Monday, October 31, 2016

Epilogue: Closing the Book on the X-Files Reboot

After watching the X-Files reboot last winter, I needed several months of emotional distance before I could return to the topic and offer some somewhat-objective thoughts. To say that as a fan I was extremely disappointed in the reboot would be an understatement. I was actually downright offended by several aspects of the reboot, which is something I don’t remember experiencing previously with this franchise. The X-Files was an excellent, high-quality, ground-breaking show in the ’90s, and I will always appreciate it for that. But apparently what happens in the ’90s should stay in the ’90s.

One of those offensive episodes from the reboot was Babylon. In fact, that episode has a little something to offend just about everyone: Muslims, Christians, Texans, you name it. If you haven’t seen it, I don’t recommend watching it. However, since my book, and this blog, addresses matters of faith and Christianity in The X-Files, I feel that the episode warrants me offering a few words of commentary on the topics that are addressed, for the sake of those who have already seen it (and in some respects, are unable to un-see it). This is also the episode that was touted as the one that would deal with Scully’s faith, although compared to earlier episodes in the series (and the second movie) dealing with Christianity, it has little to do with the theme of Scully’s faith.

The portion of the episode worth considering is the final conversation between Mulder and Scully. The main themes of their conversation are love and hate, the “angry” God of the Bible, the Tower of Babel, confusion and hubris, the power of suggestion, and mothers and their children. (And trumpets.)

(This final conversation bookends the opening conversation between Mulder and Scully in the office. Mulder has video recordings of people hearing trumpets “from the heavens,” leading into a conversation about God and the Bible. Mulder jokingly, or mockingly, refers to God “blowing his own horn,” and Scully says, “Since when do you believe in God, Mulder?” He replies, “What makes you think I do?” In their conversation, he quotes from Revelation 8:2 [once again erroneously referring to it as “Revelations”] and refers to Adam eating the forbidden fruit, capping it off by telling Scully that the Bible is “your book.” Their discussion touches on prophecy about the end times and false prophecy. The themes of prophets and trumpets return in the final scene, especially toward the end, as the episode finishes off with Mulder hearing trumpets—the power of suggestion or a herald of the end?)

The title of the episode, Babylon, also happens to be the name of the motel where the terrorist cell is arrested, but even before this location is revealed, the name is explicitly connected with the ancient city Babylon, later identified with the Tower of Babel in the Bible. (In his magic-mushroom-placebo-induced hallucination, Mulder hears the Muslim suspect say the name “Babylon” in Arabic, and as Mulder tries to remember the exact words, his younger doppelganger with better linguistic skills, Agent Miller, recognizes the name, connecting it with the city Babylon.) (By the way, the art museum that is the target of the bombing in the teaser is named “Ziggurat,” which is an ancient Near Eastern tiered temple, such as scholars believe the Tower of Babel to be.)

In their final dialogue, Mulder and Scully refer to this biblical narrative, recalling how the “angry God” of the Old Testament scattered the people “violently” and confused their languages because of their hubris. Although Mulder and Scully get some of the details right, the point of the story in the Bible is not God’s anger but the people’s hubris. Actually, the story in Genesis 11 doesn’t mention God’s anger at all. God simply sees that the people are trying to “make a name” for themselves, which is usurping a right reserved for deities, and especially The Deity, and so he confuses their languages to confound their efforts. This is not the same kind of story as God raining down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah. God doesn’t strike the Babylonians down in judgment; he just presents them with an obstacle. The purpose of the story is to present an explanation for the diversity of human languages. Scully then compares this “angry God of the Bible” to the angry God of the Qur’an—that is, both Christians and Muslims (implied by the Texans and terrorists in the episode) share this most basic aspect in common.

