Season 2, Episode 8
Director: R.W. Goodwin
Writer: Glen Morgan, James Wong
“One Breath” is something of a revelatory episode of The X-Files. There are no little green men. There are no monsters laying eggs in their victims nor serial killers squeezing through ventilation shafts nor bugs trapping their victims in cocoons. There are only humans, wrapped up in fear, anger, sorrow, and love. As such, it’s one of the more engaging episodes of the series thus far, marking a unique experience for fans of the show.
The episode opens with a bit of Dana Scully backstory: her brothers gave little tomboy Dana a BB gun and taught her to shoot by using a garter snake as target practice. When the snake died, Dana was heartbroken and had her first experience with death. Scully’s mother tells Mulder the story as they prepare for the pending declaration of Scully’s death. The declaration proves premature as Scully appears in an hospital outside of Washington, DC, in a coma with little clue as to how she got there. Suspicious of everyone, Mulder takes her vital signs to the Long Gunman (one aspect of the show I wasn’t a huge fan of because it felt like a throwaway excuse to include them as fan service) who determine that her genetic makeup contains leftover proteins indicating research has been conducted on her body. Mulder then embarks on a conspiratorial chase that leads to the Smoking Man, the man whom Mulder considers the root of all problems.
Meanwhile, Scully’s psychic sister makes contact with Scully and claims she’s teetering on the edge of heading into the light. What we see is Scully in some sort of dreamlike state where she is sitting in a boat, tethered to a dock. Those speaking to her are seen on the dock, but Scully herself never speaks. Her father also appears to her, basically telling her that its not her time. Not yet. After Mulder comes to her side and tells her he believes in her, Scully awakens, remembering nothing after her abduction by Duane Barry. Mulder returns the cross necklace given to her by her father, and we close with Scully looking pensively out the window having just learned that a nurse who spoke encouraging words to her in her coma never actually existed.
The immediate star of “One Breath” is the gorgeous, Emmy-nominated cinematography – particularly in the otherworldly scenes of Scully’s positioning in the boat. There is also a fantastic transition at the end of the episode where Scully sees a luscious forest which slowly transitions into her hospital room. These Scully-focused scenes touch on ideas and themes that The X-Files have yet to explore. They elevate the show into something of a metaphysical plane as Scully makes the choice between life or death, a choice interestingly visualized by the image of Scully sitting in the boat. Her condition seems hopeless, and she clings to life with the thinnest of ropes much like the rope tying the boat to the dock. Plus, if you’re wondering why Scully spends the episode in bed, then it’s because she’d given birth only a few days before filming her scenes for the episode. That’s dedication.
Finally, “One Breath” echoes the great “Beyond the Sea” as it not only digs into Scully’s family, but it also gives Mulder a similar emotional journey to Scully’s in that great episode. Duchovny’s journey of faith and belief has always been focused on the supernatural and less so on human beings. We’ve always suspected his depth of feeling for Scully, but Duchovny is even given a moment to cry over potentially losing Scully. The episode’s emotional core is unlike anything else they’ve offered to date, and it’s something I’ve reacted to strongly as a viewer.
Welcome back, Dana Scully, you’ve been missed. Here’s hoping there are fewer convenient, pregnancy-hiding autopsies in your future.