In this week’s episode of The X-Files, Mulder and Scully work with another pair of FBI agents to help foil a terrorist plot, and Mulder takes a magical mystery trip courtesy of some mushrooms. Read behind the cut for our spoiler-filled recap of “Babylon”.“Babylon” opens with two young Muslim men driving in their car. They pull up outside an art gallery and pray together, asking Allah to “ease [their] task” and “remove impediment from [their] speech”. Nervously they head inside and only seconds later, the building explodes, sending people running from the scene in flames.
In the basement office, Mulder shows Scully a video he has found, one of many from all over the world that appear to show people hearing trumpets playing in their air. “As if God himself were making music. Blowing his own horn,” Mulder quips to his own amusement. He tells Scully that the people who have heard the trumpets believe them to be a “herald of End Times” as described the Book of Revelation. Scully is naturally dubious but their argument is cut short by the arrival of Agents Miller and Einstein. Miller is a tall, lanky profiler “obsessed with the paranormal” and Einstein is a red-headed medical doctor. It’s almost like looking in a funhouse mirror.
Miller wants to consult with the X-Files agents, much to his partners consternation. He hopes to find a way to “speak” with one of the two terrorists we saw in the opening who is now in a coma after barely surviving the blast. Miller believes the man may be part of a larger terror cell planning more attacks. Mulder is enthusiastic about the idea but cannot offer much help, while Scully and Einstein indulge in an eye-rolling contest between themselves. Unable to find the help he wanted, Miller leaves with Einstein.
At the airport, Miller wonders where young men like the two bombers learn the hate needed to kill themselves and innocent people, and “who got in his head” to teach it to him. Einstein is dismissive of the X-Files department as a whole, snarking that Scully is “clearly” in love with Mulder because nothing else makes sense regarding why she as a “respected scientist” would still be working there. Miller receives a call from Scully, asking to meet him in Texas to try out a theory she has on communicating with the injured terrorist. Einstein too receives a call, this time from Mulder who also claims to have a theory on communicating with the man. Einstein suggests that Mulder is speaking with the wrong person but Mulder is insistent that he needs only her. Persuaded by Mulder’s argument that his theory could save lives, Einstein opts to catch “the crazy train” and leaves the airport to head back to Mulder’s office. Meanwhile, in a darkened room, another young Arabic man is seen creating explosives while he listens to people argue violently on TV about hatred and how to deal with the problem of terrorism.
Einstein arrives in the basement, warning Mulder that she is not the type to deal in “woo woo” fantasies. Mulder begins on one of his long, rambling discussions, this time about “the nature of reality”, asking Einstein if she believes that “ideas such as faith or forgiveness have weight”? She laughs him off but Mulder continues, pointing out that words can have weight, enough so to “move people to go kill other people”. “Words can incite people”, Einstein retorts, “but they are not lethal in and of themselves”. “Maybe you need to expand your mind,” Mulder suggests. He convinces her to watch a slideshow, opening on a photograph of a magic mushroom. “I’m afraid where this is going,” she mutters to herself, channeling the thoughts of many viewers in doing so. Mulder suggests that Einstein administers magic mushrooms to him, claiming not to want to “bother” Scully with this plan given recent personal events (see last week’s recap). Einstein laughs in his face and leaves, telling him she will not be involved and the only further mention she will make of his “lunatic scheme” is possibly to internal affairs.
In Texas, Scully meets up with Miller and they visit the hospital together where she tells him about Patient 23, a real person in a similar vegetative state whom scientists were able to “communicate” with by asking yes and no questions while the patient lay under an MRI scanner. Scully believes she and Miller may be able to speak with the terrorist using a similar technique, only their plans are stopped by the arrival of men from the Department of Homeland Security who are claiming jurisdiction. A standoff ensues, Miller believing the men are simply there for “retribution” and taking photos of them on his phone. Einstein arrives at the hospital just as the men are nervously exiting, and is shocked to find her partner working with Scully. For reasons that are not entirely clear, she calls Mulder and asks him to meet her in Texas. Mulder arrives and is greeted by Einstein who reluctantly hands over two magic mushroom pills. Mulder senses that some professional animosity is behind her change of heart. “There’s nothing professional about it,” she tells him dryly.
