[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the latest episode of American Horror Story: 1984.]
The American Horror Story: 1984 premiere had all the elements of a classic slasher movie: the innocent female protagonist (Emma Roberts' Brooke), not one but two knife-wielding serial killers (Mr. Jingles and The Night Stalker), and a bunch of horny young people who are pretty much destined to die (basically everyone else). However, AHS fans know this season isn't going to be as simple as all that, and a subtle X-Files Easter egg from the premiere may be a massive clue as to what one of the big twists of the season will be.
When the first official trailer for 1984 was released, X-Files fans were happily surprised to see Assistant Director Skinner, aka Mitch Pileggi, pop up in a previously undisclosed role. As the episode revealed, Pileggi plays Art, an administrator (or perhaps an assistant director?) at the mental institution that Mr. Jingles (John Carroll Lynch) escaped from. All viewers saw Art do was explain how Mr. Jingles was able to escape to Dr. Hopple (Orla Brady), who looks like she may be the Clarice Starling of 1984. While Pileggi's role in the AHS premiere appeared insignificant to most viewers, X-Files fans' heads likely began spinning once they realized the connection between Mr. Jingles' backstory and Pileggi's character in The X-Files.
The X-Files' divisive 11th season featured an episode, "Kitten," that took a deep dive into Skinner's past. The episode featured flashbacks to Skinner's time serving in the Vietnam War, where he met platoon-mate John "Kitten" James (Haley Joel Osment). John was just a normal, terrified kid until he was exposed to an experimental gas that harnessed John's fears and manipulated him into violence, causing him to see monsters that weren't there. Afterward, John became a merciless killer who cut off the ears of his victims and strung them into a necklace that he wore.
John was eventually brought to trial, but Skinner was forbidden by the government to mention the cause of John's ruthless transformation during the court proceedings. John was then institutionalized at a sanitarium for 38 years, where he was further experimented on, and he blamed Skinner for how his life turned out since his friend hadn't been completely honest during the trial. Skinner was never able to make amends with John, though, since John's son seemingly killed him, staging it as a suicide. John's son (also played by Haley Joel Osment, by the way) then attempted to kill Skinner, having become a monster just like the ones the gas made his father see.
If that entire storyline felt familiar to you, it's because it bears eerie similarities to Mr. Jingles' backstory: being drafted into Vietnam where he discovered a thirst for blood? Cutting ears off of his victims and stringing them into a necklace? Being institutionalized for several years before ultimately getting out? Mitch Pileggi being involved in some capacity? There is absolutely no way that this wasn't done on purpose and doesn't bear some significance; Ryan Murphy is way too detail oriented for it not to mean anything.
To be clear, it has been well documented that a number of members of the U.S. military serving in the Vietnam War strung together necklaces of the ears of the people they killed on duty, among other acts of atrocities. There is a chance that Mr. Jingles' habit of collecting trophies isn't an intentional nod to The X-Files but to the abhorrent reality of what actually happened during the Vietnam War. But the casting of Pileggi, who has no previous connection to the Ryan Murphy Cinematic Universe, leads us to think otherwise.
So if we do assume that Mr. Jingles sharing a similar backstory to Skinner's old Marine buddy, as well as Pileggi's inclusion in 1984, is a clue for what we can expect moving forward, then it seems the most likely theory is that, like John, Mr. Jingles' history isn't so black and white. When recounting the story of the 1970 Camp Redwood massacre to the counselors, Nurse Rita (Angelica Ross) notes that nobody knows why Mr. Jingles snapped. Could the answer be that, like in The X-Files' "Kitten," Mr. Jingles wasn't a naturally born killer and these murderous tendencies were the result of illegal government experimentation? Honestly, yeah. That actually seems extremely likely.
As soon as 1984 was announced as the title for AHS's ninth season, fans began speculating that it wasn't just a nod to the greatest era of slasher films, but would also likely connect to George Orwell's famed novel of the same name. If government experimentation were introduced as a driving theme this season, it would provide a massive link to the types of Orwellian surveillance and government overreach that the title has led many viewers to expect.
This twist would also open up 1984's world beyond the camp-set slasher story, which is far too straightforward for American Horror Story, even with The Night Stalker (Zach Villa) thrown into the mix. In fact, we wouldn't even be too surprised if 1984 left the entire summer camp premise behind in a few episodes. Remember, it was only in Episode 3 that Apocalypse blew up its entire premise by slaughtering 90 percent of the main characters and opening up the season's universe to the world beyond the bunker. We wouldn't be too shocked if we were in for a similar game-changing twist in just a few weeks' time, with the season potentially shifting from one about people attempting to outwit a serial killer to one about people attempting to outwit a clandestine government agency.
Or perhaps the decision to cast Pileggi could indicate that we are finally getting the anticipated AHS alien season after all! In Apocalypse, Murphy paid tribute to star Joan Collins' on-screen past with a meta nod to her Tales from the Crypt appearance. Maybe Murphy is planning to use Pileggi as a means of tribute to The X-Files' famous alien and government conspiracies. Only time will tell.
American Horror Story: 1984 airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.