Season 1, Episode 21
Director: David Nutter
Writer: Glen Morgan, James Wong
Put Eugeme Tooms aside for a moment. The real threat within “Tooms,” the twenty-first episode of The X-Files, is the threat of a potential derailing of Mulder and Scully’s work on the X-Files thus far thanks to persistent interference from the government. Tooms may be the window dressing, but it’s change that terrifies Mulder the most.
The episode begins with Eugene Tooms, last incarcerated by Mulder and Scully in “Squeeze,” alone in a darkened cell, using his genetic mutation that allows him to stretch and contort his body in dramatic ways to attempt an escape. Whatever comes after this scene, we know that Tooms is hardly rehabilitated. That’s not what the medical profession seems to think as multiple psychiatrists and doctors evaluate Tooms and recommend his release from a Baltimore sanitarium despite Mulder’s persistent objections. Tooms receives his old animal control job back and begins to stalk new victims, nearly killing a family before Mulder intervenes. In the end, Tooms attempts to frame Mulder for attacking him (Mulder didn’t do it, of course) and kills his court-appointed therapist before going into hiding in possession of the fifth liver he needed to finish his planned 30-year hibernation. Mulder and Scully find him cocooned under a shopping mall built over his former home. When Tooms tries to attack, Mulder is able to trap him under an escalator, killing him.
But what plays like a B-side story, and will undoubtedly have repercussions for episodes to come, is the investigation of director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) and the Smoking Man (William B. Davis) of Scully’s actions associated with Mulder and his X-files case pursuit. They question her loyalty and her support of Mulder’s unorthodox methods, and it’s clear that this chafes Scully – the extent of which is not evident until the end of the episode. The pair continue to appear through the episode, telling Mulder that his talents are wasted on his adoration of the X-files. This treatment at the hands of the authorities spawns a full rebellious streak in Scully, and she directly disobeys and lies to her superiors to support Mulder – a huge shift in the character of Dana Scully. By the end of the episode, Skinner and the Smoking Man review Mulder’s final report on the Tooms case, and the Smoking Man finally speaks for what I believe is the first time in the series. His words are his declaration of belief in Mulder’s wild statements regarding Tooms.
The episode closes rather obviously with Mulder gazing at a cocoon clinging to a tree branch and musing that change is a-comin’. It wasn’t until toward the end of the episode that I realized what the creative team was trying to do with Tooms. Clearly, there is a shift brewing for The X-Files, and they took the opportunity to bring back a fan favorite to begin to subtly introduce a change in the way the X-files cases would be viewed. I’m completely hypothesizing at this point given that I’ve never seen the series before save “Home,” but it seems like a safe bet given the way the episode closed. Eugene Tooms, in effect, becomes the Red Herring of the episode when the real threat is the government’s opinion on the X-files.
“Tooms” is a very strong episode, again thanks to Doug Hutchinson’s excellent and fully committed performance as Tooms. This time, the audience is able to see the world through his eyes as the camera takes on a black and white view with his prey popping in full color. It’s a neat trick that, along with the eerie shots of Hutchinson’s yellow eyes, illustrate the very strong cinematography the series employed early on in its first season. I also admired how the writers relied on a dual story structure to move things along in a parallel way – Tooms on the forefront and the government interference running strongly in the background.
“Tooms” is an excellent example of a series maturing into its own and showing signs at becoming the mature science-fiction show the general culture grew to love.