Season 1 Episode 3 – Squeeze (78.56/100)
Way back in 1993, The X-Files had just aired two episodes about aliens and government conspiracies and I’m sure most people expected that to continue. Well, it can then be argued that Squeeze is one of the most important episodes in the show’s run because of its major changes to the formula. This was full-blown horror. And its a very good first go at horror as Chris Carter and his motley crew showed they had quite a few surprises up their sleeves. The X-Files was not a one-trick pony and would not be pigeon-holed.
Overall Episode Review
Squeeze is an enjoyable, tense ride with 17 of 21 scenes scoring over 70 for me. This is a tight script with some very effective scares, revealing character beats, and one hell of a monster in Eugene Victor Tooms. It’s not enough that he can stretch his limbs and squeeze into tiny spaces but he also dines on human livers! Oh and he’s over 100 years old. And hibernates regularly. In a nest. Made from bile. That’s basically seventeen episodes worth of ideas stuffed into one villain and writing them out like that, it sounds over-the-top. But the way the story is crafted, each of these characteristics comes about naturally and builds into an iconic character. James Wong and Glen Morgan should be praised for not playing it safe. However, despite their legendary creation, there are some clunky and poorly paced sequences that causes Squeeze to stumble a bit for me. Not a huge deal…but it’s enough to bring the final score down to 78.96.
But that’s at the end–lets start at the beginning! This is the best teaser we’ve had so far, starting us off at a score of 90 a few minutes into the episode. It’s a genuinely chilling opening with some great direction and a riveting hook. This is followed by the main investigation into the case occurring from approximately minute 3 through 27. There’s a lot of good during this section–tons of Scully character development as she realizes Tom Colton is a bit of a tool, lots of Mulder brazenly pushing his theories on any and everyone no matter how poorly he may come off, and a little dash of Eugene Victor Tooms being creepy as all hell.
But here’s where those clunky scenes come into play. Squeeze is well directed from a horror standpoint but non-horror is handled less gracefully. This is why the average score gets yanked down to just over 75 at minutes 15 and 26, respectively (rather than sticking closer to 80 as can be seen in graphs above). Case in point–Scully developing a profile and briefing the Violent Crimes Section is eye-rolling for me. Everything about this plays like a showcase of Scully’s superior talents, down to the inane compliments she receives afterwards. But come on! “Male, age 25-35, posing as a maintenance worker, OCD, and may return to a previous crime scene?” Anybody (even a liver-eating stretchy mutant) could have come up with this!
And then there’s the microfiche scene. Yes its only 52 seconds long and it shouldn’t impact things too much…but holy crap, that scene drags things to a screeching, 52 second-long halt. The music and the direction are supposed to show how exhausting a process this is for our duo but its not a good sign when I feel the same way. And what an awkward shot of them sitting side-by-side to finish things up.
But those are isolated misfires in an episode full of…non-misfires. The microfiche scene leads directly into the best parts of the episode. Mulder and Scully’s interviewing Detective Briggs is the emotional heart of the episode (even if it’s a tad melodramatic) and adds a layer of humanity to Squeeze. This is immediately followed by the iconic scene where Mulder and Scully investigate Tooms’ lair, a scene which oozes suspense and contains a fantastic back and forth between our duo discussing Tooms’ abilities. When Tooms snatches Scully’s plot-device/necklace, the score is back up to 78.73. The finale with Tooms attacking Scully is not quite as good but it’s good enough to bring the episode in to a final score of 78.56.
The next four sections will look more into the specific components of the episode. Here’s some definitions/explanations for these sections:
- First chart in each section is a scatter plot which shows Prevalence (how often a component was in the episode) versus Quality (how good the component was)
- Second chart in each section is a bar plot showing Impact Score, which is a combination of Prevalence and Quality and shows how much of the episode score was “impacted” by the item of interest.
- Third chart in each section is a line plot showing Impact Score over time by component which tells you when the component is present during the episode.
