Written by Howard Gordon
Directed by Rob Bowman
In which Mulder faces an old soldier who doesn’t need to sleep and can manipulate one’s perception of reality, while also dealing with a new partner by the name of Alex Krycek...
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
As the episode begins, Dr. Saul Grissom sits in his New York City apartment watching television. Without warning, there is the sudden sound of rumbling outside of his door, and as he opens the door to investigate, fire erupts into the room. He quickly calls for 911 as the flames spread and surround him. He tries to put the fire out with an extinguisher, but nothing seems to halt the progress of the flames.
Moments later, as the building evacuates and firemen rush to the rescue, a tall black man with a mysterious scar along the back of his neck grins in satisfaction on his way out. As the firemen come upon the apartment, they realize that there is no fire. However, Grissom is clearly dead.
Sometime later, Mulder finds a tape hidden inside his morning paper, and the article regarding Grissom’s death is circled. Mulder takes the tape and article to Assistant Director Skinner after the NYPD refuses to talk to him. Skinner promises to look into the matter, but sends Mulder back to his ever-exciting wiretap transcription.
Later that morning, Mulder is absently going about his work when he is interrupted by another agent. The agent, Alex Krycek, informs Mulder that his 302 for the Grissom case was approved. However, since Krycek had already opened the file two hours before Mulder requested the 302, Krycek is also assigned to the case. Mulder is less than pleased at the idea of working with an agent who looks fresh out of the academy, but Krycek insists. Mulder tells Krycek to requisition a car, appearing to relent.
Of course, Mulder simply ditches Krycek and calls Scully instead. He asks Scully to fly up to New York to examine Grissom’s body, but Scully is unable to leave. Undaunted, Mulder offers to send the body down to Quantico. Scully reluctantly agrees.
Once in the New York area, Mulder takes a cab to Grissom’s sleep disorder clinic. Apparently Grissom was a leading expert in the field of sleep research, achieving record levels of success in treatment. Looking in on one of the patients, he learns that Grissom was conducting experiments intended to alter the content of a patient’s dreams through external electric stimulation.
As he leaves the clinic, Mulder finds Krycek waiting for him. Krycek is annoyed at being treated unfairly, and explains that he was one of a few students at the academy that actually followed and admired Mulder’s work. Before he can absorb that possibility, Scully calls to inform Mulder that Grissom’s death was highly unusual. She asks Mulder to come take a look for himself. Despite himself, Mulder is forced by the circumstances to take Krycek along.
Once at Quantico, Mulder introduces Krycek to Scully. Her reception is about as warm as Mulder’s had been. Scully explains that the positioning of the limbs suggests exposure to extremely high temperatures, and the specific position is exclusive to burn victims. There is also excessive internal hemorrhaging, the kind which is only caused by intense heat. In short, Grissom is showing all of the secondary signs of having been killed in a fire, but none of the external burns that would normally be present…almost as if his body believed it was burning.
Meanwhile, in a run-down apartment in New York, an older white man with a long scar across the back of his neck watches a home shopping channel, visibly exhausted. The tall black man, last seen in Grissom’s building, walks in the apartment. The black man, Preacher, asks the other man, Henry, how he’s doing. Henry explains that he still trying to forget what they did. Henry knows that Preacher killed Grissom. Preacher explains that Grissom had to pay for what they did, just like the rest of them. Henry suddenly sees himself facing a line of Vietnamese villagers, all aiming guns in his direction. As Preacher quotes scripture, Henry falls to the floor as he sees the villagers shooting him…but his body is free of wounds.
Later, at the Hoover Building, Mulder and Krycek review the information on the latest death. Henry Willig was ruled dead by burst aneurysm, but the medical examiner found 43 internal hemorrhages indicative of bullet wounds, only without external trauma to match the internal damage. The scar on the back of Henry’s neck is completely unexplained by the man’s medical history. Krycek wonders if the scar was from wounds taken in Vietnam, where Henry served with the Marines in 1970. Mulder recalls that Grissom was stationed with the Marines at Parris Island from 1968 to 1971. Realizing that Grissom and Henry were at Parris Island at the same time, they check to see if any other members of Henry’s squad had survived. They find one name: Augustus Cole.
