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There Is No Truth About Alex Krycek

Calmly waiting for the elevator doors to close, Krycek stares evilly at someone off-screen

A rat is said to variously symbolise cowardice, impoverishment, tenacity, and intelligence. Certainly “rat boy” is meant as an insult by many (and an endearment by some) though it may be the perfect epithet for The X-Files’ wiliest character. Alex Krycek first appeared in Season 2, and despite the fact he was only meant to temporarily fill the gap made by Gillian Anderson’s maternity leave, he wound up returning to cause chaos until his final appearance at the end of Season 9

His tendency to disappear for up to 20 episodes at a time would seem to make him hard to pin down. So much about Krycek is ephemeral—his loyalties, his leather jackets…even down to the way he switches between speaking English and Russian, he is permanently unfixed. Furthermore, his role in the story requires multiple perspectives, because he is simultaneously a thug and an innocent, seemingly always the perpetrator of one crime and the victim of another. For the past several months I have been examining his sporadic appearances in order to satisfy my conviction that there must be a truth about Alex Krycek that holds them all together.

I discovered that I was at least able to put up scaffolding around his narrative. Krycek is mostly defined by three major on-screen relationships—the Smoking Man, Assistant Director Skinner, and Agent Mulder—with a handful of others along the way, and his motives could be broadly defined as survival, power, and revenge. But evidently he is more complex than could be neatly explained in a sentence worth of summation.

Krycek looks deadly serious as he faces his Syndicate employers

At the outset I assumed my usual anti-intentionalist position—that is to say, the writers’ intentions are of no concern to my interpretation. The elephant in the room now is that Krycek’s multifaceted presentation may not be a deliberate nuance, but rather an unintended consequence of the writers’ opportunistic approach to his plot function. After all, he does frequently show up to move the plot along and then disappear again. That everything about him is an accident or coincidence seems to me to be the least satisfying and possibly least relevant explanation. I see Krycek’s ambiguity as an asset, not a fault. After all, The X-Files thrives in creating puzzles for the audience. The effect that he had—whether unforeseen or not—was to paint the gap between the FBI and the Syndicate in shades of grey; he adds layers of thematic interest by testing the established values and structures of The X-Files. 

Skinner and Mulder accept no such nuance and think of Krycek in fixed terms. To them, he is a villain and a lowlife—there are some in the fanbase who agree, who have already decided that Krycek acts only out of malice or selfishness. I want to believe in a more sympathetic interpretation, but I had to do away with my own preconceptions, lest my investigation become an exercise in cherry-picking and confirmation bias. For example, while it’s undeniable that his duplicity and outcast status make him a degree more queer (or queercoded) than his straight-talking counterparts, the question of his possible feelings for Mulder, and therefore his sexual orientation, remains exactly that: a question. The truth can be obscured by assumption (something I learned from the show) so I wanted to make as few of them as possible. To that point, one of the last things Krycek says is: “you think I’m bad, that I’m a killer”. This goes for not only the characters but much of the audience too—so assuming that we shouldn’t assume…what else are we supposed to think he is?

Fight or Die

“Under any circumstances he was going to survive and attempt to triumph.”
— Nicholas Lea, Empire, 2013

The conclusion that many people draw about Alex Krycek is that he is a survivor, first and foremost. Desires, pleasures, and ideals—including morality—are secondary to his egoistic imperative to survive. In essence, the conspiracy is about the selfishness of powerful men, and Krycek shows the consequences of selfishness in extremity: a life of total solitude. In other words, as a key player in a high stakes game, perhaps survival is the most he can hope for; the only time we can infer that he is taking pleasure in something is during his ill-advised tryst with Marita Covarrubias in “Patient X”, and even that ends badly for him.

The theme of survival is best illustrated by the loss of his left arm. The incident makes him a little more disillusioned, a little more angry, but certainly not weaker. The predominance of right handedness in human history has resulted in artworks as far back as cave paintings favouring the right hand to hold the sword, and the left hand to hold the shield. This has resulted in the connotations that the right hand is active and aggressive, while the left hand is passive and defensive. Krycek loses the part of himself most associated with weakness.