The equipment Miller and Scully require for their own experiment arrives just as they are told the hospital is now under terror threat and must be evacuated. A Special Agent Brem tells them that the local community hosts “a large and unassimilated Muslim community” with a shared wish “to wipe you and America off the map”. “Not all Muslims are extremists,” Scully replies coolly. However, Brem clearly feels differently and is not ashamed to show it, despite Miller’s assertions that the comatose terrorist can hear what they are saying and Brem’s statements hurt any chances of the FBI winning his trust.
Scully and Miller leave under duress, leaving a nurse behind in the room. Once alone, she switches off the man’s life support. Mulder and Einstein arrive suddenly, forcing her to switch the machines back on. The nurse tries to force them to leave but Einstein refuses. Instead, the nurse lets her true feeling about the “immigrant groups” in her town be known, accusing them of “clogging up” the healthcare system and schools. As she rants, Mulder surreptitiously swallows one of the magic mushroom pills and Einstein leads the nurse outside, leaving him alone with the patient. Outside the nurse continues her lecture to Einstein, before pointing out the Mulder already left the room. Einstein turns to look as MIranda Lamber’s “Somethin’ Bad” kicks in with the line, “got a real strong feelin’ somethin’ bad about to happen”. Well, it’s not wrong.
The next few minutes make for uncomfortable recapping. Mulder goes on a mushroom trip, dancing along hospital corridors and freeways, and performing a strange mix of line and disco dancing to “Achy Breaky Heart”. He ends up drinking with the Lone Gunmen and Skinner to Trace Adkins’ “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” while a number of attractive young women in skimpy outfits writhe around them and succeed not in moving the plot forwards, but in setting back the cause of feminism by a good decade. And that’s before we even get to the scene with Einstein in a dominatrix outfit whipping him aboard a spacecraft. The final part of his trip/vision/hallucination sees Mulder aboard a rowboat in the sky filled with hooded figures and captained by a whip-wielding Smoking Man (what is with all the whips here?). At the rear of the boat, a woman dressed similarly to the Virgin Mary holds the body of the injured terrorist in the pose of the Pietà. Mulder leans in close and the injured man whispers something in Mulder’s ear.
Back in the darkened room, the Arabic man we saw making explosives leads a group of other young men in chants. He explains how they will detonate their devices together, “bringing death to infidels”.
At the hospital, Scully and Miller begin their experiment, getting a faint reading when Miller speaks to the terrorist in Arabic. In another room, Mulder wakes up to find Skinner looking over him. Skinner is annoyed, calling Mulder an “embarrassment” after his antics, but Mulder insists what he did was to aid the investigation. Einstein then drops the revelation that the capsules she gave him were, in fact, a placebo–niacin capsules, better known as vitamin B3–making the entire trip sequence even more pointless than it was before. Einstein suggests that what Mulder experienced was merely the “power of suggestion”, making a very vague link back to Mulder’s earlier lecture on the power of words. Mulder reveals that he spoke to the terrorist but is unable to reveal what the man said because it was in Arabic.
Being wheeled past the hospital door, Mulder sees the woman from his vision shouting to be let in and brings her inside. He takes her to the hospital room where Scully and Miller are still working and introduces her as the terrorist’s mother. As soon as she begins to speak, the electroencephalogram wired up to him begins to spike. Shiraz’s mother tells them that her son speaks to her in her dreams, telling her he couldn’t go through with the bomb. He lost his nerve when he saw the faces of the innocent people he would kill. Shiraz passes away but Mulder becomes obsessed with remembering the words he heard in his dream. He eventually remembers the phrase “babil alfunduq” which Miller translates as “Babylon the hotel”, leading a swat team to capture the rest of the terrorists we have seen before they can carry out their attack.
At the airport, Miller hides under his headphones, listening to “Hey Ho” by The Lumineers and trying to ignore the TV screens showing dozens of channels all covering the arrests. He tells Einstein that his praises are unwarranted, that she and Agent Mulder did all the work, but she disagrees. The pair argues over who abandoned who but Einstein concedes that perhaps Mulder was right about the weight of words after all.