Mulder and Krycek track down the last surviving member of the squad to a VA hospital in New Jersey. The photo on Cole’s file matches Preacher. As one of the doctors at the hospital explains, soon after Cole was admitted, he was relocated to an isolated cell because he was somehow interfering with the sleep patterns of other patients. But before the doctor can explain more fully, they discover that Cole is no longer in his cell. When they check at the desk, the nurse recalls the doctor discharging Cole a few days earlier. In fact, she shows the doctor where he signed the discharge papers. As Mulder begins arranging for a manhunt for Cole, he receives a call on his cell phone. It is the same man that called him during the previous case in New Jersey (“The Host”), requesting a meeting.
Mulder follows instructions to what looks like an arena under construction. He is meant by an imposing black man, who refuses to identify himself. In fact, the new informant refuses to coddle Mulder, preferring to deliver information without pleasantries. The informant explains that a secret military project had been conducted to eliminate the need for sleep. Henry and Cole were products of that experiment, meant to win the Vietnam conflict. The informant refuses to draw conclusions for Mulder, but he does give Mulder information about a squad member that was supposedly killed in action, but is actually still alive. When Mulder asks how to contact the mysterious man, his informant makes it clear that he has no intention of ending up like the last man who helped Mulder. The informant explains that closing the X-Files and separating Mulder from Scully was only the beginning; finding the truth will be more dangerous than ever.
On his way back from his meeting, Mulder runs into Krycek, who tries to get him to explain where he was. Apparently Cole robbed a drugstore nearby, and the NYPD managed to pin him down. Dodging Krycek’s questions, Mulder joins the NYPD as they prepare to take down Cole. Suddenly there are gunshots, and when Mulder and Krycek rush to the scene, they find two officers down. Mulder sees an open window, and looks out to see if Cole is nearby. Cole is below, but out of view. As Mulder looks back at the scene, Krycek informs him that the two officers shot each other.
Having received a copy of the reports that Mulder was given by his new informant, Scully determines that the unusual scar on the back of Cole’s neck was the result of an experimental procedure meant to eliminate sleep by cutting out part of the brain stem. The procedure kept the subjects permanently awake, but they required constant supplements of serotonin to compensate. Scully believes that Cole robbed the store in order to get anti-depressants, which contain serotonin in the levels he would require.
Mulder calls Scully, and they discuss the reports. Scully admits that the sleep deprivation itself would not account for the rest of the evidence. Based on what he learned at Grissom’s clinic, Mulder offers a rather unique explanation. He theorizes that Cole has developed the ability to project his unconscious to others, having fallen into an altered state between the waking and dreaming worlds. With the ability to alter reality, Cole can make people react to situations and experiences that aren’t really happening. Scully is skeptical, to be sure, and suggests that Mulder spend his time working on a profile for Cole instead. They end the call with a little wistful teasing.
Mulder and Krycek visit a restaurant to speak with Salvatore Matola, the supposedly KIA member of Cole’s old squad. Matola initially thinks that the agents are there to kill him, having already learned about the other murders. Matola speaks with Mulder and Krycek privately, and explains how the squad had eventually defied orders, making up their missions as they went along. They wound up killing women and children in the process, including an entire school full of children at Phu Bai. When Mulder tells Matola that Cole is their suspect, Matola explains that Cole always said they would have to pay for what they had done. Mulder asks why Grissom was killed, and Matola explains that as far as the squad was concerned, Dr. Grissom was a part of the team…as was a second doctor, Dr. Gerardi.
Mulder and Krycek find out that Gerardi is coming into New York for Grissom’s funeral, so they try to get into the city as fast as possible. Of course, they get stuck in the Long Island Expressway traffic, so Mulder calls Scully to make sure a picture of the doctor is waiting for them at the Bronx train station. Mulder also realizes that the murders began on the 24th anniversary of the massacre at Phu Bai.
The agents arrive at the train station, and immediately split up to look for Gerardi. Mulder sees someone that looks like the doctor, and then believes he sees Cole about to attack him. He cries out for Cole to drop his weapon, and then he falls to the ground when Cole seems to shoot him. But then Krycek rushes over to him, informing him that Gerardi was nowhere to be seen, and that he was screaming like a madman. It was all in Mulder’s head.
In the security room for the station, Mulder instructs the security personnel to review the video surveillance recordings to find either Gerardi or Cole. Once the search begins, Krycek pulls Mulder to one side and asks him about what happened. Mulder hesitates to speak his mind, but Krycek assured him that he wants to believe. So Mulder explains his theory about Cole’s psychic ability. Krycek barely reacts, apparently giving Mulder the benefit of the doubt. They are interrupted when one of the security officers notice an unknown car parked in a restricted part of the trainyard.
