It has come the time that we uncover some secrets about the enigmatic Walter Sergei Skinner.
At times, he has been the protector, the confidant, the one they feared and the only ally. But who is Skinner today and how did we get here?
We talked with Mitch Pileggi and Gabe Rotter about the genesis of this episode. Click after the jump for this great chat with them and - as always - we've provided you with our recap.
Written by Gabe Rotter and Directed by Carol Banker, “Kitten” comes as the episode that no one knew we needed, but that we definitely did.
For the most of season 11, and a thing to be examined during season 10, Skinner’s alliances have been questioned. He’s a man that stayed at the FBI, even when Mulder and Scully went on the run. And a man that brought them back, and though claiming that he’d done so for the best reasons, we still doubt him. Once Scully’s staunch protector, now - with CSM lurking and manipulating him - where does he stand?
If his forced alliance with CGB Spender has made him do questionable things, and his relationship with Mulder and Scully has suffered because of it, the same could be said of his alliance with them being damaging to his relationship with the Bureau, as Kersh puts it.
For the many years that Skinner has been on the show - and become a fan favorite - there’s a whole lot of him that we haven’t explored and that remains a mystery. This episode attempted to fix this in many ways.
When talking to Mitch Pileggi and Gabe Rotter about “Kitten,” it’s interesting and rewarding to know the level of commitment they have to the story.
“It’s a big deal, and I don’t take it lightly,” Gabe confesses, also adding that previous to air, he’s nervous about the fandom’s reception. He really wants the fandom to enjoy this take on Skinner’s life. “It’s a real responsibility to take on these characters. I was steering the ship this time around and is important for me to get it right.”
Rotter, who began as a Production Assistant at the end of season 7 - seventeen and a half years ago - has borne witness to much of the developing and the work that goes behind creating Mulder and Scully and the universe around them. Since then, he has risen through the ranks, working closely with Chris Carter, leading the development team at 1013 productions, being a producer in the revival of The X-Files, and now, a writer for the show as well.
So how did “Kitten” come to be?
According to both Rotter and Pileggi, it was the match that had been waiting to happen.
Last season, during a moment spent in video village, Mitch asked Chris Carter if his character was hard to write or if he was hard to write for as an actor. Was this some of the reason as to why Skinner wasn’t as involved in the storylines?
In the past, we’ve seen episodes that have revolved around Walter Skinner, but I agree that they’re not to the extent or frequency that one would hope. Especially for the one character that has been the most present throughout the series besides the leads, and CSM.
Reportedly, Pileggi says that Carter had assured him that his character wasn’t a hard one to write and that he wasn’t a hard actor to write for, but as it happened, Gabe Rotter overheard the conversation and took it as a dare.
An episode had to be written. “We’ve got this beloved character in Walter Skinner - I would argue that he’s one of the most beloved TV characters of all time,” Gabe claims, and I agree. Not only Skinner, but Mitch Pileggi is one of the most adorable human beings I’ve had the luck to meet. “After all this time, we know precious little about Walter Sergei Skinner… and I just thought: ‘let’s do a deep dive…’”
“Kitten” as an X-File is one ripe with paranoia, true to the irrational kinds of fears that we’ve seen in the past, combined with man-made horrors that are the true threat. Leave it to this show to stop looking to the skies and start looking amongst us, here on the ground. Indeed, there are plenty of horrors that we ignore, or choose to ignore. The experiments done - or rumored to have been done - during the Vietnam War are chilling, creating monsters everywhere. The experiments might not be the actual center of this x-file, though, but instead, what resentment, desperation, and vengeance might do to a man. There can be monsters even inside those that claim to be their hunters.
In so many ways, we’re all the worst monsters. And Skinner has fallen victim to a twisted one that has been waiting for him for a long time, one that was created out of misplaced betrayal. That’s just one stretch of this road, though.
Aside from what we knew before “Kitten,” why hasn’t Skinner risen to higher grounds in the FBI? Rotter’s thesis was that indeed -- Kersh is right. It has everything to do with Mulder and Scully and their pursuits. But what seemed so appealing about telling this story, is that he wanted to get to the revelation that such a burden - that hit on his career - wasn’t one, because Skinner would make the same choice again if given the opportunity. Now, the real reveal is why had he made that choice.
As we come to learn in the episode, and in the very poignant conversation between them: Mulder and Scully forced Skinner out of his comfort zone, “to shine the light into the darkest corners.” In a way, for a man that is shown as having nothing of a personal life, that had instead poured himself into his work, Mulder, and Scully, and their quest revitalized a man that would have otherwise retired without much but a pointless and unsatisfying end to his life. When he had all but lost hope and faith in what his purpose was, he found it again in protecting, or helping, or shepherding Mulder and Scully.
The problem then became: how to gain their trust back? The last few months and interactions between the trio have been painful. Each will have to take a leap-of-faith when it comes to trusting and being trusted.
On the one hand, Scully seems a lot more hesitant to mistrust Skinner… and on the other, Mulder appears to think that the Walter he knew is no more. And he’s right in his own way - Skinner has changed and is now involved in a dangerous game - but that also doesn’t mean that he’s not still trying to be by their side.
I loved that Gabe Rotter and Director Carol Banker gave Mitch Pileggi the opportunity of exploring the character at a range that we’ve only been able to enjoy in other shows like “Sons of Anarchy.” Skinner’s story isn’t pretty - he’s by all means, traumatized enough. He lets himself be sweet when no one is looking, maudlin when he’s not pulling rank, but he’s a tough man, one that doesn’t dwell on that pain.
