The X-Files – Kitten
By: Kelly Kearney
This week’s episode of “The X-Files” focuses on Walter Skinner’s (Mitch Pileggi) loyalty to a friend that sparked a lifelong mistrust of the government. It’s a Skin-man-centric episode that looks back to the Vietnam war and how one mistake can burden a man with a lifetime of guilt and change the very fabric of what makes him who he is. Full of flashbacks and modern-day monstersi answers the question: Who is Walter Skinner?
In a Vietnam flashback, a group of soldiers aboard a helicopter have been ordered to deliver a sensitive package to their superiors near the enemy’s zone. As the chopper descends, the solders come under heavy fire but eventually make a quick escape, sheltering in an occupied civilian’s hut. It’s total mayhem and an 18-year-old Walter Skinner (Cory Rempel) along with fellow soldier John (Haley Joel Osment) “Kitten” James and the family whose home they invaded, aren’t much safer indoors. With bullets whizzing past them, Walter notices they’re down one soldier and he’s laying outside. John begs him to stay, but Walter won’t leave their buddy behind and takes off to help as things begin to unravel inside the hut. A stray bullet strikes the top-secret case and out pours a noxious green gas that envelopes the entire house. When Skinner hears John screaming, he runs back in to find the John slaughtering the family and screaming about a monster.
Flash-forward to the FBI where Director Kirsch (James Pickens, Jr.) is back and he’s still killing Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully’s (Gillian Anderson) buzz. Walter Skinner is missing and Kirsch orders the agents to find him before he can do anymore damage to his already failing career – something he blames on Skinner’s relationship to Mulder and Scully. It’s such a Kirsch move to serve up bad news and top it with a guilt trip, but can what he’s saying be true? Scully thinks it’s possible Skinner’s slow crawl up the FBI ladder could be their fault, but Mulder doesn’t want to speculate. Besides, he’s still salty over Skinner’s dubious partnership with the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) and thinks Walter’s choices are his own.
At Skinner’s apartment, two things are immediately clear: Walter Skinner likes his fiber. Walter Skinner is not a decorator. The apartment is sparse, sterile and practical with no family photos and no warmth. Scully wonders what they even know about Walter and feels guilty for snooping through his private things. Things like an envelope addressed to Skinner that contains a severed human ear and a note that says, “The monsters are here.” Scully asks Mulder, “Does that gets your juices flowing?” and just like old times these two are flirting over severed body parts and everything is right in the world.
Mud Lick, Kentucky
The severed ear is traced back to a dead man in Mud Lick, Kentucky and the agents go on the road in hopes their ear will lead them to Walter. Especially since any information about Walter’s past, his time in the service and his entire platoon, are listed as top secret in the government data base. Mulder is convinced that the severed ear and Walter’s disappearance are connected. His suspicions only grow one they reach Mud Lick and meet with the town’s sheriff (Brendan Patrick Connor) who says the victim was their only doctor and well liked by the locals. Besides a missing ear, he’s also missing a few teeth but there is no sign of tooth decay or extractions. The sheriff interjects that he and his wife also woke up with a few less teeth and couldn’t figure out how. Scully asks if the victim was a veteran and while he wasn’t, there are a lot of vets in the area. The sheriff explains that the state hospital called Glazebrooke is nearby and many Vietnam vets were sent there when they returned from the war. How does the victim tie in to the hospital or Skinner’s disappearance? Scully asks the sheriff for a list of any veterans released in the area and the sheriff is relieved to have something to distract the locals from their newest obsession, a horned bear monster in the woods. Could this be the same monster that was referred to in the note attached to the ear? It is possible and Mulder is as giddy as a schoolgirl with the prospect of a monster hunt.
John “Kitten” James
It’s the following day in Mud Lick and a local hunter named Banjo (Charles Andre) died after he fell into a pit that was disguised with brush and leaves. The man was lured by some unknown assailant and from the looks of the trap and its very distinct spears jutting out from the hole, Mulder recognizes this as a tactic used in the jungles of Vietnam. It’s starting to look like Skinner might be involved in this and it gets worse when Scully spots a camera in the tree above the pit. At the station, the agents and sheriff view the surveillance and find Walter shining a flashlight into the pit on Banjo. The sheriff thinks he’s caught his man, but Mulder and Scully admit that he’s their missing boss and they came to town to find him. The Sheriff doesn’t care who Skinner is and sends out an APB for his arrest. Distracted by the APB, Mulder and Scully sneak another peek at the video and see a man dressed in a horned bear costume lurking around the pit. Scully wonders if Skinner is suffering from some latent PTSD episode and the ear acted as his possible trigger? Cut to a flashback of John “Kitten” James entertaining his platoon with stories about his collection of trophy ears he proudly wears as a necklace. A far cry from the boy he was, John is violent and unremorseful as he talks about slicing ears off like hunks of cheddar cheese. Walter listens on from a distance but out of the corner of his eye he notices a 10-year-old boy (Zachary Choe) strapped with a bomb and approaching their camp. In a split second, Walter turns and opens fire, killing the boy but ultimately saving his platoon.
