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SUSPENSE MARKS THE 'X-FILES' SPOT

Forget Frankenstein Sunday. NBC's laughable "House of Frankenstein" isn't Sunday's top story of the undead. That title belongs to Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) on "The X-Files" (9 p.m., Channel 29).

It isn't revealing too much to report that the FBI agent is alive and well in the fifth-season premiere, because there would be no series and (more importantly) no big theatrical movie next summer if he actually had shot himself.

But I'm not going to reveal many more details in the intense two-part conclusion to last season's cliffhanger, which has frequent explanations narrated by our two FBI heroes.

When we left "X" in May, Mulder supposedly committed suicide and Agent Scully's (Gillian Anderson) cancer was coming back.

If I were Fox (the network), I would have played the two parts as a two-hour movie. It's that suspenseful, making the wait for what Fox is billing as the most-anticipated event of the season worthwhile.

Creator Chris Carter wrote the first two episodes, "Redux" and "Redux II." They are loaded with dialogue and take his audience on a wild ride that will leave them as confused about what's true and what's a hoax as Mulder and Scully are. It wouldn't be a bad idea to watch these episodes with a notebook to jot things down.

"All Lies Lead to the Truth" is Carter's theme for Sunday's episode. Happily, by next week, "The Truth Is (Back) Out There."

Essentially, Agents Mulder and Scully are trying to discover if their work of the past four years has been in vain, if someone inside the FBI is behind an alien conspiracy, if Scully's cancer was given to her by someone at the FBI and whether it can be miraculously cured.

I'm not sure it's intentional, but Scully looks so weak and drawn at one point next week that she almost takes on the features of an alien.

One of Scully and Mulder's biggest problems is distinguishing friends from enemies among Agent Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davies) and a Defense Department guy (John Finn) who is convinced the idea that there are aliens is a government hoax that speaks to "the American appetite for bogus revelations."

Carter has used some historical news footage of past wars and recent congressional hearings on cloning to give the two programs a political tone. He even shows footage of English anthropologist Ashley Montagu, who once said that "human beings are the only creatures who are able to behave irrationally in the name of reason."

Taken together, the two episodes reveal more than viewers may be used to getting, then have you wondering whether what you think you saw or heard was real.

A key character dies. Or does he or she? A lost character is found. Or is he or she? An FBI mole is revealed. Or is he or she? The last name of a USA Today critic (Matt Roush) could be vital to the conspiracy. Or is the name of a lobbying group, Roush, a coincidence?

There also are some added personal complications between Scully's family and Mulder. One family member blames Mulder's obsession with aliens for what has happened to the partner whom he increasingly cares for.

"You really believe this crap, don't you?" asks Scully's relative.

"Yes, I do," replies Mulder.

The truth is that these two riveting "X-Files" episodes are a partial cure for what so far has been a very disappointing television season.

Now on to "X-Files" clones or inspirations. The last returning series to have its season premiere on NBC, "Profiler" (10 p.m. Saturday, Channel 2), arrives with a syrupy episode in which a sad-eyed Dr. Sam Waters (Ally Walker) is spared a murder charge so she can find a serial killer who escaped a Calcutta jail and is out to make a name for himself in America.

"I told the president that you were the only who can (solve the case)," Sam is told by the guy who springs her.

Now, the president has been accused of a lot of ethical lapses, but the idea that he'd let an accused murderer off because of her expertise is just a little too far out there.

Meanwhile, Walker's mentor, Bailey (Robert Davi), is fighting for his life after being shot, and Detective John Grant (Julian McMahon) is reconsidering his decision to leave the Violent Crimes Task Force.

Sam looks rather haggard and disturbed, apparently because she doesn't realize that her nemesis stalker, Jack, is the real murderer.

"I don't know what happened. I just don't know what's real anymore," says Sam.

"X-Files" fans know how she feels.

She marches on, escaping in her work as a profiler who can visualize a crime through the eyes of a victim and a killer.

The case has some decent suspense but its resolution is predictable. There's also one laughable scene in which a detective speaks to a comatose Bailey.

I've never been a fan of "Profiler" and this routine episode is unlikely to make anyone who wasn't wowed by Walker last season a fan, either.

However, next week Traci Lords joins the cast as a parolee who becomes Jack's lethal protegee.

NBC also premieres its last new series, "Sleepwalkers" (9 p.m. Saturday, Channel 2).

Bruce Greenwood stars as Dr. Nathan Bradford, a scientist at a cutting-edge research facility. He studies dreams and communicates with his comatose wife, Gail (Kathrin Nicholson), through them. Dr. Nathan has some nightmares of his own about a failed experiment that has made him a little cautious because he realizes dreams can be deadly (and he isn't even a Sabres or Bills fan).

By taking patients on a dream ride, he can help them resolve issues. Along for the special-effects ride are a dream interpreter, Kate Russell (Naomi Watts); a beefy technician, Vince Konefke (Abraham Benrubi of "ER," who has to learn more terminology than the doctors on the No. 1 show), and an Air Force pilot, Ben Costigan (Jeffrey D. Sams), who is Saturday's first patient and must conquer his dream about survival.

The opening chase scene is visually spectacular but the confusing premise may chase viewers away. The truths these characters seek, after all, aren't as important as the ones on "The X-Files." You also can spot where Saturday's story is headed because the symbolism is transparent.

Still, the series is a step above the dismissed member of last season's Saturday Thrillogy, "Dark Skies," the special effects are quite good, and its cast of dream boys and dream girls is appealing.

Ratings: "X-Files": 4 1/2 stars out of 5; "Profiler": 3 stars; "Sleepwalkers": 3 stars.

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