Destination: Washington, DC
Well, in some ways, congratulations and confetti are in order since Skinner has become so substantial a threat to the shadow conspiracy that he is the center of his very own frame-up in an effort to discredit him. The scary thing is that they have been watching him a long time. When you roll it back, their tools for fuckery are eerily as personal as they are elaborate.
In this reasonably informative hour, we are given a lot of backstory to who Skinner is as well as what motivates him, how and why. We meet his wife of seventeen years who reflects indirectly who we already knew he would be in a relationship: interior, reserved with a tendency to shutdown. He reveals what's essentially his PTSD from the Vietnam war and how it manifests many years later, as well as his desires for stability and somewhere to place his loyalty. All while he's facing possible murder charges of a sex worker he picks up at a bar on a day when things really aren't going his way.
This episode was apparently born of the old ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ adage that The X-Files so often lived by. David Duchovny was looking for a break from the harried schedule he and Gillian Anderson were subject to and suggested the creative team focus on Mitch Pileggi’s Walter Skinner for an hour. According to BTS lore, the episode required the same, if not more, of Duchovny since he contributed heavily to the story (during pre-production and production) as well as spent much of the episode doing the same kinds of Mulder-y things he was already doing week after week. Thankfully, that ended up being the case because how 'Avatar’ served the show in the short and long-run was by solidifying Mulder and Scully’s fealty to Skinner as both agents serving under him as well as on a personal basis. Whereas earlier on in the season, there was some ambiguity about Skinner’s allegiance and Mulder and Scully’s overall trust in him, the way they fight tooth and nail to make sense of his story and ultimately clear him is with the same strength, togetherness and ferocity that we’ve come to know and love.
There are some story problems with ‘Avatar’. (Oh, Howard Gordon.) It’s never clear to what extent the nefarious men involved in the conspiracy are orchestrating Skinner’s inner turmoil that started way back when he was a soldier in Vietnam. (For instance, did they place an older woman in a red raincoat on the steps outside the police station? Or put the strange phosphorescent substance around the sex worker’s mouth for Scully to see?) Per usual, everyone involved underestimates Mulder and Scully, their investigative genius, their sheer desire to seek the truth which above all else carries with it a power and force that frequently allows them to elevate over people and concepts combined. And lucky for Skinner (and for them, too, because Skinner proves himself by his flaws and vulnerability to be an even more fantastic colleague here in ‘Avatar’), the three are connected with an unspoken bond from here on out.
*There are some really cool threads introduced that don't necessarily get fully explored but are pretty great nonetheless in adding to the intrigue. Like the whole Washington DC madam thing (House of Cards, eat your heart out), the guy who's caught because his face is pressed into the deployed airbag, the succubus mythology, to name a few.
*I'd be remiss not to mention here in one of these reviews Kumail Nanjiani's The X-Files Files podcast which is a weekly review / discussion of individual episodes with other comics in his peer circle plus interviews with (so far) Mark Snow, Glen Morgan(!) and Dean Haglund interspersed.
Scully: "There was some irritation, probably an allergic reaction to latex."
Mulder: "At least they're having safe sex."
Mulder: "Maybe that's it. Maybe that's why Skinner's running. He's afraid."
Scully: "That he did it?"
Mulder: "That he doesn't know he didn't do it."
Sharon Skinner: "One of the things Walter's always been good at is keeping secrets." (Well thank god for that, for Mulder and Scully's sake!)
Mulder: "I think Skinner's been out-maneuvered, Scully. They found a weakness and they're exploiting it."
Scully: "But why?"
Mulder: "To put us in check. You remove Skinner and you weaken us."
Final Analysis: A fun little diversion from the Mulder and Scully hour.