I’m at the part of the season where I ask myself why I committed to writing about every episode. Thank god I don’t do this for a living.
Spoilers beneath the cut.
“Kitten” is an interesting look into Skinner’s back story, specifically his time spent in Vietnam, and how it shaped his character’s development. The episode also stars Haley Joel Osment, and before you ask, no, there are no Sixth Sense jokes about seeing dead people. I was just as disappointed as you are.
It seems our big, bald, beautiful man has gone AWOL from his duties at the FBI. We welcome back Deputy Director Kersh in this episode, who finds the most back-handed way to put Mulder and Scully on the case, coldly informing them that their presence is the reason Skinner hasn’t moved up in the Bureau in 30-odd years.
Mulder and Scully start their investigation at Skinner’s sparsely furnished apartment, and end the same scene with them flirting over a severed, desiccated ear, because why not?
This is the show I know and love. I don’t know what that says about me.
We’re drawn into the small Kentucky community of Mud Lick, which harbors a government-run mental institution where it’s rumored that post-war experiments are run on Vietnam vets. Why Mulder doesn’t jump at the chance to go scouting that nonsense out is beyond me, but I guess there’s only so much time to tell this story.
The town also seems to have an epidemic of sudden and unexpected tooth decay; everyone, even the sheriff and his wife, are pulling out their own molars left and right. Personally, I’d be freaking the fuck out if my molars started coming out for no good reason; even more so if my partner had the same problem at the exact same time. That’s “There’s something in the water” levels of bad, but OK.
Mulder and Scully find a match for their severed ear in the local morgue. Meanwhile, Skinner is caught on a hunting camera standing over Missing Ear’s dead body. Not good news for our favorite AD. Also caught on that camera is a dark figure in a skull mask, but the sheriff is too busy putting out an APB on Skinner to notice.
Skinner is still out skulking around in the local forest when he runs into Davey, the son of Skinner’s Vietnam friend John James. Davey, who lives in a tiny back-woods trailer, has a real chip on his shoulder about how his father was treated after coming home from the war. He also thinks cats are creepy.
Throughout the episode, we’re shown flashbacks of Skinner’s tour in Vietnam. We learn that Skinner and his group were exposed to a kind of noxious gas, designed and developed by the government, with the intent of turning soldiers into deadly killers. Skinner’s exposure was limited, but his friend, John James (aka “Kitten”) was saturated in the stuff. The toxin changed James as a person, turning him from a soft, frightened kid into an unrecognizable monster (it’s not a coincidence that his molars keep falling out, too). Skinner blames himself for failing to protect his compatriot.
But Davey blames him, too; Skinner wasn’t forthcoming about the toxic gas at John James’ trial, and Davey believes it’s Skinner’s fault that his father was locked up.
Davey lures Skinner to one of his crude traps, a large hole in the ground, littered with rusty metal spikes at the bottom. Skinner falls in and is impaled.
Mulder and Scully pay a visit to Davey, realizing after a brief visit that the kid is lying about something. Mulder sends Scully to call for help (because that’s worked out so well for them before) while he creeps back to Davey’s place to scout the place out. He hears Skinner’s cries for help, but gets pushed into the trap when Davey catches him by surprise.
Scully returns to save the day, pulling Mulder out of the hole (but not Skinner? Who has a giant, gaping wound through his torso???) and together our fearless agents pursue Davey deeper into the woods. Skinner gets out of the hole on his own (magic?) and confronts Davey, right before the kid gets smooshed by one of his own horrific traps.
There’s a sweet moment as they wrap things up, where Skinner confides in the agents that his shiny optimism in the United States government was tarnished after his Vietnam experiences, but that Mulder and Scully’s persistence gave him hope. It’s a variation on Scully’s fourth-season confession to Mulder, “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a day,” and I think it eases the tension and distrust we’ve seen between Mulder and Skinner this season.
The episode ends with a crop duster flying low over a field in Mud Lick, spraying the same green, toxic gas over their crops.
Let’s hope the townspeople have good dental insurance.