It’s a good tradition of love and hate as the X-Files questions the power of the universe in a weird and very uneven entry, journeying to ‘Babylon’…
This week on the X-Files… In the wake of what appears to be a religiously-motivated attack, there’s a fear it is the precursor to something even larger. Special Agents Miller (Robbie Amell) and Einstein (Lauren Ambrose) seek out the basement of the FBI’s ‘Most Unwanted’ wondering if Agents Mulder and Scully have any off-the-books insight into reaching an almost brain-dead survivor who is believed to be one of the bombers. Pursuing very different approaches, can the agents unlock key information to stop another attack?
The opening minutes of the latest X-Files deliberately feel more like the beginning of a more basic police procedural – particularly given the current climate and concerns over potential acts of terror. An impartial eye should lead any decent viewer (especially one of The X-Files) to wonder if expectations are being played with. Despite two nervous, but obviously devout Muslims entering an art-gallery that seconds later blows up, things are rarely that simple. Or perhaps, the episode muses, they are and it’s the mysteries of WHY they happen that are the great unanswerables of the age.
Yes, despite the sombre beginning, this latest entry in a mini-series of extremes sees the X-Files windmill of the week going full ‘hippy’ with an episode entitled Babylon, a story that includes everything from magic mushrooms and line-dancing to Biblical trumpets and suicide bombers. Whether you found it a profound examination of belief-systems or merely a scattershot collision of styles not worth of the ‘trip’ will largely depend on your mileage.
But therein lies the problem because whatever your opinion of its polar-opposite styles (underlined by the story and the characters’ viewpoints), it takes a deft hand to create a story that in one second is talking about genuine, devastating acts of extreme terrorism and the other playing scenes for full-on psychedelic laughs. Though the episode’s achy-breaky heart is arguably in the right place, and trying to give lip-service to all sides of the equation, the resulting production veers uncontrollably and without any real anchor, so much so that the centre cannot hold. If the story’s message is that hate and stereotype breed fear but that love and faith can eventually triumph over all… then that’s all well and good… but it’s essentially the longest, vaguest fortune-cookie maxim in primetime.
Each ‘strand’ of the story might well have worked better separately and with more room to breathe – especially one that gave us more than a ‘Most Muslims are nice people, but almost everyone you’ll meet here is out to kill people‘ remit – but once again the show prefers to mutter profound observations about human nature in one breath and go for handwavery parallel explanations in the next. After an episode of easter-egg visuals (including a vision of the Lone Gunmen in a bar, the Cigarette-Smoking Man on a viking boat and veteran Vancouver actor Garry Chalk’s cameo as a cable-show commentator) the epilogue gives us a Mulder and Scully quietly pondering life. It is a lovely and intimate moment and shows the characters and actors once again comfortable with each other, but it rounds-off an outing that is otherwise a collision rather than a real coming-together.
Casting-wise, there’s a feeling that someone is looking at Miller and Einstein as more than a ‘mirror, lightly‘ parody and as a potential spin-off. The characters prove to be more likable and have more potential than their initial scenes indicate, yet an ‘X-Files: The Next Generation‘ still seems like bean-counter suggestion rather than a creative one (Though in the current tv landscape, everything old is new again and prettier). The similarities between Mulder/Scully and Miller/Einstein are somewhat sledge-hammered into the screen, visually and through the script… but there’s fun to be had. Lauren Ambrose’s demeanour and stance perfectly echo a younger Scully without it ever quite tipping into a more simple caricature and while Robbie Amell is given less to work with, he’s clearly a network idea of a contemporary square-jawed leading man. (Duchovny’s jaw now looking more rectangular).
There’s one episode to go in this uneven X-Files revival. The truth of its success remain questionable, but more so than usual, this episode is definitely out there.