Monday, February 15, 2016

The X-Files: Babylon (S10/E5)

by JASmius

Rating: * (out of four)

Written & directed by Chris Carter

If this episode was meant to be the launching pad for a spin-off called The X-Files: The Next Generation, I've got news for CC: You failed miserably.  "Babylon" looks like a high concept where the writers were sitting around trying to brainstorm ideas for the penultimate edition of this mini-season, having zero success, and then Carter popped some "magic mushrooms" and said, "Hey, wait, I know!  Let's have Mulder and Scully meet younger versions of themselves and solve a case together!  Like the former are Jedi masters and the latter are their Padawan apprentices!  Zaniness will ensue!  Yeah, that's the ticket!"  The problem is that (1) that idea has already been done a number of times - and much better - on this show, and (2) the older couple's doppelgangers only looked like them.  Their depicted personalities weren't particularly similar to the originals at all, to say nothing of compelling, interesting, or especially likable.

We open in the home of a "Syrian refugee" family somewhere in Texas.  A young Muslim man engages in his morning prayers.  He has a peanut butter sandwich and milk for breakfast before hopping in his car and going to meet a "friend".  At a stoplight a pickup truck pulls up next to him and some stereotyped "rednecks" hurl racial slurs at him (“Looks like we got a visitor,” one woman says. “A little brownie,” the other replies. "Are we in the wrong country?” the driver asks.  All to morally justify what this "Syrian refugee" and his "friend" do next.)  The two "friends" greet each other in Middle Eastern fashion and disappear inside the second friend's motel room.  We then see them driving together to a storefront downtown in this small community that is hosting an art exhibition.  They look at each other, as if preparing themselves, then get out of their vehicle and go inside.

The art gallery explodes in a fiery conflagration moments later, complete with immolated art patrons staggering around outside like human torches.

If you were thinking, "Pamela Gellar, 'Draw Mohammed,' and Garland, Texas, go to the head of the class.  I guess this was Chris Carter's way of saying that Elton Simpson and friend should have suicide bombed the Curtis Caldwell Center instead of trying to shoot it up in the heavily-Second Amendmented Lone Star State.  Double-C's Islamophilia is about as subtle as....well, a suicide bombing.

Yet, "miraculously," our young "Syrian refugee" survives - barely - in a vegetative state.  Judging by the magnitude of the explosion and the fact that he was part of its source, this is, of course, impossible, but without his narrow survival, there's no story.  Which would have been a blessing, really.  And when I say that he survived, I mean largely intact; he's not burned (See what I mean?), though all his hair is gone and the back right side of his skull is caved in, which I'm guessing that Carter figured would be somewhat less of a gross-out to the audience which still conveying that this person blew himself up and still somehow survived.  Which is, of course, all contrived BS.

And that was just the table-setting for the BS antics that were to come.

The X-Cave.  Mulder is regaling Scully with the latest weirdo paranormal to arise in the last few years, the "trumpets of God" that have been heard in various places around the world.

Scully doesn't get reflexively and splutteringly, "Sh'ya, RIGHT!" sneeringly contemptuous.  She knows this is who her partner is just as she knows how to gently poke holes in it.  Bemusedly she replies, "I didn't know you believed in God, Mulder".  Which kind of breaks continuity since in the final scene of the ninth season (and original series) finale "The Truth," it sure looked like both Mulder and Scully had found religious faith, but whatever, arbitrarily reprising that journey is what the plot demanded.

Of course, back in the day Scully wouldn't have gotten reflexively and splutteringly, "Sh'ya, RIGHT!" sneeringly contemptuous, either.  She would have calmly and reasonably laid out the reasons why she didn't believe what he was telling her, which would have frustrated Mulder, sure, but she wouldn't have personally attacked him.

I mention that because that is when their Padawan learners, Agents Miller and Einstein, walk in.  And it doesn't take thirty seconds to discern that these two are no Mulder and Scully.

First of all, and if I may be so blunt, Agent Einstein is a bitch.  Even though Scully was assigned to Mulder in order to debunk his work with the paranormal, she was never overtly hostile to him.  Einstein acts like she can't stand Miller.  She's not just an atheistic uniformitarian materialist scientist (a medical doctor, of course, just like Scully), she's an angrily militant one.

It's Miller's idea to consult with the X-Files veterans on the case he and Einstein have been assigned - the suicide bombing in Texas.  Miller wants their opinion on the possibility of somehow communicating with the "Syrian refugee" ("Shiraz") in order to gain intel on the jihadist cell to which he belonged.  He's not a "crusader for The Truth" like Mulder, but merely open-minded enough to not rule out less conventional avenues of investigation.  Which means he's pretty much a boring cipher.  Meanwhile his partner can't stop snarling at him and rolling her eyes.

Einstein finally has enough and practically drags Miller out of the X-cave with her.  And that should have been that.  The Texas suicide bombing case was theirs, not Mulder's and Scully's.  It was a consultation, and they consulted.  End of story, right?


