Television has changed since The X-Files was at its peak.
People know how to create deep mythologies on a show. They also know how to take a step back and create episodes that exist on their own. This was newish territory when The X-Files launched in 1993, and the creative team behind the show "lucked" into the idea of having a deep, persistent story due to Anderson's real-life pregnancy.
The art of having a finite amount of time to create a satisfying story has grown since then. It's a skill that Netflix is still trying to perfect as it releases entire seasons of shows that contain one major arc, allowing and encouraging binge-watching.
Which explains why I both love and hate the latest episode of The X-Files. it's not a bad standalone episode, although the way it handles and discusses 24-hour news and terrorism seems "ripped" from the headlines of 1998. The addition of a Mulder and Scully-style team that matches the originals down to hair color and square jaws, not to mention how they refer to each other by their last names, is also a fun addition slightly marred by actors who aren't quite up to the task.
I can't quite dislike an episode of the show that shows Mulder line-dancing after taking taking magic mushrooms and meeting the members of the Lone Gunmen somewhere in the border between life and death. This was after he flashed the camera gaudy jewelry that spelled out "MUSH" and "ROOM' across his knuckles.
The idea of talking the Scully-like into administering Psilocybin in order to speak to a braindead terrorist is right up The X-Files' alley, and it enjoys the sort of somewhat factual or at least theoretical backing that was so lacking in last week's episode.
That being said, outside of Scully clearing being impacted by her mother's death and the visual use of the quarter to remind viewers of what was lost this season ... the overall story of The X-Files wasn't advanced in any meaningful way.
It's possible that I'm the only one who still wonders what possessed Skinner to pull two rather controversial agents out of mothballs and put them back on one of the most contentious assignments in the FBI, but the show's inability to address it at all is really starting to bug me.
"Babylon" is a pretty good example of an X-Files episode, and it handles the worldview of both of our leads very well while having them learn from each other and grow. Anderson and Duchovny's easy, lived-in intimacy and chemistry is one of the best aspects of this six-episode miniseries, and the shrill, knock-off versions of the characters we're introduced to in this episode don't stand a chance.
But what's going to happen in the series' finale? What final story is going to be told, and how has the series built to that moment in the existing five episodes? It would have been possible to tell these stories while still dealing with existing mythology and characters while building to something, but The X-Files as a series is acting as if it has all the time in the world to develop itself.
Sadly, that's not the case.
Odds and ends
- The episode's misdirection from focusing on the mind-expanding nature of mushrooms into the seemingly unlimited power of suggestion, deftly pivoted into a point about religion in the final monologue, was well-handled and written.
- Duchovny has been a joy to watch this season due to the fact he's game for every goofy thing the show throws at him. He's committed, and seems to be having a blast.
- Anderson also seems much more comfortable as her role of the "skeptic" in Scully while also searching for her character's own truth. Both actors know each and every contour of their characters, and it's such a thrill to see them back at it even during uneven episodes
- That might be it for the Lone Gunmen, and I'm pretty much OK with that. I have a feeling they wouldn't have minded going out in that way.