This week’s episode of The X-Files was a Skinner-centric story that gave us a little more background information on Mulder’s and Scully’s longtime frenemy (and I’m still not sure why there is so much tension between them), taking us back to his time as an enlistee who ended up in the middle of the Vietnam war. Skinner and his friend John James (guest star Haley Joel Osment) are charged with protecting a crate marked MK NAOMI, ordered to not let the crate out of their sight.
But a member of their group is wounded as they make their way to a shack that also houses some locals. Young Skinner goes to help their fallen comrade and gunfire rings out, pierceing the walls of the shack and the walls of the crate, allowing a neon green gas to escape. When Skinner goes back in the shack to take care of James, he sees some sort of monster and then realizes all of the natives are dead and James is holding a knife, babbling about the monsters.
In the present, Skinner has gone AWOL and Deputy Director Alvin Kersh (returnee James Pickens Jr.) calls Mulder and Scully in to see what they know, but they are just as in the dark about Skinner’s behavior as he is. Kersh is in a mood, to say the least, and actually blames the pair for Skinner’s lack of forward movement within the bureau. But they take it upon themselves to enter Skinner’s apartment to see if they can glean any information as to his whereabouts. Then Mulder finds a package that contains a dessicated human ear, with a note that says “The Monsters are here” wrapped in a newspaper clipping from Mud Lick, Kentucky. Which, they assume, is where they’ll find Skinner.
He’s there but there are some odd goings-on in Mud Lick. Odd deaths due to booby traps right out of the Vietnam war and a lot of people experiencing unexplained tooth loss. While Mulder and Scully are looking for Skinner, Skinner is looking for his platoon mate and is shocked when he sees his friend, hardly aged a day. Turns out it’s John’s son Davey (also Osment) and he’s not happy to see Skinner. Turns out Skinner was responsible for testimony that had Davey’s father incarcerated in a mental hospital for 38 years. Skinner testified that John was insane even though he knew the real cause of his illness was the mysterious gas which he was ordered not to speak of in court.
But Davey has a major grudge against Skinner and when he asks to see his old friend, Davey takes him out into the woods where he finds John hanging from a tree. Walking forward, Skinner falls into a Burmese tiger trap, impaled on a wooden spike (luckily not through any major organs, and not like the guy Skinner had found earlier who got a full body impalement). Mulder and Scully show up, chat with Davey who claims to not know Walter Skinner — but Mulder finds old photos that clearly indicate Davey is lying — and it’s not long before we realize that Davey is the “monster” people have seen lurking in the forest, and Mulder and Scully have rescued Skinner. In the end, Skinner and Davey go head-to-head with Davey ending up the victim of one of his own traps. Patching Skinner up, Scully asks if they are responsible for his career path, or lack of one, and he tells them that after what he saw in Vietnam and then working with them, they taught him to shine a flashlight into the dark corners to see what’s there, and that he would not have changed a thing. Does this mean they will finish out the series as BFFs again?
“Kitten” (which was John James’s nickname, while Skinner’s was Eagle which may have been acquired from one of the town’s veterans because he’s bald) was a pretty fast-paced episode that didn’t really serve to move any of the show’s mythology forward, but it was still a nice way to give Skinner, and Mitch Pileggi, something more to do as the series winds down. The scene with Pileggi and Osment discussing what happened to John James was really well-acted by both of them. Osment was actually terrific in both roles but I found myself really drawn to his performance as Davey.
The episode also touched on a serious topic with exposing how military personnel and US citizens have been subjected, often unwittingly, to government experimentation. We know now all about what the government did with Agent Orange, and I’ve seen the horrific effects of that firsthand, and we know chemicals have been deployed over St. Louis in the 1950s. In the episode, Davey almost comes off as a conspiracy theory nut when he talks about chemtrails from planes flying overhead every day and the episode ends in the present with a crate similar to the one marked NAOMI being loaded onto a crop duster and sprayed over crops, with a pan up to a plane’s chemtrail overhead. Of course, this is just TV playing off of conspiracies that have made the series a favorite for years, using conspiracy theories to tell dramatic stories, but with all that we do know about chemical testing in the past, is it so far out of the realm of possibility that somewhere, somehow, this could actually be happening today? It does give one pause.
The X-Files returns Wednesday, February 28 at 8:00 PM on FOX.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Tell us in the comments below!