Mulder and Krycek investigate a series of murders perpetrated by telepathic Vietnam War veteran Augustus Cole.
NEW YORK CITY
Dr. Saul Grissom awakes to find smoke seeping through his front door. He opens the door to find a blaze has rendered his hallway impassable. Panicked, he calls 911. The operator tells him that fire units are being dispatched. Grissom grabs a fire extinguisher and tries to fight the fire, but the extinguisher is too weak. As firemen ascend the building's stairwell, Augustus "Preacher" Cole descends. The firemen breach Grissom's apartment and find no evidence of fire, but Grissom is dead.
A cassette and article are delivered to Fox Mulder's apartment indicating Grissom's bizarre death, and Mulder asks Walter Skinner to be assigned to the case. Skinner assigns Mulder and Alex Krycek to investigate. Mulder discovers that Grissom's work involved manipulating sleep patterns. He also surreptitiously arranges for Dana Scully to perform Grissom's autopsy; she relates that the body exhibits only secondary characteristics of being burned alive – that it is as if only "his body believed that it was burning."
Cole and Henry Willig, members of the same squad in the Vietnam War, meet in Willig's apartment. Cole projects the image of charred Vietnamese civilians, armed with M-16s; they raise their weapons and kill Willig.
Willig's postmortem reveals characteristics similar to Grissom's – both bodies reacted to circumstances that weren't occurring. Mulder discovers that both Grissom and Willig were stationed at Parris Island, and that Willig was assigned to Special Recon Force J-7, along with Cole. Mulder and Krycek investigate Cole at a psychiatric ward, only to discover he has escaped; they learn, however, that Cole could disrupt other patients' sleep cycles.
Alone, Mulder meets with X, who provides him with top-secret documents detailing a military program designed to eliminate a soldier's need to sleep – a project with which Grissom was involved. He reveals that Cole hasn't slept in twenty-four years, and refers Mulder to an undisclosed survivor of SRF J-7: Salvatore Matola. Mulder hides the documents in his car.
Krycek reports to Mulder that the police have Cole cornered; when they arrive on the scene, however, two officers have shot one another, and Cole has escaped.
Mulder faxes X's documents to Scully, and hypothesizes to her that Cole has found a way to project his unconscious – to externalize his dreams.
Mulder and Krycek meet with Salvatore Matola. He recalls SRF J-7's time as an AWOL unit in Vietnam, recounting the murder of civilians by his platoon. Matola also tells them that Dr. Grissom and Dr. Francis Girardi are responsible for performing the experiment on SRF J-7 that allows them, like Cole, to never need sleep.
Mulder determines that Girardi is Cole's next target; they arrive at the train station where Girardi is expected. Mulder finds Girardi, but Cole shoots both Girardi and Mulder. Krycek finds Mulder unconscious, and not wounded – Krycek regards Mulder suspiciously, as he has no evidence of either Girardi or Cole's presence. Unperturbed, Mulder insists on reviewing the station's security cameras, where they discover an anomaly on track 17.
Girardi is badly wounded by Cole's projection of SRF J-7; they attack him with scalpels. Mulder and Krycek discover Girardi's body, moments after the attack; Krycek stays with Girardi and Mulder pursues Cole. Mulder finds Cole, and tries to persuade him to testify against the military, but moments into their conversation, Krycek appears. Against Mulder's pleas, Krycek, believing Cole is armed (though it's merely a bible that he's holding), shoots him, killing him.
When he gets back to the car, Mulder discovers X's top-secret document is gone; Scully's copy of the document has also been stolen. It is revealed that Krycek has stolen Mulder's copy, and that Krycek reports directly to the Cigarette Smoking Man. Krycek remarks that separating Mulder and Scully was a mistake, as it's served only to strengthen their resolve, and that Scully is a significant problem, much more so than ever given credit for.
