Nov 3 2011 12:00pm

Reopening The X-Files: “Squeeze”

Season 1, Episode 3: “Squeeze”
Original Airdate: September 24, 1993

Noted primarily for being the show’s first Monster of the Week episode, “Squeeze” has a secret life as the episode where Dana Scully must publicly pick a side. Now sure, granted, sure, she’s already pointed a gun at the Air Force and carefully worded her field reports to mask all of Mulder’s crazy. But this time around she must admit her allegiances to an old Academy chum named Tom Colton (played with a sneer by Donal Logue). Per Colton, Colton is on his way up the ladder, and Colton would like to help Scully out of the basement. Also Colton has got a case he can’t solve and he’d like her input, also maybe the input of her spooky partner, so long as said partner isn’t too spooky, and so long as he doesn’t have that much input. No doubt it is that kind of gratitude that will take Agent Colton very far indeed.

The case in question involves a couple of horrific murders, liver-snatching in nature. Two victims, both killed and de-livered (sorry) in rooms with no clear entry points. Visiting one of the crime scenes, Mulder glances around for about half a second and immediately finds a bizarrely elongated fingerprint on a very, very small air vent. The fingerprint matches an X-File: similar fingerprints were taken from a series of murders in 1933 and a second series in 1963. Scully balks at the implication — murderers are never old people, and they always have very normal fingerprints! — and files her own report with the Violent Crimes Unit, positing that the youthful, normal-fingerprint-having murderer will definitely return to the scene of the crime. Mulder thinks Scully’s theory is dumb, and cheerfully interrupts her stakeout to tell her so. Except, Scully’s not wrong at all! We learn. There’s someone in the air ducts, and that someone is Eugene Victor Tooms.

After a very solemn Tooms passes a polygraph stacked with bonus questions from Mulder about whether or not he’s over a hundred years old, Colton’s boss pissily releases the creepy-eyed dogcatcher (seriously, that is his job) back into the world. An understandably frustrated Scully demands to know why Mulder pushed the X-Files angle, even when he knew that the other agents wouldn’t go for it. Mulder responds with a mighty cocky raison d’être: “Sometimes the need to mess with their heads outweighs the millstone of humiliation.”   

And. Now. It’s a funny line, sure. And yes we’re dealing with a man with self-protective measures to burn. But the amount that Scully has staked for Mulder, at this point! And that’s what he returns to her? Scully could burn him deep, if she wanted to. And Mulder must know it. Even if he can’t handle it yet, he’s got plenty of evidence that Scully is there as a partner, not a spy. Asked to defend Mulder and her commitment to working with him, she’s been brief and true. When Colton calls him “Spooky,” Scully counters that while Mulder’s ideas may be “out there,” he’s still a “great agent.” When Colton greets Mulder at the scene with a joke about little green men and Mulder flatly retorts “grey men,” Scully looks on stoically. And when Colton says he’ll put in a good word to get her transferred from the X-Files, she refuses, saying she can take care of herself. Now, facing down a smirking and vaguely ungrateful partner, Scully begins to accuse him of being territorial, then immediately gives up and starts to leave. Mulder reaches out and grabs her necklace. It’s a bizarre, intimate gesture. “You may not always agree with me,” he says, “But at least you respect the journey.”

We witness the third killing in all its stretchy-fingered glory: Tooms contorts his body and stuffs himself down a chimney so he can surprise a victim with some liver-focused murder. Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully stop by a nursing home to visit a rather youthful-looking (hmm, suspicious!) cop who investigated the 1933 murders. Frank Briggs immediately gets all heavy about everything and starts going on about how he believes “the horrible acts that humans are capable somehow gave birth to some kind of human monster.” Which, I hope you’ll forgive me saying, Detective Briggs? But it’s not much of a theory. The direct effect of humanity’s worst behavior (he cites the Holocaust and ethnic cleansing) is already death. No need to pile homicidal genetic mutants on top of it. They will have to get their own origin story, as far as I’m concerned.

Our agents track Tooms to his 1903-era apartment and find that he’s just finishing up the most amazing remodeling project! He built, like, a nest? Out of paper and bodily fluids? The agents take a closer look. What could it be. Mulder, obviously, decides to touch it. Says Dr. Scully, perhaps a beat too late, “Mulder…I think it’s bile.” Says Mulder, “Is there any way to get it off my fingers without betraying my cool exterior?” And there isn’t. Sorry Mulder. But first of all, you kind of deserve it, and second of all, in an episode full of excellent lines (the script was written by early-season stalwarts Glen Morgan and James Wong), you just delivered my favorite!

