Spoiler Alert: This recap gives explicit spoilers about The X-Files episode 11.6, "Kitten." If you haven't seen it yet, you may want to check out some of the other recaps first. Then watch the episode. Then come back and read this.
Tonight's episode was solid. Not the best of this season, but certainly not the worst. My biggest complaint was that the "monster" storyline felt jammed in. The story would have worked just as well without Davy dressing as a monster. I guess he was doing it to help prove his father right? But it just felt messy, and made me wonder how long John had really been dead. Was it actually John who sent the letter to Skinner, or did Davy pick up his crazy mantle?
Let's start when Director Kersh calls Mulder and Scully into his office, and he is fuming. Skinner is AWOL, and Kersh thinks the agents have something to do with it. He proceeds to tell them -- apropos of virtually nothing -- that the reason Skinner has not been promoted past his current position is because of his "blind loyalty" to Mulder and Scully. He suggests the agents find Skinner while he still has a future to return to.
Scully is concerned that what Kersh said is true, and this worry follows her and Mulder throughout the episode. Mulder picks the lock to Skinner's apartment and the two are in, looking for signs of their boss amid a barren apartment. Scully finds a package addressed to Skinner's Marine title. Inside, wrapped in a piece of newspaper from a local paper in Mud Lick, Kentucky, is a desiccated human. Maybe it is surprise, but Mulder seems particularly grossed out by this, which is weird because it is possibly the least disgusting thing he has ever seen. Scully finds a note: "The monsters are here." Shipper alert: Scully asks Mulder if that gets his juices flowing. "As much as I appreciate any reference to my juices, Scully," his worry is for Skinner.
So the agents head out to Mud Lick. Scully had requested some information about Skinner's time in the military, and it all came back as classified, top secret. Mulder had called ahead, and the morgue is currently home to an earless corpse. Upon arriving at the morgue, a vagrant named Trigger warns, "You ain't gonna find no kitten."
The corpse belongs to the town's only doctor. In addition to missing his ear, he was also short a few teeth. The sheriff and his wife were just talking about how a couple of their teeth had fallen out recently. Maybe this is my "liberal coastal" sensibility, but I would get to the dentist if my teeth were falling out. The doctor was found in a crude hunter's trap, the kind that was used in the Vietnam war. The doctor was not in the military, but the Glazebrook Institute, a government sanitarium just outside town, was home to many Vietnam vets who settled in Mud Lick after their release. The sheriff also mentions that there have been reports of a monster creeping around in the woods.
That afternoon, a man, a veteran who goes by the name Banjo, falls into another trap, a pit lined with wooden spikes. It is later that night when someone peeks in to check their prey. Skinner.
The body is found the next morning, when Banjo's friend (also missing teeth) discovered him. Scully notices "deer cameras" on the trees, motion sensitive cameras that were not Banjo's, even though they were on his property. Checking the video back at the police station, the agents see Skinner standing at the foot of the pit. They are hesitant to reveal to the sheriff that they know him, but they finally do, and when the sheriff goes to put out an APB for Walter Skinner, Mulder checks the rest of the video. He finds the "monster" facing the camera. The two leave the station quickly, and Mulder dismisses the monster outright -- it is clearly a man in a mask. "We find that monster, we find Skinner." Scully suggests Skinner may have a delayed form of PTSD, and Mulder, realizing that Kitten might be a military nickname, checks back in with Trigger. "I told Eagle where to find Kitten's kid," he says. Eagle is Skinner.
Skinner is out in the woods, visiting an old trailer home in the middle of nowhere. No one answers his knock, so he goes in and starts looking around. A family photo on the wall reveals this is John's trailer and Skinner starts looking through an old photo album from Nam.
Throughout this episode, we get a series of flashbacks to Skinner's time in 'Nam. In 1969, a young Walter Skinner and his best friend, John "Kitten" James are part of a group tasked with transferring a super-secret, super-important crate labeled MK Naomi. When their helicopter starts taking fire, they run with the crate and hide out in a village hut populated by scared locals. Skinner runs out to help a fallen soldier, leaving a scared John inside, guarding the crate. The hut comes under fire, the crate is shot, and out spews neon green gas. By the time Skinner gets back into the hut, John has gone crazy and killed all the civilians. Skinner sees John as a monster.
