Welcome to the ‘monster of the week’ episode…
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. This time we’ll explore the first genuine classic in the show’s history…
The X Files isn’t all about government conspiracies and alien encounters. It’s also about terrifying serial killers and monsters of the week. Long before Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Supernatural brought us ghouls and demons lying at the heart of everyday life, The X Files was chilling audiences with some truly horrific monstrosities. And yet despite delivering the same for nine years, ask an fan which was the worst monster of them all and the chances are they’ll give you the very first killer, Eugene Victor Tooms.
At this very early stage in the show’s run, Squeeze was something altogether unexpected; The Outer Limits on a big budget and it turned the show into a talking point. Delivering one of your all time classics at episode three? That’s not a bad feat.
The pre-title sequence is terrifying stuff. The yellowish eyes watching the victim from the sewer grate. The creepy music that has been used to chill audiences across numerous TV shows. The shadowy hands climbing up the lift shaft. The screws turning on narrow vent of the victim’s office and hand reaching out. It is so perfectly done because it is both unbelievable and yet invades the very real world we live in. It is also a case of less is more. We see very little; dripping blood on the cupboard, the victim’s face reflected in office ornament, the vent closing and screw turning back into place. Chilling stuff indeed.
When we finally meet Eugene Tooms, climbing through the air ducts in the victim’s office, he doesn’t disappoint. Even in his most ‘human guise’ Tooms is unsettling. Doug Hutchison delivers an odd, creepy performance that suggests there is something rather dangerous lurking beneath his outward, naive persona. He plays the confused victim in the lie detector scene and then emerges as a vicious psychopath in the final scenes when he attacks Scully in her own home.
And yet there is very little of him as deranged killer – that comes later in the season one sequel episode Tooms. A lot of the mystique around him is built through Mulder and Scully’s investigation into the historic murders, their meeting with former detective Frank Briggs who witnessed first hand the horrors of the 1933 murders and their discussion of evil. Briggs compares the slaughter at the Powhattan Mill to the Nazi death camps, which suggests just how monstrous this killer really is. The first outright witnessing of Tooms killing – stretching himself down the chimney shaft to attack the man in his own home – doesn’t come until halfway through the episode. The suggestion of evil that surrounds Tooms builds the mystery and tension throughout the episode right through to that dramatic attack at the episode’s end.
There is also a lot of scene setting for the show here two, not just in the establishment of the ‘monster of the week’ episode but also how Mulder and Scully fit into this world. The great thing about watching these early season one episodes is seeing just how different the two lead characters were. Scully still has a life; we open up with her chatting over lunch with an old colleague Tom Colton. At this stage she has so much potential within the bureau. Mulder even jokes that in 30 years’ time she’ll be the director and it is almost tragic to see them before the events of the show took their inevitable impact. I imagine it will be the same when we are introduced to their various family members before their impending demises.
But it is her ‘normal life’ connections that serve to get Scully involved with the case. Colton teases her over her involvement in the X Files one minute but then actively asks her to use that resource to help him catch the murderer. While he might be openly hostile to Mulder’s unconventional actions I get the feeling it was exactly what he was hoping for when the case stumped him.
It is also great to see a more playful Mulder in his season one days. He certainly plays up to his reputation as ‘spooky Mulder’ and delivers one of the show’s greatest lines when Colton jokes that the murder was caused by little green men.
“Grey. You said green men.” Mulder corrects him. “A Reticulian’s skin tone is gray. They’re notorious for their extraction of terrestrial human livers, due to iron depletion in the Reticulum galaxy.” When Colton scoffs that he can’t be serious, Mulder responds with dead seriousness. “Do you know how much liver and onions go for on Reticulum?” It still amuses me on the 10+ viewing.
But things do take a turn for the worse. If Mulder and Scully found themselves blocked by the military last episode, this episode they find themselves at odds within the FBI. His added questions to Toom in the lie detector test ‘are you over 100 years old?’ makes him come across as crazy and later he finds his request to conduct surveillance on Tooms overturned by a bitter Colton. It is an action that almost costs Scully her life but also forces her to side with Mulder over her friends and colleagues, something that will only develop as the series progresses.
There is a lot of depth to this episode, making it more than a simple murder mystery and demonstrating why it has gained classic cult status. The trip to 66 Exeter Street is a chilling sequence and the shot of Mulder and Scully entering the dark room holding torches becomes the staple of the title sequence and the show itself. Particularly chilling is the revelation that Tooms has been watching them enter his lair, stealing Scully’s necklace around her neck.
And as for the nest – it is still one of the nastiest elements of the story. “Oh my God Mulder, it smells like…I think it’s bile. Scully mutters with disgust to which Mulder delivers another fantastic line. “Is there anyway I can get it off my fingers quickly without betraying my cool exterior?“. No Mulder you can’t. By making the killer a liver-eating monster, Tooms becomes one of the most repulsive creatures in the show’s history.
The climax of the episode is very tense. Scully discovers bile dripping on her hand as she runs her bath, leaving her utterly exposed. Mulder races to save her, unable to call her as her phone line has been cut. I noted, watching the episode again that Scully has a different apartment in later episodes. After this event is not hard to see why.
The episode ends with Tooms building a nest in his cell. The chilling smile on his lips as he watches the very narrow hatch on his prison door still sends a shiver down my spine. Even when caught he is calm, collected and very, very creepy. And unlike other monsters, Eugene Victor Tooms would be back.
Next time, we jump ahead to season one’s Arctic-horror based eighth episode Ice. Have an idea for a particular episode you want us to review? Please let us know below!
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