Probably, this is why even when not intended, it is almost perfect that it has taken this long to come clean with Skinner. We’re probably at a watershed moment where not only is Skinner contemplating the end of a road, but we’re also - in the real world - leading toward the end of this show… maybe.
“He just loves this character so much, and he had really good ideas when we approached him, and Chris showed him the script,” Rotter tells me. “Mitch was the one I was most nervous about showing the script to - so I was so pleased when he loved it.” Gabe and Mitch recount that they went to team up much further as the process evolved.
“The studio wanted certain things, a tenderness to Skinner that didn’t settle with me,” explains Pileggi. “This is not Skinner. I really believed in what Gabe had written originally; it rang true to Skinner, so we fought for it and had to compromise in a few spots. But we kept what we believed Skinner should be; we stuck with it.”
“Skinner is driven, he’s got a mission, no matter what happens, whatever the cost to find out who did this to his friend,” Pileggi explains about his take on Skinner’s arc. “The GI experience is still with him, as much as it is still with many of our vets.” And he understands the situation as he grew up around the military. His father was a contractor, and then he would also work around the armed forces, but he managed not to serve in Vietnam. Still, he does know a lot of veterans and the issues that they face, the ever-present memories and traumas they encounter.
He recalls a particular experience with one of his theater colleagues; he would be what they’d call a “tunnel rat,” as in the men that would go into the tunnels. “He would only talk to me about this, he was obviously traumatized by the experiences he had to go through, and it really sank in, and it stuck with me. Having had friends that were there, in Vietnam, was part of my makeup… what I’ve been doing with Skinner in these scenes and in the show.”
“This episode explains so much of what he is: very serious, very dedicated,” Mitch continues to explain about his character and the question of loyalty as of late. “He has certain methods and certain ways of operating, of infiltrating - just like being in the military. And putting himself so close to the enemy is like they say: Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer…”
This does come at a cost for his character, he admits. Just like how he chose to follow on Mulder and Scully’s crusade, they can also choose to believe in him or not, because his ways are so questionable. Trust no one, or trust everyone? “And this will be the tone of what transpires on the rest of the season… where do we stand?” he says.
“Kitten” also pushed the envelope by how significantly graphic this was in comparison to other episodes of the season. At 8 pm, American TV doesn’t allow for much gory content, but the team made every effort to push the envelope as allowed. This is how we see the shocking impact of the memory that Skinner had once referenced to in the past when he had killed a young kid in the war.
This is also why, perhaps because it’s an episode being crafted by a team heavily invested in the texture of the show, on the themes and history of the show, as you watch, you catch glimpses of similarities with episodes like “Detour,” “Bad Blood,” and “Unrequited.” Not only is it the fact that Gabe Rotter knows this show backward and forwards, but also Carol Banker used to be the Script Supervisor of the show and has transitioned to being a coveted and talented director.
According to Rotter, working with Banker was a treat; a wonderful experience, full of laughter every day. Their friendship and work style also allowed for them to have a shorthand on set and great communication, as she’s a director that prefers to work closely with the writer on set. It allowed them to address many notes and adjustments and pin down the intention of scenes and dialogue as each had hoped.
Usually, when a guest director joins a show, the team holds a “tone meeting” to check that everyone is on the same page. Gabe recalls that they “went through every line, on every page, checking that we got everything right. She works with a fine detail that is kind of mindblowing. She over prepares which is nice.”
And so, I wish that we had gotten Banker to direct more episodes of The X-Files. There's a look and a vibe about this episode that she totally nails. In the world where everything is digital, this is very close to the film look we loved from the original show. The pace and style is a classic and cinematographic texture that makes you feel enveloped by the world they create this week.
All of that, summed up with a superb score by Mark Snow, the sober work of the Art Department, and the gifts of the guest cast - with talent local to Vancouver that continues to become more and more refined - it was a pretty well-rounded situation.
Rotter tells us that they were particularly impressed with Haley Joel Osment’s desire to be cast as John “Kitten” and Davey. Actors of his range usually work on offers, and while some didn’t think he was necessarily the right one for the part, he fought to get the role, putting himself on tape and proving that he could embody the psychopathic antagonist in the episode. He would end up navigating almost three different characters, between the initial John characterization, the crazy “Kitten,” and then his son, Davey.
Pileggi recalls many moments in the cold British Columbia forests as they shot the episode. Osment would really give it all in the action scenes and take the care to nail all the points that were pivotal for the episode. That is aside from being a great trooper and tolerating the tough conditions and hours of the necessary night shoots.
“Sixth Sense” jokes aside, Osment was quite creepy at times, and definitely the right choice, to the point that I can’t imagine this role going to anyone else.
Another unknown fact about the guest cast in the episode is that Pileggi's own nephew battled his way through casting to be able to land a role in the show. The story behind Pileggi’s casting is that he had auditioned twice for two different roles and hadn’t been able to charm the producers into a hire. Not until the third time, when he got cast as Skinner. And that happened to be the exact case for Corey Rempel - third time’s the charm for becoming Young Walter Skinner.
“By the end of his first day on set, I get this text message from him saying ‘well, that was the best day of my life…!'” he recalls, proudly. “He ended up landing an iconic role on the show, and I was just so excited!”
This episode is also one with drama and humor, hidden in between the tense situations, in the same vein of many episodes that have made the show famous.
