Sunday, May 1, 2016

Case 01, File 21: Tooms

AKA: There's Elastic Man, Plastic Man...

The X-Files has an awkward history in doing followups to their well received episodes. The temptation is always there of course, since most episodes end vaguely, with the implication that the monster of the week is still out there, if not active. The problem is, there's usually not a lot of meat on those bones. To its credit, the show always managed to avoid the sequel episodes being just a retread of the original, but that means that they tend to wind up...well a little weird. We'll cover the strangest one way, way, WAY down the line when we get to Season 7, but for now, let's talk about this one.

Tooms kicks off on a scene that could be right after the final shot of Squeeze, with Tooms trying to break out of prison. But it turns out he needn't bother, as the next morning he has his parole hearing, and despite assaulting an FBI Agent (and being an immortal stretchy serial killer) he's let free, partially because Mulder gives a true, but insane sounding, testimony. Scully couldn't give her testimony though, because she was busy being chewed out by Skinner, in his first appearance, for not being by the book enough.

But as we all know, telling Mulder to work by the book is basically wasted breathe, so he immediately begins to follow Tooms around town, waiting for him to do something illegal. He stops him from breaking in and killing some random dude in his house, but Tooms gets sick of being tracked and sneaks into Mulder's apartment to fake having been beaten by him. Mulder points out, you know, forensics, but Skinner is still annoyed that Mulder is stalking him and orders him to stop.

While all this is going on, Scully has teamed up with the old cop from the previous episode to find proof that Tooms is responsible for the murders from the 1930s. After investigating an old chemical plant, they find a skeleton with teeth marks matching Tooms' on it, so they go to arrest Tooms, but find out he's killed his psychiatrist. They go check out his old apartment, to find it's been turned into a shopping mall, with Tooms hiding under the escalator. He gets caught in the escalator while fighting with Mulder and dies (very Indiana Jones), but despite their...success I guess, Mulder feels like changes are coming.

"Look, I know he broke in Scully's house and tried to kill her, but is he really such a bad guy?"
Squeeze was, is and always will be one of the most well known and popular X-Files episodes, so I guess a sequel episode was inevitable, but of the handful of sequel episodes The X-Files did in its history, this is probably the closest to the original in quality. Its also, notably, the only one I can think of that takes place in the same season as the episodes its a sequel to.

And its probably just the boost the series needed to make it the rest of the way through the season. The X-Files was struggling a bit in the early series (you can tell because of the sheer number of "Revenge from beyond the grave" plots it used in the first season) and wouldn't really find its feet until it fully embraced the idea of Americana reimagined as horror iconography in season 2 or so, so reusing one of its most memorable monster so close to the season finale was probably the burst it needed. Lord knows the next two episodes won't do that.

"The body is here! I know it! And don't ask how I know it!"
It also resolves things with Tooms fairly...well I was going to say cleanly, but given that he gets sucked into an elevator (ew), I don't think that's the word I want. Finally. There is a sense of finality in the end of this episode. Part of this is because we know Tooms is gone (getting sucked into an elevator is pretty permanent) but also because the atmosphere of the episode has a sense of things coming to an end. I honestly think the production team didn't think they were getting a second season and wanted the audience to feel it too.

Aside from that though, my ability to comment on this episode is limited. While both of the later sequel episodes departed pretty radically from their original episode, this episode has the same basic structure and cast (minus Scully's douchey friend from the past), so all the things that were good about it have been ported over, pretty much unchanged.

Tooms is still an incredibly creepy guy, and Hutchinson still does a great job playing him, possibly because he seems like a creepy dude himself (he decided he wanted to do the climax naked, which apparently skeeved everyone on set out). The atmosphere is still solid, the writing is still pretty good (probably better, now that Scully's douchey friend is gone) and Mulder and Scully's relationship and chemistry is, if anything, stronger than ever.

The new addition of Skinner is probably the other thing this episode is known for, albeit less so. Skinner is a character I will discuss later. His slips back and forth between villain, hero, anti-hero, anti-villain and so many times throughout the series, that discussing him in his first appearance (where he mostly just yells at Mulder and Scully to stop pretending they're outside the rules) is probably unfair to the character. I will also say that Mitch Pileggi is great in the role, and the series was lucky to have him.

