Surly and Supportive: The Rise of Walter Skinner

We here at Apt. 42 Revisited recognize that this post is going up the same day a six-episode X-Files revival was announced. Needless to say, we are ready for it and fully intend to write about those new episodes here on this blog. In the meantime, please enjoy this post about Skinner.

Memento Mori

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

There have been numerous occasions where we’ve mentioned that the allure of The X-Files didn’t just lie in its creepy stories — much of its appeal was also thanks to the main characters, Mulder and Scully. The two of them were the heart and soul of the series to everyone from casual to obsessive fans, but let’s face it — there were a few side characters that also became integral to the show. And one of them, Assistant Director Walter Skinner, went from being someone who could have simply dropped out of The X-Files universe altogether to being someone whose role only grew larger on the show, while other significant characters faded away.

IN THE BEGINNING

Tooms

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Skinner, played by Mitch Pileggi, made his first appearance at a fairly late stage in season one — in “Tooms,” the sequel to “Squeeze.” He appeared to be just like everyone else at the FBI when we first met him, a bit contemptuous of Mulder and Scully, only interested in conventional reports and investigations. It was also hinted that he was a puppet of the Cigarette Smoking Man, who was always lurking in Skinner’s presence. As the series went on, this proved to be somewhat true — Skinner often had to answer to and deal with characters that seemed to hold some level of control over him, but his ability to be an ally to Mulder and Scully began to show itself fairly early on. By the time Scully was abducted only a few episodes after Skinner was introduced, he made the decision to reopen the then-closed X-Files. Skinner didn’t necessarily believe all the weird stuff Mulder did, but he knew the agent was onto something. And so, despite his limited appearances, Skinner became a more layered character over time.

While it was still fairly rare for an episode to focus entirely on Skinner during the show’s earlier years, we did get installments like “Avatar,” where we learned about Skinner’s marriage troubles and a little more about his experiences during the Vietnam War. Of course, even though Mulder and Scully themselves questioned Skinner’s loyalty to them multiple times over the course of the series, this was one of the episodes where they — particularly Mulder — seemed to realize that Skinner was a good person. Though the writers insisted on making Skinner seem like a “gray character” from time to time after this episode, this is probably also about the time where fans decided to recognize Skinner as a “good guy.”

WENCHES: FOR THE LOVE OF WALTER SKINNER

Zero Sum

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Every fandom comes with fans that fall in love with a particular series’ characters. Just about everyone watching The X-Files seemed to harbor a crush of some sort on either Mulder or Scully (or both). But Skinner, who became known as the “Surly Pectoral God” to a particular subset of fans, also became the object of much affection.

The subset of fans I refer to above are the “Wenches,” whose full moniker was “Walter’s Wenches in Waiting.” I myself am acquainted with a number of them (we all became friends on The X-Files forums back in the day). And in fact, one fan we interviewed here for our “My First Time” series, Ja, was quite the Mitch Pileggi fan. As she put it, “He knew about our little group and I think he enjoyed having fans who were fun and wacky…” The Wenches made their organized debut in the midst of the official The X-Files forums, while also maintaining a website (with an archived version still Google-able on the Web). The Wenches were vocal about their appreciation of Skinner, pushing for more Skinner appearances in season eight. Of course, it would turn out that their wish would come true.

SEASON EIGHT AND BEYOND

The Gift

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

With David Duchovny gone for half of season eight, the character of Walter Skinner took on a more dominant role than ever before. At this point, after years of seeing him manipulated by everyone from the CSM to Krycek, fans were definitely sure of Skinner’s allegiances. He had proven time and time again that he was there for his agents and after the season seven finale, “Requiem,” where he witnessed Mulder’s abduction by an alien spacecraft, Skinner’s belief system was firmly in the “Mulder’s not crazy” camp.

In season eight, we got to see Skinner actively protecting the newly pregnant Scully and trying to figure out how to keep The X-Files going without giving others in the FBI cause to shut the operation down yet again. We also got to see Skinner out in the field a bit more — starting with the hunt for Mulder and including times where he would step in to help Doggett when Scully couldn’t be around. The Skinner introduced to fans in season eight is one willing to get his hands dirty and work even harder than before to stand up for his agents.

The X-Files Season 9 Credits

20th Century Fox via Chrisnu

Oddly enough, as time went on, Skinner became the one “constant” of sorts on the show. David Duchovny chose not to return at all for the ninth season (barring his appearance in the series finale) and while Scully remained on the show, her role wasn’t quite the same. So finally, after all those years of being a mere “recurring character,” Mitch Pileggi began to make appearances in the opening credits — at least for the episodes Skinner was in.

Of course, by the time the second X-Files movie was released years later, the show runners had the sense to realize that what fans wanted to see the most were Mulder and Scully, which meant that newer characters like Doggett and Reyes did not end up in the film. But the one additional character from the series that did eventually turn up wound up being Skinner. It is rather telling, in my opinion, that the theater I was in burst into applause and cheers when Skinner showed up during I Want to Believe.

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