It is a sad statement that this “angry God” seems to be the only God that Mulder is familiar with from the Bible, and the only message he carries away from the Bible is that God wants people to worship him in his great anger. However, here Mulder seems much less hostile about discussing God than the Mulder of the early seasons, although he again expresses his earlier belief that God is “absent from the stage” (reminiscent of his statement from “Orison” that God “just reads the box scores”). Paralleling her comments in the office at the beginning of the episode, Scully jabs at him for the potential that he is contemplating God (“You, Mulder, thinking about God?”), but otherwise Scully’s faith stays rather neutral in their discussions. She doesn’t take offense at his comments (unlike some members of the viewing audience), nor does she argue for a strong sense of faith in God. Mulder is simply musing, and Scully offers a sounding board. Overall, the tone of the final scene is that Scully is rather amused, if not charmed, by Mulder’s placebo-induced hallucinations (it seems to be an underlying theme in the reboot that Mulder is either clinically depressed or clinically insane) and equally light-hearted about Mulder’s musings on God. The Scully who was angry with God and perhaps questioning her faith in I Want to Believe seems to be long gone, but there is no clear sense of progression about where her faith has landed.

Rather than discussing faith and the nature of belief, as we see in some earlier seasons, the two talk here about the “power of suggestion.” Mulder connects his own placebo-induced hallucinations (“swallowing the pill”) with the power of suggestion that induces young men like their suspect to buy into hatred and violence, to worship the “angry God” with their own anger.

In light of all this discussion about an angry God, where is the God of love who is known from the New Testament (and the Old Testament too)? This portrait of God, and specifically Jesus Christ, is not directly invoked in the episode, but the God of love is present in a subtle and ironic way. In Mulder’s journey down the (placebo-induced) rabbit hole, after he’s finished line dancing, he sees the Muslim suspect with his mother, the two of them positioned to imitate the crucified Christ held by the Virgin Mary in Michelangelo’s Pietà. In other words, the Muslim suspect is depicted as the crucified Christ.

But the “unconditional love” that is emphasized in the episode is not necessarily divine love but the love of a mother for her child. That love transcends any of the hate discussed, the hate of the young Muslims toward the victims of their terrorism, and the hate of the Texan and American culture for the Muslims. Perhaps there is an underlying sense in which the Muslim suspect is redeemed as a Christ figure, changing from criminal to victim, and even becoming a savior by (unconsciously) revealing the location of the terrorist cell and therefore saving lives. But the real emphasis is on the universal truth of a mother’s unconditional love for her child and her willingness to see his innocence and goodness beyond the veil of violence and hate.

Although it is lost in an episode that is confusing, caricatured, and far-too whimsical (or macabre) for its sensitive subject matter, not to mention buried in heavy-handed dialogue at the end, the beauty of the message is that for all our ideological differences, all humans have more in common than not, starting with the simple fact that every one of us is the child of a mother, and the love of a mother for her child transcends all languages and all cultures.

Mulder asks, “Where does the hatred end?” and Scully brings the conversation full circle, back to the Tower of Babel: “Maybe it ends where it began, by finding a common language again. Maybe that’s God’s will.” In the end, love trumps hate, and the language of unconditional, maternal love is universal. If we can recognize that common ground, we can overcome any obstacle. The implication is that God’s will in confusing human languages to counteract hubris is to force us to work together in spite of our differences, to find a common ground, but for the right reasons: to overcome hatred with love. If the true message of the Pietà is read into this conversation, this is exactly what God has done through the crucifixion: overcome anger and hatred with the ultimate act of love.

But perhaps the real message of this episode, along with the entire reboot, is that the audience has swallowed the pill of nostalgia and been duped into accepting this stroll down reboot lane as the best that Mulder and Scully have to offer after so many years away from the FBI. After the audience has climbed out of the rabbit hole with Mulder, we can only hope to wake up and find out that this has all been a hallucination. (Do I hear trumpets?)

As a final note about this blog, I had great intentions of posting episode reviews for all of the Top Ten Religious X-Files. However, as the reboot aired in 2016, I lost my appetite for all things X-Files. At this point, I don’t know if I will return to finish and post the remaining reviews.

The X-Files had a great first seven seasons. I commend those episodes to you as some of the finest that television has to offer.