Monday, February 15, 2016

REVIEW: 'The X-Files' - Mulder & Scully Team with Their Younger Counterparts to Investigate a Bombing in 'Babylon'

FOX's The X-Files - Episode 1.05 "Babylon"

When an art gallery that's showing potentially offensive artwork is bombed, Mulder and Scully seek some way to communicate with the comatose bomber in order to prevent a future attack. A pair of younger FBI agents on the case push Mulder and Scully to examine their own beliefs as Scully seeks answers from neuroscience and Mulder from mysticism.

Ever since the season premiere of the revival, I've been dreaded the two remaining episodes written and directed by series creator Chris Carter. That first episode back was so dreadful. The three episodes that have aired after that have been a significant improvement. The storytelling has been richer and the character arcs and performances have been better as a result. But now, the end of the series' limited run is fast approaching. Next week is the finale. And the last two episodes of the season again come from Carter. In "Babylon," it seems pretty obvious that Carter is very amused by the big world issues of today's society. The world has changed significantly since the original series run. Carter is fascinated in incorporating those big issues into the storytelling of the show. It's what he did in the premiere and it's what he does here. And yet, this is a series that fares much better when it's intimate and personal to the characters. More importantly though, it seems the show only embraces these big issues in order to be relevant. It doesn't incorporate them into the story in a way that really adds anything to the case at hand.

The main case in "Babylon" is horrendous. Any hope that Carter could maybe do a standalone episode well as opposed to the mythology-based ones is gone within the opening minutes of this episode. It has become such a tired trope to feature a Muslim character being a terrorist. Yes, it's realistic. But it's also lazy storytelling. That's the only thing of importance to this man who starts the hour. He prays, eats a sandwich, meets up with his friend, and then bombs an art gallery. It is so predictable. But it's not a nuanced take on the subject matter. It is literally just the case of another Muslim terror cell operating within the United States that wishes to do us harm. This hour does have some big and broad things to say about religion. But none of it really connects all that well with the case that plays out over this hour. It's largely just a formulaic story told in the broadest way possible. In 2016, a story should be more nuanced than that. The execution here is completely lazy. No effort was made to show the humanity of this organization. That probably wouldn't have helped this episode all that much. But it still would have been better than the broad and one-note caricatures that walked around the episode for the entire hour.

"Babylon" just isn't interested in the main case at all. Instead, much of the focus is on Mulder and Scully interacting with a pair of younger FBI agents who remind them of themselves. The comparisons are really forced though. The x-files would be Agent Miller's (Robbie Amell) dream assignment because he is open to the world of extreme possibilities. Meanwhile, Agent Einstein (Lauren Ambrose) is a trained medical doctor who uses that knowledge to help investigate cases. The show really isn't subtle about the similarities at all. In fact, it comes across really forced. Their introduction scene is pretty bad because it has to point out the comparison in a very over-the-top way. It's forced and keeps the chemistry between the partnerships from shining all that well. However, once the introductions are out of the way, there is a hint that there could be something there with Miller and Einstein as they work alongside Mulder and Scully.

Mulder and Scully's partnership has been very strong for the x-files over the years. It's because of their differences that makes them such an impressive team out in the field. They trust each other with their lives. And yet, Einstein wants to reduce it down to Scully being in love with Mulder. That's the only way she can explain why a promising scientist would waste her time in the x-files. This hour doesn't even do an adequate job disproving that theory. There is love between Mulder and Scully. But it doesn't need to be of a romantic nature. But that is how things come across later on simply because they are holding each other's hand while they talk about universal themes of love and hate. It's weird storytelling that's essentially pointless. This experience doesn't force the two partnerships to strengthen. Both Mulder & Scully and Miller & Einstein do come together in the end to talk about how this case has changed them. But it's not really a meaningful dynamic because it points out just how crazy and weird the storytelling beats of this case really were.

Miller wants to talk with one of the bombers who is essentially dead but still has a heartbeat. Everyone around him thinks it's a waste of time. They just want to label the bomber as a terrorist and not think about the human laying on the hospital bed. Outside opinion of this case is really nasty and plays as nothing but a stereotypical and one-note approach in a very familiar topic. But nevertheless, Scully reaches out to Miller with a possible way to communicate with this man. She has a scientific way to ask this man questions. A skill she didn't have last week with her mother because she was too overwhelmed by the emotion of potentially losing her. It's weird to have those two stories play in back-to-back episodes. A lot of time has been spent in a hospital room hovering over a comatose patient in the last two episodes. Despite that though, this investigative method really doesn't amount to much. Scully and Miller don't even ask the man any questions about the potential terror threat. It was largely just an excuse for Scully and Miller to bond. But that really doesn't amount to much either. Miller is simply working with a similar partner in Scully who is at least open to exploring his crazy ideas.

That means that Mulder and Einstein get to bond elsewhere. They are approaching the case with their own angle. A plot development that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It's okay for the show to say that some things in this world simply cannot be explained. That's what Mulder and Scully's final conversation about God amounts to. And yet, the plot with Mulder and Einstein is just so baffling and ridiculous. It needed more of an explanation. The show thought it could get around that simply because of the amount of fun it was having while imagining Mulder high on a mushroom to enter another plane of existence. That is a pretty enjoyable sequence. But it's still too strange to totally work all that well. It is amusing to watch as Mulder country line dances to "Achy Breaky Heart" - again this depiction of Texas really isn't that great. But it's also a total waste of a sequence. It's fun. The show even brings back The Lone Gunman to add to this sequence. It just makes no sense at all. It's a waste to bring them back just to have them be glorified extras. That's essentially what they were in this episode. They were important figures back on the original series. Yes, it's difficult to incorporate them now considering they are dead. But this still feels like a weird way to bring them back. On top of all of it, Mulder isn't even high on anything. Einstein gave him a placebo. And yet, the placebo cracks the case. For some miraculous reason, Mulder gets to communicate with the comatose bomber. It makes absolutely no sense at all while still being a huge disservice to the characters. The trade off is the amusing tripping sequence. But that's not enough to overcome the clear and apparent structural flaws in this episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Babylon" was written by Chris Carter and directed by Chris Carter.
  • Miller and Einstein must either be new partners or don't trust each other very much because neither one of them thinks to tell the other that they've been contacted by Mulder and Scully. It's fine that they want to approach things from different angles. But it instead plays like a contrivance to keep them apart until the big climax of the case.
  • There has also been talk of Amell and Ambrose toplining a new spinoff of the series. That seems like a potentially bad idea considering just how similar they are to Mulder and Scully. If we want to see these character types work on these spooky cases, it should be Mulder and Scully. Milleer and Einstein aren't much more than those broad characteristics.
  • But Miller and Einstein are more than welcome to show up again to help Mulder and Scully with investigations. Perhaps they could actually see an x-file case too.
  • It's also interesting that the x-files are still considered foolish by the majority of the bureau. But hey, Skinner takes them seriously and that's all that matters.
  • The Cigarette Smoking Man also pops up in Mulder's fantasy sequence. After all the fun of the dancing, things take a serious turn when CSM shows up to whip Mulder and laugh menacingly. It could indicate that Mulder still feels powerless to CSM. But it's largely another weird cameo.
  • Mulder and Scully really are the only characters from the original show to be served well in the revival. They are the only two that needed to be. And yet, the rest of the returning characters all feel too weird. Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis, Sheila Larkin, Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood and Dean Haglund have largely just been reduced to cameos. This new show should be able to stand on their own. But these returning characters still could have had more importance in these episodes.