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THE X-FILES “Kitten” Review

By on February 8, 2018

THE X-FILES: L-R: Mitch Pileggi and guest star Haley Joel Osment. Co. Cr: Eric Millner/FOX






For Walter Skinner, the war is never over.

In Vietnam in 1969, Skinner’s unit was tasked with the care of a crate obscurely labeled MK Naomi; they were to protect it with their lives.  Before they can make delivery, they fall under fire, and the crate is riddled with bullets, leaking a neon yellow gas into the air.  Under the gas’s influence, Skinner’s comrade sees him as a monster and nearly kills him, just as he had the unfortunate villagers also hiding in the small hut.

Mulder and Scully come face to face with Deputy Director Kersh, who still hates them both as vehemently as he did sixteen years ago, but he nonetheless must ask their help in finding Skinner now that he’s gone AWOL.  The agents haven’t a clue where he’s gone, but Mulder plans to “keep [his] eyes peeled for cigarette butts.”

Skinner’s apartment is antiseptic in its appearance, absent of any mementos or personal items that would indicate that a real person actually lives here.  Other than his unfortunate proclivity for constipation—and the fact that his middle name is apparently Sergei, of all things—“we know precious little” about this critical character.

They find an envelope addressed to Lance Corporal Walter Skinner, and inside is a desiccated human ear, along with a note:  “The monsters are here.”

The ear is wrapped in a piece of newspaper from Mud Lick, Kentucky, so the agents head there to determine the connection to Skinner.  Since the sheriff in the town reports their morgue has a body with a missing ear, Mulder’s guessing both belong to one of Walter’s former platoon members; however, when they try to access Skinner’s military records via the FBI, they are denied access as the information is classified top-secret.

The victim is the town’s only doctor, who’d apparently been caught in a hunting trap on a trail that he hiked regularly; the trap was a Pungee stick, a device used in Vietnam, though the doctor was not a veteran of the war.  In addition to his missing ear, he was missing a number of teeth, which seems to be the case with most people in town.

The rumor about town:  there’s a monster lurking in the woods.  When we see another hunter fall into a Burmese tiger pit, it seems possible; but the light that later shines down into that hole to check its capacity is held by Skinner himself.  The deer cameras on nearby trees not only record Skinner peering into the pit, they also trap the same deer-skull monster that had appeared to the Marine in Skinner’s unit that fateful day in 1969.

THE X-FILES: David Duchovny (L). Co. Cr: Shane Harvey/FOX

As Mulder and Scully try to enter the morgue in Mud Lick, they are warned by a dubious man in grubby clothing that they will be unable to find a “kitten” out there.  There is a government-run psychiatric hospital just outside of town called Glazebrook, and it is no surprise that this man, Trigger Davis, is a patient there.  Ultimately, they return to Trigger to ask if ‘Kitten’ is someone’s nickname.  He stutters out that he “told the eagle where to find Kitten’s kitten.”  Mulder realizes that he refers to a bald eagle, a.k.a., Walter himself.

Kitten, it seems, is Skinner’s platoon member who’d nearly killed him when under the influence of the MK Naomi gas.  Skinner lets himself into the trailer in the woods, leafing through a photo album, recalling an incident at camp in Vietnam when Kitten had been bragging about adding another charm to his necklace—a ring of human ears strung together like popcorn for a Christmas tree—and popping a tooth out of his mouth for the third time that week, just before a bomb-strapped teenager wandered into camp.  Skinner killed the young man and saved the whole unit.

The trailer is owned by Kitten’s son Davey, who recognizes Skinner as Baby Killer, based upon his dad’s stories.  Davey blames Skinner for their lives going down the toilet.  Once Skinner testified against Kitten after the war, the soldier spent 38 years in Glazebrook.  No one believed his father’s story that there were monsters in the jungles of Vietnam and that his exposure “to a weaponized, experimental gas” was what had changed him.

Davey agrees to take Skinner to his father, and he leads Walter to a tree in the woods from which hangs a male figure in a Marine dress uniform.  When a stricken Skinner steps forward to get his friend down, he falls into another tiger pit.  A stake at the bottom of the pit has pierced his side.  Davey gleefully hisses, “Now who sees monsters?” and cuts the rope, leaving Walter and the corpse in their makeshift grave.

