- TV Show
- Drama, Mystery, Sci-fi
- Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny
- Chris Carter
- Current Status
- In Season
We gave it a B-
The ear and the note were wrapped in a newspaper clipping from Mud Lick, Kentucky, so Mulder and Scully follow Skinner’s trail to the rural community, where too many people — including the town doctor, whose body was found with an ear cut off — have been turning up dead in punji stick traps, a staple of the Vietnam War. When one local veteran falls into a pit in the woods, a motion-activated camera catches Skinner standing over the body. The sheriff rushes to put out an APB without bothering to see how the footage ends, but Mulder and Scully sneak a peek: A figure in a horned, skull-like mask looms toward the lens.
For once, the partners are in agreement that they’re not dealing with an actual monster. In counterpoint to all of this weaponized fear, Mulder and Scully are a united front in “Kitten” (just look how many times I’ve already written “Mulder and Scully” in this recap). But for most of the hour, Skinner stands a little bit outside that circle of trust; even though they’re defending his good name and working to prove his innocence, the fear that he’s turned a dark corner still colors Mulder and Scully’s private conversations, which would be more effective if they had any sensible basis for that fear. They still don’t know the one good reason to be at odds with Skinner: He’s keeping secret everything he knows about CSM’s alleged role in Scully’s pregnancy. By leaving that issue off the table, this episode misses out on the potential for real, emotional tension, giving the agents so little to work with (a few ignored phone calls and dodged questions: hardly world-ending betrayal) that they just look disloyal. Maybe that, too, is part of the point — fear and logic rarely coexist — but after 25 years, this mistrust is a little too illogical.
Obviously, Skinner’s motives are all on the level. Though we never do find out how he found that body in the woods, he didn’t call it in because he’s on a mission to help his friend. But John’s son Davey (Haley Joel Osment in a dual role) says his father blamed Skinner for the way their lives turned out: John spent 38 years at nearby mental institution Glazebrook, where he was experimented on even further in order to advance the development of the gas. It’s implied that Davey’s mother killed herself (her face is cut out of a photo on the wall, possibly in a nod to season 4’s “Demons,” in which a man shot himself after cutting his face out of every photo he could find). Skinner’s testimony helped set all of this in motion, and he bears that guilt even though you get the sense the military would have had its way regardless. This is the moral gray area we’ve come to expect from Skinner: He believed in the system and paid the price.
But he wants to make things right, and Davey, ominously, agrees to take Skinner to his father. After nightfall, he leads Skinner to a tree outside his trailer, where a man in uniform hangs high in a noose. Did John manage to hang himself from this very tall tree? Did he kill himself elsewhere and Davey moved the body like bait? Or, despite Davey’s claim that his father was “driven” to this, was John killed at his son’s hand — or the government’s? Davey says his father was released after almost four decades because he was no longer a danger, but clearly he was. They made him that way.
John may have been the only member of his family to breathe the gas, but he wasn’t the only one infected by it. For Davey, the idea of it has become as potent as the gas itself, pushing him to become the monster his father sees. When Skinner steps closer to the body, he drops into a pit and is impaled through the abdomen — which isn’t quite the mild flesh wound this episode makes it out to be — and Davey hovers over him with a flashlight to his face: “Now who sees monsters?” (We get it, Davey.) While Mulder and Scully interrogate Davey, Skinner is left to bleed out, his cries for help drowned out by John Cale’s “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend” on vinyl. Davey claims he’s never heard of Skinner, but his family photo albums give him away, so Mulder doubles back on foot as soon as they’ve driven far enough from the trailer to throw Davey off the scent, leaving Scully to call for help.
The attempted rescue is cut short when Davey, in full monster getup, rams Mulder into the pit, though at least Mulder lands close enough to the wall to avoid the spikes. It almost looks like Skinner pushes him to safety. Skinner, still remarkably conscious, offers to give Mulder a boost (aww), but Davey returns with gasoline and a lighter — and then Scully shoots him from behind (AWWW). Unfortunately, being impaled with multiple punji sticks seems to be the only injury that sticks in this town, and by the time Scully has thrown Mulder a rope, Davey’s disappeared. The agents chase after him, paying too little attention to their feet for how many traps are in these woods. Right before they hit a tripwire, Skinner comes out of nowhere and knocks Davey to the ground, punching him repeatedly. Davey crawls right back into the wire, releasing a grid of wooden stakes; Skinner rolls out of the way just in time, but Davey is killed, taking everything he knows about his father’s last days with him. (Next: Call your dentist)