Gabe attributes his tendency to mix the genres by learning from people like Vince Gilligan and his very own style, and by following closely the work of others such as Frank Spotnitz, Howard Gordon, and Tom Schnauz, just to mention a few. He matured trying to emulate what he loved from their work. His own particular style ranges more toward the “Dramedy” genre, but this particular episode had to be a lot more serious and dark than originally intended to convey Mulder and Scully’s worry for Skinner.
And there are character choices that are conscious while understated. Like Scully being the one to shoot Davey, intentionally. Not only to save Mulder and Skinner, but it also allowed for her boss not to add that to his guilt tally. Later on, when in the struggle between Skinner and Davey, Davey ends up dying, it’s because of his own faults, because he tried to kill Mulder and Scully, and this is the one thing that Skinner won’t allow.
But that’s the drama, now what about the humor?
“I love writing Mulder - he’s kind of a wise-ass, and that kind of writing speaks to me,” says Rotter. He and David are especially proud of the humor that was still allowed to remain in the cut.
The same can be said about the characters like Trigger and Stenzler, both hilarious, and a reminder of the quirkiness that attempted to keep a balance in an episode that otherwise is full of conspiracies entirely believable to many.
Beyond examining the past episodes, a lot of research went into the preparation for this episode, into having it make sense and giving it a narrative throughline. And while I have a few questions about details, like why does Skinner lose a tooth? Or, did John kill himself, or did Davey kill him out of mercy? Was Davey killing out of his own thwarted education or from seeing his dad? Did John's madness spread to his son? What kind of manipulation is happening in this town?... While I have those questions, this episode was really an essay about life, trust, loyalty, and guilt. And I’m more than fine with this because these are themes that we have been tiptoeing around. This is yet another step forward rather than a wading sideways.
“This is an episode for the fans, and for the people that love Skinner like I do,” says Rotter. “So I just hope that these details come through and they realize that this is really a love letter to Skinner.”
I don’t know about you guys, and chemtrails, be damned, but this is one of my favorite x-files.
Tune in on February 28th, for that one episode… yes, that one you don’t want to miss.
The sound of a chopper. The overcast skies of a tropical jungle. Super reads: “Near Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1969.”
The nervous foot tapping of a soldier that prays aboard the craft matches the mechanical rhythm of the engine. John “Kitten” James (Haley Joel Osment) is a young, chubby soldier in a small group being instructed by their commanding officer, as they fly over the jungle for a drop-off.
They’re to take care of a crate labeled “MK NAOMI” - he doesn’t elaborate on the contents of the container, and they’re supposed to protect it with their lives. The three young soldiers are obedient and afraid. They’re supposed to deliver the crate to Bravo company. They’re supposed to come back to be retrieved at 1900 hrs. Will this happen? It is a little fuzzy as they approach landing in a clearing as enemy fire hits their chopper.
They hit the ground running, carefully carrying the crate with them, wading through tall weeds as more shots come at them. They’re terrified. The helicopter takes off, more mortars land nearby, and Kitten and a younger lad (Corey Rempel) check on each other’s safety as they hide.
“Look at me, look at me!” he says. “Everybody is scared. I got your back, and you got mine, okay?”
“We go…” orders Quon (Johnson Phan) - the third member of the group, and they pick up the crate and run into the taller vegetation.
They spot a village, and Quon tells them to run to it, locating a house where they can hide from the gunfire. As Kitten and his young pal go in and set the crate down, they realize that numerous people are hiding in this hut too. They both look worried, and what’s worse, Quon was left behind. They have to get him. Kitten is freaking out; they were told to watch the crate with their lives.
His partner leaves and Kitten stays behind, nervous and on edge as another wave of shots hits the hut. The walls are too flimsy to keep them at bay, going through every surface as they take cover. Unfortunately, the crate has been hit… and from it, a yellow gas starts to emanate.
Meanwhile, the young soldier gets to Quon. He’s been hit and is passed out on the grass in pain. The soldier picks him up and drags him to the hut. That’s when they spot the gas coming out of the shanty and hear the screams from the people inside.
Even though hesitant, they have no other place to take cover, so they go into the hut, where more screams can be heard. The gas still hangs in the air, and the soldier calls out for John Kitten. In the confusion, and the limited visibility, a figure can be seen, and sounds of people getting stabbed can be heard.
That’s when the soldier spots John, who as if in a trance, is moving through the smoke. His figure transforms into a skeletal monster that’s coming at the soldier. He falls, and notices the multiple bodies on the floor, of all those people that had been hiding out with them. They’ve all been stabbed.
“Monsters,” John says, coming at the soldier, in a drugged up trance, holding a knife.
“John! It’s me!” He shouts in fear. “It’s me! It’s Skinner!”
Cut to credits, and this week’s tagline: “A War is Never Over.”
Mulder and Scully enter Deputy Director Kersh’s office. He’s already in a foul mood; not even a courteous ‘hello’ comes out of him.
“I’m going to ask you once, and only once...” Kersh says, not meeting their eyes. “Where is he?”
Mulder and Scully are confused; they don’t have any idea of who he’s referring to. Kersh doesn’t believe that they don’t know it, and counters with a question that maybe has plagued everyone’s minds: Why has Walter Skinner not been promoted within the FBI after 35 years?
That’s when it dawns on Scully that he’s referring to Skinner. Kersh is still in a passive-aggressive rant, offering a condescending explanation of Skinner’s career advances: he thinks his loyalty to them and their ‘so-called-quest for the truth’ has stalled his career.
Be it as it may, Mulder prompts him to explain what the current situation is that has put them in this conversation with him.
