I’ve been delving into the popular sci-fi series The X-Files for a while now, making many attempts and failures to engage with its first season. Since the summer, and I’ve been weaving in and out through the series’ various episodes, trying to piece the gigantic enterprise together. It may seem strange for me to go back and recap an over two decades old television show, in some ways that type of thing is what the blog was built for. Join me this week for the David Nutter directed and Glen Morgan/James Wong written twenty-first episode!
“Tooms” is a monster of the week episode, but it’s also a sequel to the third episode, “Squeeze.” It features the same monster as that previous week, the liver-eating, house-breaking into, hibernating for thirty years only to emerge and kill again, Eugene Victor Tooms. If there was any monster to do a sequel on, Tooms is about the best choice that the show could make. “Tooms” is just about as good as “Squeeze,” and ends up being pretty important to the show.
We first see Tooms exactly where we left him, in a mental hospital contemplating and attempting escape. No need, though. His psychiatrist Dr. Monte (Paul Ben Victor) is hellbent on getting him released, which works despite Mulder’s protestations. Tooms goes back to his job at animal control, and moves in with a nice family, but Mulder is still on his tail. We see him fixate on several potential victims, until Mulder shows up at the last minute to save them. While Mulder is watching Tooms, Scully is out trying to find any evidence that can tie Tooms to the previous murders, with the help of Detective Briggs (Henry Beckman) from the previous episode. After Mulder foils Tooms’ attempts to break into a suburban house, Tooms hitches a ride back to Mulder’s apartment. The Tooms frames Mulder for an attack on his own person, which puts Mulder on leave from the Bureau and Scully as the only one who can prove Tooms’ guilt.
The Tooms stuff is a little bit less suspenseful than we’ve seen previously, at least the stuff towards the beginning of the episode that happens in broad daylight. Part of this is because we basically already know what Tooms’ MO, and another part of this is because the effects in the beginning are pretty cheesy. We’ll get alternating shots of Tooms staring at a random individual and that individual going about their business in slow motion, with the color drained from their environment so they are the only thing in the frame in color and the rest is black and white. I’m not really sure this was necessary and it just seems overwrought. That being said, Tooms trying to break into the house through the toilet was spooky as hell (is the shot of the toilet water bubbling another reference to The Conversation? It was an explicit reference in “EBE,” but I want to believe (heh heh) they’re also drawing from that well again here.) He ultimately gets in through the window, leaving his signature elongated fingerprints behind. There’s a chilling shot of Mulder’s car door closing, and the understanding that Tooms is hiding in his trunk. Overall, very well filmed episode, except the color drain/slow motion effect at the beginning.
It was these team dynamics that had me appreciating this episode, mostly. The skeptic/believer stuff is hear in this episode, especially when Mulder is testifying at the beginning and Scully is on the case with old-timer Detective Briggs. The issue of trust was really what I keyed into. In the beginning, Scully is in a meeting with the new boss, assistant director of the FBI Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), who chews her out about the general unconventionality of The X-Files. Scully does her best to defend herself (I haven’t checked this, mostly because I’m not sure what the FBI would consider a successful clearance based on what is shown in these episodes, but 75% seems really high! I guess they probably don’t show every case on the show.), but Skinner comes across as a hard ass here. Plus there’s our least favorite government spook, the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), smoking malevolently in the background. Skinner will become as close a thing to a third X-Files team member as the show will ever have, but I forget how divided his loyalties are in the beginning of the show.
I love how the script connects the two scenes with Skinner to the rest of the episode when Mulder and Scully are alone. After Scully comes out of her meeting and Mulder comes out of Tooms’ hearing Mulder makes a comment about Scully’s reluctance to look into the older murders: “they’ve already skinned you.” He’s ostensibly making a fishing analogy here, but this comment basically sets up Skinner as a pawn of the FBI mainstream that’s been mocking Mulder for years, before Mulder’s even met him (as far as I can tell, anyway).
The best example of the uncertainty over Skinner’s loyalties is a visual moment towards the end though, when Mulder is leaving Skinner’s office and the focus is very shallow on him. CSM crosses over to the desk just as Skinner is warning Mulder about continuing his unofficial Tooms surveilence. Because the focus is so shallow, it’s hard at first to really tell who is talking to Mulder. CSM moves in the background so you’re kind of looking at him, but it’s Skinner that’s talking. It takes a bit of work to tell where the order is actually coming from, CSM or Skinner.
Only one more, I promise. Mulder and Scully have a nice conversation in the car where Scully urges Mulder to take a break from surveillance and get some sleep, calling him by his first name. Mulder balks at this, saying that he’s always gone by his last name. It puts the emphasis on their work relationship, this constant use of last names only. Later, Skinner is warning Mulder about his Tooms surveillance and he is much nicer to him than he was to Scully in the first scene he was in, grilling her about her reports and their unconventional methods. This seemed a bit unfair, since as far as Skinner knows Mulder beat up a defenseless mental patient whereas Scully just needs to write more rigorous reports. Presumably because Mulder is a man with a more established career at the bureau than Scully, Skinner tries to act more friendly with him. Poor Scully and Mulder. Skinner got to call Mulder by his first name in that scene.
The introduction of Skinner’s character was really the highlight for me in this episode, but the Tooms stuff was mostly well-handled too. I’d still prefer “Squeeze” for their handling of that character, but both episodes on the whole are really strong. When I was trying to introduce a friend of mine over the summer to The X-Files, I showed them “Squeeze” and “Tooms” back to back. They give you a good sense of what season one has to offer, and this script in particular seemed really strong to me. We have a few more Monster of the Weeks in this season before the finale, and I hope they manage to sustain the level of these last two episodes.
“I even made my parents call me Mulder.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
Note: This is the last episode, or maybe next to last episode depending on how my week goes, that I’m going to be able to watch on Netflix before they get rid of The X-Files on April 1st! This doesn’t make a huge difference to the recaps I suppose, but I will have to get the DVDs and I hope they’re quality. The good news about that is I’ll get to take my own screen grabs again. I’ll miss the Netflix convenience though.