A Revenger’s Tragedy

“I want to damn the soul of that cigarette smoking son-of-a-bitch.”
— Alex Krycek (“Requiem”)

There must be something besides the principle of survival that Krycek is surviving for, and short of invention, the answer must be the day that he sees the head of the Smoking Man on a spike. At certain points in the series the two work alongside each other; on occasion Krycek directly echoes the Smoking Man’s language (e.g. “it’s all going to hell” and “you have the singular opportunity”) as though he has subconsciously taken on the role of heir. However, from his perspective, he has been a victim of the conspiracy, used as a tool like so many others, and the Smoking Man is far from a role model to him—he is his tormentor, and Krycek wants to have his revenge.

The first time we see the two interact, Krycek is eager to please his superiors, having “outlined several countermeasures” (the Syndicate equivalent of extra credit). But during Seasons 2 and 3, Krycek faces multiple small turning points in his relationship with the Smoking Man.

In a dark parking garage, Alex Krycek avoids eye contact with the Smoking Man

Firstly, there is the murder of Duane Barry, which he later refers to with distaste. Then there is a scene in “Ascension”, where the Smoking Man makes it explicitly clear that Krycek has “no rights, only orders to be carried out”. During his time at the FBI, Krycek works hard to increase his dramatic status, especially around Mulder, taking more and more opportunities to dominate scenes. However, in this scene his status is diminished by the presence of the Smoking Man, and the “frightened” man is revealed. His anagnorisis—the terrible realisation that he has placed himself in the wrong hands—comes when the Smoking Man makes two attempts on his life. First is a car bomb in “Paper Clip” that he narrowly escapes, though not without having any concept of trust completely destroyed; the second is in “Apocrypha”, when the Smoking Man leaves a black-oil-infected Krycek trapped in an underground silo to die a painful and probably disgusting death.

“He’s basically a guy who’s in way over his head, and is frightened, actually”
Nicholas Lea ,The X-Files Magazine, February 1996

Following his escape from the silo he launches a campaign of revenge that spans several seasons. In “Tunguska” and “Terma”, he uses his newly acquired power to sabotage the Syndicate’s vaccine experiments from afar—it’s not that he wants Russia to win the vaccine race, he just really wants America to lose. Arguably the most heinous thing he does in aid of revenge is his Trojan Horse plot—he demonstrates his ends-justify-the-means mindset by infecting a young boy with the black oil and trying, unsuccessfully, to send him inside the Syndicate’s gates. 

Another stage of his campaign is the disillusionment of Jeffrey Spender. In “Two Fathers” he is sent by the Smoking Man to accompany Spender on his first kill mission—a kind of test or initiation. When Spender hesitates and Krycek steps in to complete the kill, Krycek saves Spender from corruption. He doesn’t allow the Smoking Man the satisfaction of turning his son into a killer, the way he did to Krycek. In this same episode he calls the Smoking Man a “great man”, in a way that sounds every bit like Mark Anthony calling Brutus “honourable”. 

At the end of Season 5, Krycek is taken under the wing of another man in a perpetual feud with the Smoking Man—the Well Manicured Man. This relationship starts out as hazardously as the rest, but in the few scenes they share in “The Red and the Black” and “The End”, it appears that the Well Manicured Man sees Krycek as his apprentice, and begins teaching him ways to use the Syndicate to his advantage. Well Manicured Man dies in Fight the Future, from which Krycek is conspicuously absent—his death is another turning point to further disillusion Krycek ahead of the festival of cynicism that is “S.R. 819”.

His desire for revenge eclipses everything, including his kinship with Mulder. It was the Smoking Man who tore the possibility of a legitimate partnership with Mulder from Krycek’s grasp, but by “Requiem” Krycek wants so badly to ruin the Smoking Man that he doesn’t hesitate to send Mulder into danger. The tragedy is that in his quest Krycek lost more than the Smoking Man ever did. But though he fails to kill him in “Requiem”, Krycek at least believes that he succeeded, and maybe that is good enough.