- Guest Character Breakdown-
- Govt/Military (gray) include all of the FBI agents including Tom Colton
- Villain (light blue) is the amazing Eugene Victor Tooms
- Witnesses/Victims (green) are Tooms’ two victims during the episode
- Experts (purple) include the lie detector lady
- Law Enforcement (orange) is the hilariously dramatic Frank Briggs
- Friends/Family (green) is again that tool of a character, Tom Colton
Squeeze nails its guest characters as between Tom Colton, Frank Briggs, and Tooms, they inject quite a bit of flavor into the episode. Combined they are the reason the guest characters impact the episode more than Mulder or Scully (61.84 Impact Score for guests). Colton is fairly one-note but he’s a strong character to be able to compare and contrast Scully with. Briggs adds a lot of heart into the episode…
But Squeeze is all about Tooms. In the long pantheon of classic X-Files villains, Eugene Victor Tooms is often placed towards the top. While I generally prefer those who impact Mulder or Scully psychologically, Tooms was the perfect villain for the show to focus so much on in its first Monster-of-the-Week episode (47.9% Prevalence, 81.78 Quality, 39.17 Impact). Not a layered character but subtly chilling, Tooms gives off an animalistic vibe every time he’s onscreen and Doug Hutchinson is great. And even when he’s not there, he’s the subject of the investigation which is why from minute 15 till the end, Guest Villain Impact Score is mostly rising.
So this episode is memorable because of Tooms but Dana Scully still makes quite a splash (78.34% Prevalence, 77.04 Quality, 60.36 Impact). Scully is clearly not thrilled with how she’s viewed by Colton and others in the bureau through her assignment to the X-Files. But what’s really interesting is when push comes to shove, she is there to solve the case, not to make her career. She defends Mulder to Colton not because of any bias but because she appreciates Mulder’s methods and determination. This may not be where she wanted to be but she much prefers working with Mulder than ladder-climbing like Colton. “The victims'” is one of my favorite Scully lines ever because it nails what makes her such a noble character.
Mulder doesn’t get quite as much character development as Scully but he gets the job done (64.33% Prevalence, 77.75 Quality, 50.02 Impact). Aside from that awesome jab at Colton in their first scene together, he’s the reason the plot to this episode makes any sense. He’s making connection after connection and is consistently one step ahead of everyone else in nailing Tooms (other than the ridiculous scene where he’s running around a stakeout in a plaid shirt shitting on Scully’s theory). Duchovny is good (not great quite yet) and his scenes serve a very important purpose: they serve as the template for every wacky theory he would make for the rest of the show’s run. So not much in terms of character development but a ton in terms of building up the framework of the show. And who could forget him sticking his fingers into Tooms’ bile nest?
Mulder and Scully
One thing that the early episodes of The X-Files do is keep Mulder and Scully together. They spend 63.21% of Squeeze together with only Scully really getting any major scenes to her lonesome (15.13% Prevalence). Not bad because the most important thing up to this point is building their relationship naturally.
What is novel about Squeeze is that this is the first episode where the focus drifts away from Mulder and Scully. 20.53% of the episode doesn’t include them and wouldn’t you know it, these happen to be the best part of the episode (84.57 Quality Score). Sure these scenes where Tooms stalks his prey are low-budget as hell but the slow-build in tension and the gritty atmosphere really heightens things. This was a great episode for the crew to dip into diverting their focus because Tooms is so damn unique; he gives us something else to think about other than how crazy-good David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s chemistry is.
The different scene types are all in the same neighborhood in terms of quality. What really differentiates this episode in terms of feel is the balance. Squeeze is primarily focused on dramatic scenes which end up impacting 52.03 of the episodes 78.56 score. 38.92 of those points come from the tense scenes, which is my fancy way of saying Tooms scaring the shit out of people is a major portion of this episode (47.53% Prevalence). You can see from the graph above that the last 13 minutes are filled with tension. Now your mileage may vary about how effective this is but there’s still this tangible feeling that The X-Files can effectively tackle horror.