“Skinner has gone AWOL,” he says, with a somber shift to his previous mildly scolding tone. Skinner hasn’t explained his absence and Kersh doesn’t buy that Mulder and Scully aren’t in the know of this situation. He doesn’t know that their friendship has been a bit in the dumps as of late, though.
Kersh says that Skinner hasn’t been the same since Scully and Mulder returned to the bureau. Scully wonders if this is just a case of having an unreported medical emergency, but Kersh doesn’t think so. Instead, he tells them that the director of the FBI thinks that Skinner has been poking in places that he shouldn’t have. On top of that, he can’t share what kind of transgressions he’s been incurring.
“If you truly care about his future in the FBI, I suggest that you bring him back here while he still has a future to return to,” Kersh suggests, his manners now more controlled and almost as honest advise. I don’t know; it’s as if this guy actually has a heart or something.
Scully and Mulder are worried.
Cut to Skinner’s apartment in Alexandria, VA. Scully wonders what’s become of the Walter Skinner they knew and loved. Sometimes I wonder that myself. Mulder wonders about it too; he thinks their friendship might be gone, especially because of his behavior in the last few months. But something else is gnawing at Scully. Does Mulder agree that Skinner’s career and life have suffered because of their alliance, William, or even that whole business with Erica Price and her Russian hit team?
Mulder doesn’t know, but at any rate, he’d also be looking for any signs of cigarette butts.
When they enter Skinner’s apartment, they find it just like the last time they were here getting access to the PDF of all the X-Files archives. Impersonal, nothing that speaks that this isn’t just a hotel room or something. AirBNBs have more character than this apartment, and Mulder doesn’t miss a beat to joke about it.
Scully, on the other hand, feels icky about coming into Skinner’s realm, and there may be a reason for it, that I find very consistent. All that time that Mulder was gone, Skinner was there for her. And if we’re to make just the simple math of the amount of time and experiences lived together, they definitely have spent more time in the trenches together, but still, they know very little about him beyond the professional life. What’s the 411 on Walter Sergei Skinner?
Mulder finds a large bottle of Metamucil. Maybe this is -among other causes- the reason why Walter Skinner always looks so constipated? Regardless, if he has gotten in any trouble, even though Mulder doesn’t quite have a good opinion of the guy these days, he believes that not only do they need to help but also that he will forgive them for poking around in his characterless apartment.
That’s when Scully spots an open padded envelope on Skinner’s desk, addressed to Lance Corporal Walter Skinner - Third Battalion. Mulder grabs onto a little packet inside; a bundle of something wrapped in a piece of ripped newspaper. When he unwraps it, he jumps back. There, on top of a list of classifieds from Mud Lick Messenger, Kentucky, rests a desiccated human ear.
Scully pulls a note from the envelope, “The Monsters are here” - Mulder reads.
“Monsters, Mulder,” she says, holding up the note, keeping a slight smirk at bay. “Does that get your juices flowing?”
“As much as I appreciate any reference to my juices, Scully,” he states, mildly amused, “my only concern here is for Skinner.” She is also concerned now.
That’s when Mulder notices the name of the newspaper… and off we go to Mud Lick. The seventeen-year-old in me is giggling at the stoner reference, but whatever. We’re keeping it PG over here… even though this is going to be really hard.
Down the road to Mud Lick - in a Ford sedan, of course - Scully lets Mulder know that based on Skinner’s mail package she had requested some information about his platoon and so on, and she was told that she was prohibited from it by the Bureau since it was deemed classified, Top Secret.
Mulder tells her that the Sheriff at Mud Lick had confirmed that they have a corpse in their morgue that’s missing an ear, and Mulder has a hunch that he’ll be a member of Skinner’s platoon, part of that secret list.
When they arrive at the morgue, a homeless man (Patrick Keating) sits on the outside bench. He’s definitely in his own world, definitely a veteran.
“You ain’t gonna find no kitten,” he warns them as they walk by. Mulder recoils; what did he just say? “Ain’t no kitten out there,” the man insists.
Mulder and Scully look at the man with a mixture of pity and amusement and appease him as they move inside. The guy reserves his expression of, “fine, don’t listen to me then…” - I love this guy.
Inside the morgue, Mulder and Scully examine the corpse, as the Sheriff introduces them to the late Dr. Matthew Weighweisser. Sheriff Stenzler (Brendan Patrick Connor) explains that he was the town’s only doctor. According to him, he was highly regarded in town. He went out for a hike, to a known trail and never returned. His wife reported him missing. They’d found him on the trail, snagged by some kind of hunting trap. The body exhibits the classic Y incision from the autopsy performed, but also the missing ear and a wound in his abdomen in which the trap wounded him.
While the Sheriff just recounts it as if it’s an open and shut case, Mulder points out that the hunting trap wouldn’t account for the severed ear, or like Scully points out… the missing teeth the exam revealed that do not respond to any kind of decay or periodontic problems. The Sheriff is dumbfounded but also notes that coincidentally, he and his wife have also been missing teeth.
Scully notes that the hunting trap had left behind wood splinters that led to believe a spear had been the weapon that murdered the doctor. Stenzler describes it, and Mulder identifies it as a punji stick, a trap that would have been used in Vietnam. He wonders if the doctor was a veteran, but the sheriff is sure he wasn’t.
Scully wonders if there are any other Vietnam veterans in town. He confirms that there are plenty, especially since there’s an institution outside of town called Glazebrook. It’s a mental hospital run by the government. A lot of the vets were institutionalized there after the war, and a lot stuck around.
