The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Pilot,” “Deep Throat,” and “Squeeze”
Only 200-some odd episodes to go!
The recent announcement that The X-Files was being rebooted by Fox sparked unconfined joy throughout the land. From an outsider’s perspective, this is something of a rarity – most reboots tend to elicit groans at best and outright scorn at worse, but then, I’m a newbie. I managed to live through all the blissful highs of the ’90s without watching this show, mainly because I was – *counts* – 5 when it premiered, and only ever stumbled across it while channel-hopping late at night. I recall watching a few episodes in fits and starts and possibly even the entirety of one movie, but the title tune creeped me out, and I never quite got round to absorbing it the way a loyal pop culture devotée should have.
All of that is about to change. I got the boxset from my very thoughtful parents two Christmases ago, and I’m determined to join the ranks of believers before the new episodes air. Given there are nine whole seasons of about 22 episodes each, the odds of me being entirely caught up in time are pretty minimal – but I can least learn enough to decide whether the use of “believer” up there counts as a pun.So, without further ado – here commence The Mary Sue’s newbie X-Files recaps! One disclaimer: I’m still a complete wimp in many ways, so if these episodes get too dark for me look forward to their being punctuated with lots of cute animal gifs. A second one: given the sheer volume of episodes, it seems a little too ambitious to do a full recap for each one. I shall therefore be summarising them in groups, with particular attention on characterisation and what appear to be any key overarching plot points. Onwards!
First things first: this is a tremendous pilot. Not just for a classic show, but for any show. In terms of setting the tone and atmosphere early on it’s a masterpiece, and – though some of this may be cultural osmosis from their sheer reputation – Scully and Mulder are so perfectly etched it feels like I’ve known them forever.
The story focuses on a series of strange deaths in a town in Oregon. The opening shots show us a girl being swallowed up by a bright light and shadowy figure in the woods, only for her body to be recovered the next morning with two unusual marks on her back. Local police scupper the investigation and the FBI are called in. This is the cue for freshly-anointed agent Dana Scully to be partnered with Fox Mulder, aka Spooky Mulder. She’s a qualified medical doctor who was recruited to the bureau right out of medical school. He’s an Oxford-educated psychologist who is widely regarded as one of the best analysts in the violent crimes unit and who happens to have a consuming devotion to the so-called X-Files. These are unassigned cases outside the bureau mainstream, most of which have to do with unexplained phenomena. We pause here for a moment of silence at Scully’s eager, wide-eyed enthusiasm –
– all of which evaporates as soon as she’s told to “make the proper scientific analysis” of Mulder’s decidedly more outlandish cases.
The scene where they first meet is the stuff of legend. Mulder must be one of the most terrifically dry characters ever written, and the deliberate whiff of passive aggression which underpins his greeting of Scully is quite wonderful. He works in a cramped basement with an “I want to believe” poster on the wall, something I was going to comment on at this juncture but which, having viewed episode 4, seems to be of more significance than I thought so I’ll come back to it.They discuss the Oregon case, with Mulder showing her pictures of the marks found on the most recent victim (Karen, the girl from the opening scenes). Scully suggests they may be attributable to animal bites or puncture wounds but is unable to identify the chemical compound drawn from them. Mulder declares that he has “plenty of theories” as to what they might be. If this were tumblr, I’m pretty sure that line would be tagged“That’s it. That’s the show”. The air between them is already so charged from this opening scene that it could be captioned “there’s a fire between us, so where is your god” from Babylon Zoo’s Spaceman. (’90s classic for a ’90s classic, lads.) Mulder posits the existence of UFOs, a notion Scully vehemently disagrees with – “What I find fantastic is the idea that there could be any explanation beyond the realm of science”. Lads, I think they like each other.
They head off to Oregon to investigate. Over the ensuing days, the case takes so many twists and turns and is so annoyingly hampered that even Scully starts to get the shivers. Firstly, their car radio encounters weird static interference. Then they dig up the grave of one of the victims to discover a highly decomposed, distinctly non-human corpse. Scully later IDs this as an ape, possibly an Orang-utang, and recovers a strange metallic implant from its nose. The metal the implant is made from cannot be identified. When they investigate the scene where Karen’s body was recovered, Mulder’s compass goes wonky, then their car is swallowed up by a blinding light and when they come to nine minutes have elapsed. This particular event leads Mulder to leap out of the car and dance in the rain –
– and elicits the following absolutely classic exchange:
Scully: “Time can’t just disappear! It’s a universal invariant!”
