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”