Mulder remembers the man outside the morgue. Stenzler identifies him as Triggy Davis, supposedly a harmless one. Scully wonders if they can get more info about Glazebrook’s patients. The Sheriff says that he’ll try his best to get anything, but that they run a tight ship over there. He’ll do anything he can do to dispel the rumors that there is a monster out in the woods committing these crimes. Yup, Mulder’s juices are flowin’.
Cut to the muddied ground and rotten leaves, as the paws of a hunting dog trot past a camera in the forest. A hunter carefully walks just behind him, rifle in hand. The pup whimpers, definitely running after something he’s got his nose on. The hunter listens for any sign, as a camouflaged figure runs behind and past him. The hunter follows the noise, and the growls and barks of the dog, as we see the figure scurrying around. The dog barks incessantly now - he’s definitely spotted the monster.
The man walks toward the dog, and just as he’s about to get to her, he falls down a trap that’s been covered with leaves. Hours later, darkness has fallen. The dog is still by the side of the hole, whimpering as we hear steps approaching. The beam of a flashlight illuminates the hunter’s impaled corpse at the bottom of the trap. And then the reveal… Walter Skinner is the one holding the light.
Cut to the next morning. Mulder, Scully, the Sheriff and Ed - another hunter - stand above the trap hole. The body is still at the bottom. Ed recounts the story he has already shared with Stenzler: Banjo - the hunter - had told him that he had spotted a monster in the woods and he had asked if he would come and take a look around with him. When they were in the middle of the hunt, the man disappeared. Ozzie Cragger - AKA Banjo - was the owner of the land they’re standing on.
Ed tells them that at first Banjo had thought he had spotted a bear, but then he said that he had seen horns on the monster. A monster that walked on two feet, just like the people in town had described.
Banjo was also a Vietnam vet, also missing teeth, just like Ed. Mulder continues the conversation as Scully checks the perimeter, spotting a small box tied to one of the trees. It happens to be a “Deer-cam” - it sends alerts to your phone and records whenever there’s movement. They can review the content back at the station. But Ed is puzzled by this find, because he doesn’t remember Banjo owning any of these gadgets, and he hung out with him every week.
Back at the police station, Stenzler hooks up the SD card to a reader, and they start reviewing the surveillance video. Since the camera is motion-activated, it doesn’t take long to find what they’re looking for. On the screen, they see the portion of the footage that shows Banjo falling down the trap. And then more footage as the camera activated hours later; it catches Skinner peering down to where the man lays dead. When the Sheriff zooms in on the footage, he asserts that this man has to be the killer. Mulder and Scully trade worried glances; they can’t believe it.
The Sheriff catches them not sharing this info; he knows that they know the man in the video and is offended that they’re not cooperating by revealing his name. It’s a bit comical, honestly; he’s hurt in a funny way. So much so that I think even Gillian breaks out of character for a slight second.
Stenzler gets up and tells them that he’s going to tell his people that they’ve found the monster. It is his priority to stop the crazy rumors after all. But Scully stops him and reluctantly reveals that the man in the video is Assistant Director of the FBI, Walter Skinner, their boss. They assure him that they’re here to find out why Skinner is in Mud Lick, but that they’re sure he wasn’t the perpetrator. Skinner is a good and smart man that wouldn’t commit such a sloppy murder. Scully defends him, saying not that he’s not capable of murder, but that if he were, he wouldn’t be caught on camera at the crime scene.
But Stenzler points out his distrust in her argument; What’s Skinner doing by the crime scene in the middle of the night, why didn’t he report it to the authorities or even the bureau?
Mulder doesn’t have an answer but assures him that Skinner is not his man. The Sheriff won’t let go, mocking Mulder’s assurance, and saying that he’ll be the one to decide if Skinner is the man or not. He takes off to put an APB on Skinner, leaving Mulder and Scully behind by the computer and the footage. Mulder is sure there’s more on the tape. He continues fast-forwarding on it as Scully looks out to check that the Sheriff doesn’t catch them examining the evidence without him present.
That’s when they spot another figure crossing the camera, the one the hunter saw, one that has the same monstrous skeletal face John Kitten saw.
As they exit the police station, Scully wonders what it is that they actually saw, and dreads that Mulder is even entertaining the idea that there really is a monster. He agrees that monsters don’t build traps with spears - says who, now? - and that he’s more concerned about Skinner’s state of mind. Oh, Mulder, you lost your edge at some point. Did you forget about Detour? Did those fantasies of sleeping bags falling from the sky muddle your memory? Anyway.
Scully thinks that maybe Skinner is suffering from a delayed case of PTSD from his time in Vietnam and that maybe the package that he received was the possible trigger. Mulder holds on to that last word. Trigger. Like that man… Trigger, Banjo… Kitten?
They go back to Trigger, who’s still sitting down by the morgue. Mulder asks him if Kitten is a person, but he then tells him that he told “Eagle” where to find Kitten’s kitten… Mulder muses… is “Eagle” bald?
Oh Gabe Rotter, honestly, I love this pun.
Cut to Walter Skinner, in a car in the woods outside a beat up trailer. When he gets out of the car, he checks out the eerie surroundings. There are small animals caged around the structure, a deer hanging from its’ hind legs as the blood drains from it, and weird sounds coming from everywhere. He comes up to the entrance and knocks. There’s no response, so he enters cautiously, calling out and announcing himself. He checks out the details of the inside of this trailer. Everything is mostly tidy, even if it’s old decor from years past. Then he spots a framed picture on the wall; it’s John in his formal Marine uniform and a woman with a toddler. The woman’s face has been cut out from the picture. Then he finds a thick photo album that he peruses. It’s full of early age pictures, and then many from John’s time with the platoon. He smiles at the memories, as he finds a picture of their younger selves, smiling to the camera. But then darker memories come.