- The challenge of writing this episode constituted the first time when Howard Gordon was assigned to write an installment of The X-Files without a collaborator. This outing was therefore significant for him. "I had some insecurity in the beginning," he related. "I was now on my own and had to investigate all new processes." (X-Files Confidential, p. 97) Gordon initially wrote an entirely different story, which he was unhappy with. By the time he realized his dissatisfaction with the ultimately undeveloped story, he was two weeks away from the time his script was due. He stayed awake over two consecutive nights, unable to sleep due to anxious panicking. (X-Files Confidential, p. 97; Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63) "I was so anxious. I figured that my career was over, I figured I was done, I had no talent, and I was history," he recalled. "Not being able to sleep for two nights, I began to think, 'Gee, what if somebody couldn't ever sleep?'" (X-Files Confidential, p. 97) This episode's genesis therefore came from the fact Gordon thought up the character concept of a man who couldn't sleep for a very long time, such as over twenty-five years. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63)
- Having imagined the conceptual roots of this installment, Howard Gordon took them to Executive Producer Chris Carter. "So I went to Chris and said, 'I'm putting a pin on that other script and I'm writing this story [instead],'" Gordon recounted. "Chris could have thought, 'Oh man, we're dead.' Not only was I insecure about my solo act, but Chris might have been as well. But he had this really great confidence in me and said, 'Whatever you want, just do it. I trust you're going to do it.' It's that kind of trust that just gave me the confidence." (X-Files Confidential, p. 97) Being highly supportive, Carter still allowed Gordon the remaining two weeks. "[It] really is not very much time," Gordon reckoned, "but it's still enough time to figure something out." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63)
- Additionally, Chris Carter made an important contribution to the story, so the episode basically evolved as a marriage between two concepts. Said Carter, "It was an idea that I had had during Season 1 about what makes the perfect soldier." ("Chris Carter Talks About Season Two: Sleepless", TXF Season 2 DVD special features) Howard Gordon added, "I married the idea of the super soldier to a sleepless soldier." (The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 57)
- Howard Gordon soon completed developing the story. He concluded, "I beat out the whole story in twenty-four hours." The story did not require many changes thereafter. (X-Files Confidential, p. 97)
- In the script of this episode, the character of X was consistently referred to as a female. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 170) The script went through four drafts, dated 5th, 9th, 12th and 15th August 1994.
- While directing this episode, Rob Bowman tried to put emphasis on a theme from its story. "There was a point to be made about the U.S. government and its treatment of some of the soldiers," he pointed out. "That piece was wholly reliant upon the performances and how striking I could make the flashbacks and nightmares of the Vietnamese people. With just the right impact from the images, the show wouldn't work. I took it very, very seriously and worked extra hard." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63)
- One difficult aspect of this episode's production was trying to ensure there was enough darkness for its many night scenes. Stated Chris Carter, "I guess the hardest part [of the episode's making] was that it required a lot of night shooting, and of course we were shooting in the middle of the summer in Vancouver, where it's the land of the midnight sun. That was a challenge for the cast and crew." (X-Files Confidential, pp. 97-98) Carter actually visited the set of this episode, on the night before he began directing the next installment, "Duane Barry". "Rob Bowman [...] was doing a very elaborate shot, with a very [precise] [...] camera move," Carter recollected, "and the way he was lighting it up and the way he was directing the actors, I realized that there was so much that I didn't know." ("The Truth About Season 2", TXF Season 2 DVD special features)
- To portray the killing of Henry Willig, a large group of injured and blood-stained Vietnamese people were required to appear suddenly. "The other thing is to put so many people in the room that they could only have appeared magically," explained Rob Bowman. "I think originally there were like three people on the set and it looked like they could have walked in there. We put nine people in there, literally in the blink of an eye, and there's no way they just walked in." (X-Files Confidential, pp. 98-99)
- Preparing the performers for the same scene was slightly problematic. "None of the people could speak English," remembered Rob Bowman. "I think it was the first time any of them had been on a set, so they were looking at the camera, the people, and the hardware. I had to reshoot it another day, and it was an exercise in blank expressions and nonresponsive looks from all of them. But the little boy right in the foreground of the shot seemed to understand through an interpreter what the scene was about. The direction was along the lines of, 'This man has hurt your family and you've come to make him pay his debt.' This boy gave one of these steely-eyed, dagger-filled stares. He did it every time. I remember saying to all of them, 'Hold court with your eyes, by looking very final in your conclusion that he has to pay his debt.' A little smoke, a little crosslight, a little blood and some prosthetics, and you have it." (X-Files Confidential, p. 98)
