The Secret Life of Walter Kitty.
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
Guest star Haley Joel Osment (who’s making headlines these days thanks to bizarre airport meltdowns in Las Vegas) added a sprinkle of spice to an otherwise humdrum outing in “Kitten” – a chapter centered on Skinner’s experience with experimental fear gas in Vietnam.
I don’t think anyone is outwardly opposed to a Skinner-centric episode – and “Kitten” wasn’t even a full solo adventure since half the story featured Mulder and Scully looking for him – but how invested are we really in the question “How did Skinner first come to mistrust shadowy government agencies?” Were any of us actively losing sleep over Walter’s “stalled career,” or wondering why a company man of three plus decades hadn’t been promoted? It’s TV. I feel like most of us might not be wholly interested in supporting characters’ career paths.
Plus, the last time we notably saw Skinner (sure, he aided and abetted our heroes in “This”) he’d learned who William’s real father was and was now purposefully associating with Smoking Man. Mulder even made a little snide remark about who Skinner might be spending his time with at the top of this one. So did we get any follow-up on this front, especially considering the big William reveal in last week’s “Ghouli?” No, “Kitten” was about the son of one of Skinner’s old war buddies wiping out vets with hunting traps while dressed like some sort of creeping forest creature.
What we wound up with was fine, but it also felt like a momentum-killer. A chance to dig into Walter Skinner’s past feels like it should bear more fruit than this. The emotional stakes here, for real, were Mulder and Scully feeling guilty about possibly holding Skinner back from getting a larger desk in a better-positioned office. Meanwhile, the fact that Skinner’s both still alive and employed is all we, as viewers, care about. Even Skinner had to remind the two of them of that (during that oddly lengthy speech about how they inspired him to question authority).
The nuts and bolts of “Kitten” were solid. Flashbacks to Skinner’s time in Vietnam and how exposure to green gas changed one of his best friends into a sadistic madman. Osment pulling double duty, as both father and son, while spouting off about covert CIA plots like MKUltra. Some decent action beats involving people (including Skinner) getting impaled with wooden stakes. Mulder and Scully delivering a few chuckles while tracking down Skinner. In the end though, it didn’t add up to much other than to tell us that Skinner’s been in the conspiracy game for a while now and – well – he didn’t want a promotion.
Will Walter losing his tooth right at the end feed into anything on the horizon, or was it just a sort of an “It was all a dream/Or was it?!” style close out? If it was the latter, it wouldn’t be the first time an episode this season ended on that type of note as many of these chapters are being treated like meta-mythos. Not only do they serve the larger story (which is this season’s weakest element) but they’re also filled with broader statements about how this show, in general, fits into the political climate of 2018. On top of that, a few of them are infused with a disposable anthological vibe that seems to suggest that none of this really matters, overall, and that everyone’s just trying to have some fun here at the finish line.