Mark Watches ‘The X-Files’: S10E05 – Babylon

In the fifth episode of the tenth season of The X-Files, I genuinely don’t know how to describe this. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The X-Files.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of Islamophobia, terrorism.

I appreciate the willingness of this show to continue to poke fun of itself, even within episodes that have a heavy message within them. I had hoped that in 2016, the show would also avoid from treading familiar ground, and in that sense, a major portion of “Babylon” is utterly unlike anything that The X-Files has ever given us.

Unfortunately, in another regard, Chris Carter’s script for this episode follows such a tired and offensive format that I can’t help but feel that “Babylon” is deeply, deeply flawed. I’ll start with this: there’s a moment early in this episode where I commented on the image on the screen. It’s in the video, and you can see me make note of the fact that I’ve watched my brother pray exactly as Shiraz does in the cold open. You can imagine my shock and annoyance when The X-Files devolved into a version of 24 or maybe Homeland, whatever passes as honest storytelling these days but goes unexamined by most people because it reinforces their perception of Muslims. Now, Carter does examine Islamophobia a bit within “Babylon,” but not to any length that makes the episode feel like it’s subverting an incredibly boring and, frankly, disgusting stereotype. (Maybe he thought it was subversive to stick a black guy and a white guy in that terrorist cell? Newsflash: they’re all still Muslim anyway, so how subversive are you being, The X-Files?)

Why does that matter? That’s a fair question. If “Babylon” is meant to show us the extremes of humanity – from unconditional motherly love to murderous hatred – why is it so bad that the show addresses terrorism? The issue isn’t that it’s off-limits to storytellers. No one is telling this show or others what they can or cannot write about. But there’s very little here to distinguish fiction from reality. Despite that domestic terrorism from white, far-right groups have perpetrated more violence in our country than the threat of Muslim extremists, we’re still getting one thinkpiece after another from pundits and television writers that focuses on Muslims. The episode appears to comment on the offense of depictions of Muhammad, yet it does so without any real substance. There’s no mention of the fact that the Muslim community actually doesn’t even agree on whether or not the Quran disallows depictions of Muhammad. There’s no voice to speak of the hadith that do address images. There’s only shouting on some television show that plays in the background, most of which can’t really be heard. And at no point is there space given to the fact that many Western nations are full of artists who deliberately depict Muhammad just to piss off Muslims. That cesspool of animation, South Park, did it. And hell, this episode practically outright references the Curtis Culwell Center attack, which held the “First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest.” There was an attack at that event, too, though not nearly as violent as what “Babylon” depicts.

So where’s the nuance? There’s not much of it, though Carter allows a few moments into the story. Scully reacts with disgust when the Department of Homeland Security allows AN ACTUAL MURDERER to remain behind with Shiraz. Seriously, they were so invested in clearing out the building that they condescended down on both Miller and Scully, but they left that nurse in the room? OKAY. And look, I’m glad that Scully was vocal about how awful that woman’s views were, but what does that give us? She’s anti-immigrant more than Islamophobic, so it’s not like the script actually addresses my main contention with it. Meanwhile, multiple characters spout all kinds of xenophobic nonsense, most of the Muslim characters get no names or no real significant lines, and we’re still stuck with the same framework: the vast majority of representation of Islam within this episode is exceedingly negative, inhuman, and stereotypical.

I know that some folks felt that “Home Again” felt a bit too disjointed for their tastes, but I’d argue that “Babylon” is far more disjointed of an episode. Amidst a very serious and scary terror plot, Carter shoves in one of the weirdest and funniest stories we’ve ever gotten. EVER. It’s so weird to go from the intensity of Shiraz’s story to proto-Mulder and proto-Scully because… well, what’s the tone of the episode? Why is all of this in one script?

For what it’s worth, it is a delight to watch these characters interact with comically produced versions of their younger selves, and it’s also great to see Scully and Mulder operate with over two decades of canon characterization behind them. This episode couldn’t have happened without the death of Margaret Scully, but I’d also argue that Scully’s journey through seasons eight and nine – as flawed as they might be – informs her “open” mind in this miniseries. Even if she’s still existing to provide skepticism, she also more willing to believe to support others. In this case? That’s Miller. She believes Miller because it helps push him closer to the truth, whatever that truth might be.

Of course, I’d be remiss to avoid mentioning the absolutely most absurd and entertaining thing that The X-Files has ever given us. I’m surprised that one of the Morgan brothers didn’t pen the Magic Mushroom sequence, because it feels like something they’d do. Mulder greeting cars while walking through traffic at night. Mulder linedancing. Mulder re-creating the video for “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.” MULDER SEEING THE LONE GUNMEN AGAIN. It’s hilarious, but in that way where you can’t stop watching a trainwreck that continues to pile upon itself. Yet even within one of the funniest scenes of the show’s history, Carter stuffs in some heavy imagery. We’ve got that weird BDSM sequence that evoked Mulder’s fate in the opening of season 8. Then there’s the Cigarette Smoking Man ferrying souls to the underworld, which was SO EERIE, and Mulder’s glimpse of Shiraz held in the arms of his grieving mother. If there’s anything I liked in the depiction of the Muslim characters here, it’s in Mulder’s willingness to listen to them, to give them a voice that they suspiciously lack otherwise. If he’d not done so, we never would have found out that Shiraz never pulled the trigger, or that his mother had been visited by him in dreams.

Still, it’s not enough to save that part of the episode for me. It has too much of a white savior feel to it all, and The X-Files is better suited when it avoids that kind of nonsense.

The video for “Babylon” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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