John is telling this story about a recent stakeout, as he plays cards with the other members of the platoon. He’s not the scaredy kitten we saw at the beginning. He’s smug and roughed up. In his story, he’s found a young kid in a ditch that he thinks is dead. He grabs his knife and cuts his ear to add to the collection that hangs from his neck when the kid screams and runs away and into the jungle. The other soldiers are a bit disgusted but entertained by the story. Maybe incredulous, maybe scared. Young Skinner is at a distance cleaning his rifle when another soldier notices that Kitten is bleeding from his mouth. A tooth has come loose, and he pulls it out with zero effort. He makes a joke that this has been the third tooth he lost that week and that there oughta be a tooth fairy in Vietnam.
That’s when Skinner sees a kid coming up to them, behind Kitten. The boy is bloodied and with a resolute expression on his face. It’s the kid that Kitten attacked. From his neck hang an array of grenades. As the kid gets closer, Skinner sees the trigger in his hand. The kid screams in anger. Skinner shouts for the soldiers to get down, shooting and killing the kid with a gunshot to the head. It’s pretty gory… and again, you know, blood and violence at 8 pm but no swear words, correct? Okay.
This memory is painful, even though Kitten celebrated Skinner saving them from the kid.
Back in the present day, Skinner is now troubled as he holds the photo album.
“What are you doing in my house?” asks a man looking very much like John, with long hair and a lost, angry expression.
But it’s not him; it turns out he’s Davey - John’s son. Skinner reacts with demure glee at figuring out who the man is. Davey recognizes him too, but his reaction is not as pleasant. He says that his father talks a lot about him, and Skinner recognizes that they went through a lot together.
As it happens, John appears to blame Skinner for how their life turned out to be ruined. Even calling him “baby killer” - apparently, because of the testimony that Skinner provided after the war, John ended up institutionalized for thirty-eight years in Glazebrook. The thing is that until John reached out to him last week - possibly with that EARry package - Skinner thought that John had been dead. He had tried to look for him and reach out himself, but all the info had been classified.
Skinner blames the people that turned him into the crazy person he became during the war - he only wants to help him. But Davey doesn’t believe him. John told him all the stories about his time in Vietnam, how it was the gas that he was exposed to that made him seem crazy, see the monsters that were out there, but no one believed him, not even Davey’s mother. Only Davey believed him. Skinner explains that it was all the gas, that such monster never existed. He was a victim of the gas himself; he saw how it affected John. But he didn’t defend him in court when they came back. Davey scolds him for not doing so, and Skinner seems regretful of his actions.
The guy goes on to explain that he would visit his father at the facility, where they’d made him sign non-disclosure documents. John was wasting away in the hospital, isolated and locked up. “How could you let that happen to your friend?” Davey asks, with contained anger.
Skinner explains that he was also bound by the secrecy; he was told not to speak about the gas, ordered by his superiors. He doesn’t think it was alright and he’s regretted it since; he thinks about it every day. But Davey has to understand that John murdered numerous people. And he knows that he was a different person before the exposure to the gas, but after that happened, John was dangerous and needed to be stopped. He’s back looking for him to try to make things right and help him. Skinner asks him to take him to John… and Davey reluctantly accepts.
Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully drive as she reads whatever little they’ve found on John. They know he was a patient at Glazebrook but that his files are also classified. Mulder’s thoughts are elsewhere, though.
“You think is true, Scully - what Kersh said?” Mulder asks out of the blue.
“What’s that?” she answers, distractedly.
“We’re the sole reason why Skinner’s career hasn’t advanced in thirty-some years?” he extends.
“God, I hope not,” she says. “I’d like to believe that his choice to stay loyal to us was exactly that: a choice. But there’s one thing I know about Walter Skinner is that he’s a man ruled by his moral compass, above all else.”
But Mulder has a bit of doubt over this, as of late. Scully realizes he hasn’t been consistent to what they would expect of him, but she thinks they should give him the benefit of the doubt, especially in light of what they know he has probably sacrificed for them. She hopes they can find him before someone else does. Mulder - while doubtful - he’s still worried.
Meanwhile, night has fallen, and Davey and Skinner venture into the woods behind his trailer home. Skinner is nervous, but according to the guy, they don’t have to walk too far. That’s when Davey stops and points the flashlight in his hand to the top of the trees. There hangs John - he’s killed himself, his body suspended by a rope, wearing his Marine uniform. Skinner reacts to it, in sad pain. He tries to approach the tree, and it’s then that he falls into the trap beneath him. Davey has set this up, and he’s giddy that this has happened. Skinner is alive, but one of the wooden spears of the trap has gone through his side.
Davey puts the flashlight to his face, in the most sinister but mocking way: “Now who sees monsters?” He laughs as he slams his knife into the rope holding John’s body. It falls in the darkness, into the trap, impaled right next to Skinner.
Davey is standing right next to the hole, as Skinner pleads with him to get him out when we see the beams of a car’s headlights shining. Davey rushes to pull a rope attached to a sheet of metal that will cover the hole. Skinner screams for help, but Davey rushes to meet the visitors. It’s Mulder and Scully. They’ve arrived in their FORD sedan. It has cool lights guys.