In a darkened warehouse, Cole ties Gerardi up to a support beam. Cole taunts Garardi with quotes from scripture about vengeance and lying tongues, and soon Garardi begins seeing the old squad, all coming for him with scalpels. As Garardi screams as the back of his neck is ripped open by Cole’s power, Mulder and Krycek rush to his rescue. Leaving Krycek to see to Gerardi, Mulder runs after Cole. He finds Cole standing over a pile of assorted, twisted debris, and he orders Cole to step away from the edge. Cole tries to convince Mulder to kill him, but Mulder refuses. Krycek runs onto the scene, and when Cole sees him, he extends his Bible towards Mulder. Krycek believes that it’s a gun, so he shoots Cole before Mulder can stop him.
With the case effectively over, Mulder checks for the reports that his informant gave him, which he hid under the driver’s seat in the rental car. When he realizes that the reports are missing, he checks with Scully about her copy. Scully tells him that her office was broken into, and the reports were stolen. Without any evidence, they have no basis for further investigation. Mulder notes that his new informant mentioned that searching for the truth has never been more dangerous. Scully is shocked to hear that Mulder met with the informant, but more importantly, she wants to know if Mulder trusts him. Mulder doesn’t answer.
Meanwhile, in a conference room at an unknown location, the cigarette-smoking man and two of his associates ask Krycek where Mulder acquired the reports on the military experiments. Krycek is certain that Mulder has found another inside source, and his report offers several counter-measures. The cigarette-smoking man asks about Scully, and Krycek explains that separating her from Mulder only seems to have strengthened their bond. Snuffing out his cigarette, the mysterious man offers that every problem has a solution.
Like the previous episode, elements of the decades-long “super soldier” project are fleshed out in this episode. As with so many early elements of the series, the concept of soldiers engineered to require no sleep would be revisited in passing in the later seasons, when the project came into the spotlight. More than that, however, this episode hints at a later development that was left largely unexplored by the series.
Throughout the course of the series, there were several half-hearted references to the idea that Saddam Hussein was a plant by the conspiracy, purposefully positioning Iraq into conflict with the United States and its allies so that military experiments could be conducted without discovery. There were hints that the Gulf War Syndrome was related in some way to exposure to experimentation with the black oil virus, as well as explicit references to field tests of the first generation of successful “super soldiers”.
This episode provides the forerunner to those concepts, and it is entirely in keeping with the timeline of the series as a whole. The bulk of the experimentation in development of advanced, engineered soldiers took place between 1947 and 1973. In 1973, the emphasis changed, as the apparent threat of Colonization became the primary focus. But at the same time, those years were the formative years in micro-technology, which would have eventually led to the nano-technology necessary for the later incarnations of the “super soldiers”.
Before that time, the experiments were mostly confined to biological modifications, either through forced genetic mutation (tissue grafting, radiation) or genetic engineering (cloning). Many of the experiments were unsuccessful, but sooner or later, some of the experiments must have yielded promising results. The only way to test an advanced weapon, of course, is to arrange a field test. So what better way than to enter into a war and then manipulate events to make sure it lasts as long as necessary to test your weapons?
Of course, this particular experiment was clearly a failure. While the test subjects no longer required sleep, the inability to control the subjects was a major deficit. With the growing discontent with the war and the failure of their field tests, it might have been inevitable that the project would have gone back to the drawing board.
The timing is interesting in terms of the end of the Vietnam Conflict in 1973, and the next phase of the conspiracy. Could the failure to produce a controllable “super soldier” have led to the critical decision to collaborate, since the hope of an engineered defense had been shattered? Of course, at the same time, it would have made sense to redirect efforts towards developing control systems, so that future modifications would no longer carry with them the possibility of disobedience.
Cole’s psychic ability further expands the hidden fabric of the universe in which “X-Files” takes place, proposing that there is the potential to tap into a collective human consciousness and control others through that connection. This melds with the spiritual aspects of the series, which occasionally took some interesting steps forward, but never went as far as it could or should have. Unlike the conspiracy itself, which eventually was so over-defined as to be needlessly contradictory, the questions regarding the nature of the soul and consciousness itself were rife with story potential, only to be left unrealized.
