In which Mulder and Scully discover that Baltimore has only the finest quality monsters.
Squeeze: Season 1 Episode 3
Written by Glen Morgan & James Wong, Directed by Harry Longstreet
First aired September 24, 1993
And now back to our (somewhat) regularly scheduled recap/review series! After the absolute roller coaster ride that was the revival, it’s good to get back into the original run with one of my favorite episodes.
At its heart “Squeeze” is very much about about Scully’s professional relationship to Mulder. She has to decide how much she’s willing to commit to the X-Files and how much of her professional loyalty she’ll give to Mulder. Which is why, despite its being a Scully-centric episode—as Morgan and Wong are wont to write—there’s some good Mulder stuff as well.
I still don’t like the comparison of early X-Files (and Scully especially) to The Silence of the Lambs, but I can see it here. There’s the location, there’s the liver thing, and there’s the young, ambitious female FBI agent navigating a man’s world. One of the best differences is Tom Colton. Everyone hates him with good reason; what makes him interesting is his realism. He reminds me of every drunken squalling fratboy I’ve eviscerated for trying to grab my ass. We’ve all met a Colton or two.
It’s refreshing to see Scully interact with another agent who isn’t Mulder, and who shares her more mainstream worldview. Her conversation with him about where their classmates have ended up recalls her seeing the FBI as “a place to distinguish herself.” Even here, though, Scully gives us eyebrow quirks and lip curls to indicate that she wouldn’t be satisfied in Tom’s crowd. Just as she did with the Panel o’ Patriarchy, she cuts through Tom’s shit and asks him point-blank if he wants Mulder to look in on the case. She is also clearly not impressed with Tom’s gallant offer to rescue her from being “Mrs. Spooky.”
Does she look like she needs your help, asshole?
I know I keep close reading these conversations when Mulder is explicitly asking for validation from Scully, so I hope that’s fun because here I go again. For me this is the scene he acts the most territorial, not the later scene when she calls him out. I half expect him to rub her chin with his nose like a cat. Mulder fears that with the reintroduction of Colton, Scully will turn out to have been making fun of him all along and ditch him forever. This scene is also the first time Scully reminds Mulder that the world thinks he’s crazy, rather than Mulder bringing it up himself. “They don’t want to hear your theories,” she says, gently. But Mulder does not give two shits what Colton thinks of him—both men have already formed their opinions of each other. Mulder only cares about Scully’s opinion: does she think he’s spooky? She gives him a look for an answer.
Mulder and Scully Flirting in Squeeze: Exhibit 1
Colton and Mulder were never ever going to get along. Each represents everything the other hates about masculinity. They are both ambitious and uncompromising in their professional lives, but their approaches are diametrically opposed. They are both in their own ways interested in and possessive of Scully—in some ways she becomes the flag on the rope in a tug of war between them. (Fortunately the episode does not romanticize this.) I’m not suggesting that both of them want to date her, although at least on some level that’s probably true. But it’s more about who she respects and wants to work with.
When Colton comes in Mulder immediately launches into attack mode. Rather than physically intimidating or verbally insulting his opponent (Colton’s preferred method), Mulder attacks Colton with satire. It’s Reticulan, it’s little grey men, and the more you stand there with your hands on your hips insisting I be serious, the more I’m going to fucking ignore you while I solve the case without telling you what I know. So far from trying to convince Colton that he’s not crazy, Mulder throws his supposed craziness in Colton’s face. Neither Mulder nor Colton demonstrate any maturity in this scene. Scully knows immediately how it’s going to be. Her voice uncharacteristically catches when she introduces them and she starts wincing almost immediately.
Poor woman; you can see her tension headache developing.
Scully, meanwhile, has to deal with all this #MasculinitySoFragile in such a way that she doesn’t end up getting arrested herself for eating someone’s liver. This she does without comment. She just lets them have their pissing contest and makes faces in the background.
She doesn’t side with either man. She doesn’t even try to facilitate a more amicable working environment, which is what would be expected of most women. She simply does not allow herself to be drawn into the argument.
This stoicism is demonstrated again in the scene when the other agents make fun of her for being Mulder’s partner. Scully is suffering professionally because of circumstances outside her control; she didn’t choose the X-Files assignment. It’s interesting to me that “Squeeze” was written by two men, because it’s difficult to portray the professional challenges women face without experiencing them yourself. And even more difficult to allow your characters to be empowered without making them invulnerable. So kudos to Morgan/Wong.
