UK TV review: The X-Files Season 10 (2016), Episode 5 (Babylon)
James R | On 07, Mar 2016
So, you’ve just rebooted The X-Files. You only have six episodes in which to win over a new audience and justify your reboot to the old one. You’ve dabbled in some monster-of-the-week cases, you’ve indulged in some knowing humour and now you’ve reached your penultimate episode. Do you a. Start to wrap up your conspiracy mythology ahead of the big finale, or b. Go on a magic mushroom trip?
The fact that Babylon plumps for the second option is testament to everything that’s good about The X-Files. And some of what’s bad.
Our case of the week doesn’t involve an alien or spooky critter, but something more recognisably down-to-earth: suicide bombers. After beginning the episode following two of them in the run-up to a planned attack, we see an explosion that leaves one of them dead and the other clinging to life in hospital. The apparent sound of heavenly trumpets reported by onlookers is enough to pique Mulder and Scully’s interest – and also the interest of two other characters, Agent Miller and Einstein.
Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Amell are great as the young duo, every bit the youthful incarnation of Fox and Dana: Amell’s earnest Miller embraces every chance to have an open mind, while Ambrose’s skeptical Einstein wastes no time in amusingly shutting him down. Underlying all their exchanges, meanwhile, is the gentle suggestion that one’s in love with the other. It’s telling, perhaps, that creator Chris Creator is the one to introduce them; with their cute dynamic and nudge-nudge-wink-wink echo of our old-school leads, they practically scream “spin-off series” at the camera, right down to the fact that they contact Mulder and Scully for help with this case.
Why? Because their suspect is technically dead, so they need some weird science to help them work out who the bomber is connected to, so they can prevent any further attacks. Mulder and Scully, interestingly, both have their own proposals to solve the problem, with each one vaguely rooted somewhere between logic and lunacy. Scully’s all for monitoring brain patterns, while Mulder is musing on the idea of reaching a high enough plane to be able to communicate with someone with one foot on the other side. Or, to put it another way, take some drugs and hope he hallucinates something useful.
The resulting sequence is hilarious, as David Duchovny runs around Texas, as high as a kite. Carter gets him to do everything from line-dancing to 50 Shades of Grey-style S&M – a montage that manages to be endlessly surprising and hugely entertaining. Duchovny, throughout, wears his trademark deadpan expression, even as he nicks a cowboy boot and starts waving his hands in the air like he just doesn’t care – you’ve never seen Mulder like this before, which, after 10 seasons, is really saying something. Even now, The X-Files is trying to do things we don’t expect, let alone tackle topics that you wouldn’t predict: this is the kind of subject we’re more used to seeing on Showtime’s flagship CIA thriller than Fox’s supernatural show; Carrie from Homeland would never do that.
Seeing Mulder off his face is worth the entry price alone, but underneath that laugh-out-loud silliness is a deceptively nuanced dissection of the issue at hand. After several episodes positioning Mulder as the new sceptic and Scully as the believer, this is the most complex the reboot’s mythology has been so far: Mulder’s drug-addled strategy takes him back to the kind of territory he entered at the end of Season 2 and start of Season 3, while Scully’s rigorous science is coloured by her own loss earlier this run. Compared to Miller and Einstein’s motivations, which partly seem to stem from professional jealousy, there’s a real depth that has built up over the years.
That complexity also extends to the episode’s themes, which attempt to bring together the familiar and the unfamiliar in what emerges as a study of miscommunication: people don’t see eye-to-eye at every stage of the story, whether that’s in terms of religious extremism, immigrant toleration, scientific methods of investigation, or faith in the paranormal. “It’s not what I believe that’s important, but what they believe, the ear-witnesses,” argues Mulder at one point, as the pair attempt to reconcile the extreme ends of hate and hope that the case raises. The result is typically heavy-handed and clunkily written – even when it comes to trying to find modern parallels for all those debates from the 1990s, suicide bombers is perhaps stretching it a bit too far – but it’s a reminder of The X-Files’ unabashed willingness to dive into any topic and come out embracing the mysterious.
On the one hand, that means an episode that dares to reach for such lofty matter as the afterlife, messages from heaven and the ability of words to convince people that something is true. On the other hand, that means a messy story in which a government agent gets high to combat terrorism and nobody bats an eyelid. It’s completely daft – and hard to believe, after all they’ve been through, that Scully wouldn’t go along with his plan anyway – but there’s also something beautiful about The X-Files’ daftness. Especially when it involves them actually solving a case for once. And line-dancing.
Season 10 of The X-Files (2016) is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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