X-Files Flashback: ‘Sleepless’

Season 2, Episode 4
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: Howard Gordon

…we’re not in Seattle anymore.

The “Sleepless” episode of The X-Files typifies what we can expect of Season Two. Mulder is pulled into a case with tinges of the paranormal, Scully performs the autopsy and has a few deeper emotional moments with him over the phone (again, hiding her pregnancy), and the government continues to intervene both positively and negatively into Mulder and Scully’s search for the truth. So, in that regard, “Sleepless” offers nothing new exactly save a fantastically creepy performance from Tony Todd of Candyman fame.

Now, to understand my appreciation for the episode, you have to understand that I consider Candyman one of the more terrifying films of the 90s mostly due to Todd’s accomplished central performance. It gave me great joy to see Todd pop up here in The X-Files, a vehicle perfectly suited to his sensibilities. Unfortunately, his character does not last longer than this single episode. I wish that Chris Carter had somehow found a way to extend his presence on the show. He’s that good at chilling you with a single glance.

The prologue shows an elderly man waking in his luxury New York apartment to the sound of a raging inferno outside. He calls 9-1-1 and pulls a fire extinguisher out of the closet, but it has little effect on the roaring flames. When firefighters reach the floor, there are no flames, and, after breaking into his apartment, they discover his dead body. A later autopsy reveals symptoms of internal organs that actually burned to death, yet there was neither evidence of fire damage within the apartment nor burns on the body. Mulder’s investigation reveals that the victim worked with the government on top-secret sleep-related project for Vietnam soldiers. The theory was that a soldier’s worst enemy was sleep, so they effectively negated the body’s need for sleep by removing a portion of the brain and supplementing other functions with medication.

Turns out, that didn’t really work for the soldiers as, according to details provided by Augustus “Preacher” Cole (Todd) and other remaining soldiers, they began to go a little crazy in the jungle, eventually attacking innocent children. Preacher is now on a mission to kill all who were involved with the mission, including a fellow soldier, using his telepathic ability to project deadly events on his victims. Saddled with a new partner (Alex Krycek, played by Nicholas Lea), Mulder eventually tracks Preacher down in an desolate area of the subway where he pleads for death – the eternal sleep. Mulder’s partner Krycek is fooled into believing Preacher has a gun and shoots him dead. Later, Krycek is seen to have been working with the Smoking Man and others in an attempt to further derail not only Mulder’s investigations but also his relationship with Scully. Absence has made the heart grow fonder, and this causes the government significant distress.

There really isn’t much to say about “Sleepless.” It’s a decent episode that was, as I’ve mentioned, significantly elevated by Tony Todd’s central performance. Nicholas Lea is also good in the role of Mulder’s new partner who evolves from wide-eyed Mulder fanboy into a covert agent working for the opposition. It will be fun watching their dynamic continue as the series progresses. I also liked some of the camerawork and atmospheric detail of the episode. Shadows and light are especially well used here, particularly in the scenes that evoke Preacher’s psychic torture of his victims (something I’m not 100% sure I exactly understood how he accomplished). As with any medium, sometimes the right actors can elevate any material beyond its pulpy origins. This is certainly true of “Sleepless.”

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