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11X06: Kitten

The X-Files Season 11 / Event Series 2: Introduction | 11X01:My Struggle III | 11X02: This | 11X03: Plus One | 11X04: The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat | 11X05: Ghouli

We enter the second half of the season, which is interesting as it is a series of episodes almost entirely written and directed by newcomers to The X-Files, at least in writing and directing roles. Kitten is written by Gabe Rotter, assistant in The Lone Gunmen series and XF season 9 and Chris Carter’s right-hand man since then (he also co-wrote a different episode for season 10 that in the end was never made for scheduling reasons); and is directed by Carol Banker, script supervisor for seasons 6-9, director of one The Lone Gunmen episode, and who also had a stint as an actress in a very short role in Gillian Anderson’s own 7X17: all things!

Walter “Eagle” Skinner

Kitten draws heavily from a very memorable scene from 2X08: One Breath, a defining moment for the character, where he confides to Mulder about his dreams and his fears: “When I was eighteen, I went to Vietnam. I wasn’t drafted, Mulder, I enlisted in the Marine Corps the day of my eighteenth birthday. I did it on a blind faith. I did it because I believed it was the right thing to do. I don’t know, maybe I still do. Three weeks into my tour, a ten-year-old North Vietnamese boy walked into camp covered with grenades and I blew his head off from a distance of ten yards.” In Kitten, he repeats “I enlisted in the Marine Corps the day that I turned 18” and we get to see the incident with the boy with the grenades. This is a nice callback, however nothing that we see in Kitten comes close to the emotional impact of that first scene in One Breath, the reason beings that with the character of Skinner the show has been there and done that.

There have been other Skinner-centric episodes in the past, which had more Skinner than Kitten has: 3X21: Avatar, 4X21: Zero Sum, 6X10: S.R.819. In the way Mulder and Scully investigate into Skinner’s dubious activities and discover Skinner in surveillance camera footage, Kitten mostly resembles Zero Sum. All of Skinner’s episodes have been about his allegiances, his self-doubts, his moral compass and the compromises he has to make. Things are no different here. However, after all these characters have been through after all these years — after Skinner was the only friend Scully had during her pregnancy and after Skinner killed Krycek — how many times one can repeat the same storyline until it’s beyond stale? Once more, the question here is “don’t you think that we should give him the benefit of the doubt after everything we’ve been through with him?

What is new here is the justification for Skinner’s lack of career development within the FBI, something that had rang false when season 10 started, as if the creative team was not trying at all to change the formula of the past. Here we are told that “Walter Skinner’s stalled career has everything to do with his blind loyalty to the both of you and your misguided search for some imaginary truth.” Mulder & Scully seem to cast a very long shadow, given how they have been more absent from the FBI over 2002-2016 than they have been in the X-Files unit!

The episode does provide a showcase for Skinner and the consistently excellent Mitch Pileggi, in his scene with Davey (where we get a rare smile!) and his confession to Mulder and Scully at the end. “You two came along and you taught me not to hide from it, but to have the guts to shine a light directly into the darkest corners.

The episode wraps with Skinner intent on doing something about all this: “But I intend to do right by this man. And that means finding the truth of what the hell it was they used him for. No matter the cost.” This sort of setup is weird, given that we certainly won’t see Skinner’s assault on Glazebrook mental hospital in the next episode.

MK NAOMI and Kitten’s issues

The series has also done its share of Vietnam War episodes (2X04: Sleepless, 4X16: Unrequited) and its share of government-run mind control experiments (2X03: Blood, 3X23: Wetwired, 5X01: Unusual Suspects). Kitten is derivative of two episodes specifically, Blood (chemicals that increase violence spread by airplane crops dusting in a rural community) and Sleepless (experimented on Vietnam vets still living with their remorse).

Here, we have the son of a Vietnam veteran on a revenge rampage against those that wronged his father, against his platoon mates that testified against him (Banjo, Eagle) and against those that experimented on him (the town doctor, ho was also leading the gas chamber experiments in Glazebrook). There are echoes of Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs here, with some incomplete characterization: did Kitten commit suicide or did his crazed son kill him? The same question applies for the mother.

They were trying to learn how to control human behavior, harnessing our fears to manipulate us into violence.Kitten presents project MK NAOMI, an obvious mix of MK ULTRA, the CIA research program into mind control techniques, and Agent Orange, the scorched earth herbicide that was used by the US military in the Vietnam War in one of the worst cases of environmental and health damage due to war. MK UKTRA was mentioned in everything but name in 4X23: Demons and 7X02: The Sixth Extinction and was explicitly mentioned in 8X07: Via Negativa; Agent Orange was mentioned by the Lone Gunmen in 1X16: E.B.E. and 2X03: Blood! The other projects Mulder mentions, Bluebird and MK Delta, were precursors to MK Ultra; MKUltra officially stopped in 1973.

Davey’s conspiratorial diatribe strikes a menacing chord with this line: “Do you honestly believe that, after 30 years of research and development and decades of experimenting on American heroes like my father, it would just be thrown in the trash, never to be utilized?” There has been time enough to refine, enhance, perfect the research. Actually, Kitten would have made much more sense as a sequel of sorts to the experiments done in the 1990s, for which 20 years have passed — the same amount of time separating the Vietnam War and episodes like Sleepless! Centering a 2018 episode around the Vietnam War again solidifies the impression that The X-Files is an old show.

In addition, the very last scene expands from crop dusting to include chemtrails. It is meant to be ominous and instill fear in the viewer, but the use of this particular crazy and anti-scientific conspiracy theory has the opposite effect, similar to the fake moon landing in My Struggle III. Chemicals in crop dusting, in food or in water supply are more realistic and believable than the generic chemtrails conspiracy of the all-viral-no-thought internet age. Blood or F. Emasculata opened the episode to discussions of the relation of pesticides to health, of the power of pharmaceuticals, of the private/public interests conflict; the mention of chemtrails takes one out of the episode. The world has changed since the 1990s, yet the revival seems to treat its subject matter with even less subtelty than when out-there conspiracy theories were more interesting to ponder.

