The X-Files #3: Squeeze

"Oh my God, Mulder! It smells like... I think it's bile!" "Is there any way I can get it off my fingers quickly without betraying my cool exterior?"
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder and Scully investigate a long-lived mutant serial killer who can squeeze through any opening.

REVIEW: The first X-Files unrelated to the mytharc - and perhaps not coincidentally brought to the office by Scully, rather than dictated by Mulder - presents the paradigm the show will often follow through the course of its run. It's the first "Monster of the Week". Initially, it's presented as a locked room murder mystery, and Scully (and thus Mulder) is only invited because her old Academy chums, living it large on the FBI fast track, want to do her a favor. What they fail to realize is that she doesn't think she needs to be rescued from the basement offices. These is Scully's overriding character traits, duty and loyalty, the former to the bosses she's writing those reports for, the latter to her partner, no matter how unconventional. And think of it from her perspective: She's serving a dual purpose, working on the X-files, but also keeping tabs on Mulder for the higher-ups. That may not be an obvious fast track (if she's indeed ambitious, and we don't know that), but she IS doing important work for important people.

As for the plot, it's halfway between a monster story and a serial killer mystery, and considering that (has has been mentioned in comments to this here blog) Scully was initially based on Clarice from Silence of the Lambs, it should come as no surprise the killer eventually invades her apartment, a scene that makes her more vulnerable because she's drawing a bath. Not showing anything - she never disrobes - but our brains fill in the heightened danger. A superhuman (or mutant) contortionist, Tooms (the writers are having fun with names, one of his victims has the Poe-inspired surname Usher) is dead creepy, and the direction, though incapable of showing us much in the way of his powers on screen, supports that kind of atmosphere very well. Suddenly, you're wary of every vent no matter how small, and that final shot of Tooms, dementedly smiling at the food slot in his sell ends the episode on the perfect note. The director also overcomes his incapacity to show gore - and in a story about a guy who rips livers out of people and devours them, that's a bit of an obstacle - using dripping coffee as a substitute for blood, for example, or extinguishing an ember in a fireplace in lieu of the murder itself. That said, I'm not entirely certain Tooms' capture satisfies - no way do handcuffs hold this guy - and I'll call foul on the casting of the retired police officer who gives our heroes a crucial clue - no way is that man in his 90s. But minor complaints both.

What a more straightforward procedural mystery like this does is show just how good both Scully and Mulder are at detective work. Scully is an able profiler here, though Gillian Anderson really needs to take lessons on how to hold a gun comfortably, and Mulder has a keener eye than any in the FBI task force actually assigned the case. I love the bit where he's doing microfiche research and asks for Dramamine, it's true those readers do make you seasick! Despite the fantasy and the story telling shortcuts (i.e. the FBI basically has a profiling unit, they wouldn't call in Scully for this, etc.), there's real attention to creating a reality in this episode. Mulder gets some fun wisecracks in - "do you think I'm spooky" is a great deadpan comic moment, and not the only one - and I think it's interesting that he's always throwing out some pop culture reference or other. Contrast with Scully who probably studied hard all her life and never had much time for hobbies. A paranoid insomniac probably watches a lot of TV, on the other hand...

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Not part of the mytharc... or is it??? What would cause a mutation like Tooms'? Think about it. If aliens HAVE been here for a long time, and if they're experimenting on people today to turn humans into Greys (as per the Pilot), might those experiments have started earlier? And might these failed experiments have created aberrations like Tooms? Greys do have long fingers, don't they?

- The first monster of the week is memorable and the horror tropes are well handled, better, I think, than in the Pilot where they felt ill at ease next to the SF stuff next to it.


snell said...

It's interesting to note that, while still evolving, the show's visual aesthetic is already fairly firmly established. They knew how to do creepy (sci-fi or horror) on a network budget, how to suggest the gore without crossing the line, and how to use the camera to suggest that the ordinary was full of danger. The X-Files, even in the teasers, was unlike anything on television at the time, and more influential than most people realize...

American Hawkman said...

This episode was my first watched. Really hooked me in.


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