Ranking Mulder in The X-Files Season One (#13 – Squeeze)

Squeeze comes in at number 13 in my rankings of Mulder in Season 1 of The X-Files. This is an important milestone, both in the show’s run and in these rankings. For these rankings, it marks the point where I’ve finished most of the subpar episodes (though Young at Heart is still out there, mucking things up). For the show, its the first foray into non-alien related storylines. It was essential that Squeeze not fall down on its face since it sets the template for much of what makes The X-Files click. Thankfully Squeeze was up to the task and Mulder’s character development shines brightly here.

It all starts with the introduction of Tom Colton. In Colton we have the first in a long line of people from Mulder or Scully’s past who pop in throughout Season 1 to establish the world of The X-Files but rarely does it feel this smooth (only Luther Lee Boggs is better). Those other characters (Jack Willis, Phoebe Green, Jerry Lamana, even the loveable Reggie Perdue) are all involved clumsily and haphazardly with the purpose of adding unearned dramatic stakes to their respective episodes. Colton’s involvement, however, is natural and serves a major purpose: he provides us with a necessary contrast with Mulder.

This contrast gives us (and Scully) a very easy way to become further invested in Mulder. imagine you are in Scully’s shoes here. She just went through two episodes worth of Mulder howling at the sky, breaking into military bases, and mentioning his sister when she strips down to her underwear in front of him. But Squeeze is where Scully realizes that Mulder’s belief system is not restricted to aliens but is instead wide enough to include liver eating, body stretching, squeezable, hibernating bile monsters. I’m sure Scully was having second-thoughts about working with him when she went home to type up her profile for the Violent Crimes Unit.

“You may be brilliant but you are also fucking insane.”

But even if Scully thinks Mulder’s theories are kind of “out there”, its a far cry from how Colton bumbles about through the investigation, which allows her to gain a new appreciation for dear ol’ Fox. Mulder is sharp, perceptive, and a dedicated investigator while Colton can’t be in a scene where he doesn’t lob a petty jab towards Mulder. Mulder is confident and unconcerned with what others think about his methods. Colton on the other hand is totally flustered when he tries the organ black market angle and pretty much admits he’s grasping at straws. And maybe most importantly, Mulder is an emotional and compassionate man while Colton is an entitled prick. The scene with Frank Briggs does not have much dialogue from Mulder or Scully but the combination of music, camerawork, and acting sell that the main thing that brings these two together is their shared compassion…

…or maybe I misinterpreted this scene and this is them struggling to stay awake.

Squeeze also is a major transition point for Scully from a professional but somewhat reluctant colleague of Mulder’s to a trusted companion. Throughout the episode, Colton and the other FBI goons hurl childish insults towards Mulder. Scully for her part seems uncomfortable with the way he’s treated but doesn’t get too involved early on. But as the episode progresses, Scully backs Mulder more and more overtly. What starts as her simply (but nobly) telling Colton that Mulder is a great agent transforms into her calling out Colton and intending to lodge a formal complaint at him. Scully realizes during this one episode just what kind of bureaucratic and petty bullshit Mulder has to go through. She already knew he’s not respected at the FBI even as early as the Pilot but I think she probably assumed that it was mostly self-inflicted by Mulder. But its in Squeeze where Scully realizes that Mulder’s flexible way of thinking is more her thing than any amount of small-minded ladder climbing nonsense, represented by Tom Colton.

So Colton allows Scully and us to truly root for Mulder which is essential. Also essential is the fact that Squeeze is the poster-child for showing off Mulder’s investigative prowess. When he’s not quickly finding stretchy fingerprints, he’s linking current cases against decades-old cases. When he’s not challenging Tooms with his polygraph questions, he’s sifting through years worth of microfiche to find more pertinent information. Mulder is a freakin’ investigative rockstar in this one and, again, its very necessary. If he was just spouting out these theories while the investigation gets glossed over, I think audiences would have had a tough time relating to Mulder. But by showing him doing the necessary leg-work to validate his theories, Mulder becomes that much more endearing.