Back at his unremarkable house, Mulder listens to the same song on his porch. Scully arrives to join him and the two dissect the case. Mulder wonders how the placebo pills could have possibly worked. How indeed. He tells her how in his vision he witnessed “deep and unconditional love” while Scully tells him of her experience witnessing “unqualified hate”. Together they wonder how the world can reconcile the two. Holding hands, they take a walk through the surrounding fields discussing God and the tower of Babel, and how man’s hubris led to the loss of common language. “I refuse to believe that mothers are having babies just to be martyrs,” Mulder tells Scully, speaking of “mother-love” as the most unconditional of all. Scully agrees with him, and suggests that the only way for the hatred to end is mankind “finding a common language again”, opening our hearts so that we may “truly listen”. Mulder jokingly pretends to listen to the sky, making Scully laugh, but he suddenly hears the same sound of trumpets we heard on the videos at the beginning of the episode. “Can you hear that?” he asks worriedly as the camera pulls away to show the Earth floating in space.
For me, the greatest tragedy with “Babylon” isn’t its stupid hallucination sequence (although admittedly that also ranks highly on the tragic scale), it’s the lost potential. An episode in which Mulder and Scully explore separate paths in a joint quest to speak with someone trapped in a coma has enormous potential. The potential for emotional impact is huge–I’m guessing many of us have been in a situation where we wished for one final conversation with someone lying in a hospital bed. Even the methodology employed is great X-Files fodder: Mulder following a more natural/spiritual path along the lines of native shamen, while Scully explores the cutting edge research happening in the real world. Instead, this potential is wasted on a “comedy” sequence that adds nothing to the plot and instead serves to show that the entirely male X-Files writing staff still haven’t fully got a grip on using women in their show. If I wanted to see girls in minuscule shorts wiggling their asses in my face, I can tune into any of a dozen music channels. I don’t want or need to see it on The X-Files. And as for the dominatrix scene, the least said the better.
As for the mini-agents. Einstein would probably be more likable if she could keep her facial expressions and body language under control. Rather, the character is played in the manner of an X-Files parody, something I believe comes entirely from the script rather than Lauren Ambrose’s acting choices. It’s yet another item on the “why this episode is a tragedy” scale because we have seen Mulder and Scully partnered up with another two agents sharing the skeptic/believer dynamic–Agents Doggett and Reyes–three-dimensional characters who worked because they were allowed to be more than the Mulder/Scully caricatures we see in Miller and Einstein.
A lot has been said already about whether this portrayal of Muslim men as terrorists is problematic. Although there are certainly problematic elements in this episode, I don’t think the decision to include Muslims as terrorists is, in and of itself, problematic. Television and film reflect our culture back at us. Go back 70 years and you’ll see Germans depicted as the “enemy”, go back 30 and you’ll see Russians occupying that space–in fact, this is even the case in the early days of The X-Files which began only a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today’s media often shows “Muslims” as “the enemy” and this episode picks up on how that hatred plays out in individuals. The voice of Special Agent Brem is hateful, but is reflective of many people in America and the West today, yet Scully herself talks in defense of the non-extreme Muslim majority. All four of the lead characters work against that hatred. Pretending that there are no Muslim terrorists in 2016 is disingenuous, so is pretending hatred toward the Muslim community doesn’t exist–this episode showed both. However, these are subjects that require tactful handling and here “Babylon” fails. The messages it delivers are roughly handled and can easily be misread, making the episode come across as Islamaphobic. Worse is the decision to include such sensitive topics in an episode that occasionally tries to set itself up as a comedy.
There are many more issues and questions to be raised about “Babylon”. The lack of focus on the trumpets, despite their being used as a sort-of cliffhanger leading into the season finale. The clunky discussions about God and religion. “Babylon” deals with love and hatred as its core themes. The hatred of the Muslim extremists who teach it to young men and women, convincing them to go out and die in its name, but also the hatred of the West towards the entire Muslim community whom many blame for the actions of a minority. The cure, it says, is love. Love and hate are the common languages that unite the world, despite our scattering at the hands of God at Babel. It’s not new ground, but it’s certainly relevant. It’s just a shame that these subjects will forever be lost inside an episode likely to be remembered solely for Mulder dancing the “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”. Now there’s your tragedy.
Sophie is a staff writer at X-Files.News where you can find all the latest news about The X-Files, and the latest news from the show’s cast and crew.
Top image: Mulder and Scully in “Babylon” © 20th Century Fox/1013 Productions