Tooms is a hell of an episode. Aesthetically, it could be plopped into any other season and not feel out of place. It nails Mulder’s characterization from start to finish, combining his dogged pursuit of Eugene Tooms with some genuinely heart-felt developments in his relationship with Scully, all while laying the foundation for where the mythology is going as we head into Season 2. The only thing holding Mulder back in these rankings is his presence. When he’s there, Mulder is amazing but this is the third least amount of screen-time he has in Season 1. And just like Young at Heart found its way all the way up to #11 in these rankings by having so much Mulder, Tooms has to settle in at #10 for having less Mulder than the episodes above it. (But damn, what a #10.)
The comparisons to Young at Heart don’t end there. Both episodes focus on Mulder dealing with a killer he’d put away previously but unlike the aforementioned episode, Tooms puts this premise to fantastic use. Squeeze did the legwork of establishing Eugene Tooms as a formidable adversary so there is already a layer of tension simmering throughout. And boy, do we get treated to some excellent sequences! Mulder’s stakeout of Tooms as he stalks a victim via toilet is riveting and Tooms breaking into Mulder’s apartment is a great subversion of what we expect. But neither holds a candle to the climax when Tooms chases Mulder in the crawlspace under an escalator in one of the most memorable images of the entire show. Tooms weaves Mulder into the action masterfully.
It helps that Mulder attacks this case with a chip on his shoulder. This comes out in small ways, such as him hilariously interrupting Tooms’ stalking his victims or in the very childish way Mulder responds to what may be actual words of concern and support from Skinner. These are fairly minor moment but this is who Mulder is. Even in moments of great crisis and danger, he deflects with humor or acts petulant when being called out by superiors. This is not really character development (we already knew these things about Mulder) but it makes all of the drama and emotion feel earned because Mulder is fully in character. That’s what Young at Heart failed miserably at.
The scene where we REALLY get chippy Mulder is the courtroom scene. He has shown before that he has little patience for those who won’t look beyond their limited worldview and here, he’s absolutely surrounded by these narrow-minded naysayers. There’s the doctor who seems to think that its ok that Tooms broke into Scully’s apartment and tried to rip her liver out because of “frustration directed at the wrong person”. There’s the judge who shuts down Mulder’s testimony as soon as he veers into paranormal territory and of course there’s Dr. Monte who is utterly naïve and idiotic in his diagnosis of Tooms. And true to form, Mulder looks disgusted.
Unfortunately, Mulder torpedoes his own efforts during his testimony. I’m not sure it would have mattered but damn, Fox, you gotta tailor the message for your crowd! All they needed was a reminder about the sheer brutality of Tooms’ attack on Scully and the fact that he had freakin’ trophies from his murder victims. But nope, Mulder decides to talk about Tooms’ inhuman elasticity, his hibernation habits, and his involvement in 60 year old crimes. And just like that Tooms is a free mutant.
Mulder just can’t help himself when dealing with paranormal disbelievers; it’s like he has a pathological need to show people EVERY detail they are missing in the vain hopes that they will suddenly believe. And as charismatic as Mulder can be, Mulder’s ego gets in his way. When Scully comes out to debrief with him, he cuts her off by saying that he didn’t care how it sounded, as long as it was the truth. That’s great and all but I’m sorry Mulder, its more important to keep Tooms off the streets than to get this courtroom to believe in the paranormal. Mulder wants–nay–EXPECTS everyone to drop all of their biases and past experiences and believe fully as long as he provides enough detail.
Unfortunately I think Mulder is just too prideful to take any tactic other than this. He sees how flimsy the other witness’ testimonies were but refuses to soften up his own approach even if he would get the results he desired. And I really think a part of Mulder gets off on people scoffing at his theories. He feels it gives him the moral high ground which is why Mulder can sometimes have that holier than thou attitude.
This is also why he rarely gets along with his superiors, like Assistant Director Walter Skinner. I can’t help but think that Skinner is being honest with the concern he shows to Mulder in their one scene together. Mitch Pileggi plays the “stern but disapproving father” so perfectly and really seems to want Mulder to get back on the right path. But Mulder doesn’t trust him and why should he, seeing as Skinner appears to have been written more as a Cigarette Smoking Man lackey in Tooms than he would be going forward. But its not just that he distrusts Skinner’s motives. He also sees Skinner’s assertion that he is influencing Scully negatively as more of that narrow-minded ignorance that he despises so much.
His relationship with Scully is different though. She rejects his theories but does it in a respectful and collaborative way that Mulder finds refreshing. And I think Scully truly admires that righteous streak of Mulder’s. She might roll her eyes in embarrassment for him and wish he omitted some details to save face but she can recognize the purity of his passion. There is no middle ground with Mulder. There is right and there is wrong. And for Mulder, the truth is right and anything else (even skimping on the details) is wrong. And while it can make Mulder infuriating at times, I believe its the reason that Scully tells him he’s the only person she’d put herself on the line for.
This is shipper heaven but its more complex. Yeah she might have a crush on him; hell she might even be in love with him (there is a reason I am not doing Scully rankings because I’m still trying to figure out what my wife thinks about me half the time). But my interpretation is that there was nothing romantic in what she says. No this is Scully saying “I believe fully in you”. That is, she recognizes in him a man who will go to the ends of the earth to do what is right and that is something she can get behind fully.
