The X-Files and the Monsters of That Week: Babylon
I’m not sure how successful I’ve been at conveying just how much I love The X-Files.
Along with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Simpsons (seasons 1 to 9), The X-Files was my most formative pop culture experience. I’m a fan of so many different things because of this show. I want to make this clear, along with my excitement about the show’s revival in 2015, as I want to communicate to you the magnitude of the decision to turn Babylon the fuck off halfway through my first watch.
Season ten ties in my mind with season nine as the worst season of The X-Files. This may seem unfair, as nine was eighteen episodes out of nineteen of utter rot, but season ten suffers from the biggest problem that The X-Files can never escape: three of the six episodes are written and directed by Chris Carter.
Chris Carter wasn’t always the show’s worst writer; in fact, his episodes were mostly brilliant up until about the Two Fathers, One Son two-part mythology episodes in season six. That’s when both Carter and Frank Spotnitz decided to burn down their main mythology plot: literally, most of the Syndicate are burned to death. The show’s mythology never fully recovered.
Carter’s Monster of the Week episodes were never the best that the show had to offer (apart from Triangle), mainly because Carter was good at filling his staff with writers like Vince Gilligan and Darin Morgan, who could write better standalone stories than him. Before Babylon, Carter’s last monster of the week episode was season nine’s Improbable which is most notable to most people for featuring Burt Reynolds as probably-God, but for me it was a lacklustre hour that managed to get the best out of Agent Monica Reyes and not much else.
So, why did I turn off Babylon? Well, firstly, I didn’t just turn it off, I refused to watch the rest of the season. Season ten’s mythology episodes, entitled My Struggle and My Struggle II, are awful pieces of shit, but we all expected that, right? The three episodes of ten that weren’t written or directed by Carter sit somewhere between solid – James Wong’s Founder’s Mutation and Glen Morgan’s Home Again – to absolute genius: Darin Morgan’s Mulder and Scully meet the Were-Monster. Babylon is an awful piece of shit because of three things that Carter thinks are okay which are not.
The first is the blatant Islamophobia of the main plot. It’s antiquated, archaic, racist, and lazy. It’s so bad that it comes off as a slightly trippy hour of 24, with all the xenophobia that show floated on for far longer than its sell-by date. The second thing and third thing connect: the use of twinning with Agent’s Einstein and Miller who are rubbish doppelgangers that serve no other purpose than to serve the third thing – Carter’s sense of humour. If Chris Carter was a funny writer, it was decades ago. The tonal shifts in this episode are baffling. The fact that Carter got both the blatant, serious, horrible Islamophobia and a Mulder acid trip full of useless cameos from dead and supposedly dead characters as a central gag is just all kinds of wrong. I hate this fucking episode. It has a claim to be the worst episode of the entire show, but even if it isn’t that it is certainly the worst of the revival.
I would eventually go back to the show, mainly because season eleven was much better reviewed and had more Carter-less MOTW, so join next time for another trip into the brain-pan of Darin Morgan and treat Babylon as just another bad trip.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image by Slant Magazine)