The X Files Revisited: 1.21 Tooms
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The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. Now eight years after the second movie The X Files: I Want To Believe, the show is returning for six new episodes in 2016. Here at The Digital Fix, we are going to work our way through each season, reviewing some of the big episodes – and both movies – across the years in the build up to season ten. With 202 episodes, there is simply too much to cover every episode; instead we'll pick the story highlights of each year. Featuring the return of the show's first monster and the arrival of Skinner, Tooms is a pivotal episode in season one...
Tooms is one of those unique episodes that is a direct sequel to a non story-arc episode. Like Robert Patrick Modell's Pusher, Eugene Victor Tooms is one of the few serial killers to reappear, though his return also serves to drive the on-going storyline forward too, with the return of the Cigarette Smoking Man and the arrival of a pivotal character in The X Files mythology; Assistant Director Walter Skinner.
Watching Tooms again, I realised just how much scene setting there was for the future, particularly the season finale. Thanks to the interrogation Scully faces at Skinner's hands, the pressure to deliver results by conventional means becomes more essential than ever and this episode really sees the conflict between traditional investigation and the abnormal nature of the X Files comes to light. The return of Tooms is a perfect plot device; if there was any one monster / serial killer that defied convention, it was Tooms.
As the original monster of the week, Tooms' return is perfectly realised; more visibly a monster than in his debut episode he proves to be the thorn in Mulder's side. From the horribly uncomfortable trial he makes at Toom's hearing to stalking the killer when he returns to normal life, Mulder gets ever closer to the edge and with Skinner watching the end of the X Files really is looming.
It isn't quite as strong an episode as Squeeze and perhaps that is because it isn't quite as subtle. Toom's eyes glow yellow in the shadows when nobody is looking, he licks his fingers after picking up a dead bird in the street and he is rather overt in his stalking of his potential victims. In fact, if Mulder wasn't there to 'stalk' him, he probably would have killed much earlier in the episode.
This leads to one of the highlight and very creepy moments of the episode where Tooms follows a man home, intending to kill him, eat his liver and go back into hibernation. He crawls into the sewer, intent in climbing up through the bathroom toilet. As the wife desperately attempts to unblock the toilet, the scene grows incredibly unnerving, particularly when she heads off to deal with her crying baby and the wire on the unblocking device is pulled into the toilet. The idea of Tooms crawling through the piping is terrifying. Fortunately she returns in time to put the convenient child clamp on the toilet seat, forcing a muddy (I won't suggest any more) Tooms to climb through the open window of his potential victim's study and watch him in the shadows, his eyes ablaze with yellow. Only Mulder arriving in time saves him from a particularly nasty fate.
Scully meanwhile is a very different agent to the one we saw in Squeeze. She trusts Mulder and she knows the truth of who Tooms is. Despite the 'unorthodox nature' of the investigation, she goes back to Detective Frank Briggs to find new evidence, searching for the body of Tooms' missing victim from 1933 and supporting him in his covert surveillance. In her words she wouldn't put herself on the line for anyone but Mulder. A nice bit of foreshadowing there too for the season finale, where she will go to great lengths to save him.
The stakes are raised higher when Tooms sneaks into Mulder's apartment, not to kill him but to frame him. Mulder sleeps on his sofa - we won't find out he actually has a disused bedroom until season six! - and the use of the music from the original black and white version of The Fly is used very effectively to raise the tension.
An arrested Mulder comes face to face with Skinner for the first time and here we really see the kind of impact Mitch Pileggi has in his role. While he is still under influence of the Cigarette Smoking Man, he still exudes confidence and power and remains, at least for now, an enigma in Mulder and Scully's lives, still unsure if he believes their report even at the episode's end. Another noticeable moment in this episode is the Cigarette Smoking Man speaking for the very first time. "Of course I do." he scoffs when Skinner asks him if he believes the report.
But before we get to this 'momentous event', we have the final showdown with Tooms. After killing his doctor he retreats to 66 Exeter Street, transformed from a rundown building until a shiny new shopping centre. Mulder and Scully's search for the killer leads him into an underground tunnel and one of the most tense moments in the show's history. Mulder locates the nest and leans closer before - surprise! - Tooms leap out, making the audience jump out of their skin as he tries to drag Mulder in and then chases after him. Dripping with yellow bile, Tooms is terrifying as he climbs frantically after Mulder, snarling and gnashing his teeth. Thanks to a last minute activation of the escalator, Mulder climbs free and sends a screaming Tooms to his death, dragged through the metal teeth of the machine in a brutal manner befitting the iconic monster.
The case is closed but as Mulder tells Scully, everything is changing, echoing what is soon to come. Tooms is an episode that delivers a creepy, swansong for one of The X Files' most effective monsters in the show's history. It isn't subtle but it has some brilliantly tense moments, while setting up the season finale in style. And that's where we'll jump to next; the closing chapter of The X Files' first season in our final The X Files Revisited for season one...