- For depicting the moments just before Henry Willig is apparently shot by the Vietnamese group, Rob Bowman decided to add a view of Willig with a relieved expression. "Just at the moment he realizes he's going to be killed," Bowman observed, "he closes his eyes, rolls his head back, and thinks to himself, 'It's over. Finally, relief. I can sleep.' That was something I put in there because Howard Gordon had talked a lot about how these guys have been suffering for twenty-four years. If they know they're going to be killed, there should be a moment of release there." (X-Files Confidential, p. 98)
- This episode's production included an alternative version of the scene in which Mulder has a clandestine meeting with X, in which that character was played by actress Natalia Nogulich rather than Steven Williams. (TXF Season 2 DVD special features) Though X was originally envisioned as a woman, this decision was changed when James Wong and others were watching the dailies from this episode's shoot. After Williams was selected for the part, reshoots had to take place. Explained Glen Morgan, "We went back, shot Steven Williams, and inserted the footage." (X-Files Confidential, p. 99) Paul Rabwin added, "We had to figure out how to shoot his close-ups to match with the ones they'd already shot with David [Duchovny]." ("The Truth About Season 2", TXF Season 2 DVD special features) The alternate edit of the scene is available, as a deleted scene, on the TXF Season 2 DVD, with optional audio commentary by Paul Rabwin.
- This episode features the first usages of xenon flashlights which cost the production crew $7500 and produced very powerful concentrated tunnels of light. Along with a few scraps of tinfoil, the lights helped Rob Bowman achieve an aim of his, as he wanted to "have plenty of exposure in absolute blackness." The team discovered the method involving flashlights and tinfoil while endeavouring to shoot the warehouse sequence which serves as this episode's climax. Bowman later recalled the filming; "We found that, if we were to have the actors walk down the hallway or anywhere, we could set these little pieces of tinfoil and you crush them up so that it's not a flat mirror, it sort of defuses it, but [to] the actor [....] once in a while you say, 'Well, right about here, I'd like to see your face, because basically you're silhouette. So right about here, hit that flashlight through the thing and it'll just splash light onto your face for a moment.' And we'd set four or five of them down a hallway and so the actors were able to, while they're searching around, just hit that piece of foil and get a little exposure on their face." ("The Truth About Season 2", TXF Season 2 DVD special features)
- This episode features the first appearance of recurring character Alex Krycek. It is also the first episode in which X's face appears, though he does obscurely appear in the earlier season 2 segment "The Host", such as the back of his head. Noted Chris Carter, "It's the first time we learn that there is a man who is replacing the Deep Throat character that we established at the beginning of the show." ("Chris Carter Talks About Season Two: Sleepless", TXF Season 2 DVD special features)
- This was Howard Gordon's personal favorite from all the episodes in the second season of The X-Files. "I liked the interplay between Mulder and Scully," he critiqued, "and the opportunity to again explore their relationship in the absence of the partnership. That gave me a good dramatic opportunity. I also liked introducing Krycek. And it was my first one alone, so I liked climbing that particular mountain. It was significant to me at that level." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, pp. 48-49)
- Rob Bowman was similarly pleased with how this episode turned out. "I'm particularly proud of 'Sleepless,'" he remarked. "I thought everything jelled beautifully. I was really on the same page interpretively with Howard [Gordon]. I loved the cast." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63) Another aspect Bowman found appealing was the ambiguity of the drama, as the apparent antagonist, Augustus Cole, was actually on a mercy mission, killing people who wanted to die. As such, the director thought the look of relief on Henry Willig's face, just before he dies, was extremely effective, saying, "I found that very interesting, and it made the audience think for a second as to who was right and who was wrong." (X-Files Confidential, p. 98) Bowman also held the episode's final scene in particularly high regard. "It was a very fun, scary scene for me," he related, "because [Krycek] seemed to be so confident there, none of which he showed in the episode." (The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 57)