Davey comes up to the front of the trailer to meet them, and the guys identify themselves. Scully lets him know that they’re looking for John. He clarifies that he’s his son. Mulder tells him that they’re also looking for Walter Skinner, who they believed served in Vietnam with John. Davie lies and tells them that he hasn’t heard that name ever; he’s playing it cool. When they ask him about his father, he also says that he hasn’t seen him in weeks. Scully pushes it, asking if they could come inside to chat about certain details, and Davey is nothing but charming. He ushers them inside, as they curiously observe the variety of caged animals around the home.
Meanwhile, Skinner tries to call using his phone, but there’s no signal. He’s in noticeable pain as he sees the man lying next to him, the kitten tattoo on John’s wrist. He sets the phone down to let its’ light guide him as he painfully tries to pull the spears off his torso.
Inside the trailer, Davey makes small talk. He comments that he’s never met real FBI agents before. That his father said there are only two refuges in life from sorrow: music, and cats. He turns on a turntable as he demurely checks on the trap through the window before him. The music will cover any screams coming from Skinner.
“I think cats are creepy…” Davey says as the music floods the room - it's John Cale’s “Fear is a Man’s Best Friend” - He offers them tea that they refuse, the music a little too loud. Mulder and Scully have to raise their voices. She asks if John was a patient at Glazebrook. He confirms it, a bit distracted by Mulder who’s poking around, taking a look at all the keepsakes and such that decorate the room. Scully asks when he was released and why, and Davey confirms that a month ago they had decided that John wasn’t a danger to himself or others and they let him go.
“But… I guess he was a threat to someone…” Davey says, provocatively, sarcastic. Mulder has noticed the cut-up picture of John and his wife. Mulder asks if that’s his mother and Davey confirms it. She’d passed away many years ago, and that John’s incarceration had been rough on her. When Mulder asks how she died, Davey refuses to explain. Mulder and Scully find it suspicious.
Then Scully digs into the previous statement, of John being a threat to someone, what did he mean by that? Davey says that he had secrets about the government.
He explains that John had been poisoned by an experimental gas in Vietnam. Because of this exposure, he and others have been subjected to tests and more experiments in Glazebrook. People that would have the same hallucinations that John would see in the jungle. Mulder wonders what kind of tests he was subjected to.
“Chemical, biological… they were trying to learn how to control human behavior,” Davey explains. They would use people’s fears to turn them violent.
Scully prompts if he thinks that they were using the gas as a weapon to provoke these experiments and reactions. What is his theory? Davey thinks that at the time of the Vietnam War the gas wasn’t as developed, but after all these years they’re getting close. But to what end, Scully wonders as Mulder takes advantage of the conversational distraction to poke into the photo album he sees on the shelf.
“Imagine the power of a government that could literally control the minds of millions and millions of its’ citizens;” Davey explains. “To influence every choice and decision they make, simply by exposing them to this poison...”
Scully is a bit surprised as to where this conversation is going, checking in on Mulder at times. She thinks that this just sounds like a dystopian novel. Davey thinks that this is what’s happening now. He thinks it's naive to think that after all the years of experiments, on people and war heroes like his father, that the US government would just sit on that technology and not use it on the population.
Mulder plays the good cop on him, agreeing with him, remembering that the DOD has been experimenting with mind control since the 50’s, with a variety of projects like the MK Ultra and MK Delta. Scully reminds him too that those programs had been put to an end in the early eighties. But did they really? Davey says that John had been exposed to MK Naomi, a successor of MK Ultra. He doesn’t know how the chemical is being used, but he knows for certain that they are.
Mulder directs his attention to the pages in the photo album, and that’s when he spots the picture with Kitten and Skinner. Hmm. Davey continues with his rant: he thinks that they’re putting the chemicals, maybe, in the food, the water supply or via chemtrails on commercial planes that fly over the country.
Scully is just about done with the paranoia. She has Mulder for that… and Mulder himself has had enough of this. He thanks Davey and prompts Scully to leave. She’s surprised by the abruptness, and so is Davey. She mutters to him as they walk to the car, what’s going on? But Mulder asks her just to keep going and for her to take the wheel. Davey waves goodbye as they drive away… he hides a knife behind his back.
Scully asks Mulder if he’s going to explain himself. It turns out that even though Davey had led them to believe that he’d never heard Skinner’s name, the album said otherwise, with numerous pictures that showed that John and Skinner were good friends. And on top of that, he also spotted the new SUV that was parked in the back. That car could be Skinner’s… so why are they driving away, Scully asks.
Mulder asks her to stop on the side of the road to let him out and to drive closer to town to get a phone signal. She needs to call the sheriff and ask him to come to Davey’s property with every man available so they can search the grounds. Meanwhile, he would do what he hopes what Skinner would do for the both of them. Scully is worried… Mulder, alone, in the woods, at night, with a gun. What could go wrong?
I believe that last time that Skinner was included in this formula, ET came to visit, took Mulder aboard a spaceship to drill things in his cheeks and palate while his partner was preggers…
Oh, well… I’m sure that’s not gonna happen again, right?
Mulder comes back to the trailer. The music is still playing, and on one of the trees there’s one of the deer cams, but he doesn’t notice it. He runs stealthily to the entrance of the home, gun in hand. He peeks through one of the windows but doesn’t see Davey anywhere. He enters, cautiously, and checks inside. Nope - Davey is not there. He spots a closet, and in there he sees the costume that he’s seen in the video - the skeleton mask hangs inside.
Just then, the turntable finishes playing the record and Mulder hears Skinner’s screams outside. He rushes out, but we stay in the closet because Mulder missed that Davey was actually hiding in the oversized suit and he walks out after Mulder without him noticing.
