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"Avatar" is the twenty-first episode of the third season of The X-Files. It first aired on the Fox network on April 26, 1996. Written by lead star David Duchovny and Howard Gordon, with Gordon also writing the teleplay, the episode was directed by James Charleston. It is a "Monster-of-the-week" story, separate from the series Mythology arc.


During a one-night stand in the midst of his divorce, Assistant Director Skinner becomes a murder suspect. Mulder and Scully return the many favors that he has done for them by trying to determine what actually happened, all the while discovering more about Skinner's personal affairs.



Skinner is debating whether or not to sign a document. His lawyer urges him to, reminding him that the city clerk expected it ten minutes ago. He ultimately refuses to sign, putting it off until tomorrow. As he leaves, it is revealed that the papers are a petition for the dissolution of marriage—divorce papers.

Later, Skinner is having a drink at the bar in the Ambassador Hotel where he meets a woman, Carina Sayles. The two get a room together for the night, but Skinner wakes up after a nightmare to find Sayles dead beside him. Specifically, her head has been turned completely around.

Act 1

Mulder talks to Detective Waltos, who is in charge of the investigation. Although Mulder is reluctant to believe it, Skinner is a suspect in a murder case, and his refusal to take a lie-detector test is not helping him at all. Skinner does not want to talk to Mulder or Scully. This can be for two reasons: He is either frightened or embarrassed about what happened or he does not want to be saved- he fears he really did it and is deserving of the crime. Scully calls Mulder, and hears most of his conversation with Waltos. He tells her that she should take a look at the body, and he meets her at the coroner's office to exchange information about the case. Sayles was a law secretary, who was fired for an "indiscretion"—her side work as a prostitute. Her spinal cord was crushed, and the only fingerprints on her body are Skinner's. As Scully is about to leave, she turns off the lights and notices a phosphorescent substance around Sayles's mouth and nose.

Mulder and Scully visit Sayles's madame, Lorraine Kellcher. Although initially reluctant, she tells them that a man paid for Sayles's company last night, and that that man is Walter Skinner. As they are leaving, Mulder gets a call from the police station—Skinner is being released. Skinner is not happy that the two agents are involved in the case, but then he sees, standing on the steps in a red raincoat, the same woman from his nightmare. He runs across the street to her almost getting run over in the process, but it turns out that the woman is actually his wife. No one else saw the woman in the red coat, but Mulder believes that Skinner actually saw something unearthly, even if Skinner does not believe it himself.

Act 2

Mulder firmly believes that this is a clue to something bigger- bigger than murder and bigger than anything ordinary. While Scully is reluctant to hear it, Mulder tells his theory: the woman was a succubus, a female demon who seduces a man to have sex with her, in which during the act, she draws out his energy for her own sustenance. This, Mulder tells Scully, is seen in folk tales as early as the 15th century. Scully tells Mulder about the luminescent residue found on the victim's mouth, but upon returning to the body, the residue is not found.

Act 3

Skinner keeps his personal life as unknown as possible from his agents. His wife, however, is deeply concerned about him. She visits him and they talk in his apartment. Skinner insists he's fine. In reality, Skinner has been having sleep problems. After the incident, he is afraid to go sleep, fearing that the old woman will come back and hurt him. He eventually tells Mulder and Scully this. Skinner admits to Mulder that he saw the woman during his experience in Vietnam, but passed it off as being due to drugs. While Scully remains skeptical, she cannot ignore the facts in front of her that point to a paranormal explanation.

At the end of the episode, Skinner's condition is still unknown and its origin still unexplained. The only thing resolved is Skinner's marriage. He never signs the divorce papers, and the scene ends with him putting on his ring at his office. He still doesn't want to talk about it, even to Scully and Mulder who have proven to be trustworthy friends for him over the years.



Background Information


  • Skinner's lawyer is named "Jay Cassal" in this episode's credits, but Skinner himself calls his lawyer "Jane" and she is obviously female. The character was originally written as a man, but when actress Tasha Simms was cast instead, the first name was changed in the script, even though it remained the same in the closing cast credits.
  • "Avatar" is a Sanskrit word, meaning a form taken by a deity to walk among mortals.
  • Two major scenes were filmed but deleted from the final episode. One scene had Mulder questioning Skinner's loyalty to him and Scully, a confrontational scene the producers felt jarred with the rest of the show. Another scene, removed for considerations of time and pacing, featured a confrontation between Skinner and the Cigarette Smoking Man, who hints that he was behind the events of the episode.

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