As Mulder and Scully leave the Tooms estate, the mutant reaches out and snags Scully’s necklace, marking her as prey with a gesture that eerily mirrors Mulder’s earlier, less-murdery move. Scully retreats to her apartment and assumes the weakest position possible, which is, drawing a bath while leaving a message on Mulder’s answering machine. And all the while Tooms is lurking outside. It seriously looks like it’s going to be the most pat horror-movie situation, the thing where the lady agent is partially naked and also in trouble and the gentleman agent has got to save her. But! It’s subverted nicely, with teamwork, and some bile. Tooms drips gunk on Scully before she’s in the bath, giving her time to grab her gun and point it at every single air vent. He grabs hold of her and she gets a good punch in before Mulder interrupts. The fight is balanced — when one agent is in trouble, the other agent backs up. Mulder slaps a cuff on Tooms, Scully slaps the other half of the cuffs to the faucet. They totally need each other, you guys!

Eugene Victor, bless him, is a simple and effective monster. He can get you when you think you’re safe. He’s human enough to pass. He lives forever. And, maybe worst of all, his motive is survival. While the show’s mytharc hints at complicated conspiracies and vast evils, Tooms is a local danger. He’s in your chimney, he’s stealing your jewelry, and he’s dripping bile in the nice bath you just drew for yourself. Rather than offering a respite from the mytharc, the best monsters of the week give you the sense that the world is just brimming with strange and supernatural things. Many of which would really like to murder you.

Next week: “Ice”

Want to watch along? The entire series is currently streaming on Netflix as well as Hulu.

Meghan Deans sticks out in a crowd with her ten-inch fingers. She has a Tumblr and is @meghandrrns on Twitter.

Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter
This one worked really well for me. It was the first Monster of the Week but on first watching you didn't really know that. It isn't connected with the alien conspiracy, but it does help refine and establish the partnership.
2. Pendard
Great episode. Tooms was creepy as hell. I love the monsters that are basically just extra f*cked-up serial killers, they're always the scariest. It's been a few years since I watched it, but he contortionist scene hurts to remember. And The X-Files' humor is already in full working order.
Chris McLaughlin
3. SauntOrolo
And creepy Tooms managed to stay creepy by going on to marry a 16 year old at the age of 51.
4. tigeraid
This was the episode, watched in reruns a year or so later, that got me hooked on the show. And gave me nightmares for a bit, too. The closing scene where he's staring through the meal slot with evil intentions is good stuff.
Joshua Starr
5. JStarr
Great last paragraph. Tooms was terrifying, and this remains one of the most memorable X-Files eps for me.
6. jerec84
I had a lot of trouble sleeping after watching this episode when I was young. Tooms is probably the scariest monster, simply because no matter how safe you think you are, he can still get you...
Cait Glasson
7. CaitieCat
Seriously creepy ep, and one that started my love of the MotW episodes over the mytharc. Tooms is just creeptacular, and his slow, patient nestbuilding at the end just reminds that he'll be back in another 30 years, ready for a little more liverwurst on the hoof.

I'm so pleased that Netflix Canada got the series streaming this week, because now I can keep up with the rewatch in real time! Hurray!
8. punkm
Mulder, obviously, decides to touch it.

Obviously. He never did overcome that weird need to stick his fingers in anything that looked remotely suspicious.

Enjoying your recaps, Meg!
Meghan Deans
9. Meghan
@JStarr Thanks!

@CatieCat YES, the nest-building. Really just the creepiest thing he could possibly do. The monster's righteous idea of home and survival is terrifying.

@punk Yay, so glad to have you! (Tryin' to create a "resident juvenile delinquent makes good" narrative for myself.)
A.J. Bobo
10. Daedylus
This is, without a doubt, my favorite X-Files episode. Heck, it's one of my favorite episodes of any show, ever.

I was 15 when I first saw it and that last image of Tooms looking through the meal slot got stuck in my head for days. One night, a couple of days after I saw it for the first time, I was home alone, sitting in my room reading. I happened to look up from my book at the vent in my floor. That image of Tooms came to mind and I kept picturing him coming out of my vent to get me. Absolutely freaked me out. Once I got past that night, I decided that anything that could scare me that completely, even days later, was excellent and well done.
12. BenW
I must disagree about survival being Tomms' motive. If survivial was his motive, why pass up easy kills more more challenging prey? The answer is that he is at LEAST as much in it for the thrill as for the nutrition.

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