Working on the X-Files will never be easy for Scully. If she chose to go Colton’s route, she would’ve had to play by Colton’s rules. She would’ve had to constantly be on guard against his and others’ patronizing bullshit. But if Scully goes with the X-Files, she can look forward to a professional life of obscurity and derision. For a woman as ambitious as she is, that is a terrible choice to have to make.
Still we know what she’s going to choose. She’d be bored and miserable if she went in the traditional direction. Scully thrives on the weirdness of the X-Files as much as Mulder does, just for different reasons. Whereas Mulder needs to chase lights in the sky and believe in weirdness, Scully needs the challenge of the as-yet-undiscovered science.
Of course Mulder’s not a perfect partner for her, either. He shows up to her stakeout, making noise and acting silly, acting remarkably like a toddler who’s misbehaving in the hopes of getting cuddled. Which is cute, but not at all appropriate when one is staking out a serial killer. But even with his faults he’s a damn sight better than that moldy douche-bagel Colton. The second he hears something weird going on, he drops the act and from that moment forward he never doubts that Scully’s profile was right, that Scully’s suspect is the guy.
“You were right.”
The blocking of the lie detector scene is so important. Mulder and Scully remain calm (and seated) while Fuller and Colton bluster, posture, and shout. Colton and Fuller look down on the other three literally and metaphorically. The traditional power structure of the Bureau is communicated really well in this scene. The unnamed technician stands to make her point, but is shouted into silence and out of the room. Colton leans over Scully in a blatant intimidation tactic as he hurls insults about Mulder at Scully’s face. Colton’s making his move, is what’s going on here. He invited Mulder into the sandbox and it’s turned out to be a mistake: they don’t play well together. Now he’s tired and cranky and he wants to take his toy (Scully) home so Mulder can’t touch it anymore.
For his part, Mulder is obviously furious. How could he not be? He’s being shouted at, degraded, and this asshole is standing over his partner and threatening to take her away from him. Colton is voicing every one of Mulder’s insecurities and fears: that he’s crazy, that he’s not worthy of respect, that he’s a bad partner, that Scully’s can/should/will leave him the first opportunity she gets. Or that she only stays because she doesn’t have a choice. That’s why he’s silent.
What’s a Scully to do?
She does what she always does—she refuses to let the boys make it about themselves. She stands. You can feel the power shifting in the room as she does so, and even further when she says, “Tom, I want to thank you for letting me put some time with the VCS. But I am officially assigned to the X-Files.”
I’d have said, “Tom, if you do not shut the fuck up and get your crotch out of my face I swear to God I will rip your balls off and if you ever talk to my partner like that again I will shit on your whole fucking life. Piss off.”
But Scully’s a lady.
There is nothing personal in her tone in this scene, because as much as Colton is trying to make it personal, it’s not. He’d like to force her into picking him over Mulder, but the choice she’s really facing is much more subtle. It’s not about Colton vs Mulder. It’s not even about VCS vs X-Files. What it’s really about for her is this: who’s in control of her career, of her life? Is is Blevins, who assigned her to the X-Files; Mulder, who obviously cares about her; Colton, who approaches his career like a Game of Thrones character; or, perhaps, could it be Scully herself?
The personal aspect of it doesn’t come in until Mulder and Scully are finally left alone. This is the scene that gets a lot of attention, and with good reason. In later seasons they are known for doing anything to avoid talking about their feelings. But here, they’re refreshingly open with each other.
I’m not sure I understand Scully’s “territorial” comment, since Mulder literally sat there in silence for most of the scene. Colton was the one literally puffing his chest out in Mulder’s direction. Unless Scully meant this face.
But Mulder tells her the truth: that he was indeed feeling possessive of her. She treats him as an intellectual equal and respects his work even when she doesn’t believe. He also helps his case by fiddling with her necklace and looking earnestly into her eyes. But all of that would be irrelevant if he hadn’t followed it up with, “If you want to keep working with them, I won’t hold it against you.”
Then he walks away, rather than demanding an answer. I like that she just stands there for a minute in shock, processing what he’s just said. To me the conversation sounds like, “I respect you and your autonomy. I’ll respect your choice.” When she catches up to him, smiling softly and teasing him that she wants to know what he’s figured out, she is saying “I’m not going anywhere.” I do think it’s mostly on a professional level in this scene, but as always there’s a lovely underlying emotional intimacy.
