Skip to main content

We find that monster, we find Skinner.

The X-Files
11.6 Kitten

(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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You're waterboarding me.

The Upside (2017)
(SPOILERS) The list of US remakes of foreign-language films really ought to be considered a hiding to nothing, given the ratio of flops to unqualified successes. There’s always that chance, though, of a proven property (elsewhere) hitting the jackpot, and every exec hopes, in the case of French originals, for another The Birdcage, Three Men and a Baby, True Lies or Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Even a Nine Months, Sommersby or Unfaithful will do. Rather than EdTV. Or Sorcerer. Or Eye of the Beholder. Or Brick Mansions. Or Chloe. Or Intersection (Richard Gere is clearly a Francophile). Or Just Visiting. Or The Man with One Red Shoe. Or Mixed Nuts. Or Original Sin. Or Oscar. Or Point of No Return. Or Quick Change. Or Return to Paradise. Or Under Suspicion. Or Wicker Park. Or Father’s Day.

What about the meaningless line of indifference?

The Lion King (2019)
(SPOILERS) And so the Disney “live-action” remake train thunders on regardless (I wonder how long the live-action claim would last if there was a slim hope of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod?) I know I keep repeating myself, but the early ‘90s Disney animation renaissance didn’t mean very much to me; I found their pictures during that period fine, but none of them blew me away as they did critics and audiences generally. As such, I have scant nostalgia to bring to bear on the prospect of a remake, which I’m sure can work both ways. Aladdin proved to be a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast entirely tepid. The Lion King, well, it isn’t a badfilm, but it’s wearying its slavish respectfulness towards the original and so diligent in doing it justice, you’d think it was some kind of religious artefact. As a result, it is, ironically, for the most part, dramatically dead in the water.

Would you like Smiley Sauce with that?

American Beauty (1999)
(SPOILERS) As is often the case with the Best Picture Oscar, a backlash against a deemed undeserved reward has grown steadily in the years since American Beauty’s win. The film is now often identified as symptomatic of a strain of cinematic indulgence focussing on the affluent middle classes’ first world problems. Worse, it showcases a problematic protagonist with a Lolita-fixation towards his daughter’s best friend (imagine its chances of getting made, let alone getting near the podium in the #MeToo era). Some have even suggested it “mercifully” represents a world that no longer exists (as a pre-9/11 movie), as if such hyperbole has any bearing other than as gormless clickbait; you’d have to believe its world of carefully manicured caricatures existed in the first place to swallow such a notion. American Beauty must own up to some of these charges, but they don’t prevent it from retaining a flawed allure. It’s a satirical take on Americana that, if it pulls its p…

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his …

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Kindly behove me no ill behoves!

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
(SPOILERS) It’s often the case that industry-shaking flops aren’t nearly the travesties they appeared to be before the dust had settled, and so it is with The Bonfire of the Vanities. The adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s ultra-cynical bestseller is still the largely toothless, apologetically broad-brush comedy – I’d hesitate to call it a satire in its reconfigured form – it was when first savaged by critics nearly thirty years ago, but taken for what it is, that is, removed from the long shadow of Wolfe’s novel, it’s actually fairly serviceable star-stuffed affair that doesn’t seem so woefully different to any number of rather blunt-edged comedies of the era.

Is CBS Corporate telling CBS News "Do not air this story"?

The Insider (1999)
(SPOILERS) The Insider was the 1999 Best Picture Oscar nominee that didn’t. Do any business, that is. Which is, more often than not, a major mark against it getting the big prize. It can happen (2009, and there was a string of them from 2014-2016), but aside from brief, self-congratulatory “we care about art first” vibes, it generally does nothing for the ceremony’s profile, or the confidence of the industry that is its bread and butter. The Insider lacked the easy accessibility of the other nominees – supernatural affairs, wafer-thin melodramas or middle-class suburbanite satires. It didn’t even brandish a truly headlines-shattering nail-biter in its conspiracy-related true story, as earlier contenders All the President’s Men and JFK could boast. But none of those black marks prevented The Insider from being the cream of the year’s crop.