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The X-Files 11.6 Review – ‘Kitten’

February 7, 2018 | Posted by Wednesday Lee Friday
The X-Files - Kitten THE X-FILES: L-R: Mitch Pileggi, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny in the "Kitten" episode of THE X-FILES airing Wednesday, Feb. 7 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2018 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Shane Harvey/FOX
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The X-Files 11.6 Review – ‘Kitten’  

Was anybody else as surprised as I was to see Haley Joel Osment in tonight’s episode? I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything since Tusk or maybe Comedy Bang Bang. As expected, he no longer looks like a kid who sees dead people—or does he? In “Kitten,” he definitely struck me as someone who sees things that weren’t exactly on the level. As always, expect spoilers for S11E6 of X-Files, “Kitten.”

This week’s story begins in Vietnam. We ran out of enlisted soldiers and therefore forced terrified young men into battles they were not emotionally or physically equipped for. If this ep (or the movie Jacob’s Ladder) are to be believed, the government sprayed experimental gasses on our own soldiers, and/or on civilians just to see what would happen. Remember, the first right you sign away when you join the military is the right to sue if the government is totally negligent. We see a secret mission, a mysterious gas, and a frightened young man transform into a brutal killer who delights in carnage. We also see a young Walter Skinner, and that he was a total badass. That figures.

Kersh calls Mulder and Scully to his office, demanding that they reveal where Skinner has gone. When they deny knowledge, Kersh tells them that Skinner never really advanced at the FBI because of his loyalty to them. Sure, that makes sense. But was Kersh telling the actual truth, or does he just like to needle Mulder and (to a lesser extent) Scully because he doesn’t like their failure to capitulate? At any rate, Skinner is missing and Kersh wants him back with all speed. And who knew Skinner’s middle name was Sergei? Note that when the team searches Skinner’s home, it looks like it might be a front. Like maybe he doesn’t actually live there. Doesn’t everyone have at least a few personal mementos in their home? Like…maybe a desiccated human ear? Eeeeew.

The case takes Scully and Mulder to “Mud Lick,” which is a hilarious name for a town. A note at Skinner’s declared that “the monsters are” in Mud Lick. It’s intimated that it’s related to Skinner’s enlisted time—and surprise, surprise, all of his records are sealed. Does anything good ever come from sealed records? It’s at this point in the episode that I felt misled. The sheriff that they speak to is a dead ringer for the fat guy in the Skinner flashback. I was sure he’d end up being the fraidy-cat turned murderer—not that he seems like the bloodthirsty type. He wasn’t though. The sheriff of Mud Lick was on the level, which might have been an intentional mislead because having him be evil would have been super obvious. People in town are dying, concerned about monsters, and have random teeth falling out for non-periodontitis-related reason. Ears are also being cut off, and a local doc died in a makeshift trap that was popular during the Vietnam war. Oh, and there’s a shady mental institution nearby.

Later, we see a hunter with a dog. The dog’s name is Pippet. Because the X-Files can’t get enough of classic references, Pippet is the name of the dog that gets eaten in Jaws. This time though, Pippet lives and his owner is the one who dies badly. Deduction plus a trail-camera reveal that someone set traps in the woods, and that Skinner was also nearby when the doctor was killed. But why though? Mulder and Scully are at odds with the Sheriff, who is sure Skinner is the murderer.

We come to understand that in the flashback, the airborne chemical turned John into a bloodthirsty killer. He murdered random villagers. What’s worse though, is that it fundamentally changed him, a change that remained long after his lungs would have been clear. After exposure, John thirsted for violence. He was court-martialed, and Skinner testified against him. Shockingly, he didn’t mention the gas—at all. There’s no way to leave the gas out of that story and leave John looking like anything but a monster. Of course Skinner wasn’t allowed to tell the truth, and his omission had clearly haunted him for decades.

Anybody else haunted by Skinner’s actions? Yes, in fact. Davy (Haley Joel Osment), John’s son has never gotten over it. Why would he. His dad was kept hostage in a “mental institution” and treated like a lab rat. He hasn’t even enlisted, he was drafted into the military. It’s a tragic story, and it’s easy to see why Davy grew up angry and only got worse after his dad’s suicide. Wait though—do we accept that it was suicide? Is that what drove Davy to murder? Or is Davy also kinda nuts and killed his Dad? We can’t know for sure, and one is easily as likely as the other. I was so focused on the Sheriff being bad that I may have missed a vital clue.

Skinner ends up in a trap of Davy’s making, impaled and of course, without cell service. We then see how conniving and hateful Davy actually is. Kinda makes you worry for those caged ferrets, doesn’t it? You can’t expect someone as bitter as Davy to be moved by Skinner’s “I was just following orders” excuse for selling his dad out—even if Skinner did save Davy’s life from that suicide bomber whose ear he took. Note too that John (nickname Kitten) in the flashbacks is also Haley Joel Osment, which is a nifty stroke of casting genius on their part. Mulder and Scully arrive to ask Davy questions. This is when the episode makes fantastic use of the song “Fear is Man’s Best Friend.”

When we see Skinner on a spike, we had to wonder a little if this would be the episode where he dies. He’s another character that it almost seems unrealistic that he’s still alive and still working for the FBI after all this time. But no, he totally lives. What’s more—he’s determined to make up for his—maybe cowardice is too strong a word. But he lost his moral compass for a time, and Skinner wants to make up for it now. I imagine this won’t be the last we hear of this.

Lest we feel tempted to have pity for Davy, he takes steps to burn Mulder and Skinner alive when they’re helpless in the trap. Yikes! He’s also been putting on a monster costume and murdering people on purpose. Can we presume from this that the damage caused by the chemical is hereditary? Or is it as Davy supposes—that they’re spraying chemicals all over the town? Is that why people are losing teeth? Of course, we can feel bad for Davy and John without condoning their killy actions. Davy’s demise by one of his own traps was as poetically justifiable as it gets. Talk about being hoisted by one’s own petard! A crop duster seen spraying the town’s food supply (and breathable air) sheds light on what’s really going on, but in a way no one can prove.

What we’re left with in the end is Walter Skinner, and how his experiences in Vietnam changed him. He enlisted because he had a youthful, blind faith in the goodness and rightness of government. After “MK Naomi” he realized that this blind faith was misplaced. But he obviously believed he could do good in the bureau, and that he could continue to be guided by his own moral compass. That’s why he believed in the X-Files, and in Mulder and Scully’s capacity to find answers. How anyone could ever meet the Smoking Man in person and not be suspicious of the government is beyond me. That guy is terrifying. What else is terrifying? Skinner losing a tooth as the episode ends.

I loved getting this extra special glimpse into Skinner’s past. I also enjoyed seeing Scully and Mulder contemplate how their work impacts people like Skinner. Not everyone stays moral once they get near the big conspiracies, after all. Just look at Reyes. Or don’t. Because screw her, she’s awful now. In the end it’s always good when a monster-of-the-week episode rises above like this one did. No new episodes for two weeks—so X-Files will be back on the 28th.

See you’s then!

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
It's always a delight when a character from the distant past shows up and hasn't changed at all. That's why vintage X-Files fans were no doubt delighted to check in with Kersh. He's still suspicious, perpetually annoyed, and doesn't have any time for any crap from Mulder or Scully. That's too bad, because they're about to understand what it cost Skinner to stand by them. Or are we the ones who learn why Skinner supported the X-Files in the first place?