Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The X-Files - "Squeeze" (season 1, episode 3)

Monday, June 4, 2018

The X-Files - "Squeeze" (season 1, episode 3)


Welcome to my viewing diary for The X-Files. Every day, except Saturday, I will offer a short review of another episode until I finish the first season. Future entries will cover the remaining seasons, breaking to review the feature films where chronologically appropriate, and eventually reach the recent miniseries. I have seen very few X-Files episodes, though I was utterly fascinated with the concept as a child, so for the most part this will be a first-timers' perspective. There will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on September 24, 1993/written by Glen Morgan & James Wong, directed by Harry Longstreet): I mentioned last time that eventually the series would need to look for different locations than quiet all-American towns where danger lurks and sure enough, "Squeeze" re-directs us into a very urban milieu. Scully and (reluctantly) Mulder are brought on board an investigation by a Baltimore FBI office, led by the smarmy, nakedly ambitious Tom Colton (Donal Logue), an old colleague of Scully's. This is a good way to demonstrate her loyalty to her new "spooky" partner, as she takes Mulder's side against friends and higher-ups who mock his paranormal inclinations. This case gives them plenty of fodder as attention focuses on Eugene Victor Tooms (Doug Hutchinson), a calm, quiet young man whose polygraph checks out - except that two particular questions make him nervous. Those questions revolve around the commission of earlier crimes...decades earlier in fact, some as old as the early twentieth century, long before Eugene should have been born. Using long, eerily stretched-out fingerprints and old newspaper clippings, Mulder becomes convinced that Tooms is an ageless mutant who can extend his body to squeeze through narrow spaces. While the other agents laugh, we in the audience are given a privileged glimpse of him extending down chimneys and through ducts, ripping out the livers of innocent people; eventually Mulder and Scully will discover his lair in a derelict old building and battle him when he sneaks into Scully's own apartment. The episode ends with Tooms "safely" imprisoned inside a walled cell but when a guard delivers his meal and leaves the tiny trap door open, Tooms stares intently at that impossibly narrow little space...and displays a chilling smile.

My Response:
When I started to watch The X-Files a few years ago, this was the episode I stopped at (not for any particular reason, just because I got distracted). It's likely the last full episode I've seen, though I glimpsed bits and pieces of later ones (and saw the first feature film in a theater). In memory, this was the least impressive of the opening trio, which re-viewing more or less confirms although quick internet research indicates I'm probably in the minority there (Wikipedia quotes a critic who says this was the episode that "really sold the X-Files idea to the masses"). Some of the special effects look a little cheesy, the Tom Colton character is aggressively one-note in his petulance, and while I was curious to see The X-Files in various locales, I'm not totally sold on the supernatural-city thing, at least not in this incarnation. The episode tries to reach for larger themes, with an old cop who calls Tooms the embodiment of all man's evil in the twentieth century, and there's one moment that just feels sort of embarrassing, as the retiree shakes his head at a Bosnian massacre headline and then nods in satisfaction when he turns the page to see news of Tooms' arrest. The screenplay (I wouldn't be surprised if this was written as a standalone spec or for another series, and then adapted to fit these characters) seems to be going for a "BOB from Twin Peaks" vibe, with Tooms as the embodiment of "the evil that men do." One of the episode's strongest points is Tooms himself. There's something very creepy about a "creature" who moves freely through space, attacks victims like an animal, and flashes cold, lizardlike eyes and teeth...yet essentially exists in human form. This makes the violence much creepier than if the culprit was just an outright non-human monster. Hutchinson is also excellent at conveying an unnerving creepiness in his "normal" scenes and the cliffhanger episode certainly left me hoping we would see him again. My hesitant research has already spoiled how often we will (or won't) return to this character so I'll shut up now, but even if I'm mixed on this episode, it's nice to have our first real X-Files villain land so effectively.

Next: "Conduit" • Previous: "Deep Throat"

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