The rest of the episode does a good job of validating her decision without making her reassert it again and again. Some of the best examples: Mulder assuming Scully will be running the Bureau by 2023; Colton acting like the human embodiment of a hangover at that crime scene and Mulder just letting Scully handle it; and Colton snatching the phone away from Scully, who assures him he’ll fall off the ladder of success and land on his ass.
Incidentally Mulder in this episode is just too beautiful for words:
Too tumblr? Fair enough. Moving on: it might be a stretch to call the scene when Mulder gets bile on his hand another good example of their equity, but I’m gonna go for it. What makes that scene so popular is Mulder’s honesty. He doesn’t want to freak out in front of his tiny freckled brilliant kickass adorable partner but he’s got bile on his fingers like ew ew ew ew and in the end he lets her know that not only is he freaking out, but that he wants her to think he’s cool. There’s an openness to their partnership that is really sweet.
He handles it better than I would have, that’s for sure.
I’m very picky about how Scully is put in in peril, but the Tooms attack doesn’t bother me too much. The rest of the episode puts so much work into making her competent and powerful in her own right, and she is active throughout the scene. She’s not just imperiled so Mulder can rescue her. She realizes it’s Tooms when the goop falls on her wrist and immediately goes for her gun, she fights him off, the struggle is choreographed rather well, and Anderson also plays it so that Scully is alarmed but not cowering. Mind you, I could have lived a thousand years without seeing Scully’s wrists pinned over her head while her shirt rides up as she writhes and pants. Boo. Fortunately that moment passes quickly and is followed up by Scully and Mulder working together to subdue Tooms.
The ending of “Squeeze” is one of the better ones in the series. The final scene hits the right balance of resolution versus maintaining a sense of the uncanny. And I love that Scully is able to soothe Mulder and draw him out of his reverie with a simple touch.
This episode is a classic.
- I am merely one of the crowd when I talk about how much I love this episode (and its companion episode, “Tooms”)
- Baltimore represent! We got all your top drawer monsters.
- The address of the restaurant in the first shot is 1066 Hastings, the year of the Battle of Hastings. I’m a little ashamed that I’ve watched the episode enough times to catch that.
- I love the color thing when Tooms spots his next victim. As a visual effect it’s subtle but it holds up.
- Tooms sound effect!!!! Oh Mark Snow, I will never not be creeped out by your music.
- Season one: too good for this world, too pure.
- This is the first of the Monster of the Week episodes, which I prefer vastly to the mytharc. “Squeeze” and “Tooms” are also two of my favorite standalone episodes in the series. It does what all of the best MOTW episodes do: introduces familiar elements of horror/folklore, puts a new twist on them, and explores fun character stuff of Mulder and Scully at the same time.
- One small piece of evidence in favor of this being a predominately Scully-centric episode is that in that opening scene, the camera spends much more time on Scully than on Tom Colton, even when Colton is speaking. I realized just how much more time the camera’s on Scully when I kept trying to pause to get a decent screencap of Colton only to land on Scully.
- Not that I’m complaining. Scully is beautiful.
This is later in the episode but seriously she’s so pretty wtf.
- And (in this role) Logue’s Colton is a slimy troll.
- I bet he’s a meninist.
- I loooooove the instances of profiling. I wish there was more of that throughout the show, because I am a psychology nerd.
- The necklace thing: <3333
- I like the symbolism of the newspaper spark going dark when the when the guy in the house with the trendy architecture dies.
- That’s right Mulder. Don’t let Colton bug you—just stand back and let your Scully take care of it.
- Actually does this show growth for Mulder, that he no longer rises to Colton’s bait? I’ll go with yes. I am a Fox Mulder apologist.
- The sheriff is a damn drama llama. Also, like. Please don’t connect things to Hitler just to make your story sound dramatic.
- There is, in fact, still time for Scully to be head of the Bureau by 2023—JUST SAYING.
- Title sequence shot! Also Baltimore is known for the architectural detailing of exposed brick—I wonder if somebody on the crew lived around here.
- One of Tooms’ little trinkets is the globe from the first guy’s office! Didn’t catch that detail first (er, few) times I watched this episode.
Don’t touch the evidence with your bare hands Mulder you pillock!
- I like that Tooms’ abilities are never fully explained.
- In real life there is no Tooms, but of course Mulder is still right. We do so much to feel safe but it’s never enough—often as not because the danger isn’t coming from a monster, it’s the people we let in.