Its a momentous moment that I think Mulder promptly misinterprets because he’s been thrown for a loop by her calling him “Fox”. If she had not used his first name, I think he would have received the message completely. But by her saying “Fox”, I think the guy part of his brain got triggered and he’s immediately wary of throwing the status quo of their relationship out of whack. So when she tells him how much he means to her, rather than recognize this for what it is, I think his internal reaction goes more along the lines of “wait what? Does she like me? Huh?! I have no fucking idea what to say. What do I do?? WHAT THE FUCK!?! DOES SHE LIKE ME?! AHHHHH SHES LOOKING AT ME! I GOTTA SAY SOMETHING!” And so Mulder does what he does best: he deflects with humor.
Now I don’t think Mulder was definitively opposed to anything happening between them. If she had leaned over and kissed him, I’m sure he would have responded in kind. But her calling him “Fox” gave his mind time to over-react to the situation and think “uh oh, what is happening here”. And I think his jokey response is his defense mechanism. Mulder has a very rigid view on his and Scully’s relationship and anytime she strays from that (Never Again), he gets thrown for a complete loop. And so I think he freaks out in the car out of fear that Scully is trying to change their relationship. While he is attracted to her, she’s far too important to him to risk losing her over something like dating. Its only once the cancer arc heats up in Season 4 that I think he starts seriously considering her as something more than just the greatest, most essential opposite sex friend in the history of opposite sex friendships on this planet full of members of the opposite sex.
So essentially Scully just told Mulder that her value system has shifted seismically from being around him and Mulder kind of missed the point. But it doesn’t really matter because he would realize it soon thereafter when she (very, very, VERY poorly) lies to Skinner and the Cigarette Smoking Man about his unauthorized surveillance of Tooms. And its here that I gotta talk about some of the more unflattering parts of Mulder’s character.
Tooms fits into the Season 1 mythology because, beyond all of the shenanigans with the episode’s namesake, the underlying threat is the imminent closure of The X-Files. Scully is essentially told in her first scene by Skinner that she hasn’t done her job in reigning Mulder in. And Tooms proceeds to be a case-study in Mulder tackling a case in the least bureaucratically acceptable manner possible. But what’s interesting is just how much Mulder takes Scully for granted. Right off the bat, he essentially shames Scully when she parrots Skinner about going by the book. This is a young FBI agent, just now making a name for herself, and he chastises her for doing what her boss asked her to do? That’s gotta be rough. Yes, he gives lip-service to respecting her if she personally doesn’t agree with his methods, but I still find it pretty damn insensitive that he ignores the fact that she had a very stressful meeting with Skinner and CSM and makes her immediately feel bad for letting it affect her.
As much as we love Mulder, he’s a toxic influence on Scully. She’s willing to put herself on the line for Mulder but he kind of expects it and encourages it. He says that he would hate to see her career tarnished due to his influence but even once he realizes that Skinner and CSM know fully well that she’s lying to cover his ass, Mulder doesn’t do anything about it. Mulder will routinely play the martyr card and remove any decision-making authority from Scully when it comes to risking her life (see End Game) but when it comes to their careers, Mulder doesn’t stop and think about how things will impact her. Whether its continuing to include her in this investigation after the meeting with Skinner, or when its convincing her to ignore all sorts of protocol during the bomb threat in Fight the Future which almost costs her her job, Mulder’s only priority is the truth.
And that’s what makes him such a deliciously complex character despite having such tunnel-vision.
1.) Jokey Mulder: I compared this episode’s structure to Young at Heart and one of the ways that episode failed was in having Mulder lose all of his wit. Tooms doesn’t make the same mistake; despite Eugene Tooms being a constant threat, Mulder is dropping one liners throughout. His “Norweigan Elk Hound” joke is a classic.
2.) Self-Righteous Mulder: I’ve talked at length about how self-righteous Mulder is in this episode and it just adds so much to the episode.
3.) Theorizing Mulder: Mulder doesn’t have any new theories since he blew through his quota in Squeeze.
4.) Leaping Mulder: I find it to be kind of a leap that it took him looking all over town for a caterpillar to conclude that “change is coming”.
5.) Investigative Mulder: He delegates much of the investigation to Scully so that he can focus on some grander set-pieces in this episode. But he makes up for it by doing a damn good job of tailing Tooms.
6.) Trademarked Sad “Duchovnyish-Whisper” Mulder: Lots of emotions from Mulder in this one but “sad” isn’t one of them.
7.) Endangered Mulder: I think the scene in Mulder’s apartment is marvelously tense. Very rarely do I feel like either Mulder or Scully are truly in danger in the Monster of the Week episodes but I remember watching this scene for the first time and wondering how the hell he would get out of this. More overtly, that climax in the finale is a pitch-perfect “Mulder in danger” scene.
8.) Fiery Mulder: “Courtroom Mulder” is always fired up.
9.) Annoying Mulder: I think Mulder likely annoyed everyone in that courtroom, including Scully. Also, I’m sure his smarmy response when Skinner asks him to step away does not elicit fondness from Skinner.