[This is a review of The X-Files season 10, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
There is something about the last two episodes in The X-Files revival that is strange enough it merits Scully and Mulder look into them. Both episodes work as a mix of typical monster-of-the-week installments while also including several throwbacks to more recent events. In the case of ‘Babylon,’ Scully references losing her mother and there is even a pointed shot of the framed quarter Margaret had taken to wearing on a necklace before her death. This, of course, works as a callback to what has been the most consistent serialized element in the revival so far: the question of William and how Scully and Mulder have each processed the knowledge of the child they had together and burden of not actually raising him. For the series to blend an ongoing storyline with more episodic efforts is not really anything new. It does, however, feel amplified during this revival, due in part to the brevity of the event series in relation to the twenty-some-odd episodes per season The X-Files would normally have pumped out during its initial run.
As interesting as it has been for this particular story thread to be running through nearly every episode so far, it’s not necessarily the strange element worthy of its own X-File. Instead, the peculiarity of both ‘Babylon’ and last week’s ‘Home Again‘ is in the unevenness of their presentations. ‘Home Again,’ for all its emotional timbre – especially with regard to Scully losing her mother and having to simultaneously contend with lingering questions regarding William – gave the distinct impression it was two scripts mashed together to make something new. And while it certainly worked on a thematic level – exploring the responsibility of creating life from two different perspectives – the tonal differences in the search for The Trash Man and Scully’s processing of Margaret’s death didn’t quite match up.
While the alleged fusion of two different scripts made for a mixed bag of an episode, it would seem unlikely the series would run into a similar problem the following week. As it turns out, it’s not that unlikely after all.
To the credit of ‘Babylon’ – written and directed by series creator Chris Carter – there doesn’t appear to be the exact same kind of schism between the episode’s A and B plots as there was in ‘Home Again.’ Here, Carter gets playful, throwing two younger but remarkably familiar agents (played by Laruen Ambrose and Robbie Amell) into the mix. The addition of agents Miller and Einstein affords the episode a chance to pair Mulder and Scully with their partner’s doppelgänger, wherein hijinks can then ensue with the help of some magic mushrooms (or a placebo, apparently), which leads to a brief cameo appearance from The Lone Gunmen and the chance to see David Duchovny do some line dancing. The problem, then, isn’t that the episode cuts loose and does a stiff little shuffle to ‘Achy Breaky Heart,’ but rather that it does so when the main plot concerns a terrorist cell responsible for blowing up a Texas art gallery.
Generally, it’s good practice to leaven the somber proceedings of a storyline involving something as dire as terrorist bombings in an effort to keep the episode from being tonally one-note and overbearing. But there’s just something about the two extremes that, although Carter’s intentions seem clear and perhaps even appealing in their own way, just don’t add up to an entirely cohesive hour. In this case, the plot of a terrorist lying in a hospital bed while Scully and Miller attempt to communicate with him using a scientific method, and Mulder and Einstein take a markedly different approach feels… well, scattered to say the least.
The exploration of extremes – especially when it comes to the nature of the two leads and, in this case, the rather adorable co-leads – is actually an exciting and interesting way to go about surveying the relationship at the core of the series. It’s even more compelling given the already pointed remarks that have been made in relation to just how well Scully and Mulder know the other and can anticipate the benefits and shortcomings of working alongside one another.
To his credit, Carter actually weaves his two doppelgängers into the story in a way that underlines just how much Mulder needs Scully and vice versa – whether or not you feel the same about Miller and Einstein will likely depend on the mileage you got out of each character and whether or not they worked because of their familiarity to the series’ protagonists or in spite of it. But the discussion of that particular need actually works far better when it remains as subtext within, say, Mulder’s interactions with Einstein or Scully’s interactions with Miller. As soon as Carter makes understanding the need for extremes part of the actual text in the episode’s closing moments (complete with heavenly trumpets), the effect is lessened considerably.
There is the sense that Carter was also playing with extremes in terms of how he handled his two main plots, but, again, the appeal of placing contrasting elements against one another didn’t quite work out in the narrative as well as it did (and continues to do) in terms of the show’s main characters. In the end, ‘Babylon’ gets high marks for effort, but its marks for execution are considerably lower.
The X-Files season 10 will wrap up its six-episode run next Monday with ‘My Struggle II’ @8pm on FOX. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Ed Araquel/FOX