Season 1 is winding down a bit at this point, and The X-Files isn't enough of a phenomenon to be assured of another season, so they're trying to push the end of the era sense pretty hard. Of course, you, I and everyone knows that the series is gonna go on for another 9 seasons (plus two movies) after this, but I'm working very hard to put myself in the mindset of someone watching the series for the first time, and all I can think is that this episode would work a lot better as the penultimate episode of the season..

Case Notes:
  • If you're planning on pausing the episode to see if any of the names on the other cells are Easter Eggs, don't, they're not. I know because...reasons.
  • I don't know a lot about the law, but I doubt you could claim that Tooms' assault on Scully was "Frustration over losing his job and being falsely arrested." He didn't punch her on the street, he stalked her to her home and broke in.
  • They claim that Tooms is only in jail cause of his assault on Scully, but wasn't his given address an empty apartment that led to a weird basement with the victim's livers in it? Didn't anyone think to investigate that? Mulder brings it up in his testimony, but why wasn't he charged?
  • Oh Mulder. I know you're right, but maybe chill a little bit with "Tooms is a 90 year old serial killer, who can stretch himself," bit?
  • His lawyers blocked the tests to determine if Tooms was a stretchy dude? How? Why?
  • Tooms gets a job and a place to stay on his way out of prison? Why are we treating mutant immortal serial killers so much better than normal prisoners?
  • Tooms sucking his fingers after picking up the dead rat is one of the creepiest goddamn things I've ever seen in my life.
  • I'm sorry, does the Old Cop have a piece of human liver in a jar in his house? And we're all just going along with this?
  • Goddamn, Old Cop is fucking psychic. He just fucking rolls onto a square foot of floor and figures out the body is there.
  • Can Tooms breathe underwater? How does he not drown crawling up the toilet? Also, he gets thwarted by a toilet being baby proofed, which amuses me to no end.
  • Mulder, what precisely is stopping you from reporting Tooms being in the guy's house? He left fingerprints, what I'm sure is a boot print, come on.
  • Aw, Mulder cares about Scully's career. Same conversation is the first time Scully ever calls Mulder "Fox." And then says he's the only one she cares enough about to risk her career. This whole scene is great.
  • I am calling bullshit on Tooms getting into Mulder's trunk without him noticing. Bull. Shit.
  • Mulder has The Fly, the original 1950s version, on while sleeping on his couch. It's a really good movie that actually manages to be outdone by its remake. This doesn't add anything, they're both just really good movies.
  • Scully's sass to Skinner is excellent. "I expect you to put the same trust in me as I do in you." A fucking plus Scully.
  • Scully had a House moment about Tooms' bites via Mulder's sandwich, I love it.
  • Skinner forbids Mulder from going near Tooms, and then Mulder goes to Tooms' house like 2 scenes later.
  • They turned Tooms' old apartment into a shopping mall, complete with working escalator, in like 6 freaking months. Doesn't that shit usually take years?
  • Mulder spends the climax of this episode grappling with a naked man covered in yellow gunk. I'm pretty sure there are clubs in NYC where you pay a 30 dollar cover charge to do that.
  • I blame this episode (and the incredibly gross way Tooms bites it) for why I'm always a little wary around elevators.
  • Woah, first spoken line from the CSM. This episode is full of first times.
  • The shot of the chrysalis at the end is SUPER on the nose.
Current Celebrity Watch:
Nothing this week.
Future Celebrity Watch:
I already discussed Doug Hutchinson and his marriage to a woman 35 years his junior (ew) last time, as I did Henry Beckman and his minor role in The Brood. But this week also features Paul Ben-Victor as Tooms' psychiatrist, who wound up playing Vondas on The Wire. If you haven't seen it, The Wire is really fucking good.

Audio Observations:

The episode that inspired me to include this segment isn't until season 2, so I'm kind of regretting starting with it, but whatever.

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