The X Files is known for both its brilliance and dreadful inconsistency, but did the latest episode drop the ball completely? David Farrier laments what has happened to his favourite show.
According to my hazy memory of the Bible, at some point God got annoyed at the great teamwork humans were demonstrating as they came together to build the Tower of Babel. “Enough of this!” said God, placing a spell on the people of Babylon – who until that point had all spoken the same language. Not anymore! Now they all had different languages. Unable to communicate, their tower project came to an abrupt end.
I’ve always felt uneasy about this story, mainly because God was being a bit of a prick. In the latest “Babylon” episode of The X-Files reboot, I feel like Chris Carter (God/creator of The X-Files) is being a bit of a prick, too.
I’ve been looking forward to The X-Files revival for quite some time. Unlike many less strong humans, I watched all nine seasons as they aired on TV. Even as Mulder bailed (to be replaced by the T-1000 from Terminator 2) I watched on. The latter seasons turned into a terrible mess, but I kept on the noble fight – hoping there’d be another “Tooms“ or “Home“ or “The Field Where I Died“. Eventually, the TV show ended.
As an adult, I incorporated my love of this show into my job. In 2008, I took part in a bizarre press junket in LA promoting the second X-Files film, in which I was forced to act in a variety of X-Files-esque scenes which all led me to the show’s creator, Chris Carter. A few years ago I met FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner. What I am trying to say is a really adore this show, so the thought of six brand new episodes filled me with excitement.
It started badly. Perhaps predictably, it shot us straight back into the alien conspiracy at Roswell. It was a mess of an episode, which felt ham-fisted and all over the place tonally. While it was delightful to see Mulder and Scully back together – their chemistry as good as ever – the introduction of Joel McHale was a nightmare.
Things got better with “Founder’s Mutation”, mainly thanks to X-Files legend James Wong writing and directing.
Episode 3 is where things got really, really good. The X-Files started super-serious, but as it gained confidence (season 3, circa 1995) it learnt how to be funny. The master behind the funny was Darin Morgan. Morgan was behind legendary X-Files episodes like the double-Emmy-Award winning “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, and in “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” he’s operating at 110%.
Rhys Darby is pitch perfect. While the whole episode is hilarious, it’s also incredibly smart and has something to say. Plus, it has Darby pretending he’s lucky enough to pash Scully, and having a boozed up conversation with Mulder.
The following episode (“Home Again”) was a masterstroke, going straight for the heart and tear ducts. While another monster-of-the-week, it cut to the core of what makes The X-Files eternally great: Mulder and Scully’s relationship. It opened up with Mulder & Scully’s child – a story-arc that I’d always found a bit clumsy – but this episode made it all worth it. I could watch their conversation again and again. I teared up! I bloody cried!
Then we get to last night’s episode, “Babylon”. I got to it at about 11pm, in bed. Excited, I started the episode. To cut a long intro short: a Muslim man is praying; he goes and meets his mate; they do some more praying; they walk into a building together.
The camera slowly pulls out. There is nothing in shot but a building (with people casually walking in and out), and an eerie silence. “Oh geez,” I thought, “they’re going there.” The building blew up. You can’t have a Muslim man praying without it ending in a terrorist attack. It was 11.05pm and, as The X-Files theme started, I felt a deep sense of unease. It was a very cheap in – the beginning of a CSI episode, not an X-Files episode. I shut my laptop and went to sleep.
I am not sure if I was thinking, dreaming or both, but I came to the conclusion over the next six hours that I’d just witnessed the setup for a big twist. I never saw the two friends strapping bombs on – they simply walked into the building. Then it blew up. The X-Files is all about subverting our expectations. Just two episodes ago, we thought Lizard-man Rhys Darby was running around killing humans. Turns out it was humans killing lizard-men! The big switcharoo was at play here again. Of course!
(MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD FOR EPISODE 5):
I woke up and finished the episode. It turns out the men were definitely terrorists and they definitely blew up the building. Oh, and a load more Muslim terrorists were preparing more terrorist attacks in a hotel down the road called Babylon.
I felt ripped off. Yes, there are terrorists, and there are Muslim terrorists. But there are also lots of Muslims who aren’t terrorists. Pretty much all of them. Surely it would have been more fun and accurate to subvert this plot and flip it on its head?
I looked for reasons to excuse this cheap trick. There were stereotypes all throughout the episode – a fat, white, redneck American sneering at the Muslim next to him at the lights. The ridiculous mirror-images of Mulder and Scully that turn up to help with the investigation. To my mind, none of this was making any kind of point: The X-Files-esque elements of the show came from Mulder trying to communicate with the comatose bomber via some kind of mushroom-fueled astral projection. It turns out the bomber regretted his actions and led Mulder to the location of the terror cell – but the episode was still all about Muslims as terrorists.
I’m feeling a bit over it. The episode had its brilliant moments – the sequence of Mulder tripping was one of the best scenes from this whole season so far – but it also sat uncomfortable in the context. This wasn’t a monster-of-the-week episode, this was an episode about TERRORISM.
X Files is known for both its brilliance and dreadful inconsistency, but next week is the last episode of this short, tumultuous season. Maybe I should appreciate the dream run of episodes 2, 3 and 4. Three out of six ain’t bad. Will it redeem things for the finale? I’m worried: Chris Carter is back, and it ties directly back to the conspiracy set up in episode one. Joel McHale’s back too. Fuck.
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