There was a time when I was unfamiliar with The X-Files‘ unholy trinity of Robert Patrick Modell, Donald Addie Pfaster, and Eugene Victor Tooms. I’d read about these iconic villains while perusing The X-Files message boards but as the summer of 1997 raged on, I had yet to see any of the episodes. Then one glorious day I saw Pusher and it planted itself permanently among my top 5 episodes. This was shortly followed by my watching Irresistible which scared and riveted the crap out of me (though its questionable what “riveting the crap out of” something even means). The stage was all set for Squeeze to blow my mind when in late 1998, it graced my television screen. How did it fare? Well like the graphs at the bottom of this review, my feelings for this episode are needlessly complex.
Lets start with the bad–Squeeze feels dated. Super old-school but not in a flattering way. There is a reddish hue to everything which I assume was director Harry Longstreet trying to make Scully vanish into the background. Seriously, she wears an unflattering red suit for most of the episode and her hair is the same color as the cinematography and everything just feels bland and monochromatic. Usually, episodes of The X-Files have a very modern look which keeps them feeling fresh even now in 2020. Not Squeeze though.
Not helping things is one of Mark Snow’s weaker scores. He incorporates some nice creepy cues when Tooms is stalking his victims but throughout the rest of the episode, the music falls flat. That motif during the microfiche scene is particularly uninspired; I get its supposed to highlight how exhausting the search is for Mulder and Scully but I doubt it’s purpose is also to lull me to sleep. I usually find myself engrossed by Mark Snow’s music but in Squeeze, the score leaves much to be desired.
So aesthetically, this episode doesn’t work for me. The X-Files in its beautiful prime is like a plate of crispy, juicy, authentic fried chicken. Squeeze is like a picture of KFC vegetarian fried chicken with a garish Instagram filter that has been compressed to reduce the file size.
But that’s just the look and the feel of the episode which is not everything. The rest of Squeeze is pretty damn good. Glen Morgan and James Wong were tasked with scripting the first episode not to deal with aliens and they do not play it safe. A good X-Files monster of the week (MOTW) may have one or two paranormal aspects going on. Maybe a vampire here, perhaps a Big Blue there, hey how about some psychic photography or two Kathy Griffins (well that’s a bad MOTW)? But Squeeze doesn’t aim low, no sir. Morgan and Wong decided “hey, let’s create a monster who can squeeze himself into tiny objects and stretch himself out…but you know what, lets make him eat livers as well because no one eats livers…and why not have him hibernate every kill cycle to make it really weird…and lets have him make a cocoon out of bile because bile is a fan favorite…and screw it, lets just make him more than a 100 years old!”. This was the first MOTW episode and throwing in what feels like every disparate idea should have been detrimental to the episode. But somehow, that audacity works. Everything coalesces perfectly into Eugene Victor Tooms.
Doug Hutchinson is perfect as Tooms, giving him this bizarre other-worldly aura while also seeming like he could pass off as normal. At times deathly still and silent and at other times utterly feral, Tooms is the perfect inaugural human monster for the show. He’s not a chatty foil for our duo like Modell and we don’t get much insight into his day to day like Donnie Pfaster. Instead, Squeeze focuses on watching Mulder and Scully put together the pieces on Tooms rather than develop Tooms in any sort of depth. And that’s the right decision…we don’t need to know his motivations or his childhood psychoses. We just need a chilling villain and Tooms is that.
When we aren’t watching them investigate Tooms, we are treated to some creepy set pieces which are the highlights (and only well-directed scenes) of the episode. I particularly enjoy the teaser and the scene where Mulder and Scully investigate Exeter Street. The teaser is masterful in revealing bit by bit how Tooms gets at his victims and its incredibly unsettling. The search through the apartment near the climax is absolutely soaked in atmosphere and has one of the best early examples of Mulder and Scully investigative banter.
Even though Doug Hutchinson is not over-saturating our screens (no the reddish hue is doing that), this is still the first episode to give such heavy lifting to its guest stars. Donald Logue is absolutely loathsome as Tom Colton, an ambitious douchebag of an FBI Agent whose tendency for shortcuts and quick, easy answers draws an obvious contrast to Mulder. And then we’ve got the classic Frank Briggs, played by the late Henry Beckman. I tell you, most people who compare the deaths of five people to concentration camps tend to annoy me but Briggs is great. His scene with Mulder and Scully forms the emotional center of the episode and he makes the most of his short screen-time.
And how ’bout good ol’ Mulder and Scully? They are pretty strong here as well. Squeeze gives us our first real look at how other characters react to Mulder. Colton and his cronies disrespect, dismiss, and outright mock him throughout the episode. The show had already established that Mulder has all of these bizarre theories but up to now, we only really got to see him play off of Scully. Watching Mulder react to these assholes is delightful. Mulder’s not above trolling Colton for his own amusement and making jabs here or there. But there are also little moments where David Duchovny shows that Mulder might be genuinely hurt by some of that behavior and that it wears him down. When Scully calls him out for acting territorial, Mulder opens up a bit about his frustrations and you can sense the growing trust and connection between them.
While we get to see how Mulder deals with his day-to-day existence, Scully is busy planting her flag with Team Mulder. She’s clearly excited to be working on a case that isn’t the butt of every joke and you can see that she’d be damn good at these more traditional cases (though I have a major problem with how the script makes her FBI colleagues praise her “incredible” profile when the profile she gives sounds as rudimentary as they come). But once the case turns bizarro, unlike Colton, she’s not satisfied toeing the company line. No she will do what’s right, even if it doesn’t necessarily align with her beliefs and that’s what makes Scully such a great character. She can be stubborn and frustrating in her rigidity but she’s willing to have her position refuted and her opinion changed. And that’s where Mulder notices the difference between her and other FBI Agents. When he’s telling her he won’t hold it against her if she wants to move on from working on the X-Files because “at least (she) respects the journey”, he’s basically telling her “hey buddy, its cool that we disagree because you aren’t just being a fucking dick about it like everyone else”. Squeeze really feels like the episode where their partnership is solidified.
So Squeeze may not have blown my mind like Pusher and Irresistible but its nothing to be ashamed of; those are two of the most iconic episodes ever and came around once the feel of The X-Files was firmly established. Squeeze might look like crap but it makes up for it elsewhere. Great villain, strong character development, and some forward progression in Mulder and Scully’s relationship. But most importantly, this is the episode that opened the door for every MOTW episode from here on out.
FINAL SCORE: 79.90/100