THE X-FILES 10×05 Debriefing: All you need is love — and narcotics

Courtesy Fox

If you ever wished you could see Fox Mulder high on magic mushrooms, boy, does The X-Files have the episode for you!

This week, the agents meet their younger doppelgangers, while trying to solve a case that is as nuanced as Mulder’s dance moves. (In other words, not.) It might all just be an excuse to get David Duchovny shirtless, but that’s about where the subtlety ends.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Even if I were to do a full recap of the episode’s events, I’m not sure that I would be able to get through the whole thing. Here’s the short version: a pair of Muslim men become suicide bombers in Southwest Texas (which looks remarkably like the Pacific Northwest), blowing up a local store and sending pundits everywhere to clutch their pearls at the Other-ness of it all. A new agent, Miller, is convinced that the surviving bomber, who is now in a coma, can reveal the actual person responsible for the terror plot and seeks Mulder’s help, while his skeptical partner Einstein (no, seriously) really would rather be anywhere else but the basement office. (Get it? They’re the next generation!) And in his infinite wisdom, Mulder becomes convinced that using magic mushrooms will somehow allow him to reach another level of consciousness to communicate with the man, while Scully, still dealing with her mother’s death, holds onto hope that the patient can hear them and regain consciousness to thwart the next attack.

When The X-Files first left the airwaves in 2002, it was close enough after 9/11 that domestic terrorism remained a hot-button issue. Jump ahead 14 years, and the plot of this season’s penultimate episode feels decidedly parochial; it would have been distasteful back then, but over a decade later, its anachronism is even more blatant.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

The thing is, I actually understand where Chris Carter is coming from, to a certain degree. As Scully and Mulder’s dreamy discussion (more on that later) reveals in the final scene, the general point is that the bomber, like all children, wasn’t inherently predisposed to evil, and that his acts were the result of the influence of powerful men on his impressionable young mind. The message, to be brief, is that this so-called terrorist was someone’s child too, once upon a time. It attempts to restore humanity to the ostracized, but it goes about it by reinforcing the tropes at their worst.

Within the framework of Mulder and Scully’s opposing religious views — Mulder’s atheism vs. Scully’s Catholicism — it’s a curious conversation. The fall of Babel happens all over again, down to Mulder not understanding the words being spoken in his dream. On the one hand, the show seems to be saying that organized religion (or a sectarian perversion thereof) corrupts youngsters, yet it also seems to espouse that God’s true will is to open one’s heart to love. It’s a theme that has been explored several times in the show, and perhaps it’s merely a reflection of how the television landscape has changed since the show premiered over twenty years ago, but the idealistic intent behind the narrative can’t really mask the offensive nature of the story as a whole.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

For instance, it’s obvious that the nurse who tries to turn off Shiraz’ life support is meant to be a parody of right-wing zealots who fear the “Other” taking over America, just like the shady G-Men trying to kick Scully and Miller out of his hospital room are likely a commentary on the police state. However, there’s no getting around the fact that by placing these characters and these stereotypes under the microscope, that message is lost among the bomber’s actions. He may have been a lost soul, but he’s still a visible minority practicing a religion that is under fire in the media confirming the zealots’ worst fears about his culture. It doesn’t matter how many nice words Scully and Mulder utter to upbeat songs to bring home the moral of the story, it still ends up perpetuating negative stereotypes on a national scale. The road to “Babylon” is paved with good intentions, but unfortunately it doesn’t make it any less problematic.

Moreover, the way Mulder “redeems” the bomber, through his magical mystery tour, also falls flat, sadly. Listen, I have a healthy appreciation for the absurd in my shows. I enjoy flights of fancy. (I mean, I watch Bones, where the country’s supposedly top-ranked investigative team once ran away with the circus. I’m all for the ridiculous.) I admit that when Mulder snuck his second mushroom before Einstein even had a chance to say “don’t,” and began his strut through town, I laughed — just as I did when he started line-dancing in a bar. But the problem, for me, is that as the scene went on, it felt more like an excuse for David Duchovny to lose his shirt, than it did a device to move the plot.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

I really wanted to love the callbacks, but they didn’t quite work for me, either — whether it’s because of the overall tone of the episode (in which the jaunty mushroom trip felt wildly out of place), or because they didn’t go far enough in taking advantage of the moment. If you’re going to resurrect the Lone Gunmen for your dream, for Pete’s sake, at least give them a line! (You know Frohike would have had some words of advice for Mulder’s journey with illicit substances.) At least Cigarette-Smoking Man got to talk to the agent (in a scene that weirdly reminded me of the season seven premiere), before Mulder’s interaction with the bomber’s mother.

