“Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why Skinner’s running. He’s afraid.” – Fox Mulder
“That he did it?” – Dana Scully
“That he doesn’t know he didn’t do it.” – Fox Mulder
Mulder and Scully set out to investigate the murder of a woman in a upscale hotel room, but the police already seem to have their man, Assistant Director Walter Skinner.
Max: The genesis of this episode was an idea that David Duchovny had of making an episode focusing on AD Skinner, as a way to lighten his own workload on the program in order to film his part in the infamous Red Shoe Diaries softcore erotica film series. Howard Gordon of the writing and production staff then wrote the episode based on a story he and David developed.
Skinner, after refusing to sign the final papers for his divorce (yes, he’s married!!!), goes to a hotel bar and is picked up by a very flirty blonde who he then proceeds to go to bed with. Asleep, he gets a bizarre nightmare of an old decrepit woman and is shaken awake by this vision, only to discover his blonde fling dead right next to him, her neck snapped in two. What follows is a one of the stranger entries into The X-Files‘ canon, as the DC Police and the FBI’s own Office Of Professional Responsibility (a favorite vacation spot of Fox Mulder) investigate Skinner to nail down evidence against him, while his difficult charges (our heroes) set out to clear his name.
We are introduced to his estranged wife Sharon, and she tells Mulder and Scully how they’ve drifted apart over the years and became more roommates than spouses, and reveals that Skinner has been undergoing treatments for a sleep disorder, night terrors of being suffocated by an old woman. This concerns Scully, who fears that Skinner may have killed the blonde in his sleep. However, this doesn’t fit with other pieces of evidence, namely that the blonde was a high-end prostitute who got paid via Skinner’s credit card for her services, and a patch of bright phosphorescence Scully detected during her autopsy of the body.
If this isn’t bizarre enough already for you, then the involvement of the Cigarette Smoking Man in this episode is surely to make you nonplussed. Observing Mulder questioning Skinner after his wife is hospitalized after being run off the road, his wrinkled visage is assuredly a sign that devious designs have been set in motion. This is confirmed when a hotel employee confirms that an unknown man hired the blonde to seduce Skinner. A plan is set in place to ensnare this individual, and just as he is about to attack Mulder and Scully, Skinner walks in to save them, killing the armed man. Later attempts to identify him prove fruitless, and the OPR’s investigation falls apart.
During the desperate search for Scully after her abduction, Skinner told a defeated Mulder of a near-death experience he had while serving in the Vietnam war, and here in this episode he relays to Mulder other experiences he had over there, namely the visions of the same old woman that has haunted his recent slumbers. Mulder goes out on a limb (and why wouldn’t he?!?) to suggest that this figure is in fact a mythological succubus, but Skinner denounces such nonsense. The Vietnam War is a powerful event, and the horrors it visited on its combatants fodder for popular culture from the Rambo films to last season’s stellar episode “Sleepless.” Most assuredly, Skinner’s been exhibiting clear signs of PTSD, which affected not only his sleep, but his marriage that started to crumble around him. Much like many of the demons and monsters that roamed Sunnydale in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the succubus then is a handy allegory for the toll exacted on soldiers in conflict.
While it may not be a knockout episode, “Avatar” succeeds at giving more dimension to one of the series’ few supporting characters, and demonstrates the unique relationship Mulder and Scully have with their immediate supervisor.
Radhika: In addition to the fact that it fleshes out a significant supporting character, what I appreciate about “Avatar” is the atmosphere. Even if it doesn’t involve the most memorable monster, it’s a nice little one-off episode that even manages to tie into the mythology a bit, as the attempts to push Skinner — who has done a lot to protect Mulder and Scully — out of office after this series of unfortunate events, seem to be a part of discrediting the X-Files.
I do feel a little bad that poor Skinner has a bit of the cliché midlife crisis thing going on between the dissolving marriage and the high-end prostitute, and I wish there were other ways to get to know his character. But maybe this particular storyline wasn’t necessarily super clichéd back when it was written. (I’m not entirely sure.) What’s nice about meeting his wife is that she does elaborate on some of Skinner’s characteristics, such as the fact that he’s always been good at keeping secrets. Skinner’s more mysterious tendencies aren’t just applicable to all things X-Files related, which is kind of a relief considering how suspicious of him both Mulder and Scully have been in the past.
That said, this is where we really get to see how much the agents — especially Mulder — believe in Skinner. Scully, being a little more cautious here, does seem concerned that Skinner could have done something — possibly even unintentionally in his sleep, considering his sleep disorder among other issues. But Mulder, who has often been most suspicious or even disdainful in the past of Skinner, is staunch in his belief that Skinner did not commit a crime. His dogged pursuit to clear Skinner’s name is rather touching, showing that the agents’ relationship with Skinner has certainly come a long way. It’s good to know that the ally they have in the assistant director isn’t going away anytime soon by the time the episode ends.
YES, IT’S THAT LADY
Amanda Tapping – Playing the doomed call girl Carina Sayles, Tapping is best known nowadays for her role as Samantha Carter in the Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis television series. More recently, she was the lead in the Syfy drama Sanctuary.
AGENT PENDRELL WATCH
Everyone’s favorite crime lab nerd is back in “Avatar,” helping Mulder dig up evidence in support of Skinner’s case. Alas, poor Pendrell — he’s unable to indulge in his crush on his beloved Agent Scully this time around. It’s strictly business when the spooky G-man turns up.