21/03/2016

The X Files- Home Again & My Struggle 2



The final two episodes of The X Files 2016 miniseries reviewed by Chris Arnsby
Season 10 Episode 5 Babylon
SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW!
"It’s unfortunate, then, that Carter’s noble message of transcending our fears of the other backfires spectacularly in an hour of television that manages to traffic in tired and dangerous stereotypes, especially of Muslims, whose beliefs and practices are shown only in the most ominous and reductive ways." That's a quote from an article by Ismat Sarah Mangla, The X-Files’ And Religion: Chris Carter Wants Us To Believe, But ‘Babylon’ Traffics In Muslim Stereotypes for The International Business Times. I agree with it. Chris Carter may have written Babylon with the best of intentions but the episode stands as an example of a sincere, compassionate, and well-meant message gone wrong. Could they have lead with something else as the starting point of this episode? Of course. They could have gone with a Christian blowing up an abortion clinic. But that's just as bad. If not worse. A stupid obvious inversion of the original idea. So what's the solution? I don't know. All I do know is that this episode steers itself into narrative waters that it's not equipped to navigate. Could Chris Carter have dodged the whole issue by using a different crime as the starting point? Not really, because the point of this episode seems to have been to generate whiplash between the serious bits and the funny bits. Yes, the funny bits. This is the episode in which Fox Mulder investigates a suicide bombing by dropping acid. 


Mulder has teamed up with Agent Einstein because he wants her to dose him up with magic mushrooms. Agent Einstein is one of two new FBI agents introduced in this episode; Einstein and Miller. One's a believer and one's a sceptic and they look like a young Mulder and Scully. It's one of those ideas which probably looked hilarious written down. Einstein is the sceptic and Lauren Ambrose has been directed to play the character as aggressive and hectoring in her initial scenes with Mulder. Cute plinky-plunk music underscores these scenes, evidentially someone intended them to be funny rather than boring and mildly unpleasant. The characterisation of Einstein is actually a little worrying. Is this how the production team remember Scully behaving in the early episodes? If so then they've misunderstood their own series.  Agent Miller is a big bland hunk of nothing.
So, Mulder gets hepped up on Psilocybin. The trip sequences are the most memorable part of the episode. The imagery itself is bog-standard television surrealism with in jokes inserted for the fans to find and coo over and argue about the significance; the Lone Gunmen turn up; as does Cigarette Smoking Man. There are times when David Duchovny reminds me of William Shatner, the quality of their acting often seems to depend on how much fun they are having. David Duchovny appears to be having a lot of fun during the filming of the trip.
But here's the thing. For all its problems I ended up liking this episode. I got involved in the storyline, and found myself wanting Mulder, Scully, Einstein, and Miller to succeed. And that's more than I can say about My Struggle, Founder's Mutation, or Home Again. If it's possible to look past the unintentional stereotypes and jokes which misfire then do so. My Struggle doesn't work because it tries to ditch the elements at the core of the X-Files. Founder's Mutation and Home Again foreground stories which could be told by any series; a mum who misses her kid and a family tragedy. Regardless of its faults -and it has them, a lot of them- Babylon is telling a story which could only be told on the X-Files.
"And the series really is that bad?" "It is, I wish I'd stayed at home. And it's raining."
Season 10 Episode 6 My Struggle II
SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW!
The six episode mini-series ends with an episode which manages to be bad X-Files and bad television.
Where to start? How about the cliffhanger ending? Mulder is dying of the Spartan virus (Scully: "he needs stem cells in him right now") when suddenly a UFO appears overhead. Slow zoom in on Scully's eye, fade to black, run titles. Several things frustrate. One, this wasn't an episode about UFOs so the sudden appearance is a visual non-sequitur which suggests no one on the production team could think of an adequate way to cliffhanger out of the actual plot (unless, oh no, Mulder and Scully's son William is going to turn out to be the pilot). Two, this is the X-Files so the sudden appearance of a UFO is not the greatest surprise. Three, the UFO does nothing -unlike the one in My Struggle which at least made a car explode- so what resolution is the audience expected to wait for? Tune in next year folks to find out if the UFO sticks around or flies away; thrilling! And, of course, that's assuming there is another run of episodes next year.
Mulder contributes nothing to the story. He drives to see Cigarette Smoking Man, gets sick, and is rescued. Most of the scenes relating to him involve other characters wondering where he is. It's like The Simpsons episode with Poochie the dog. "Whenever Poochie's not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking 'Where's Poochie?" If the X-Files writers are taking inspiration from that episode of The Simpsons then the cliffhanger resolution -if there is one- should pick up with Agent Miller looking up at the UFO and saying "I have to go now. My planet needs me,"
Agent Scully contributes slightly more. She finds a cure for the Spartan virus with the help of Agent Einstein. Gasp in ennui as Scully and Einstein search for medical proof of Scully's alien DNA and can't find it, then spend 10 minutes of episode time wondering why they can't find it, and then look again and find it. There's a similar moment of time-wasting at the start. A three and a half minute plot recap which manages to include a "previously on the X-Files" followed by a lengthy monologue from Scully. The intent of the monologue is to bookend the one by Mulder in My Struggle but it's pointless because it goes over exactly the same territory as Mulder's monologue, and it duplicates the just seen "previously on", and ends with a deeply stupid effect shot of Scully morphing into an alien. Another deeply stupid moment comes when Agent Reyes (it turns out she's back, but not Agent Doggett because Robert Patrick declined his invitation) starts talking about Cigarette Smoking Man. "He loves Mulder. He sent a man to him. To offer Mulder a deal!" This cuts to  Cigarette Smoking Man's agent creeping into Mulder's house, getting into a lengthy fight and nearly murdering Mulder twice; that's some tough love right there, and something of a mixed message. The actors all acquit themselves decently but to be honest the person who comes out of this the best is Mitch Pileggi's agent. He got his client billed third in the opening titles for a few minutes of screen time.
"There's nothing wrong with re-framing the back story like this, the focus of paranoid conspiracy has shifted since the X-Files began in 1992." That was me six long weeks ago summing up the changes to the X-Files back story to make it men, rather than aliens, who were behind the conspiracy. On the strength of this episode that change was pointless. It makes no difference to the series or the stories it tells if it's men acting for aliens, or men pretending to be men acting for aliens but actually acting for themselves. It just adds another layer of obscurity to the whole confused mess.
"The aliens have come to take us away from this nonsense?" "Oh I do hope so."





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