- Chris Carter was thrilled with this installment. "'Sleepless' was always one of my favorite episodes," he raved, "because first of all, I think it's very, very well-executed, beautifully directed by Rob Bowman [....] There's an interesting idea at work here about sleeplessness, because sleep is the place where our demons are released, in our dreams, and the twist on this is that, in sleeplessness, these men become demonized by their inability to go into that part of their brain, to have that rest that is as much a part of life as waking." ("Chris Carter Talks About Season Two: Sleepless", TXF Season 2 DVD special features) Carter further explained his love of this episode was not only because "it's a great idea" but also due to him thinking it was "well executed," saying, "We had a good cast; Tony Todd was wonderful. Production-wise, I think there's a lot of suggestion of violence there rather than what you see. You're shown what's going to happen, but you don't actually see it." (X-Files Confidential, pp. 97 & 98)
- James Wong likewise approved of this episode's visuals. He offered, "Stylistically, it had some very strong shots." (X-Files Confidential, p. 99)
- This episode achieved a Nielsen household rating of 8.6, with an audience share of 15. This means that roughly 8.6 percent of all television-equipped households, and 15 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 8.2 million households. (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 249)
- Cinefantastique (Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 63) rated this episode 3 and a half out of 4 stars. The magazine commented, "Soldiers as subjects of medical experimentation are an old story–but once again, The X-Files manages to give the theme an engrossing spin, thanks in good part to a moving performance by guest star Tony Todd as Augustus Cole [....] Sleeplessness has always been a running theme of The X-Files, with Mulder's chronic insomnia a persistent image, and when he and a researcher discuss the hallucinatory effects of a lack of sleep, one can only wonder how much Mulder's perception is affected by his own sleeping disorder."
- The X-Files Magazine (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 4, p. 30) deemed this episode "a textbook case of a story where the secondary plot is more gripping than the main investigation."
- In his reference book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen, writer Robert Shearman gave this installment 4 out of 5 stars. He critiqued, "The biggest shame of the episode, I think, is that it reveals Krycek as an enemy too early. Nicholas Lea is so convincing as a junior agent keen to impress Mulder, and to run around in his mentor's shadow, that you just can't help but wish there was more of a chance to see the pair in action. And to wonder what greater impact Krycek’s treachery would have had after he'd built up a greater trust in the audience [....] All in all, there's such a strong sense of a new chapter opening here, with the conspiracy against Mulder and Scully gathering apace, that it almost threatens to overwhelm the plot proper [....] What dignifies this [...] is the sincerity of the revenge on display. This isn't something small [....] This is Vietnam – and what's skilful about Gordon's script is that he makes the cliché of Vietnam war guilt feel very personal and even sorrowful. The idea of making soldiers more aggressive by removing the solace of sleep is a fascinating one, and it means that the victims almost seem to be waiting for death as a release, haunted by the evil that they have done and could not prevent. Tony Todd [...] manages to be both very powerful and strangely sympathetic [....] If in the last act the revenge story runs out of steam, it's still provided an X-File so nebulous and amoral it almost feels like sleeplessness. Wonderful imagery distinguishes the story too."
Cast and Characters
- The duration in which Tony Todd performed for this episode was fairly compressed. "They actually squeezed my shooting time," he said, "into three days [....] It was an exciting time [...] but also kind of exhausting." (TV Zone Special #21, p. 55)
- Tony Todd appreciated this episode's plot. "I [...] thought the story was well-written," he admired. "I'm fascinated by the whole concept of government experimentation and people not owing up to some of the things that they know." Todd also felt connected to the episode's focus on the Vietnam War, as it had been influential to his life, despite the fact he hadn't fought in the war himself. (TV Zone Special #21, p. 55)
- During the making of this episode, Tony Todd and Gillian Anderson did not have the opportunity to work together, due to Scully appearing only briefly herein. However, Todd enjoyed working with David Duchovny on this outing. (TV Zone Special #21, pp. 55-56)
- Steven Williams enjoyed his single scene as X herein, which he approached with the notion of X wanting to reveal the truth to Mulder but doing so in a cryptic way to protect against exposing himself. "So that's the idea that I got when I started hitting that episode," Williams revealed. "We have to leak these things slowly." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 85)
- Michael Puttonen (Dr. Pilsson) previously played Motel Manager in The X-Files episode "Deep Throat".
- Mitch Pileggi as Assistant Director Walter Skinner
- Nicholas Lea as Alex Krycek
- Jonathan Gries as Salvatore Matola
- Steven Williams as X
- Tony Todd as Augustus "Preacher" Cole