(SPOILERS) A couple of first timers on the show in their respective roles show the old hands how it should be done, with one of those rare supporting player-focused episodes that can prove indulgently misplaced or surprisingly assured depending on the assembled elements. Skinner takes his place in the spotlight for the first time since… S.R. 819? And there’s a fine supporting turn from Haley Joel Osment. Not ground breaking, perhaps, but a cut above most of the fare of late, and equipped with a suitably cogent coating of conspiracy lore to bed it in.
Writer Gabe Rotter has produced the show since its return, and worked as an assistant on Lone Gunmen, for which Carol Banker also directed an episode. So they aren’t exactly fresh blood, but they’ve been around long enough to know what they’d probably like to see done better or added to the mix. Throwing young Skinner into Nam filmed in Vancouver is a little on the Tour of Duty side of realism for my tastes, but Banker avoids dwelling on the shortcomings of the scenery and rather concentrates on the Jacob’s Ladder horrors of a government unbashful about experimenting on its troops.
I might begrudge that this is the third in four episodes where hallucinations form a key part of the X-file, but since they’re only central to one of them, the overall effect doesn’t whiff to strongly of writers stirring and repeating. Ironically, given this is Skinner-centric, Mitch Pileggi is off screen for quite a while – Cory Rempel acquits himself well as his ‘Nam version – and when he is, he spends a wedge of time stuck in a hole.
Kersh: Have you ever wondered why, after 35 years in the Bureau, Walter Skinner isn’t sitting on this side of the desk, or even perhaps running the whole damn agency, for that matter?
It’s nice to see the return of nasty Kersh (James Pickens Jr), the kind of germane reappearance I can get behind, one that doesn’t seem like it’s raking over the show’s dying embers. He’s exactly the guy to give a rundown of Skinner’s shortcomings at the FBI, and the reluctant Mulder a wakeup call to the fact that his AD has had his best interests at heart all along, even if he’s been frequently hamstrung in his work. What’s been missing is why, and this retconning is mostly fairly coherent, giving a guy who keeps what he believes and thinks generally close to his chest; it’s a motivation that works reasonably well (particularly good, when Dana notes they know nothing about him, is Mulder’s comeback from rooting around in a cupboard in Skinner’s apartment with “It appears he may suffer from moderate to severe constipation”).
Mulder: The monsters are here.
Scully: Does that get your juices flowing, Mulder?
Mulder: As much as I appreciate any reference to my juices, Scully, my only concern here is Skinner.
I have to admit, I was expecting Davey to be revealed as a non-aging John “Kitten” James – due to the toxin he’d been exposed to – until quite late on, the point where we saw flashbacks to John in the veterans’ facility (the narrative of why he was let out doesn’t quite pull together, nor the fact that we never really find out what has happened to him: plus, he’s played by a stuntman). Osment makes the most of his performances, though, and seizes the story in a manner Karin Konoval wasn’t quite able with her dual roles in Plus One a few weeks back.
Davey’s narrative of the injustices committed upon his father, and his putting forward the kind of conspiratorial mutterings that are Mulder’s lifeblood, makes for good meaty grist. It’s nice to hear the conclusion – after I expressed my doubts about a programme being shut down last week – that this time such protestations are deemed unlikely (“Thirty years research and development and they just throw it in the trash?”). Davey believes the government can control minds by exposing the populace to this experimental toxin, via water, food supply and chemtrails, which admittedly isn’t the most popular of chemtrails theories, but it’s gratifying to have two references to the conspiracy theory in as many episodes, this time even ending with their proliferation. Nevertheless, it’s clear Davey’s a wrong ‘un, because he thinks cats are creepy.
Sheriff Stenzler: People are swearing they’ve seen some kind of monster out in the woods.
There are a few elements here left hanging, such as MK-NAOMI – MK-ULTRA in releasable form – causing people’s teeth to drop out; why are they releasing it in that area, specifically? Because they’ve let John back out so there’s a readily available scapegoat for any adverse consequences? And why was Skinner called Eagle back in the day if he wasn’t bald? An ironic reference to his eyesight? Generally, though Kitten satisfies as a character-based episode and a conspiracy one.
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.