In Mud Lick, Walter finds John’s trailer empty but spots a photo album of their time in the service. Skinner skims through the albums as John’s son Davey (also played by Haley Joel Osment) walks through the door. Davey, who looks identical to his father, is brimming with pent up aggression and blames Skinner for his John’s court marshal and incarceration. Walter tries explaining that his superiors forced him to testify at John’s trial but demanded he refrain from mentioning the gas. Davey isn’t the only one who thought his father was sane, Skinner admits they all saw John’s monster in the jungle thanks to the gas. Unfortunately, John was exposed the most out of all of them and it made him delusional and murderous. After he was found guilty, the government made John disappear and Skinner assumed his friend was dead. The same men responsible for the gas were the same men that sent John away and Skinner always felt guilty for not telling the whole truth. When he received the ear, he knew it was a message from John that he was free and killing again. Walter thought if he could help John stop the slaughter he could make amends for their past. Walter pleads with Davey to take him to his father. The son agrees and leads Walter into the woods where John is hanging from a tree in his dress blues. Screaming about his father’s feelings of disgrace, Davey blames the suicide on Walter who he then pushes into a pit disguised by leaves. On the way down, Walter gets impaled by a stake, but he manages to survive the brutal fall just as Davey cuts his father down and drops him on into the pit. Luckily, Mulder and Scully find “Kitten’s” address and show up just as Davey’s walking back to the trailer. All three go inside to talk and Its clear that Scully thinks Davey has a few screws loose. He’s rambling on about government conspiracies and mind control plot that his father and many others were test subjects for. He claims the green gas is a government made weapon and Mulder points out that this isn’t the first time the government experimented with mind control. Davey adds that the weapon has been perfected and will soon be administered to the masses to control a population of millions. This gas shows people their worst fears and creates a fight or flight response that turns murderous.
While Scully entertains Davey’s dystopian fantasies, Mulder spots a photo of a young Skinner which Davey claimed he never knew. Mulder rushes Scully out to the car and tells her Davey’s lying about knowing Skinner and the brand new rental car in the driveway is not Davey’s. Skinner must be on the property so, Mulder heads back to check it out while Scully tries calling the town’s sheriff.
We’ve Got Your Back
At the trailer, Mulder doesn’t find Davey but does find the monster costume in his closet. He turns to walk outside when the costume comes to life, Davey was inside horned bear get up the whole time! Its not long before Mulder hears Skinner screaming and just as he’s about to throw the man a rope, Davey the Monster pushes Mulder in the pit! Dousing them both in gasoline, Davey wants vengeance for his father’s tortured life. As he flicks his lighter, Scully shows up and shoots Davey before he can light both men on fire. Mulder manages to climb out of the pit and takes off after an injured Davey who’s now on the run. In hot pursuit, both men collide and trade punches under what looks like another deadly booby trap. High in the trees, a series of sharp spears connected to a trip lever, dangles perilously above the fighting men. Luckily, Skinner shows up to rescue Mulder as he pushes Davey under the trap and kicks the release lever. Davey dies as he’s impaled by dozens of wooden spears and the town of Mud Lick can rest easy now that their Horned Bear Monster is gone for good.
Inside the trailer, Scully bandages Skinner while he tells reflects on John’s story and how it relates to his relationship with the two agents. After what happened with the gas and John’s subsequent trial, Skinner lost faith in the very government he swore to serve. When he met Mulder and Scully he was attracted to their keen ability to shine a light in the government’s darkest corners. If it was ever a choice between kissing the rings of men like Kirsch or joining their search for the truth, he would choose the latter every time. Heading out the door to meet the ambulance, Skinner promises he’ll find out who’s responsible for the gas that destroyed his friend and Mulder promises they both have his back… always. Skinner steps outside and like a bad omen of what’s to come, spits out a bloody tooth just like his fellow vets who met their untimely end. The scene cuts from Skinner to a group of soldiers loading barrels of gas onto a crop duster. The plane spreads the green mist over acres of vegetation as Davey’s voice reminds us that the weapon is ready, and the mind control is coming.