Season 2, Episode 8: “One Breath”
First of all: this episode is beautifully written. There are some really nice lines in here, and much of the dialogue perfectly captures the trauma Mulder is going through.
“One Breath” is the episode where Mulder must come face to fact with his emotions surrounding Scully’s abduction. At the beginning of the episode, we learn they’ve found Scully, but that she’s dying. Mulder has to discover how to cure Scully before her family decides to take her off life support.
Scully’s family is very interesting. We have Scully’s mother, who is very much the middle man (or woman) in this episode. She wants to listen to Mulder and give him a chance, but she also wants to do what the doctors tell her is best for her daughter. Then we have Melissa Scully, who is so unlike Dana you wonder how they grew up in the same family. Melissa is extremely spiritual, and believes in things like “positive energies”, good luck charms, and all that. Whereas Dana Scully seems to rely on that big ol’ brain of hers to make decisions, Melissa relies almost entirely on her emotions.
Melissa also provides a good foil for Mulder, as well. It hasn’t really been explored yet, but Mulder, though he may believe in the paranormal, doesn’t feel much connection with spiritual things. Melissa’s way of looking at the world doesn’t appeal to him at all. He’s not willing to listen to her talk of positive energies while he’s got a life to save. Melissa isn’t helping him out.
In fact, no one’s helping him out. Many people try to help Mulder in this episode – Skinner, Mr. X, the Lone Gunmen – but Mulder just can’t seem to get past his own guilt. After all, he was the one who led Scully on this crusade to find the truth. If there’s anyone to blame for Scully’s condition, it’s him. Or is it?
This episode can be a little misleading. It points the finger to Mulder a little too much. Mulder wasn’t exactly pulling Scully around like a dog on a leash. She willingly followed him and risked her life for his cause several times. Scully knew what she was getting into, and she knew how dangerous the entire situation could become. After all, she did see Deep Throat shot. She knew lives were at stake.
Still, it’s natural for Mulder to feel guilty, especially since Scully really is on her deathbed. The episode does a great job of showing Mulder’s attempts to bottle his emotions up as he rushes from person to person, trying in desperation to save Scully’s life. His scene with CSM is reminiscent of when he violently choked Duane Barry in “Ascension,” and his fight with Mr. X shows how little Mulder seems to regard his own life now, as he plunges dangerously into dealings with this man (who, as we know, should NOT be messed with). But the best, oh, by far the best, is Mulder’s talk with Skinner. It’s probably one of the most overlooked scenes in the entire show.
This is the part where we learn how great a guy Skinner is. He really does have Mulder and Scully’s best interests at heart, but he also understands a few more things about life than Mulder does. Skinner’s been through some pretty tough experiences, times when he literally thought he was going to die. He was in the Vietnam War, and he nearly died on the field.
I lost my faith. Not in my country or in myself, but in everything. There was just no point to anything anymore. One night on patrol, we were, uh… caught… and everyone… everyone fell. I mean, everyone. I looked down… at my body… from outside of it. I didn’t recognize it at first. I watched the V.C. strip my uniform, take my weapon and I remained… in this thick jungle… peaceful… unafraid… watching my… my dead friends. Watching myself. In the morning, the corpsmen arrived and put me in a bodybag until… I guess they found a pulse. I woke in a Saigon hospital two weeks later.
I’m afraid to look any further beyond that experience. You? You are not. Your resignation is unacceptable.
Skinner knows Mulder isn’t the type of person who would give up. There’s no reason to give up, he says, not just in action, or his investigation, but in his faith in Scully and everything she means to him. Skinner knows what it’s like to lose all hope, to be at a point where you know you’re going to die and there’s nothing you can do about it. But once Skinner lived through that experience, he didn’t let it consume him. He got up.
And now Skinner is offering this same advice to Mulder. His resignation is unacceptable. Mulder must get up.
Mulder is also confronted by Melissa, who tells him exactly what we’ve been thinking the whole time: he’s bottling his emotions up, not allowing himself to feel anything. This self-deprecating guilt fest isn’t going to bring Scully back. But Melissa encourages Mulder to take it a step further: tell her. Tell Scully how you feel.
“I feel, Scully… that you believe… you’re not ready to go. And you’ve always had the strength of your beliefs. I don’t know if my being here… will help bring you back. But I’m here.”
Excuse me while I go flail and sob at the same time.
This one line spoken by Mulder is the heart and soul of this episode, and maybe of Season 2 as a whole. Mulder has nowhere left to go, nothing else to do. Scully’s either coming back, or she’s not. Mulder being at her side may not do anything more for Scully than any of his paranormal beliefs will. But that’s no reason not to be there for her. He’s here.
It’s quite beautiful, actually. A very soft and subtle scene, and very well performed. It says what it needs to, no more, no less.
Sigh. Now only if this episode did the same.
“One Breath” isn’t perfect. Every time there’s a scene with Scully on a boat, I often find myself drumming my fingers in impatience. These scenes are rather hokey and they don’t really do anything for the episode or Scully’s character, since they’re never really brought up again. And the scene in which Scully’s father appears is a sorry tribute to the fantastic “Beyond the Sea,” which firmly established that Scully doesn’t need to be told of her father’s affection; she already knows. Well, the audience doesn’t need to be told, either.
The whole situation with the apparently nonexistent nurse is rather pointless, too, since it is also never brought up again.
Still, “One Breath” marks a very important step taken by The X-Files. It’s an episode that deals with a lot of complicated emotions and for the most part does so very well. And, like I said before, it’s very nicely written. Some of those lines are just lovely to read.
And now we can get this show back on the road.
Final score for “One Breath” is 8/10. It can be hokey, but it’s also a very beautiful conclusion to these Season 2 heartwrenching episodes. Welcome back, Scully.
- I could kiss David Duchovny for his performance in this episode. Very, very well done.
- I would be a fool if I failed to mention that this is where CSM really takes the Most Villainous of Villains throne.
- Mulder’s smile when he gets the phone call…FLAIL.