Mulder: “Not in this time zone!”
Suffice to say, if all the dialogue in the show is this wonderful, I will write SONNETS about it.
They find two other youths with the same marks, both of whom are in hospital with psychological conditions. One of them, Peggy, later escapes and is killed when she is hit by a truck. Scully discovers her watch was stopped at the exact time she and Mulder’s car was hit by the light. Peggy also had an implant in her nose exactly like the one recovered from the exhumed corpse. While they’re examining her body, they receive word that their lab has been trashed and their motel torched, so all the evidence is gone. The local sheriff and medical examiner are aggressive and cagey (maybe even aggressively cagey) towards them, leading Scully to wonder if they’re involved. Mulder recognises the sheriff as the father of the other hospitalised youth, Billy. He begins to believe something more sinister is at work.
In the midst of all this, Mulder reveals an important piece of back story to Scully. He tells her that when he was 8, his then-12-year-old sister Samantha was abducted from her bed. There was no trace of where she went and despite years of searches she was never found. After joining the bureau, Mulder was drawn to the X-Files and began researching all he could about the Occult and paranormal phenomena. He says that he’s undergone hypnosis to help him recover memories of the night his sister was taken. He recalls a presence in the room and a voice telling him not to be afraid, but he can’t move although his sister is calling for help. He proclaims that “this thing” – meaning extra-terrestrial life – exists and that nothing else matters to him. This is probably one of the more important scenes in the episode, not just for the crucial character history it reveals but also the frankness with which it’s related. Mulder’s earnest belief in his personal experience is an important part of what drives him in his work, and Scully is respectful enough to take his account on board. She may be a skeptic, but part of searching for the rational explanation is gathering all the available information and that includes Mulder’s point of view. This commitment to the truth unites them, even if they each interpret “truth” very differently.
The case is eventually solved – inasmuch as it can be solved – when they discover traces of sediment on Billy’s feet, not unlike some Scully had earlier recovered from the forest. They go back to the forest at night to investigate and discover him holding another local girl, Teresa, in a clearing. They’re covered in another blinding light but when it clears, Billy – who was heretofore in a waking coma – is lucid again and the marks on his back have disappeared. He’s taken back to DC and interviewed under hypnosis, whereupon he reveals that he was taken to a “testing place” by the light. Everyone’s feeling very unhinged and the episode ends with Scully being interviewed by her superiors. They’re skeptical of her report on the case and say that none of the events are supported by science. Scully points out that she hasn’t drawn any conclusions and produces the metallic implant she recovered from the corpse, saying the metal cannot be identified. This implant is later placed in a storage box in what is essentially the Amazon warehouse of the netherworld, located in the Pentagon –
The guy who puts it there was at the interview where Scully was assigned to work with Mulder, standing in the corner looking suspicious and smoking a cigarette. I know enough about TXF lore to know he’s significant. (Right?) Oy.
Hey, no sniggering in the back.
After an awesome pilot, this one ups the ante by bringing in more tangible sightings of UFOs, a shady guy with tabs on Mulder, and a very young and quite adorable Seth Green.
Mulder and Scully head to Idaho to investigate a kidnapping report from a local woman, Anita Budahas. Her husband, a Colonel in the air force, is found cowering inside his house by military police in the opening scenes. He’s covered in burns and accordingly hospitalised, but Anita doesn’t hear from him for four months. When she can’t get any answers from the military, she reports it to the FBI.
Mulder, for his part, discovers that four pilots from the same base as Colonel Budahas have been listed as MIA since 1963. However, the cases have all been shelved without investigation. “The case has a distinct smell to it,” he grins at Scully later, when she asks if this has something to do with an X-File. “A certain paranormal bouquet.” I’d like to take another moment to say bless this man, and those who write his one-liners. Before they leave Mulder is cornered in the bathroom by a strange man who warns him off continuing the investigation. He’s not exactly receptive, but later discovers his phone’s been tapped.