For Gabe Rotter’s first script, it does the job, but it is highly derivative. Kitten goes through a checklist of X-Files tropes: government experiments on soldiers, a secret test facility, the scary woods, the rural community, the sheriff that doesn’t want his people to panic, an open ending. This would have been just fine if the story had more to offer. The story has its share of artificial tension (Skinner AWOL instead of just away, Skinner not telling the authorities of the trap in the forest), easy ways out (heavily wounded Skinner getting out of the hole to save the day) and as often in the revival we have an expeditive conclusion. This viewer was also confused by the fact that two actors were used for Skinner but the same actor for Kitten and his son, expecting some psychic or ghostly revelation that never came. The directing is competent, nothing more (although the Vietnam scenes should have been edited differently to make the scene more understandable). The two leads, Duchovny especially, seem particularly bored with the material.

This lack of energy in almost every scene results in a lacklustre episode in what could be the last season. This is especially felt given that the stand-alone/mythology divide is once more dogmatically kept, and Skinner does not take this opportunity to say anything about his knowledge that Scully could have been medically raped by the Cigarette-Smoking Man! “Skinner, we’re with you” all right. Even if they were not Joe Harris’s best issues, the Skinner origin story was better handled in the comics last year (#12-13: Skinner).


  • A War Is Never Over“: yet another tagline change, 5 out of 6 this season! Instead of being exceptional, it’s become a habit.
  • Skinner enlisted on his 18th birethday, that was 1969; hence we know for sure Skinner was born in 1951, making him 67 today (ripe for retirement!). And why the nickname “Eagle”, did his platoon mates anticipate that her would become bald years later? (Incidentally, young Skinner is portrayed by Mitch Pileggi’s own nephew, Cory Rempel!)
  • We assume that Skinner’s “dubious behavior the past couple months” refers to Scully and Mulder’s mistrust of him since the events of 11X01: My Struggle III? It is an odd way to describe something that should be happening between them three and only them, this is not something that should have been noticed Bureau-wide.
  • We get some nice continuity with this season, with references to Purlieu Services (This) and William (Ghouli).

  • Deputy Director Alvin Kersh makes an unexpected return! He is…exactly the same as he was, further reinforcing the feeling that we are watching a series that does not want to stray one iota from its comfort zone. Yet Kersh should have been somewhat different after the events of 9X19/20: The Truth, where he helped Mulder escape a military trial and execution and justified himself as doing “what I should have done from the start“. One wouldn’t expect to see his whole character changed, but phrases like “your misguided search for some imaginary truth” ring false.
  • For those wondering, Mud Lick, Kentucky is a real place!


8 Responses to “11X06: Kitten”

  1. Anna says:

    I’m enjoying this season very much and I’m looking forward every week for the new episodes but I can’t not agree with your criticism. Mulder’s line “I’m doing what I am hoping he would do for us” sounded so wrong after everything Skinner’s being through for them. Even the times he seemed to betray them he did it to save them and Mulder knows that but now he is just hoping he would do the same for them? He isn’t sure? Skinner hasn’t saved them before? For some reason and without explanation or at least a believable build up TPTB decided that Mulder doesn’t trust Skinner again and that’s it.
    I think one of the problems of the series is their inability to move on or to change. If the show magically gets another season we’ll get a repeat of seasons 8 and 9! And it would be a shame because the series has so many potentials but they don’t follow them trough because they can’t let go.
    But on the other hand maybe if the series had moved on we wouldn’t like it so I have no idea what is the best to do. Fans are very difficult to please!
    Thanks for your review Orodromeus!

    • orodromeus says:

      Thanks — and I don’t particularly enjoy having to write negative reviews but it is what it is. I simply cannot watch The X-Files as dumb entertainment because The X-Files trained me to treat it as an intelligent series. But Icertainly agree it’s diffcult to please fans no matter what!

  2. Anna says:

    I completely agree with you and even your negative reviews always have a sense of love and appreciation for the series, you are not negative just to be negative and this is why I love your site.

  3. HristinaB says:

    I’ve been looking and looking, but I haven’t been able to catch a glimpse of This Man in “Kitten”, making this the first episode since “My Struggle III” to not include a mention to this weird internet experiment. His appearance in all the other episodes seems to suggest a dream-like state or something along those lines. I am *positive* this will turn out to be an important component of this season’s stories.

    • orodromeus says:

      Correct. I didn’t see him in Ghouli either. He is in ghouli.net but that particular entry was not shown on the screen or in his diary in the episode. Maybe that counts?

  4. Cobra says:

    Great review! The very last scene (with chemtrail) really has a counterproductive effect to viewers. I found this scene a bit ridiculous. The old episodes,”Blood”, “Wetwired” are much more realistic and scarier.

  5. Sophie Brady says:

    Awesome review. Skinner is an incredibly underused/undervalued character in my opinion. Especially given how fantastic Mitch Pileggi is in this role! Although I enjoyed this episode, I was also frustrated with the lack of consistency (in this episode and the last two seasons tbh.) It’s as you said, after everything Skinner went through for Mulder and Scully – it seems ridiculous to try and make him seem shady and untrustworthy again. It’s almost like the first nine seasons never happened at all!

    • orodromeus says:

      Thanks. Three years later, I still don’t think it’s a particularly memorable episode. It tries to mimic the 1990s show but ultimately adds little to Skinner, whereas ‘Familiar’, which was also trying to do a 1990s episode and was about small town paranoia, was much more memorable.