Eric Millner/FOX
February 07, 2018 at 09:00 PM EST

The X-Files

TV Show
Drama, Mystery, Sci-fi
Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny
Chris Carter
Current Status
In Season
We gave it a B-

In the light of day, as Scully bandages Skinner’s mild flesh wound, the partners admit that Kersh suggested they’re the reason the Bureau doesn’t love Skinner, as if that never occurred to them before. Earlier, to Mulder, Scully reasoned that it was ultimately Skinner’s own choice to stay loyal to them — but does it really absolve them if the only other item on the list of reasons why Skinner hasn’t advanced his career is “the intangible concept of free will”? But Skinner doesn’t blame Mulder and Scully either, telling them, “If it wasn’t for you two, I wouldn’t be here right now, and I’m not talking about the fact that you showed up here today.” Like Scully, he defines his life by choice: He enlisted; John James was drafted. Watching the war upend John’s life poked holes in Skinner’s faith in the government. “You two came along,” he says, “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 about it, I’d make the same decision every damn time.” It’s a speech so good and so well delivered that it almost makes this episode’s chaotic ambiguities feel appropriate: In a story with a lot of open ends, Mulder and Scully still make sense.

As Skinner finally makes his way to an ambulance, Mulder and Scully recommit to their boss: “We’re with you.” They never had a good reason not to be, but there’s still something a little charming about the fact that nothing of substance really happened here. Skinner didn’t admit anything about what the Smoking Man told him; there was nothing for the three of them to work through. Fear was undone by trust alone: an exchange of faith to make up for what Skinner lost in the war. But coming as it does just after this season’s halfway point, this episode misses major opportunities to mine potential conflicts, trading the bigger story for a theme that isn’t even new to the show.

Fear as a weapon has been done on The X-Files; fear as an X-File was done just a few episodes ago. There’s a retro vibe to all of this, right down to Scully and Mulder’s dynamic with Skinner and each other, but the straightforward throwback feels out of step with a season that’s spent so much time interrogating the purpose of nostalgia. The episode ends with a biplane flying over Mud Lick, spraying its crops with a form of the gas; this must be why everyone in town (plus Skinner) is losing teeth. Whatever shot this scene had at subtlety is lost when a voice-over from Davey kicks in, repeating what he told Mulder and Scully earlier: “Imagine the power of a government that could literally control the minds of millions and millions of its citizens, could influence every choice and decision they made simply by exposing them to this poison. It’s happening. It’s happening right now.” Again, Davey, we get it.

The visual calls back to a couple of other X-Files stories about tainted crops: not only that iconic corn field from the 1998 movie, but also season 2’s “Blood,” which, like “Kitten,” dealt with pesticides that heightened existing paranoia. In one biting line in “Blood,” Mulder calls fear “the oldest tool of power. If you’re distracted by fear of those around you, it keeps you from seeing the actions of those above.” Comparatively, this episode is (literally) toothless; there’s no commentary here on why the government hopes to heighten people’s fears in order to incite violence. Scully tells Davey that his idea sounds like a dystopian novel; it does, but it also sounds like the same view of America in 2018 that The X-Files has taken all season. “Kitten” just never connects the dots.

Open files:

  • At least this episode wasn’t a throwback behind the scenes: Carol Banker is only the third woman to direct an X-Files episode, joining Gillian Anderson and Michelle MacLaren in a too-small club.
  • Mitch Pileggi nailed that last monologue.
  • Eagle is bald, but Eagle wasn’t bald then. So how’d he get his nickname? (I was really hoping Skinner would be Kitten.)
  • Do we think the mustachioed man who was compelled to kick John at Glazebrook was meant to be a younger version of Ozzie, the hunter who was trapped in the first pit?
  • I love Scully defending Skinner on the basis that if he murdered, he’d be better at it.
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