In fact, the perception-altering aspect of Cole’s reality is revisited in “Pusher”, where it gets the treatment that it deserves. One can see why the conspiracy would want to eliminate or isolate those with similar abilities. It would be easy enough to have someone like Cole manipulate and control others, but the question becomes, how does one control the controller?
Naturally, the most celebrated aspect of this episode is the introduction of Mulder’s future nemesis, Alex Krycek. It’s interesting to see Krycek acting so young and eager, especially when that is later revealed to be nothing more than an act. By this point, Krycek had long since been involved in the international aspects of the conspiracy, both in terms of his history with the Russian conspiracy and his apparent relationship with the cigarette-smoking man.
It’s also interesting to look at this episode in terms of who in the conspiracy knows what. In retrospect, the camera work at the arena suggests that someone is listening in on the conversation. The ending suggests that it could be Krycek, so it is interesting that he is already hiding information for his own purposes. It’s also clear in retrospect that the cigarette-smoking man knows full well about Mulder’s new informant, and has intentionally kept Krycek in the dark.
So while Krycek is already showing signs of a survival mentality, providing and withholding information as he sees fit, the cigarette-smoking man is also emphasizing that he has a particular agenda in mind. More than that, his agenda has been worked out so that his next move will appear justified to all of his allies, even though they are unaware of how they are being played against each other.
What is that agenda? That is the real question behind the next several episodes, and as usual with the series, what appears to be the truth on first inspection turns out to have more layers of intrigue than expected. And it goes without saying that much of that complexity was unintentional, given how often the writers chose to leave things open to interpretation.
MULDER: “The article makes no mention of the fire.”
SKINNER: “Yes, Agent Mulder, I can read…”
KRYCEK: “You know, back at the academy, some of the guys used to make fun of you.”
MULDER: “Oh, stop it, or you’ll hurt my feelings.”
KRYCEK: “According to his medical history, the only surgery he ever had was an appendectomy.”
MULDER: “Well, unless they got to his appendix through his neck…”
- Why did Grissom open the door? Doesn’t he know anything about dealing with a fire?
- Who else finds that “rat face” thing that Mitch Pileggi does to be such a great character detail?
- Nice detail of Mulder’s picture of him and his sister taped up to the filing cabinet next to his desk...
- I swear, Krycek in this episode is an early prototype of Wesley from the third season of “Buffy”!
- Nice use of the “George Hale” alias from “Little Green Men”...
- What’s with Krycek’s hair, anyway?
- I love Krycek’s act in the autopsy room; there’s no way he would be bothered by something like that, given his past history!
- Of course, Mulder’s hair looks like a wild Chia pet under those autopsy lights...
- That’s the cleanest version of Brooklyn I’ve ever seen!
- I love the make-up job on the soldiers...they really look like they haven’t slept in decades...
- Tony Todd always plays interesting characters in the genre, from Candyman from the films of the same name to several memorable roles within the “Star Trek” and “Babylon 5” franchises...
- If the bullets are all in Henry’s head, why do they bother to show bullet holes erupting in the walls?
- I know North Orange, NJ isn’t the most modern or advanced area in the world, but they still wouldn’t shove a guy in isolation in the utility basement!
- What, no cameras on the guy locked in his room in the basement?
- I wonder what arena was supposed to be under construction...
- At least the building in Queens looked a little more realistic!
- Nice bit with the reflection of the cyan screen on Scully’s glasses...
- I also love the expression on Scully’s face when Mulder pulls “telepathic dream projection” out of his ass!
- I’m sure the shippers love the end of that phone conversation, hmm?
- Wouldn’t an employee that never sleeps be an employer’s dream?
- Gee...I’ve been in traffic like that on the LIE...
- If Mulder thought he was shot, why didn’t he have the internal damage from the “gunshots”?
- In the same way, why would there have been external cuts on Gerardi, if it was all in his head?
- In light of later revelations, what are the chances that Krycek didn’t see a gun at all, and killed Cole because that was his goal?
- Interesting historical side note: in this episode, the cigarette-smoking man appears to use reading glasses!
- Love that final bit of foreshadowing with the cigarette...
Overall, this episode is best remembered for the introduction of Alex Krycek to the series. The rest is a fairly standard exploration of military experimentation gone amok, which is a theme that dominates the early seasons. It’s a largely competent episode, which is about all one can say.
I give it a 7/10.
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