Review: ‘The X-Files’ takes on suicide bombers… in a comedy episode?!?!?

Senior Television Writer
02.15.16 54 Comments

A review of tonight's The X-Files coming up just as soon as you're being a mugwump…

For the most part, TV's shift to shorter seasons has been to the good. Fewer episodes overall means fewer filler episodes, while allowing the creative team to concentrate on making each episode the best it possibly can be, rather than just churning out product. But there's a downside to it, too. Along the way, we're losing the ability to experiment a bit (which I wrote about in last year's Defense of the Episode piece), which was often the most useful thing about non-arc storytelling. And that idea of making each episode live up to its full potential can also mean trying too hard to make them important, rather than just letting them be a good episode of the show.

That latter aspect's been palpable through a lot of this X-Files revival. It's six episodes because that's the most that all parties involved could and wanted to do, and you can often sense the writers straining to fit every idea they've had since the original series ended into the small amount of time they have. The premiere couldn't just be a mythology episode, but had to be an Everything You Ever Thought You Knew About X-Files Is Wrong mythology episode, while the two traditional Monster of the Week episodes before this one had to find a way to tie the MOTW to Mulder and Scully's long-absent son. At times, that's worked (I liked last week's episode a lot), but at many others, it hasn't been to the miniseries' benefit.

“Babylon,” meanwhile, felt like Chris Carter trying to cram three or four different episodes into one before time ran out on the revival, which resulted into an awkward mash-up of comedy episode, backdoor pilot for X-Files: The Next Generation starring Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Amell, and a serious to the point of self-importance story where Mulder and Scully try to solve the problem of violence linked to radical fundamentalist religion. It's like Carter said to himself, “This may be one of the last episodes I ever write with these characters, so I need to use them to make a statement! But I'll throw in some jokes so people don't complain I'm being preachy.”

Now, you could place some of those ideas in the space of the same hour and have them work. Miller and Einstein were as much parodies of Mulder and Scully – he's even more boyish and naive than the young Mulder, and she has even less patience for this crap than young Scully did – as they were attempts to continue the franchise with Duchovny and Anderson are otherwise occupied. And the two guest stars had their moments, Ambrose in particular.

But you just can't have those two wandering around, and have Mulder tripping balls down in Texas – including a country music-scored fantasy where he encounters Skinner, the Smoking Man, and the three (though Byers was less recognizable in cowboy regalia than the other two) Lone Gunmen (RIP) – in the same episode where our heroes are trying to stop a terror cell from pulling off a series of suicide bombings. The comedy undercuts the emotionally and politically charged imagery, and vice versa, and none of it ultimately works as a result of all the tonal whiplash. I'm not sure the suicide bomber aspect would have ever been a good fit, but change the nature of the crime the two pairs of agents are investigating, and maybe “Babylon” is an amusing meta/passing of the torch outing.

This, though, was a mess. An occasionally entertaining mess, but one that I imagine would have been structured quite differently if it wasn't only one of six.

What did everybody else think?

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