*Sniff* we miss you guys. / Courtesy Fox

*Sniff* we miss you guys. / Courtesy Fox

That being said, there were some amusing moments, particularly after Mulder woke up, in the hospital no less, and processed his visions. (I’m choosing to believe his “you were there!” to Skinner was a nod to season 6’s wonderful “Triangle.”) If nothing else, Skinner is always good to bring the snark, and this episode may almost have been worth it for his “Dude, you’re an embarrassment” jab. (Poor Skinman, always bailing his kids out of trouble.) He hasn’t had much to do this season so far, but at least he gets to voice his frustration with impunity, it seems.

Plus, the addition of the new agents was an interesting twist. The similarities to their predecessors were obvious — right down to Einstein’s red hair — but it wasn’t annoying. Lauren Ambrose’s Einstein is skeptical with the best of them, but she also has a bite to her that indicates a long career in the bureau. Stephen Amell’s Miller is open-minded and idealistic, but at least for now lacks the deep well of trauma that marked Mulder’s life. Besides, it brought out the fun side in Mulder and Scully too: like our medical doctor, I didn’t know how much I needed her to repeat “Nobody down here but the FBI’s most unwanted” until she said it, and it did feel pretty good, darn it.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

What struck me the most while watching the episode was that  the new agents are basically Mulder’s and Scully’s “children.” They’ve got a perfect blend of their personalities, but they’ve also inherited the spirit of The X-Files quest. They may not all be related by blood, but I like to think that somewhere in the X-Files universe, there are agents out there like Miller who secretly see Mulder and Scully as heroes from whom they can learn, like an underground admiration society, and partners like Einstein who put aside their personal beliefs in the name of solving a case, no matter how outlandish the theory. Frankly, “Babylon” felt a little like a backdoor pilot, but oddly, it didn’t totally bother me, either.

Which brings me to the final scene. You know, for a couple who is supposedly estranged, Mulder and Scully are doing a terrible job of being broken-up. She shows up at his (their?) house, and he totally expects it. More than that, he invites her for a walk down their sleepy lane, and it seems pretty clear this isn’t the first time they’ve done this on such a sunny day. They have one of those talks about life and love and the universe that was a trademark of their past, only now they’re hand-in-hand and swinging their arms like a pair who’ve been together, well, decades. (Einstein may have been right about Scully’s reasons for staying with him, after all. Sure looks like love to me.)

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Chris Carter’s prose about love saving us all (or words to that effect) sounds hokey on paper, but coming out of Mulder’s mouth, they’re somehow hopeful in their innocence. For a guy like Mulder, who’s seen horror upon horror more times than he can count, to boil life down to what are essentially Beatles lyrics is surprisingly touching. Never did I think I’d see our duo taking a leisurely stroll around their yard backed by The Lumineers, but looks like this show can still keep me guessing. And apparently the universe is giving Mulder a sign that he is right where he’s supposed to be now, too. Might those trumpets mean that everything is finally all right in their world now?

Unlike some of the other episodes this season, “Babylon” is far from a series classic, and at times was hard for me to watch in an uncomfortable way. However, there are elements that saved it from being a total clunker, like weaving the old with the new. I’m glad that the show followed up on Scully’s mother’s death by using her experience as the basis for her open-mindedness to the investigation; obviously her Margaret’s secrets still weigh on her. I’m also fairly certain the discussion about mothers and children was a not-so-thinly-veiled acknowledgment of the season-long William thread. In the end, it was heartwarming to see Mulder and Scully enjoy each other and their work, so if nothing else, it’s nice that this revival has given them that.

Next week looks totally bananas, if the preview is any indication, so it looks like we need buckle our seatbelts for the season finale. What do you think Miller and Einstein’s roles will be going forward? And more importantly, is Mulder listening to hipster music on his iPod on the porch?


All photos courtesy of FoxFlash.

Nels
Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

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