Miller and Einstein are at either Dulles or Reagan airports to catch their flight to Texas.  Miller's cell rings; it's Scully.  She wants to join their case in order to test on "Shiraz" what she describes as “a rather novel, but not untested protocol” which turns out to be attaching what's left of "Shiraz's" head to an EEG monitor and talking to him in order to stimulate brain activity in the hopes of bringing him back to consciousness.  Where, logically, he would have mumbled, "Allahu ackbar" and blew himself, and Miller and Scully, up again with the bomb he had crammed up his ass, but again, logic had nothing to do with this plot.  And I'm not talking about God's trumpets.

The dialogue attempted to tie Scully's idea to last week's much better episode, but given that her mother is already dead and buried, and her father and sister died back in the original series, I'm not sure what imperative impetus was.

Anyway, "Shiraz" does eventually regain consciousness after his mother arrives.  Then he croaks.  Which I guess means he's going to have to explain his tardiness to his seventy-two virgins.  I hope they're not grossed out by his only having part of a head.

That's literally all there is to that story track, aside from the rather ballsy attempt of two other jihadists to maneuver Miller and Scully out of "Shiraz's" hospital room posing as Homeland Insecurity agents.  Which the second one "blew up" by speaking to his partner in Arabic, but the scam had clearly already failed by that point.

This half of the ep was merely duller than Hallmark Channel programming.  The Mulder-Einstein half was equal measures aggravating and embarrassing.

Soon after Scully ringy-dinghies Miller, Mulder dials up Einstein and asks her to return to the X-cave for "follow up consultation".  Which, given her open loathing and hostility for him that she displayed earlier, she would never have done, even if this had been an episode of Californication.  But of course, she does so anyway, because I guess she hadn't fulfilled her snarling and eye-rolling quota for the day, and Miller was already on his way to Texas.

This second meeting is just as argumentative as the first, but I did like how Mulder dispensed with diplomacy and went at it with Einstein barb for barb.  He didn't back off and aggressively defended his "less conventional" open-mindedness and challenged Einstein on her hidebound intellectual agnosticism.  Properly framed, it could have been a good, even great, polemical scene.

Unfortunately, Carter wasn't going for drama here, he was going for comedy.  Specifically, Mulder's idea for helping Einstein and Miller solve their case by his popping some, yes, "magic mushrooms" - which he needed Einstein to administer - altering his state of consciousness, and communicating with "Shiraz" on "another plane of existence".  Which, given her open loathing and hostility for him that she displayed earlier and in this encounter, she not only would never have done, but would also have reported Mulder to the FBI's equivalent of Internal Affairs.  But of course, she does so anyway, because if she hadn't, there'd have been no second half-hour.  Alas.

Mulder and Einstein fly to Texas, where they go to "Shiraz's" bedside (Don't ask me where Scully and Miller were) and she feeds him the 'shrooms.  And I am hesitant to even attempt to describe what appeared on my TV screen next.  Suffice it to say, Mulder instantly vanishes, and in his mind, he's doing his imitation of Peter Parker in Spiderman III after getting infected with the black alien goo, strutting down the hospital hallway making a complete ass of himself, a process that proceeds to a nearby honkytonk bar, where Skinner and the late Lone Gunmen make a dancing cameo, then switches to a large bed in a dominatrix dungeon with Agent Einstein telling him what a naughty boy he's been, and winds up on a rowboat captained by Cigarette Smoking Man....with - and you knew this was coming - "Shiraz" half hanging out of the boat over a dark abyss, Carter's day-glo, beat-us-over-the-head obvious metaphor for death.  Naturally, "Shiraz" is muttering something.  Mulder leans down to make it out - which, of course, should have been "Allahu akbar," after which he should have bitten Mulder's ear off, but instead is something else in Arabic that turns out (after Agent Miller conveniently translated it) to be the name of a local hotel where "Shiraz's" jihadist cell is building an arsenal for either more attacks or one honking big one.  The FBI quickly raids the place and takes them all into custody.

Which is a very good thing, don't get me wrong.  But is still a load of BS.

The two couples have epilogual scenes.  In the first one, Einstein compliments Miller on solving the case, even while doing so in such an insincere way that I didn't believe her for a moment, like she was incensed that Mulder's nonsense actually worked.  Which I can't say is an unreasonable emotional reaction, since it's probably how most of the audience felt.  The feeling was exacerbated by Miller's deflecting the credit to....Mulder, almost as if he was getting some payback for all her 'roided-up scoffing by rubbing her face in the fact.  I doubt they'll be partners for very much longer.

In the other, Scully drives up Mulder's driveway and they have another, similar conversation to the one they had about God and religion in that Roswell, New Mexico, hotel room fourteen years ago.  Unfortunately they kept conflating Yahweh and Allah - which makes it beyond ironic that the show in Fox's Monday lineup is called Lucifer and is literally about the devil, since "Allah" is another of Satan's pseudonyms.  Then Mulder, but not Scully - who is supposed to be the more religious of the two - hears "God's trumpets" while the camera pans back to high Earth orbit like a shot from Men In Black.

So what was "Babylon," besides the name of the jihadists' bomb factory?  Since we've eliminated drama, comedy, and scifi, I couldn't really tell you.  It defies categorization.

No, wait, I take that back.  There is one category that fits this ep like a glove.

It was BS.

Next week: We are all aliens, now.

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