Another flashback that takes place after the gas incident is one X-Philes will recognize from "One Breath," when Skinner relates the tale of killing a child carrying grenades during the war. The whole story is that John, changed from his exposure to the gas, has become a ruthless murderer, collecting ears from every Vietnamese victim he kills. He wears them on a necklace and is quite proud of them. But one boy that he attacked got away after he cut off his ear. That kid, still bleeding from his ear being removed, is the one who comes into their camp, ready to blow them all up. Skinner takes him out with a single shot.
Back in the present, John comes into the trailer -- and he doesn't look a day older than he did in the war. Turns out it's because this is Davy, John's son. He recognizes Skinner, his dad talked about him a lot. Despite his even, friendly tone, Davy's words are anything but friendly. He blames Skinner for everything that happened to him. After the war, Skinner testified against John, which sent him to Glazebrook for 38 years. Skinner defends himself by saying that, after his exposure to the gas, John was a danger to himself and others. He also pulls out the Nazi defense, saying that he was forbidden from speaking about the gas, that he was "just following orders." Skinner thought John was dead until he received a letter from him last week. After the trial, the Marines vanished him. Skinner insists that he wants to make things right and begs Davy take him to his father.
The pair tromp through the woods, until Davy reveals his father, in full uniform, hanging dead from a tree. Skinner rushes to him -- and falls into another pit trap. He is impaled, though not fatally, and Davy drops his father's corpse on top of him before pulling the lid of the trap closed.
Mulder and Scully show up at the trailer and they meet Davy, who says he has never heard the name Skinner before. He puts on some music, presumably to drown out Skinner's screams. He is very forthcoming with answers to all of the agents' questions, except the one asking how his mother died. His father, released last month from Glazebrook, had been a test subject at the institution. Since he had been poisoned by the gas in 'Nam, the military kept testing it on him. The goal was to control human behavior, harness fears to manipulate people into violence. They haven't perfected it, but are getting close. Davy starts to sound a little nutty, and Mulder has found the Vietnam photo album, so he shuts down the conversation and pushes Scully out the door. He hands her the car keys quietly and tells her drive. As they get in the car, we see that Davy had a K-bar hidden behind his back.
Spooked, Scully asks Mulder what is going on. Mulder knows that Davy is lying about knowing Skinner, and judging by the shiny SUV parked out front, he thinks Skinner is back there, somewhere. He tells Scully to go find cell reception and call the sheriff, while he goes back to find Skinner.
Davy is no longer in the trailer, so Mulder goes in and starts poking around. The record ends, and Mulder can hear Skinner's screams. He opens the trap and finds Skinner inside. Mulder tries to free him but Davy shows up in his monster costume, and pushes Mulder into the hole. Then he starts pouring gasoline on them. Suddenly a bullet takes him down. Unable to find cell reception, Scully had come back, just in time to save the guys. She helps Mulder out, but realizes that Davy has escaped. Skinner tells them to go ahead.
Things get a little unclear at this point. Davy is hiding, waiting for Mulder and Scully to snag a tripwire, but somehow, Skinner has made it out of the hole and finds Davy before the uninjured agents do. The two men fight, and Skinner cuts the tripwire, sending a barrage of spikes down on Davy.
Scully patches up Skinner in the trailer as Mulder calls for an ambulance. Scully finally asks if they are responsible for Skinner's lack of upward mobility at the bureau. Skinner explains briefly how he enlisted in the military when he turned 18, full of blind faith in the government. (Basically a retread of what he says in "One Breath.") His experience in Vietnam dented his blind faith in the government, but Mulder and Scully "taught me not to hide, but have the guts to shine a light into the darkest corners." He assures them he would choose them each and every time. He will go back to the bureau, "kiss the ring," but devote his time to doing right by John. And yet, he still throws in with CSM. I hope that in the next episode, he finally "breaks up" with CSM; otherwise this episode will be for nothing.
On the porch, as Skinner heads to the waiting ambulance, he pulls a loose tooth from his mouth. In a kind of "after credit" scene that comes before the credits, we see crates, just like those Skinner and John were transporting in the war, being brought into Mud Lick, and the widespread dissemination of neon green gas into farms and other public places.