On arrival in Idaho, it takes Mulder all of two days to decide there’s a conspiracy afoot. To his credit, things take a distinctly suspicious turn almost as soon as they arrive (obviously). The place is full of UFO nuts. The airforce base isn’t on any maps of the area, so they get one from a local UFO café and discover strange darting lights in the sky above it. Colonel Budahas returns home, ostensibly recovered but with a somewhat twitchy memory of his work. Mulder discovers that the base is one of six sites to which fragments recovered from Roswell were shipped. They’re stopped on the road by mysterious government agents who destroy their files and order them to leave town immediately. Mulder puts this together with the tapped phone and shady guy from the bathroom in DC and decides a UFO is being hidden at the base.
Scully, the arbiter of rational discourse, pleads with him to see sense and points out that given the kidnapping victim they were sent to find has come home, they, er, kinda have no further reason to be there. Mulder seems to capitulate and says he’ll go back to DC, but instead takes off to the base. The reaction is dramatic, but his behaviour here actually seems crucial in conveying the sheer desperation of his belief. If Mulder has spent most of his life believing UFOs took his sister, his dogged pursuit of anything even remotely connected to them is likely to overcome his better judgement. In what – I imagine – will become something of a theme, his suspicions turn out to be all-too-founded as he gets into the base and sees a bright aircraft swoop down above him.
He’s immediately captured by military personnel, who strap him to a gurney and drug him. Back at the motel, Scully gets a visit from a guy who had earlier purported to be a reporter from the local paper but who turns out to be airbase security. How Scully isn’t a conspiracy theorist already, I don’t know. She manages to grab his gun and forces him to drive her to the base, lest she call the world’s media and invite them down to take a look at the local ~experimental aircraft. (Dana Scully, zero fucks given since forever.) When they get there, they’re met by a truck carrying a dazed and extremely disoriented Mulder. He says he can’t remember how he got there.
Back in DC, Scully writes another inconclusive report. She notes that she saw strange flying objects in the sky, but could not determine their nature. Mulder is approached by the shady guy from the bathroom (maybe that’s what I should name him – Shady Bathroom Guy), who warns that their lives may be in danger from what they saw. Nevertheless, he’s willing to offer information so long as it’s in his own best interest to share it. Mulder remarks, rather poignantly, that “they took” what he saw at the base. Given his inability to fully recall what happened the night Samantha was taken, the line seems drenched in resonance. The man asks him why he believes in UFOs despite all the evidence to the contrary, which prompts another beautiful one-liner – “Because all the evidence to the contrary is not entirely dissuasive.” The guy reveals in as many words that not only do UFOs exist, they’ve been on Earth for a long, long time. Ooooh.
Spooky Mulder would like to issue a formal in-your-face to everyone.
Now this one, this was creepy. And full of weird spiking musical cues that give me the jitters. It’s also a bit of a departure from the UFO realm given the revelation at the end of the preceding episode, but makes clear that paranormal activity is not confined to the skies. Further, after two episodes largely focused on establishing the depth of Mulder’s beliefs, this one shows us a little more about Scully.
Our opening sting shows a man being killed in his office by some mysterious creature with glow-in-the-dark eyes. The twist is that it gets in through the air vent, which is manifestly too tiny for any human being to fit in. The investigating detective, Tom Colton, is an old classmate of Scully’s and the two of them meet up for lunch. He’s apparently an ace profiler but also something of an arse, asking her if she’s had any “close encounters” since she started working with Spooky Mulder. Scully is wonderfully tactful in this scene, politely dismissing Colton’s sneers and defending Mulder as “out there but a great agent”. Colton is after a promotion and asks if Scully will help him with his current case. The murder from the opening scene was the latest in a particularly gruesome series of killings all involving the removal of the victim’s liver and a lack of an obvious entry point. Colton suggests that Scully could “get away” from Mulder by helping him out. I immediately dislike him.
Mulder joins Scully at the most recent crime scene. While Colton’s being smarmy and useless, he recovers a fingerprint from the air vent. Further investigation yields an X-File detailing similar killing sprees in history – each involving five murders every 30 years. This killing was the third in the current spree, so there are two to go. Mulder cheerfully suggests that he and Scully conduct their own investigation while everyone else is ignoring them.