Meanwhile, Scully has stopped by the side of the road, looking for a cell phone signal, but there is none, so instead, she has to drive further out toward Mud Lick.
Mulder has run to the back of the property, guiding himself with his flashlight and Skinner’s shouts, until he reaches the covered trap. He spots the piece of rope on the ground and lifts it, revealing the entrance to the hole. Skinner is surprised to see Mulder. I mean, who else is going to come and save your unfortunate derriere, Walter? He asks him to get him out of the trap, but once he drags the metal sheet off and fixes the rope to pull him off, Davey comes at him dressed in the skeleton costume. Mulder gets spooked, can’t pull his gun out fast enough and he pushes him into the trap. Thankfully he doesn’t get hurt. When they look up, Davey is gone, so Skinner tells Mulder that he’ll push him out of the trap so he can get out and pull him up. But as they get ready, Davey is back, dousing them with gasoline. Skinner pleads, the two of them bracing themselves for an excruciating death… Walter Skinner and Fox Mulder should NEVER go on a trip to the forest.
But then, Davey falls to the side of the trap. He’s been shot. Scully is here to save the day, all badass and wielding her gun. Davey is down, and the other two doofuses are dumbfounded that the girl is saving their soon-to-be s’mored souls.
Scully throws the rope to Mulder, and he climbs out, but Davey has taken off. Skinner tells them to go after him, so they take off into the woods. He’s in pain and bleeding.
Meanwhile, the forest is booby-trapped everywhere, and Mulder and Scully navigate it in the limited field of sight they have with their flashlights. Davey scurries through the trees, knowing where the traps are and leading them on to a dangerous tripwire that holds a spear box. When he’s about to cut it and impale them, Skinner comes out of nowhere and wrestles him to the ground, fighting over the knife and the access to the wire. Mulder and Scully jump aside, away from the men scuffling on the dirt but then they spot the spears, realizing how close they were to getting killed. And now the trap is directly above Davey and Skinner. They fight some more, Davey tries to escape, but accidentally trips the support stake and triggers the coil. Mulder jumps back, pushing Scully out of harm’s way, Skinner scrambles out just in time. Davey is the only one hit, impaling himself to death.
You’re okay, Walter Skinner. You’ll live to die another day.
A few hours later, the sun has come up, and Scully tends to Skinner’s wound in Davey’s living room. It’s a nasty wound, you guys. Mulder confirms that an ambulance is on its way and that he thinks that Skinner should call Kersh as soon as they get cell service. He picks up on the odd vibe of such a suggestion as per Mulder’s tired but hesitant expression.
“Something you wanna share?” Skinner probes.
“Kersh indicated to us that… we were responsible for the lack of upward mobility in the Bureau,” Scully explains, hesitant, almost sad and embarrassed.
“If it weren’t for you two, I wouldn’t be here right now,” he says, not quite meeting her eye, and equally sober and sad. “I’m not talking about the fact that you showed up here today.”
They listen to him; Mulder is still cautious, as if he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. Scully continues dressing his wound, maybe to occupy herself, maybe because she’s also avoiding having to justify those thoughts. Walter reaches for the photo album discarded nearby, opening it up to the page where his pictures are.
Skinner tells them that he had enlisted the day that he had turned eighteen. He had a callous faith in the country and the system. That he was doing the right thing. John was drafted into the military, and his life was destroyed by a war he didn’t understand. Skinner had tried to protect him, but he couldn’t. It’s noticeable just how painful it is for him.
The experience that both of them had in Vietnam put a dent in the faith that he had in the government. “It planted seeds of distrust…” he explains. “I tried for years to suppress that mistrust, but it gnawed at me.” He scoffs. Scully feels for him, maybe commiserating, her father was a military man as well. Mulder listens, somber but bracing... expectant.
“And you two--” he continues, looking at them as if he can’t believe that they would think otherwise. “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...”
Someone hold me, because I’m being attacked by feels.
“And if given the choice between advancing my career by being blindly loyal to some faceless puppeteers, pulling strings from the shadows, but betraying you two... “ he looks at them, and I can’t breathe too easy over here. “Make no mistake about it: I’d make the same decision every single damn time.”
Scully looks at Mulder - she told you so, man. She may have doubted… but she was definitely in the Skinner camp. Mulder is accounting for his words, thoughtful, but not quite there yet.
“So, I’m gonna go back, and I’m gonna kiss the ring,” Skinner continues, looking at the picture in his hand. “But I intend to do right by this man. And if that means finding the truth about what they used him for - no matter the cost - I owe him that. I owe myself that.”
He scrambles painfully to get up from his seat, still holding onto the picture, and Scully helps him out. There’s a silent thank you to her as he starts his way to the door and Scully walks to Mulder who gets up as his boss goes by.
“Skinner…” he says, his expression a bit more resolute… as if he really has no choice than this one, even though he’s fighting it. “We’re with you.” In reality, it is a gamble and a question of trust.
Walter Skinner is humbled by it.
He walks out, the ambulance has arrived, and then he realizes… he’s bleeding from his mouth, but for a different reason. A tooth has come loose… and he pulls it out, a bit surprised… a bit resigned.
Somewhere on the outskirts of Mud Lick, an unmarked truck drives on a lonely road in the early morning. When they open the cargo, they’re parked by a hangar, and they take down a military plastic crate with the markings: E946LO24K. A small plane takes off… and then we hear the last of Davey’s paranoid poison theory - that doesn’t seem to be so false anymore - as a plane sprays a yellow gas over the plants and fields nearby.
A commercial plane flies higher up. “It’s happening; it’s happening right now.”