The X-Files #289: Babylon

"I saw things though, Scully. Powerful things. I saw deep and unconditional love." "I saw things too. I witnessed unqualified hate that appears to have no end." "How to reconcile the two? The extremes of our nature." "That's the question. Maybe the question of our times."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder and Scully team up with younger agents who resemble them to communicate with a comatose terrorist.

REVIEW: The X-Files have played with doubles before (like in the Hollywood episode), but Agents Miller and Einstein might as well be in-universe replacements for Mulder and Scully. I'm a big fan of Lauren Ambrose, so color me keen on her playing the unbeliever in this, though Robbie "Firestom" Amell is a bit too "CW pretty boy" to leave as much of an impression; he's fine, but no more. Even if they're clearly cut from the same cloth as the older agents, they still have their own vibe, and the show surprises by not using them as simple counterpoints to our usual heroes. Instead, the pair off with the older versions of their partners, and let themselves fall under the sway of their wisdom/charisma. Einstein will come to respect the inexplicable, and Miller will see that science can be a useful tool (though the former is, as usual, the stronger of the two). It's like they're skipping ahead a few seasons through Mulder and Scully's experience and counsel.

This is very much an episode about the power of words and ideas, and about charismatics moving people in directions that might otherwise have seemed unfathomable. It's not just what the agents are capable of bringing out in one another, but it's true of the villains too. Kids are radicalized and turned into suicide bombers by Islamic extremists, and from the psychic bond the one survivor has with his mother, we find out (though you can certainly say it's just her wishful thinking) these acts were not in his nature, and he does redeem himself by giving up the other terrorists. The charismatic power of words used for evil. The use of Islamic terrorists does provoke mixed feelings. It places the X-Files in our world, sure, but the climate is such that it makes me uneasy to see Texas full of Jihadists, and on the flip-side, extremely racist attitudes from anyone but the four FBI agents. I can't even tell if the people trying to kill the insensate kid are Jihadists themselves, trying to guarantee his silence, or vengeful 'murican killers motivated by hate (the nurse???). This is all left unresolved. What we DO get is a high level of preachiness as the "right-thinkers" express their disappointment at America's (or perhaps more insultingly, Texas') moral failings. Chris Carter has always been a bit pretentious in his writing, but he smothers the episode in such unsubtle speeches (and damning ones for the "wrong-thinkers"). I found the quote above rather poignant, but it should have stopped there. Or even after the first epilogue with the newbie agents.

You'd think an episode featuring twice the heroes (and the new guys get a lot of screen time) wouldn't need padding, but there you go. Extra epilogues, several songs playing over montage, a strange tangent about the Trumpets heralding the Last Judgement, and an extended sequence of Mulder line-dancing while super-high on a 'shroom placebo (see The Truth). No really, that thing just doesn't stop. Like, fine, it's used to give the Lone Gunmen (still dead, sorry) cameos, but by the time they showed up on screen, I'd grown bored with the whole affair and had to track back because I'd clearly missed them! But the pill he swallows is, in fact, another manifestation of the episode's theme, letting himself be convinced by the power of suggestion. And it's amusing that Mulder would want to score and experiment with mind-expanding drugs, but let's not forget Scully too was pursuing a personal agenda off her partner's radar. They're just very different people.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: So it seems some people think Einstein really DID give Mulder drugs and was just covering her ass with Skinner and even with Miller by saying she didn't. I don't think she's that much of a liar, and it's perfectly possible for Mulder to have have an out of body experience on nothing more than aspirin or whatever. He's always had a certain degree of psychic ability, whether he used it to jump to the right conclusions, dream of Scully during her abduction, or access uncontrollable powers after being infected with alien script. He was conditioned long ago to respond to suggestion during those childhood hypnotic regressions, so that state would be easy to achieve, and from there, another plane.

- Mixed feelings, but perhaps that's part of the episode's charm. I'm totally up for Ambrose and Amell taking the series over one day.


snell said...

But if Einstein really did give Mulder just a placebo, why did she have him come all the way to Texas then? Just to give him the placebo? Why? To teach him a lesson, for some reason? To "get back" at Miller and/or Scully, for some reason? Unless the argument is that she believed the placebo would "work" and actually provide a lead, it's a bit of characterization that makes her seem petulant and immature...

Siskoid said...

She was eager to get back to Texas to work on the terrorist threat. So she was heading there no matter what. When she got there, she found Miller was working with Scully without having told her; kind of became competitive after that.

She might have considered giving Mulder drugs, but once on site, she couldn't bring herself to do it. That was my take, but I'd have to watch it again to make sure I didn't miss anything.

Then again, there's a point to be made that when Mulder disappears, you don't go on a manhunt if you think he's only taken flour and sugar.

Siskoid said...

But does she? She's just annoyed that he's gone from the room. Mulder has time to walk through the hospital, into the street, into a country western bar, and it's the clientele who call the cops on him. Einstein didn't make much of an effort to get him back and monitor his condition.


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