WARNING: This review contains major spoilers!
It’s hard to believe that it’s taken this long for The X-Files to get round to giving Assistant FBI Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) his own episode. Sure, he’s been framed for murder or infected with a deadly nano-virus in previous episodes, but there’s never been an episode devoted solely to his character or his backstory. Kitten has a decent stab at rectifying this, delivering an intriguing episode with a decent mystery at its core.
Marking X-Files Producer Gabe Rotter‘s scripting debut, Kitten sees Mulder and Scully going in search of an AWOL Skinner, leading them to a small Kentucky town where a monster roams the woods, people are losing their teeth and a series of murders have occurred involving Vietnam War booby traps. Of course, Skinner’s disappearance and these strange occurrences are linked, as our agents soon discover.
Opening with an action packed flashback to Skinner’s Vietnam days, Kitten takes advantage of Skinner’s lack of backstory, centering a decent Monster of the Week plot around a more character driven story. The central conceit of a gas that makes soldiers see combatants as actual monsters to make them more efficient killers is nothing new, but Rotter uses this as merely a catalyst for a more personal tale that explores Skinner’s character and his motives in-depth.
Suffice to say, the episode belongs to Mitch Pileggi, who delivers a brilliant performance here as Skinner. Indeed, despite the explosive Vietnam scenes and the moments of creepiness set in the woods, the highlight of the episode is the show’s denouement, wherein Skinner reveals to Mulder and Scully just why he has stuck his neck out for them over the years. Pileggi hits all the right notes, both here and throughout the episode, delivering an inspired performance that easily ranks as one of his best.
Great guest performances from Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) as both the titular ‘Kitten’ and his crazed son Davey and Cory Rempel as the young Skinner further complement the episode, whilst the direction from Carol Banker (The Vampire Diaries, The Lone Gunmen) is sublime from the off – the action is shot tight and skillfully edited, whilst the climactic woodland chase is as tense and as spooky as you can get. But it’s the more quieter character moments that ultimately elevate Kitten beyond just an average (albeit good) monster mystery.
If one thing does let down the episode, it would be that it fails to give us much insight into the current Skinner-betrayal arc that’s been hinted at in previous episodes. Last week we saw the Cigarette Smoking Man sitting with Skinner in his office, but here there’s no follow up or explanation as to where Skinner’s loyalties really lie. Is he still in the employ of the CSM and the alien conspiracy that’s working against his two favourite agents? If you come to Kitten looking for answers, then you’ll be pretty disappointed and just as in the dark as you were before.
This small issue aside though, Kitten is a solid character piece that shines a light on one of the show’s more popular characters, revealing some interesting tidbits of backstory that inform the character of Skinner greatly. Add in an engaging mystery, fantastic performances and some solid action, before capping off with a truly unnerving ending, and you have an engrossing and atmospheric episode that puts character first and foremost.