Morality Is Hypothetical

Walter Skinner confidently believes that he is a better man than Alex Krycek. And why wouldn’t he? He needs no incentive like revenge or power to do the right thing; he knows that right is right and wrong is wrong. 

In “S.R. 819”, Krycek sets out to prove that Skinner is a hypocrite. As the malcontent of The X-Files, he displays a dissatisfaction with political and moral values as he exposes the complicity of men such as Senator Matheson in the conspiracy. During the episode, the nanobots are used to keep Skinner out of play, but what Krycek goes on to do is use the nanobots to make the point that Skinner will betray his morality in order to save himself. 

Disguised with a beard and long hair, Krycek stands in a hospital holding a black box

The significance of his bearded disguise, other than practicality, is that FBI agents are well-dressed in expensive clothes that symbolise power and discipline, but in a brown hoodie and cargo pants, Krycek is more powerful than all of them (Krycek’s clothing regularly identifies him as an outsider—when he’s part of the Syndicate, for example, he never wears a tie, like a petulant schoolboy who considers himself above the uniform). Moreover, the outward appearance of correctness is nothing but a facade. 

Krycek operates by a series of hypothetical imperatives—essentially, if you want x, do y. In “Deadalive” he offers Skinner such an imperative: if you want the vaccine for Mulder, kill Scully’s baby. In other cases there are implied imperatives that are all variations of the same: if you don’t want to die by nanobots, do as Krycek says. We can take this power that Krycek has over Skinner as an allegory for the power that the Smoking Man once had over Krycek: if you don’t want the Syndicate to blow you up, kill Bill Mulder. Skinner is biased against Krycek, because Krycek betrayed such categorical (unconditional) imperatives as “do not kill”, “do not steal”, and “do not deceive those who trust you”, but the point is that Skinner would have done the same in Krycek’s position. 

Therefore, when Skinner murders Krycek, execution style, he may have won in the sense that he finally overpowered the man who controlled his life, but at the same time he also succeeds in proving Krycek right. In “S.R. 819” Krycek proves that even “honourable” people can be driven to do bad things for the sake of self-interest; in “Existence”, Skinner demonstrates that anyone can become a killer.

“All the sacrifice, the blood spilled. You’ve given nearly a decade of your life. Where the hell is it all going to end?”
— Agent Doggett (to Agent Mulder, “Existence”)

From the first shot that Skinner fires, Skinner has irrevocably taken the upper hand, so when Krycek tells Skinner to “shoot Mulder”, it sounds as if he is goading him. An aptly placed conversation between Doggett and Mulder retreads familiar ground regarding the perpetual struggle and the desire for a conclusion—this theme is mostly explored from Mulder and Scully’s perspectives, however it may be just as significant to Krycek. Certainly, when Krycek says that “it’s going to take more bullets than you could ever fire to win this game”, he is speaking of futility. Therefore it is possible that Krycek’s death is not as unwelcome to him as the survivor interpretation would suggest. Even Mulder knew that Krycek didn’t really want to shoot him. The irony is that Krycek is filled with emotion as he aims his gun at Mulder, while Skinner shoots without remorse. 

Krycek looks conflicted as he holds a gun on Mulder

Eye for Eye

In a case of unintentional foreshadowing, the story of Alex Krycek plays out over just one episode. For a start, it is ironic that his first episode, Sleepless”, is about a man—Augustus Cole—who makes people see things that aren’t really there. Cole is seeking revenge on the men who turned him into a killer: “they made me into someone else. I can never get back what they took away from me”. Isn’t this the implicit motivation for Krycek’s crimes against the Smoking Man?

