The X-Files: S11E06 – “Kitten”
Director: Carol Banker
Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi
Writer: Gabe Rotter
Review by Michael Walls-Kelly
It’s happening… It’s happening right now!
Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) has always been a large and important element of The X-Files. While that’s not strictly true — Skinner started as more of a shady background character until the “is he on our side or not?” question got answered — it’s certainly true for me. As long as I can remember knowing the names Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) I’ve known the name Skinner. That’s why I was glad to see a Skinner-focused episode on the agenda for season 11.
I was extra pleased when the end result turned out to be pretty good.
It starts with a flashback to Skinner’s time in Vietnam — a concept the creative team has been trying to incorporate since at least season three — where Young Skinner and Kitten (Haley Joel Osment) are escorting a top-secret crate. During a shootout, the crate gets damaged, and a green mist is released. This turns Kitten paranoid and trigger-happy, causing him to slaughter a room full of Vietnamese civilians.
In the present day, FBI Director Alvin Kersh (James Pickens Jr.) grills Mulder and Scully for Skinner’s whereabouts, heaping on a dose of guilt that Skinner’s allegiance to them has stalled his career for the past 20 years. The dynamic duo decide to find Skinner. Mulder still reluctant and pouting since their pushing match in the premiere. It leads them to a classic X-Files location: a small, backwoods town.
Carol Banker’s direction really good in “Kitten”, making due with what seems like a small budget. The flashback scenes to Vietnam are kept in small buildings or clearings in a Vancouver forest. The present-day scenes have some crisp, stark imagery. The entire episode is the perfect mix of goofy (it’s always fun to see Mulder and Scully bristle against small-town authority) and creepy.
It also helps that the guest star, Haley Joel Osment, does a really good job. He plays Kitten in the flashbacks, violent and changed since being exposed to the gas, as well as Kitten’s son, Davey. Osment does a good job of differentiating between scared Kitten, monstrous Kitten and bitter Davey, creating distinct personalities.
It turns out that testimony Skinner gave got Kitten committed to a mental health facility where experiments with the green gas continued. Davey, kinda reasonably, blames Skinner for this. I mean, not only is he a guy who testified against his dad, but he also ended up literally working for the government. Davey’s logic is sound. Until Davey drops Skinner in a pit.
Of course, Mulder and Scully investigate and find Skinner — Mulder gets trapped in the hole with him, of course — and Davey is killed by one of his own traps. It’s a pretty quick wrap-up, which isn’t unusual for an episode of The X-Files. A lot of them struggled to pull everything together and end satisfactorily.
Luckily the episode isn’t quite done. Skinner, Mulder, and Scully have a bit of a heart-to-heart in Davey’s hunting cabin. Skinner absolves them of his career stagnation, telling them that they let him believe again. Mulder forgives him for all the pushing. We’re also left with an ominous coda that I doubt we’ll revisit, where Skinner loses a tooth (one of the effects of the green MK-NAOMI gas), and there’s a voiceover implying the government is using chemtrails to poison its citizens.
You know, classic X-Files shit.
Verdict: Keep watching. “Kitten” is a nice remix of certain elements from earlier episodes. It’s a character piece focusing on Skinner, it’s a backwoods horror, and it’s an exploration of Americana and conspiracy theories. MK Ultra and chemtrails are perfect fodder for an episode of The X-Files, I’d like to see them more fully explored. Still, this will do. It’s been a theme of season 11 that none of the episodes have been the best versions of their kind — save for “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” –, but they’re still a step up from season 10.