[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The X-Files,” Season 11, Episode 6, “Kitten.”]
Previously, on “The X-Files”…
When FBI agents Mulder and Scully investigate weird crimes for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, they report to their boss Assistant Director Walter Skinner — who’s been yelling at them since the first season 1994. Sometimes they trust Skinner, sometimes they don’t — right now, in Season 11 2018, they’re feeling pretty skittish towards him because he’s been acting weird. (In fairness, that might be because Cigarette-Smoking Man unloaded the father of all secrets on Skinner during the season premiere.) And really, in the long run, they just don’t know all that much about the guy.
This Week’s Dossier
We start in Vietnam 1969, a scene that does what Steven Spielberg couldn’t and resists the temptation to sample Creedence Clearwater Revival. There, a young Skinner and his terrified war buddy Kitten (Haley Joel Osment) are tasked with taking care of a mysterious crate. But when gunfire punctures the crate, Kitten gets a heavy dose of noxious green gas, and he starts to think that he sees monsters.
Back in the present, Skinner’s gone AWOL with no explanation, and Mulder and Scully are asked by their old boss Kersh to track him down. Breaking into his apartment leads them to discover that Skinner had been sent a severed human ear from a small Kentucky town called Mud Lake. When they arrive, Mulder and Scully find a whole lot of former Vietnam vets. Also, people are getting killed in the woods by Vietnam-style traps, which leads them to believe a former vet is behind the attacks — which might mean Skinner, who’s caught on camera by a deer cam.
Of course, that’s not the case: The ultimate culprit is Kitten’s son Davey (also played by Osment), who confronts Skinner over his testimony during Kitten’s court martial. Davey blames Skinner for ruining Kitten’s life, reveals that Kitten has committed suicide in the woods, and then shoves Skinner into a hole with Kitten’s corpse.
Fortunately, Mulder and Scully swing by Davey’s place, and Mulder quickly figures out that something weird is going on (beyond Davey’s rantings about the government continuing to experiment on people with the same crazy-making gas from the Vietnam flashback). He and Scully manage to rescue Skinner, and Davey is killed by one of his own traps in the process. In the end the three of them seem to be back on the same page…though Skinner may also be suffering from the effects of the gas, if that lost tooth at the end of the episode is any indication.
Wait, Explain It to Me Like I’m Five
It sucked to go to Vietnam. The government is definitely experimenting on people with crazy-making gas. And Skinner says he’s loyal to Mulder and Scully (though how true that is remains to be seen).
We got a little casual flirting in Skinner’s apartment (though, Scully, please don’t feel the need to elaborate on what exactly you mean by “Mulder’s juices”), which was nice, but otherwise there were no indications of residency in Pound Town. One more week of this, and we’re going to start thinking we were hallucinating during “Plus One.”
Some Deep and Relevant Thoughts About Hair
Mitch Pileggi has been rocking this beard for some time, but given this episode’s focus on him, we had the chance to spend some real time thinking about it — and you know what? It’s a look that’s working for him. Pileggi has always been a founding member of the Attractive Bald Men on Sci-Fi Shows Club (other members including Patrick Stewart, Lance Reddick and Terry O’Quinn, of course) but the beard is taking it to the next level.
Up until now, Seasons 10 and 11 have been so focused on Mulder and Scully and their crime investigating that we almost forgot how much of a big part the show’s supporting characters used to play. Thus, it’s nice to see Pileggi get a chance in the spotlight — even if the episode ends without much clarification of what his deal is.
“The X-Files,” like many shows with a dense mythology and hundreds of hours of storytelling behind it, has its share of issues with maintaining continuity. But “Kitten” doesn’t contradict Skinner’s previously established backstory; rather, it actually complements it. A flashback takes us to the day Skinner shot a 10-year-old Vietnamese boy in the head and subsequently lost his faith, an event that was previously described by Skinner during the second season episode “One Breath.”
“I’m not going to ask you if you just said what I think you just said, because I know it’s what you just said.” (Most Awkward Quote)
The entire confrontation between Kersh and Mulder and Scully was an exercise in frustrating dialogue-writing, as it felt like neither side of the conversation was listening to each other. Direct questions like “Has anyone checked Skinner’s apartment?” went completely unanswered in lieu of Kersh ranting about Skinner’s relationship with his pet agents — honestly, were those three actors even in the same room together?
“Dear Diary: Today my heart lept when Agent Scully suggested ‘spontaneous human combustion.'” (Best Quote)
“Then you two came along, and you taught me not to hide from it, but to have the guts to shine a light directly into the darkest corners. And if given the choice between advancing my career by being blindly loyal to some faceless puppeteers pulling strings from the shadows, or to throw in with you two, make no mistake I’d make the same decision every damn time.”
This was actually a really sweet and touching moment, the kind that felt truly earned thanks to 20-plus years of backstory. Unfortunately, whether he’s truly recommitted to his friends or just paying lip service to the idea isn’t at all clear. The fact that he’s still keeping some massive secrets from them doesn’t speak well to his intentions.
Congratulations are in order for Carol Banker, who this week became the third woman to direct an episode of “The X-Files.” For the record, that’s three episodes, total, directed by women — out of 214 produced hours of television. Not a great ratio. Also, it’s too bad she didn’t get a better script.
The best thing to be said about “Kitten” on a storytelling level is that it’s nice to see Chris Carter and his staff approach Season 11 as a more interconnected affair than Season 10; for the second week in a row, an episode that might have seemed like a stand-alone ended up being instrumental to the season’s ongoing narrative.
Osment was pretty chilling during his second Vietnam flashback, delivering almost Vincent D’Onofrio levels of giggly insanity, but in the present day, his role as Davey didn’t push enough into the realm of creepiness, simply because there wasn’t material to warrant it. In general, there simply wasn’t enough plot in “Kitten” to sustain much in the way of interest (which is probably why nearly every scene felt twice as long as necessary) and as a result, it feels like there was a lot of opportunity here that was ultimately wasted. And given how we’re only getting closer and closer to what could be the series finale (at least for a while), it’s a major disappointment.