Scully prepares a profile arguing that the killer has a form of OCD. She suggests that he may revisit the crime scenes to relive the high. Investigators thank her in the most dismissive way possible, but Colton says she can come on their stakeout of the crime scenes because he’s nicely condescending like that. Of course, Mulder shows up. They find a guy crawling through the air vent and arrest him. They later ID him as Eugene Tooms and realise he works for a pest control company. He claims to have been investigating reports of a dead cat in the vent. Scully is skeptical, asking why he’d be doing his investigating at 11 o’clock at night. Mulder agrees but for slightly more off-the-wall reasons – Eugene was given a lie detector test and failed two questions. Granted, said questions involved asking if he was over 100 and if he’d visited one of the crime scenes in 1933, but Mulder is adamant something’s off. Colton does not agree and lets him go.
Outside, Scully questions Mulder, saying he was being “territorial” around the other agents earlier. He replies that he was, because although she doesn’t always agree with his take on things she “respects the journey.” I like to see how much mutual understanding there is between these two, even if they’ve only been working together for a few weeks. Mulder is far more respectful of her PoV than her erstwhile classmate. He also hadn’t supported Scully’s profile earlier, but was big enough to admit that he was wrong about it when they found Eugene. Speaking of whom, Mulder’s discovered that Eugene’s fingerprints match those from the X-File on the earlier killings. He’s also found out that Eugene gave an address in the same building as one of the victims from 1903. And they’ve just let the guy walk out the door. Awkward.
In the meantime, another unfortunate victim meets his maker, and this time we see quite clearly that Eugene is the culprit. He climbs down the chimney in the victim’s house and then throws himself out an air vent like he’s Reed Richards’ evil twin. When Mulder and Scully arrive at the crime scene the next day, Colton is even more arsey than usual. Scully tells him they’ve been invited to the investigation and that if he denies them access to the crime scene he’ll get a note on his personnel file, which won’t exactly look good on his quest to scale the career ladder. Colton demands to know whose side she’s on. “The victim’s,” she replies, all cool authority. Badassery. #scullyout
She and Mulder go to see the investigating officer from 1933, who’s now in a care home. He remains haunted by the crimes and shows them his book of evidence, which includes a photo of Eugene from 1963 in which he looks exactly the same as he does now. He also has the same address for him as the one Mulder’s dug up, so they make this their next port of call. They find a dank, dilapidated apartment which has clearly been abandoned for some time. A hole in the wall leads down to a cellar, which hides a seriously disgusting nest-type thing in the corner. It’s made from bits of rag and paper and reeks of bile. Cue Mulder’s line of the episode: “Is there any way I can get it off my fingers quickly without losing my cool exterior?”
As they go to leave, Scully stumbles against something which turns out to be Eugene hanging off the ceiling right above them. They don’t see him, but he manages to grab her necklace. NOPE.
Colton calls off the stakeout Mulder leaves at the apartment, because he’s still a tool. Scully is furious and calls Mulder as soon as she gets home, saying she wants to file a complaint against him. Unfortunately, Eugene is staking her out as they speak. She goes to run a bath but discovers bile dripping from the vent, and when she runs for her gun Eugene bursts out and grabs her. Mulder comes racing back after finding Scully’s necklace at the nest and the two of them manage to get cuffs on him, finally dragging him into custody.
The two share a thought-provoking scene just before the episode ends. We’ve seen clear evidence of Scully’s integrity throughout in her willingness to put aside her own skepticism to defend her partner’s track record. But we also a softer side to Mulder when he hauntingly observes that Eugene’s way of killing makes people’s attempts to secure their homes with alarms and bars redundant. For someone who’s normally as dry and cool as possible, his being so affected by the crimes suggests he’s far more in touch with terrestrial dangers than people think. Even Scully seems slightly surprised by it, and doesn’t say anything as she follows him out.
The final scene shows an orderly placing Eugene’s food through a slot in the door. He sits in his cell eyeing it up as a twisted grin spreads across his face, because suddenly he knows he has an escape route. Guys, there’s an air vent in my room. Noping right out of here.
(Also, Colton is played by Donal Logue, aka Bullock from Gotham. Maybe there’s an AU where Colton fell from grace (deservingly so) and ended up in the Gotham PD. Imagine him having to eat his own words as he’s faced with bizarre crimes Spooky Mulder could only dream of.)
Come back next week, where we’ll have your next newbie installment of X-Files!