At one point in the episode Cole quotes a passage from the Bible: “as he has disfigured a man, so shall he be disfigured. And he who kills a man shall be put to death”. This comes to fruition when Krycek receives a bullet to the head, the same way that he killed Bill Mulder. Incidentally, Cole’s death scene very much mirrors that of Krycek. Krycek shoots Cole, possibly to save Mulder, possibly because of his own agenda, and likewise does Skinner shoot Krycek; the threat posed to Mulder by Krycek in “Existence” may have been as unreal as the one posed by Cole in “Sleepless”. Death is a relief for Cole, as it has been argued that it might have been for Krycek. 

I Want To Believe

Also in “Sleepless”, Krycek utters the magic words: “I want to believe”. He can be cryptic, sarcastic, and foul-mouthed, and he can spew aphorisms like nobody’s business. But as a career manipulator (and one with a taste for dramatic reveals) his words are often his most important asset—to be used as tools and weapons. And despite the fact that his authenticity is always in question, his dialogue reveals interesting (perhaps surprising) things about what he really believes in. 

In an iconic line from “Tunguska”, he mocks Mulder: “the truth, the truth, there’s no truth”. By repeating the word over and over, he disables its potency (in the same way that saying a word too many times reduces it to a foreign sound in your mouth). Moments later he does the same: “you destroy the destroyer’s ability to destroy”, and thus destroys the word “destroy”. 

Furthermore, Krycek is rejecting Mulder’s idealistic pursuit of his monolith “the truth”, in favour of his more pragmatic hunt for revenge. In The X-Files, “the truth” variously represents hope, justice, and love—to believe that “there’s no truth” is to reject these values, and arguably aligns Krycek with nihilism. After all, Mulder does joke that “there really is no God”, when Krycek tries to plead innocence in “Existence”. 

On the other hand, something that begins to emerge in his dialogue of later seasons is the semantic field of religion. He refers to “Heaven” in “The Red and the Black”, and “Hell” in “One Son”. He speaks of destiny in “Biogenesis” and the “soul” and the “Devil” in “Requiem”. He claims that Scully’s baby is a “miracle” in “Essence”. He talks about “praying” in “Existence”. The show itself is in conflict over religion, claiming in “Biogenesis” that religious scripture is extra-terrestrial, and in “Requiem” that “what we call God is only alien”, while at the same time giving credence to Scully’s Catholic beliefs and constantly flirting with the legitimacy of miracles and demons. The upshot, however, is that even though Krycek believes Scully’s baby is a “miracle”, he still tries to kill it anyway—a pragmatist cannot afford to hold anything sacred, which may be a tragedy in itself.

Ironically, Krycek himself possesses the power of a deity in the form of a black remote control—the ability to take life away, and restore it, at the push of a button. And when he comes back as a ghost, he becomes proof of life after death, perhaps of a soul.  

The Mulder Paradox

“Destiny, fate, how to throw a curve ball. The inextricable relationships in our lives that are neither accidental nor somehow in our control, either.”
— Agent Mulder (“The Red and the Black”)

In “Tunguska”, Krycek’s arrival is heralded by the appearance of a stray dog—this is an apt metaphor for a man with no permanent master or father figure. Minutes later, a police sniffer dog appears on screen, perhaps meant to represent Krycek’s opposite: loyal, duty-bound, and well-groomed to meet K9 exacting standards. Is this how Krycek sees Mulder? While Mulder comes from a wealthy and powerful (albeit dysfunctional) family, Krycek is the son of “Cold War immigrants”. In “Quagmire”, Mulder speaks wistfully (and definitely flippantly) about his boyhood dream of having a peg-leg; in “Terma”, Krycek faces the painful reality of limb amputation. It may be understandable that Krycek thinks as little of Mulder’s way of life as Mulder does of his.  