When our agents show up at his trailer, Davey explains to them that their father had been abruptly released from the hospital a month before as he was deemed to not be a threat to himself or others.  However, he asserts that his father had been a threat due to Kitten’s secrets about the government’s continual tests on him and other soldiers with the same gas he’d been exposed to during the war.  Davey asserts that the MK Naomi gas was a successor program to MK-Ultra, one in a series of mind control projects that the C.I.A. and D.O.D. had engaged in since the 1950’s.

The agents appear to leave, but they double back, finding the monster costume in a closet in the trailer and hearing Skinner’s cries coming from the pit.  When Mulder tries to extract him, he is pushed into the pit by Davey, who then sprinkles them with gasoline.  Before he can thrown down his lighter, Scully shoots Davey, but he is able to disappear into the woods.

THE X-FILES: L-R: Mitch Pileggi and David Duchovny. Co. Cr: Shane Harvey/FOX

Before Mulder and Scully can get to him, he is suddenly attacked by Skinner (who, despite his sizable abdominal wound, has somehow gotten himself out of the pit unassisted and run through the woods faster than two healthy adults who’d gotten a gigantic head start).  Skinner disables Davey, and the young man falls victim to another of his own traps.

In the end, has Skinner’s career fallen victim to Mulder and Scully?  Not exactly.  When he enlisted as a Marine, he did it on “callow self-confidence…and this uncorrupted belief that [he] was doing the right thing.”  He’d seen it as his duty to protect people like his friend Kitten, and he hadn’t; he couldn’t.  Skinner had been precluded from mentioning the gas at Kitten’s trial, and the government had the soldier’s records sealed.  His experiences tarnished his blind faith, and Mulder and Scully gave him “the guts to shine a light directly into the darkest corners.”

Earlier, Scully had pronounced Skinner “ruled by his moral compass above all else.”  Mulder had been less certain, but Scully encourages him to give Walter the benefit of the doubt.  Skinner’s behavior in this ordeal removes that doubt completely for him.

But when Skinner coughs out a tooth at the end, it leaves the audience with a slate that is far from clean.


Davey asserts that the government has spent decades perfecting the MK-Naomi gas.  Why?  “Imagine the power of a government that could literally control the minds of…millions of its citizens, influence every choice and decision they made simply by exposing them to this poison?”

“They were trying to learn how to control human behavior, harnessing our fears to manipulate us into violence,” which sounds like a messier version of “Wetwired,” in which Scully had succumbed to her worst fear (Mulder betraying her) after exposure to visual stimuli sent via television broadcasts and nearly shot him.

I’ve got news for you, Davey.  The government’s been successfully harnessing fear for years without the hassle of cable transformers or a stinky yellow fog. 

If that’s the case, I’m guessing that no one at the D.O.D. has bothered to read Orwell’s Animal Farm or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  And, obviously, none has read an x-file or took notes on Dr. They’s instructional YouTube videos.  If any had, they’d have realized these elaborate science experiments were not necessary.  Our population doesn’t require parlor tricks to be controlled when it voluntarily offers up that capacity without a fight.

THE X-FILES: L-R: Mitch Pileggi, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. Co. Cr: Shane Harvey/FOX

All regimes know the recipe.  First, find a vulnerable target upon which the citizenry can sink its collective teeth (or, in the case of Mud Lick, throw its displaced teeth); then, activate irrational feelings of paranoia and prejudice, heat up the scapegoating pressure cooker, and voilà!  Any society’s leaders can whip up a convenient enemy stew for the populace to feed all of its directionless, self-loathing rage:  witches, Hollywood communists, new immigrants, people of color, people in poverty, teachers, books—the choices are endless!  Then, while the common idiots attack each other and roll around in the muck, the real villains—the shameless, self-serving capitalists and politicians, “the faceless puppeteers” who trade human lives like stocks on the NASDAQ—accumulate their own tiers of ridiculous wealth unseen by the ignorant masses.

Is it the plot of a Dystopian novel?  Nope.  Just like Davey says, “It’s happening right now in the United States of America.”

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