“Do you have any idea what liver and onions go for on Reticulon?”
The camera pans over a modest city skyline at dusk. A man walks out of a restaurant; the camera follows and slowly zooms in on him, occasionally cutting away to a storm drain across the street. As the man comes more into focus, the background colour bleeds away. A pair of yellow eyes are revealed within the storm drain, as the creepy-crawly music we’ll eventually hear a lot of ramps up. We follow the man into an office building, while the camera keeps cutting away to something unseen that seems to be stalking him. A screw on a small vent is shown being undone from the inside, as fingers squeeze out from under it. The man is suddenly and violently attacked by something inside his office. Pan back to the vent, which is being closed and screwed back in place by something unseen.
Ah, the first monster of the week episode. Now we’re in my wheelhouse. Though the mythology of The X-Files provides much of the backstory and driving force of the series, I’ve always enjoyed the standalone episodes, with their casts of odd and interesting characters, more. This is also the first episode written by Glen Morgan and James Wong, two of the more entertaining writers on the series.
After the opening credits, we get to see Scully having lunch with someone she used to work with at the FBI Academy. He manages to disparage her, Mulder, and their work all while asking for a favour. Smooth. The lack of point of entry in a rash of killings and liver extractions is stumping law enforcement and Agent Colton is determined to crack the case. With a little help from Scully, whom I’m sure he would give credit to, because he doesn’t seem like a self-serving jerk at all. Colton and Mulder get along about as well as expected, and Colton gets very salty when Mulder uncovers some actual evidence from the crime scene – elongated fingerprints from the vent. The fingerprints are common to crimes reaching back as far as 60 years, which also involved victims with missing livers. Looks like Mulder is proposing some spooky ideas again.
Scully presents a profile of the killer that, while it misses the killer’s true motivation, is pretty on the nose. She suggests they stake out past crime scenes because the killer is likely to return. Colton’s unit run with her plan, but not before snidely chuckling about her work on the x-files some more. They’re pretty hauty for a unit that didn’t have a single lead on the case before Scully got involved.
Mulder shows up unannounced to Scully’s stakeout location because she’s pretty much his only social connection at this point. I love Mulder, but he’s not a very FBI agent. Who sneaks around underground parking lots at night when they know armed agents are on a stakeout looking for a serial killer? Though Mulder insists Scully is wasting her time and that the killer will not come back here, they end up finding and detaining Eugene Victor Tooms, a member of animal control who was climbing around in the vents. At night. Without alerting security.
I savour it when Scully is right. One of the shortcomings of the whole series is that Scully almost never gets to be right about the big stuff. She’s this brilliant scientist, but whenever she states an informed scientific opinion like “No Mulder, it wasn’t aliens, they don’t exist” or “No Mulder, it’s impossible for this serial killer to be 100 years old” she usually ends up being proven wrong. In a show like The X-Files, the truth is stranger than fiction so the skeptic usually loses.
Doug Hutchinson does a great job with this character. He’s so diminutive and soft spoken, but still manages to be quite terrifying.
After passing a lie detector test, with the exception of the questions Mulder added which would place him at the crime scenes from 60 years ago, Colton’s unit lets Tooms go. And of course he immediately goes and rips out someone else’s liver, getting into their house by squeezing down the chimney.
S&M decide they’re going to solve this case, Colton’s narrow minded ideas be damned. While tracking down info on the killer, they find a detective who had worked the murder cases in the 60s who shows them a picture of Tooms looking exactly the same as he does now. The agents travel to Tooms’ apartment (the shot of them entering the premises is the one used in the intro credits) where they find a nest made of newspaper and bile (ick) as well as trophies from previous victims. Mulder’s theory is that Tooms is a mutant who feeds on livers in order to keep himself alive and un-aging through the years. As they leave, a hidden Tooms lifts Scully’s necklace (which Mulder had awkwardly called attention to in a previous scene). Looks like he’s found his next victim.
Here we get to see Scully’s apartment for the first time. All she wants is a nice, hot bath to ease away the tensions of the day but, no, she has to get attacked by a mutant, contortionist, liver eater. Mulder bursts in just in time to intervene, distracting Tooms from the overpowered Scully. She, in turn, saves Mulder from Tooms’ attack by handcuffing him to the faucet. Of course, everything we’ve seen from Tooms indicates he could squeeze out of those cuffs in the wink of an eye, but we’ll just ignore that. We’ll also ignore that the action scenes at this point in the series are really poorly done and a bit laughable.
Tooms is institutionalized and immediately goes about building a new nest. His intense gaze at the slot in his cell door indicates we may not have seen the last of him.