"I'm not here to do your thinking, Agent Mulder. All I know is, is that Augustus Cole hasn't slept in twenty-four years."
REVIEW: Tony Todd! Like Mark Sheppard, a ubiquitous guest star for genre shows of the era, and he's good as "Preacher", a Vietnam vet pushed to the edge by his extreme experience. The result of sleep eradication experiments, he's a sleepless super-soldier who's now killing his old unit for untold war crimes, and he's doing it with his illusion-casting powers. Mulder's crazy oneiro-babble is the weakest part of the episode - psychic powers have been shown to exist, so we don't need the nonsense reasoning - but the killer illusions are well realized and intense. While it's a run of the mill X-Files plot, Rob Bowman directs the hell out of it, always finding interesting shots to push the material further, whether that's the crazy blue reflection in Scully's glasses or the way Preacher's potential drop from a platform is prefigured, if never realized.
But we need a run of the mill plot here because what's happening on the fringes is more important, and indeed, more interesting. Mulder is partnered with a rather green agent called Alex Krycek (no relation to the guy who survived the Amish Gender Bender, we swear, shhhh) who's a really nice contrast to Scully because he's a bit of a believer too. The former partners may joke that Krycek is a better fit, but he's not. Mulder needs someone to keep him from going off the rails, and Krycek is not that person. Mulder doesn't trust him with the big stuff, but he seems harmless enough. You feel for the kid when he blows Preacher away, fulfilling the troubled character's "suicide by cop", seeing a Bible as a gun (now THERE'S a metaphor for ya!). The twist is that Krycek really ISN'T to be trusted. He reports to the Smoking Man, and it looks like they're talking about offing Scully because she'll always get in the way! Jeepers! The dynamic they create here is quite intriguing, so I'll forgive them for doing it just a little too soon. Nicholas Lea was convincing as the rookie agent, eager to please, and I think it would have been more shocking if he had been revealed as a traitor a little later.
The episode also marks the first appearance, in the flesh, as it were, of the character the credits dub "X". He's a friend of Deep Throat's, apparently, and becomes the go-to guy to leak government documents. I'm not sure how I feel about this. D.T. had become something of a crutch and was killed for it, so why create another version of him? X is more reluctant to help than D.T. was, so the dynamic will be different. It just doesn't appear that way yet. We'll see. The real relationship Krycek needs to watch out for, of course, is what Mulder has with Scully. Even though they've been separated, she still keeps him grounded, and the Smoking Man's faction seem to want him to go off the rails, or at least respond to the stimuli they choose for him. While I want Scully to be back in action, the current set-up does provide some excellent moments, like their bittersweet phone conversation which might as well be between boyfriend and girlfriend. All subtext, these guys.
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Is X just Deep Throat's messenger? I'm still not convinced D.T. is dead, to tell you the truth. But he doesn't seem to be working with the Smoking Man, or else that faction wouldn't be wondering who X is, and where Mulder got the documents they had to steal back. It's interesting that both factions seem to want Mulder "on the job", but likely pursuing different things. Or pursuing them differently. The Smoking Man's goal seems to be to discredit Mulder by letting him go too far, while D.T.'s faction would rather he pick his battles. Note also that Krycek's actions at the end take on a different meaning once we know he's part of the Conspiracy - he kills Preacher, not because he needed to, but to destroy evidence.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The Conspiracy subplots and the direction elevate what is otherwise a standard X-Files episode.