It’s a bit unfair to expect a reunion miniseries of a ’90s show to be progressive, but it’s still disappointing when this week’s episode opens with a lonely brown man facing towards Mecca and praying, listening to Arabic music. We’ve seen this before.We’re in southwest Texas, where our lonely Muslim is juxtaposed with a truck full of rednecks, one of which remarks, “looks like we’ve got a visitor. Lil’ brownie.” When the lonely Muslim picks up his homie, and they pull up to a spot called “Ziggurat”, hold hands, and pray again, it’s clear that Chris Carter is going there, leaning on the tired trope of Islamic terrorism. When the pair walks into the “Ziggurat,” it’s just a matter of how long it will take for the place to explode.
The X-Files connection to this case seemse tenuous, at best; the duo is called in because witnesses heard music. Mulder starts firing off cases in which people heard “divine” music, and quotes scripture at an exasperated Scully, who seems annoyed by how easily Mulder is willing to read the scripture literally. “Just sayin’, it’s your book,” he says. We find out that nine people died in the bombing, but odddly, one of the bombers survived. Barely, as it seems, since he’s in a “persistent vegetative state,” making this the second consecutive week we’ve seen one of those.
Mulder and Scully meet Special Agents Miller (Robbie Amell) and Einstein (Lauren Ambrose, younger versions of themselves that haven’t yet had their enthusiasm squelched by conspirators or their skepticism tested by unexplainable acts. Einstein is particularly incredulous of Mulder and Scully, convinced that the only reason someone as qualified as Scully would toil away in a basement with Mulder. “Maybe he values her open mind,” Miller posits, as Einstein counters with “Maybe she challenges his BS.” They’re both right, of course.
After Einstein drags Miller out of the X-Files office to catch a 1:30 flight to Texas, Scully and Mulder scheme separately to follow their leads with their partner’s younger counterparts. First Scully calls Miller, to tell him she’s coming to Texas, to help him talk to his terrorist “with science.” Mulder does the same to Einstein, who resists until Mulder pushes the one button he knew he could always use on Scully: “I think it could save lives,” he says. She leaves Miller at the airport to join him.
Back in the X-Files office, Mulder starts testing the limits of Einstein’s skepticism. “Do you believe that thoughts have mass?” He prods, trying to get her to expand her definition of the material world. When she resists, he calls her a mugwump. It’s fitting; Ambrose is hilarious, as Agent Einstein, but her facial expressions are so exaggerated they look like tics. Eventually, he gets around to telling her his plan: He wants to eat magic mushrooms to talk to the comatose patient. Oh, Mulder.
Now in Texas, Scully tells miller she’s interested because of the mysteries with her mother that were never solved, and wants to try some experimental science to communicate with the terrorist. “I’m open to whatever,” Miller tells her. Scully is not surprised: “I’m sure that you are,” she replies.
When some creepy suits roll up, they tell the pair they’re Homeland Security, demanding that Scully and Miller leave. They definitely feel like undercover assassins. In fact, it seems like most people want this vegetative terrorist dead. Their creepiness is quickly confirmed; When they Scully refuses to leave, and Miller starts taking their pictures, and they dip with the quickness.
Mulder has done a decent job of not dating himself this season, catching up with most contemporary news, technology, and culture. But he betrays himself for a moment, arriving in Texas to meet Einstein after he beckons him from the hospital, having found Scully working with her partner. “For a second there I thought you were gonna punk me,” Mulder says, instantly confusing any teen that might be watching. Einstein gives him two capsules, giving him the scientist version of “that’s some good shit, man” before they head inside the hospital
Inside, more agents are trying to clear the hospital from a bomb threat, which one agent deems credible because “there’s a large and unassimilated muslim community here.” As soon as everybody leaves, the terrorist’s nurse becomes murderous out of nowhere, turning off his life support. She’s interrupted when Mulder and Einstein reach the room, and as she’s escorted out, she promptly goes on a rant, complaining about refugees and immigrants clogging up the schools. “This is all part of a plot by the united nations…” At first, we thought she might have been an assassin as well, but she’s probably just a racist crazy lady.
Mulder takes his “mushroom” pill, and somehow immediately starts tripping. With a stupid smile plastered on his face, he walks in the middle of the road, heads to a honky tonk, and starts line dancing to “Achy Breaky Heart.” He does a Michael Jackson kick, the Pulp Fiction fingers-over-the-eyes move, and flashes two four-finger rings that say MUSH and ROOM. He sees the Lone Gunmen at the club, which has morphed into a strip club. Then he’s on a dominatrix’s table (with Einstein as the dom), and then he’s on a boat with weird druids rowing and the Smoking Man cracking a whip. In the back of the boat, a seemingly random Muslim lady is holding the comatose terrorist like Mary in the Pieta. He leans in close to hear him speak.
Back in the hospital, Miller is trying to talk to the terrorist in Arabic, while Scully monitors his brain activity. Mulder wakes up elsewhere in the hospital to Skinner’s face. His boss tells him he was an embarrassment. Einstein tells him he took a placebo, and Mulder hints at her role in his trip: “You were 50 Shades of bad” Mulder tells her, quite creepily. As Skinner and Einstein wheel him towards the exit, Mulder recognizes the not-so-random Muslim lady outside, arguing with agents, trying to get to her son, the terrorist. When they take her to him, we can see our comatose terrorist react via the lines on the monitor, but he quickly goes into cardiac arrest and dies. Mulder, still reeling from the fact that he both took a placebo and yet still recognizes the woman he’d never seen before in his trip, tries sounding out the words her son told him in Arabic. He works it out phonetically with the Arabic-speaking Agent Miller, and settles on “Babel funduq,” or, the Babylon Hotel. When the FBI raids the hotel, they find the rest of the terrorist cell; a fitting location, perhaps, for people who bombed the Ziggurat.
Miller and Einstein don’t really understand what happened, but Einstein seems most perplexed, and struggles to find an explanation. “Maybe some things are unexplainable, Agent Einstein,” Miller says. She counters with a quote from her “distant relation”: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” It actually sums up the X-Files pretty well, and explains Scully’s gravitational pull to Mulder’s wide-eyed belief. Moreso than the Lumineers’ “Hey Ho,” which Miller has playing on his earbuds, and mercilessly subjects us to for the rest of the episode.
Back at home, Mulder looks over his wounds from his time on the table with “50 shades of bad” Einstein. Scully soon arrives for some contemplation. “Talk to me, Mulder,” she says. They take each others’ hand and walk out into the field.
“How did that work?” Mulder asks, unsure how he was able to connect with the terrorist’s mind without the help of any actual drugs. Scully’s answer is a cop out; she’s given up on trying to explain Mulder. “Wonders never cease with you,” she says. They continue to wax philosophical, holding hands, walking in the field. Mulder empathizes with the radicalized terrorists. “Those boys, they just swallow the pill. It’s the power of suggestion,” he says. “I want to believe that mothers have a greater purpose, for all of us.” Just when you think you’ve groaned as loud as you can groan, Scully takes it up a notch: “Maybe we should be like the prophets, open up our hearts, and truly listen,“ she says, inducing vomiting. The sound of a loud, biblical trumpet stops Mulder in his tracks.
“Do you hear that?”