Its a good thing too because its hard to root for a guy who willingly sticks his hand into a nest that, judging by Scully’s facial expression, smells like absolute death.

And whoo-boy, how about those theories? There are some real doozies here but for my money, the quintessential Mulder theory is the one he delivers in front of Tooms’ nest. The delivery, the dialogue, the childlike wonder and excitement on Mulder’s face…it all works brilliantly. David Duchovny plays these scenes so damn earnestly and with this unique mix of tentativeness and unflappable confidence that you can’t help but get roped in. And again, without the effort Morgan and Wong put into showing how good of an investigator Mulder is, the theory would have fallen flat. As it is, this scene ends up being the template for many similar scenes in later episodes.

However, Mulder is not portrayed here like some infallible demigod of a man. He’s still Mulder which means that he never makes it easy on Scully for having faith in him. He can’t remain professional during the initial meeting with Tom Colton; instead he doubles down on his reputation with his best shit-eating grin and greets Colton with the most over-the-top fake machismo-filled handshake ever. And of course, there’s his classic and incredibly dry description of reticulans. Hilarious scene but if you think about it, this has got to be incredibly embarrassing for Scully who is just trying to make her name at the FBI at this point. Rather than be empathetic towards Scully or grateful to her for involving him in the case, Mulder insists on basically treating this moment like a giant joke.

“Ooooh shit, did you see his face?!”

His interactions with Colton are justifiable because Tom Colton is one of the biggest tools the show would produce. But Mulder acts like a bit of a tool as well towards Scully during the stakeout scene. Here we’ve got him running around the parking garage like a doofus, interrupting the surveillance and sarcastically calling Scully “copper” just because he thinks her theory is wrong. I’ve always been bothered by the fact that it seems so out of character of him to be running around at a crime scene, actively disrupting an investigation (in jeans, no less). But now I think this is Mulder acting out in a manner similar to his acting out in The Pilot. In that episode, he’s snarky and his voice has this high pitch that I always found off-putting. But after watching it so many times I realized that voice was a function of Mulder not trusting Scully; he believes she’s there to spy on him and so he doesn’t let his guard down around her and deflects things by being smarmy. His reaction in the garage is very similar. He posits his paranormal theory to Scully but when she lands on a more mundane theory, I think his defense mechanism is to be kind of a dick. He still thinks she has an agenda that isn’t aligned with his and Mulder responds as such. He does redeem himself somewhat when Scully is proven (sorta) right and he immediately owns up to this.

And then he promptly undermines this by copping a feel minutes later.

This “petty high-talking overly snarky” version of Mulder is mostly gone after this episode when interacting with Scully. He never loses his sarcastic charm and David Duchovny adlibs many snarky jokes throughout the show but I think Squeeze is where Mulder irons out any of his remaining concerns with respect to Scully’s motives. Yes he will still be a sarcastic dickhead towards her in future episodes and seasons, most notable when religion is mentioned or if Scully deigns to wish for a normal life in Never Again. But he doesn’t sound like he’s putting on an act in those episodes which is what he sounds like he’s doing in both The Pilot and in Squeeze. And I think that is simply because he truly trusts her from here on out.

(What is interesting about that voice is that he still brings it out when dealing with people he doesn’t respect or with suspects. He does it with Colton when Colton tries to bar their entry into the second crime scene and he definitely uses that voice as late as Season 6 when dealing with Wayne Weinseider in Terms of Endearment or the entire neighborhood in Arcadia.)

So why is Squeeze not higher on this list for Mulder? From everything I’ve written, this is an absolutely essential episode in forming the relationship between Mulder and Scully. Well the major reason is that despite all I’ve written, this is still primarily a Scully episode. Mulder is majorly developed but as its done mostly through Scully’s eyes, his impact doesn’t reach the peaks attained in episodes where he’s personally invested like in The Erlenmeyer Flask or E.B.E. or even the sequel to this episode, Tooms (which is a major reason why I prefer that episode).

