The X-Files #296: Kitten

"The monsters are here."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Skinner goes looking for an army buddy who was given a dangerous dose of experimental gas in Vietnam.

REVIEW: The episode makes the point, and it's a legitimate one, that we really don't know all that much about Walter Skinner. He's Mulder and Scully's boss, sometimes an ally, sometimes at odds with them (usually, it's a misunderstanding, or he has to hide things from them to protect them), but neither his past nor his motivations have been particularly explored. The show has instead played him as an enigma so he could be vaguely threatening and make us and our favorite agents paranoid. But though this season has once again pushed Skinner in with the Cigarette-Smoking Man, hasn't this ambiguity been played out? Who ISN'T convinced, at this point, that Skinner is one of the good guys? So the episode endeavors to fix all that, tell us things about Skinner (perhaps more than the episode realizes, see THEORIES), and put him back in Mulder and Scully's good graces. I'm all for it.

Skinner, as it turns out, served in Vietnam, and was part of a platoon whose missions are redacted, as they carried, and were exposed to, a derivative of MK Ultra called MK Naomi, which irrevocably changed one of their own (nicknamed Kitten) who started seeing monsters (a nice Native American design) and turned him into a violent killer. Today, Skinner's gone missing and the heroes track him down in Mud Lick, Kentucky, where Vietnam vets are being killed in the woods with makeshift traps (it's pretty violent), and the citizenry is convinced it's seen monsters out there. Eventually, Skinner falls prey to his old buddy's son, who is posing as a creature and taking revenge on the army for having put his dad in a sanitarium and further experimented on him to perfect a mind control drug (which is apparently being sprayed on crops, hopefully just in Mud Lick). It's your regular Scooby Doo monster plot, but with personal stakes, and you really don't know if Skinner will make it out alive. We're so late in the series, he might well have taken his final bow in that spiked pit trap. The story is further used to explain why he's become so loyal to Mulder and Scully. After his tour, he felt betrayed by the government and guilty he followed orders to the last, but his agents taught him to face and expose the truth, not let it eat at him. Now he wants to do the right thing by his old army buddy - and perhaps keep out of Cancerman's way? - and they've got his back. I thought the bit about the agents feeling guilty Skinner's loyalty to them cost him his career a little maudlin, but it helps reveal he had another agenda all along, so it more or less works.

Mulder is especially good in this episode, playing the detective, noticing clues, and making strong deductions. The show often plays fast and loose with this element, its characters perhaps necessarily more intuitive than logical, but I liked the more procedural tack. Scully is less effective, but on a writing level, provides good contrast with her partner. When they find an ear in Skinner's mail, he jumps, she doesn't, etc.

The episode almost leaves one plot thread dangling, that of people in Mud Lick (Skinner included) losing teeth, but I suppose the coda with the crop duster is meant to indicate these people have been eating tainted food and are part of the experiment. I'll take it.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Is it true that Skinner wasn't affected by the gas back in Vietnam? His buddy Kitten was transformed by a massive dose, but Skinner did walk into that bunker. He breathed it in. Well, it would explain why he's tougher than the average bear. Even way back in the early days of the show, when they gave Skinner some action, he was always this strong, tough bruiser. In this episode, despite being no spring chicken, he survives being spiked through the abdomen, manages to pull himself out, and keeps fighting! If the gas makes you violent and strong, it goes a long way making it part of a super-soldier program. Look at Kitten's son, who has obviously been affected more than other people in town. He takes a bullet and keeps on ticking. Is it all related?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Though dressed as a pretty typical psycho killer episode, its focus on Skinner does the show some good.

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