with no patience for her partner's whimsy.
I loved this. It's a way of rebooting the show's original format and refreshing a format that had got old and comfortable. We're seeing four versions of the Mulder-Scully relationship. (Four FBI agents means six possible pairings. We'll complete the set next week.) Mulder and Scully have been together for 23 years, but their replacements are a clean slate, unencumbered by genre-savviness. Scully helps Miller, while the long-suffering Einstein barely tolerates Mulder. "I'm catching the crazy train."
These characters could easily have been annoying, e.g. with attempted rivalry or one-upmanship. They're not. They're wonderful. I was already having a great time, but then Mulder's magic mushroom plan went completely Mulder and I fell about laughing. This goes into out-and-out comedy, especially the music choices.
You know, I like Chris Carter's writing. He can be terrible, of course. His conspiracy theories are why I originally dropped the show back in the 1990s. However I enjoyed My Struggle and loved this episode. If you think it's Islamophobic, then... well, okay, sure, but I thought it was good in all the layers and viewpoints it's portraying.
Mind you, I wrote all that before watching Season 11. My Chris Carter enthusiasm took a knock there.