Also, this might be the ONLY review of Squeeze where Eugene Victor Tooms barely gets mentioned. And so here I am mentioning him. He is awesome…an incredible introductory monster for this show. And he’s delightfully creepy and unsettling during all of his scenes. But he also dominates the episode in a way that makes you forget about the character growth of Mulder and Scully which is another reason why this episode lands no higher than #13.

But maybe it should be higher for this being the first time he yells “Scullllaaaaaaay”.

1.) Number of Sarcastic Mulder Jokes: 5.5

Three sarcastic jokes in his first scene! And what a scene it is, with him just utterly destroying Tom Colton.

2.) Number of Self-Righteous/Pretentious/Hyperbolic Mulder Moments: 1

Like I said, he’s not above being a dick with Scully in this episode. Probably the most self-righteous thing he says in this episode is simply “you’re wasting your time” during her stakeout. She’s a young FBI agent who’s not super experienced and in a male-dominated field and that is about the least supportive thing he could have said. Thankfully he makes up for it a bit by admitting to her immediately that she was right.

3.) Number of Mulder theories: 3

I already talked more in depth about his theories above but I should mention, this is a pitch-perfect example of how the show uses Mulder’s various theories in a measured and deliberate way to draw the audience in. The way Squeeze slowly parses them out is brilliant, with Mulder’s theories slowly building on one another until we get that coup de grace at Exeter Street. Nothing gets revealed too early and nothing gets held back too long; its just handled really well. One need only look at The Walk to see a terrible example of Mulder withholding his theories from Scully and the viewers just to draw out the drama.

4.) Number of Mulder leaps: 0

I counted no leaps and really, this is one episode where I think a leap would have been damaging to Mulder as a character. We had to actually see him investigate this case thoroughly to truly become invested in the character.

5.) Number of quality Mulder investigative moments: 6

A veritable treasure trove of investigative moments for Mulder with him making one sharp deduction after another. However, it never feels forced which is not something you can always say. I talked in my Lazarus review about how the balance between Mulder and Scully solving parts of the case is so painfully in Mulder’s favor. The balance here is weighted towards Mulder as well but its not grating because Scully remains an integral part of the Tooms investigation, challenging Mulder left and right. The balance feels natural here and you never feel like Scully is lagging behind.

6.) Number of times Mulder’s voice goes into that trademark sad “Duchovnyish-Whisper”: 0

Maybe the only thing Mulder is lacking in Squeeze is that whisper. He pulls a mild facsimile of the voice out for that cheesy ass final speech about home security not being enough; if he had gone the full mile and dipped deep into the silky, velvety smoothness of that whisper, then maybe that final line could have been saved. But alas, tis not to be.

7.) Number of times Mulder’s gun is drawn: 2

Kind of dumb that he didn’t bring his gun to the garage but maybe he was so confident in his belief that Scully was wrong that he felt justified? Thankfully, he rectifies this gaffe by having his gun drawn at Exeter Street and during the climax at Scully’s apartment.

8.) Number of times Mulder is in danger: 2

I haven’t talked much about that long scene of Mulder and Scully investigating Tooms’ dilapidated apartment building but I think its a credit to the direction by Harry Longstreet that you feel like Mulder and Scully are in danger during that scene, despite nothing much happening till the end. Just a great sequence and one of the only bright spots of the direction.

9.) Number of fiery Mulder interactions: 0

In an episode where characters are mocking Mulder left and right, it might be a bit surprising that we don’t get those fiery bursts from Mulder. In fact, Mulder looks a wee bit wounded when Colton calls him “insane” after the polygraph test. Like almost like he couldn’t believe someone would say something out loud in a professional setting about him.

And dammit if he doesn’t also look hurt when the asshole random FBI Agent calls him Spooky! Mulder puts up the sarcastic veneer but I do think the jokes at his expense bother him. It’s why he seems truly grateful to a character like Ish in Shapes who respects and admires him.

10.) Number of times Mulder pisses someone off: 4

This is essentially an episode about how Mulder’s methods piss off the Bureau mainstream and how Scully comes to respect him so its not surprising that he pisses so many people off. And Scully is not invulnerable to Mulder’s annoying antics; hence why we get her being pretty annoyed with him in the parking garage.

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