The X-Files has been absent for most of our 21st century terrorism issues; season 9 ended in 2002, airing right after the collapse of the Twin Towers but ultimately bowing out before the brunt of the present political strife. Returning for this tenth season, Chris Carter and company didn’t need to wax political about the current tension between American intervention in foreign affairs and the Islamic State’s violent regime, but The X-Files Babylon attempts to tackle these hotbox issues anyway with an episode that finds Muslim suicide martyrs bombing an art gallery because of an offensive piece of artwork.
Making an unbiased sociopolitical thriller with a supernatural twist is, obviously, not easy, especially with the controversial topics that “Babylon” brings up, and this episode will easily stand out as one of the most divisive offerings of this tenth season.
Carter writes and directs “Babylon” himself, and what’s most apparent is the delicate way he approaches the subject matter. There’s no preconceived judgment of Muslims, no intentional stereotyping or mocking the characters that do eventually threaten the safety of an Austin, Texas population. Instead, Carter gives us a cold open that clearly defines its Muslim character’s beliefs and even shows the open derision he receives from the rest of the American world – a redneck trucker leering at him while asking what country he’s in being the most obvious – not to pardon his violent actions, but to at least contextualize the source of tension.
It’s easy to see how an episode centered around a public bombing (complete with people running around on fire) could go wrong, but for the most part, “Babylon” is fair in its representation. At the same time, the episode often can’t decide on a tone; its horrifying opening seems to settle on darkly serious, but its presentation of Mulder/Scully doppelgangers in Agent Einstein (Lauren Ambrose) and Agent Miller (Robbie Amell) feels uncomfortably playful when compared to the subject matter.
“Babylon” has fun pitting Mulder with Einstein and Scully with Miller, both of whom offer up opposing sides to their investigation about how to reach the suicide bomber in a coma to figure out where to find the rest of the terrorist group. Ambrose plays Einstein with an even colder scientific approach than Scully, while Miller is a more doe-eyed and paranormally-inclined version of Mulder; both of them indicate why The X-Files‘ pairing worked well to begin with, and Carter’s exploration of both scientific and supernatural teamwork teases of a new X-Files that finds Miller and Einstein taking over for their older prodigies. That they’re returning for the season finale is another exciting possibility for the series’ future.
“Babylon”‘s goofiness escalates throughout the episode despite its Muslim bomber Shiraz (Artin John) on his deathbed in a hospital in a catatonic state. Carter finds room for Mulder to go on a little drug trip, ingesting what he believes is a mushroom that will help him spiritually reach Shiraz. There’s dancing and what virtually becomes a country music video set to Trace Adkins’ “Honkey Tonk Badonkadonk”, all in the name of science no less. It sobers up a bit as Mulder hears a prostrate Shiraz whisper Babylon Hotel in his ear, but for the most part, Mulder’s role in this episode provides the fan service X-Files fans may or may not be looking for in this tenth – bonus – season.
These moments might be funny, but they’re also too sporadic for this episode. Carter lazily explores these avenues without effectively producing a need for them, and both avenues – while establishing two similar secondary characters – are messily driven by exposition. “Babylon” wants to say something about the world’s tense politics, but couching it in the humor of a drug-addled dance-off is perhaps not the best way to approach the threat of terrorism.
Carter leaves it to the episode’s final moments to draw a conclusion about God, with Mulder and Scully mulling over the possibility of a god that allows violence in His or Her name. It’s a forced explanation, a way to cohesively encapsulate the tropes of “Babylon” without fully contextualizing the situation of religious extremism, and that makes this episode the weakest of the tenth season so far. At the same time, it’s also the one that is able to cut loose the most: Carter understands that sometimes what the world needs most is to have fun instead of creating wars, and it’s ironic that “Babylon” suffers its own internal war of finding a proper tone.
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