What I find utterly shocking is how little exposition there is in this episode (33.17% Prevalence) considering Tooms is a veritable treasure trove of paranormal quirks. But that’s one of the strengths of this episode–Tooms’ abilities are introduced and explained elegantly without too much pure exposition. For example, the entire discussion between Mulder and Scully about Tooms’ hibernation periods could be considered pretty talky. But it’s all enhanced by the fact that it occurs during their atmospheric trek through Exeter Street.
Character development continues from the previous two episodes for Mulder and Scully (24.79% Prevalence, 75.36 Quality Score, 18.68 Impact Score). Their character development is a bit lower in terms of quality, mostly because of those clunky “Scully briefs the VCS” or “Mulder admits Scully was right after irresponsibly running around a stakeout” scenes.
What’s interesting here is that the guest characters get an equal amount of development while also being more interesting (25.16% Prevalence, 80.28 Quality Score, 20.20 Impact Score). This isn’t even about developing Tooms. He’s the major player in the episode but, character-wise, he’s fairly one-note (though that one-note involves squeezing into air ducts, stretching his fingers like string-cheese and eating livers like its no big deal, all while being over 100 years old). No, these character scenes are all about the minor characters like Tom Colton and Frank Briggs, both of whom bring something interesting to this episode.
I’ve already mentioned how I feel Briggs provides the emotional touchstone for the episode but Colton is a fun watch. He’s loathsome from the opening and it’s interesting to see Scully playing off of him. As his character develops (or rather reveals itself), Scully develops along with him, generating some of the better dramatic conversations in this episode. She starts off all chummy with him, then adopts a more professionally pleasant stance with him, then proceeds to be professional and stern when she (in an appropriately condescending manner) tells him she’s on “the victims’ side”. And then finally she just calls it quits on the friendship with a bout of righteous fury.
When The X-Files focus primarily on Mulder and Scully, much of my enjoyment is derived from their incredible banter and chemistry. While that’s here in doses, particularly their awesome back-and-forth at Exeter Street, their banter only finishes with an Impact Score of 10.40. And for you shippers out there, well there’s not much other than Mulder creepily groping at Scully’s necklace in an incredibly awkward scene. Nope this episode is mostly about the investigation (53.83% Prevalence, 76.53 Quality Score, 41.20 Impact Score) and the paranormal shenanigans (49.63% Prevalence, 81.68 Quality Score, 40.54 Impact Score).
The investigation’s quality score is a tad bit lower but that’s because of those clunky scenes I talked about earlier in this review. Other than that, it works well with each piece of the investigation segueing nicely into the next. Mulder makes some of his typical leaps but they make some semblance of sense here. And Scully isn’t just sitting around nay-saying like she does in many of the later seasons. Here, they work together well, subjecting Tooms to a polygraph, make good use of all-purpose television computer software that can do literally anything, interview grizzled old detectives with a predilection for comparing five murders to death camps, investigate creepy dilapidated buildings…
What I think works best is that Mulder and Scully are consistently learning more and more about Tooms’ paranormal abilities (Paranormal scenes ended with a Quality Score of 81.68). This isn’t a case of the viewer being too far ahead of our heroes. Sure there’s a ten minute span early on where Scully does her due diligence trying to figure out a real-world solution to the case. But then once they bring Tooms into custody, Mulder’s theories start bubbling to the surface and Scully, while not completely believing them, is productively engaging in them. So even though the purely paranormal moments where Tooms “stretches” himself are limited to a few scenes here or there, the investigation consistently engages with Tooms’ paranormal abilities (which is why the Paranormal line above shows a steady rise from minutes 14-43).
And with that incredibly dry finish, you’ve come to the end of my review of Squeeze! Stay tuned for Conduit where I review the first episode that’s kind of crappy.