Mulder and Krycek have a habit of always being in each other’s personal space, even when they’re not fighting, as if they’re being drawn together like opposite poles of a magnet. Like so many hero/nemesis pairings before them, there is sometimes a distinctly homoerotic nature to their relationship. Certainly some of Krycek’s dialogue implies a need to please Mulder (“I can get them for you”) and his neckties get more Mulder-ish over the course of his brief FBI career, perhaps implying hero-worship. Not to mention the phallic symbolism of Krycek holding Mulder’s own gun in his face as he kisses him on the cheek… 

Krycek and Mulder stand nose to nose while Scully looks on in concern

Krycek is sometimes described as Mulder’s evil twin. In philosophy, the mirror thesis claims that an evil person is the mirror image of a good one—Daniel Haybron wrote that good people are “perfectly, or near-perfectly, aligned with the good” (Moral Monsters and Saints, 2002) and evil people are likewise unaligned with the good. But Krycek is not wholly evil, and Mulder is not wholly good. Rather, Mulder is the everyman, and Krycek is the vice who tempts him towards the darker parts of himself—the obvious example being that Mulder’s instinct whenever Krycek is around is to launch into a violent attack. Though they are both believers, Krycek is the pragmatist to Mulder’s ideologue; Krycek tries to pull Mulder over to his way of thinking, and when this doesn’t work he uses blackmail instead (always one to have a bargaining chip). 

Then again, in a weird paradox, Krycek also brings out the best in Mulder. Because the fact is that Mulder does trust him—true, he jumps to the worst conclusions about him many times, but he trusted him with Scully’s life in “Essence”, and that counts for something. Moreover, in “The Red and the Black”, the infamous scene where Krycek kisses Mulder marks the end of Mulder’s skeptical arc. Why is it Alex Krycek, of all people, who is able to pull him back into the light? It comes back to Krycek’s declaration in “Sleepless” that he wants to believe, because it is at this moment that Mulder decides to trust Krycek for the first time. Krycek may be “trust no one” incarnate, but even across all of their differences and shared angst, Krycek believed in Mulder then, and never stopped believing. When he kisses Mulder it is to remind him of the part of Krycek that was always on his side. 

The kiss in “The Red and the Black” closes the loop that was opened in “Sleepless”, and for a couple of seasons, Krycek’s relationship to Mulder falls out of importance, as the major conflict with Skinner begins. However, it is still Mulder he turns to look at as he dies, and Mulder he reappears to as a ghost. And in a surprising reversal, his role as a ghost seems purely idealistic—it is to steer Mulder towards doing the right thing (such as saving Marita and sticking it to the man with a cool monologue) rather than doing anything to save himself. Ghost lore in the universe of The X-Files is varied and the nature of Krycek’s reappearance is ambiguous, however it seems that the cosmic forces have finally allowed Krycek to be fully realised as an ally. One may hope that in redeeming himself to Mulder, he might have finally achieved not merely survival, but salvation.

In a courtroom, the ghost of Krycek places his hand on Mulder's shoulder, Mulder turns to look at him


Is Krycek unforgivable? Is he misunderstood? Did he know Skinner was watching while he held the gun on Mulder? Did he kill Augustus Cole to save Mulder, or was he just following orders? The mysteries of Alex Krycek do not defy interpretation. Subjective and refutable as it may be, I can successfully draw a continuous narrative line—that Krycek is a survivor, a revenger, and a cynic, with a singular purpose and self-consciousness. Is this the truth? Of course not—it’s a story, there is no truth.

In the case of ambiguity and contradiction, these are things that make The X-Files more realistic, and more fantastic (which is in itself a contradiction). In many ways Krycek was the maker of his own misfortune, but in others he deserved better than he got. Fans of The X-Files will probably never reach a sound agreement about whether they should like him or not—some will say he redeemed himself, others won’t. This will say more about the fan than about the character. And there will always be those of us who want to believe in Alex Krycek.

Written by Christopher Lieberman

Writer, actor, John Webster appreciator. Talks about The X-Files a lot.

One Comment

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  1. The beauty of the best character is not fully knowing the truth. Ambiguity at its finest. Had there been more even if we wanted it they’d have ruined the character. In some ways they did after season 5 as they did with the show as a whole l, but he was mostly consistent. Only issue I have is his death. Deserved better like WMM’s brilliant one. Always has an issue with Mulder’s whatever reaction to his death which felt ridiculous and uninspired as he was from season 6 on.

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