Season 2, Episode 8: “One Breath”
Original Airdate: November 11, 1994
For an episode about an abduction, “One Breath” is light on the supernatural. It is light on mythology-building. It is light, even, on sense-making plot developments. What it has instead is an emotional rock-bottom, a place from which a man can only go up. Mysteriously, Scully reappears. She’s in a coma, in the hospital, and she’s near death. Were this any other X-File, Mulder would solve it. He would find out where she had been, and how she had gotten there. He would study cameras and seek witnesses. He would use all of his resources to solve the mystery of her reappearance. But Scully is not an X-File. Scully is Scully. And so Mulder does not solve the case. Instead, he twists on the line, gasping.
Mrs. Scully has given up. She tells Mulder a story about her daughter, about a time when her daughter killed a snake and felt bad about it. Mulder bears the story but one can only imagine how much he hates it, maybe as much as he hates the gravestone that Mrs. Scully has purchased: Dana Katherine Scully, Loving Daughter & Friend, “The Spirit is the Truth,” 1 John 5:07. Later on they get the call that Scully has turned up in a shabby-looking hospital, confined to a bed in a room full of so many others you have to wonder just how bad could the FBI’s insurance have been? Mulder yells at the nurses and the doctors until he has to be dragged away, and although he’s shouting about things you want Mulder to shout about—Who did this to her?—the shouting is neither progress nor casebuilding. Mrs. Scully looks on, pained. If she cares about who, she never lets on. Mrs. Scully just wants her daughter back.
Then Melissa Scully is there, our Scully’s sister, and she is holding a crystal above her sister’s body and smiling sidewise at Mulder. She tells him she’s been told not to call him Fox, and by who? By Dana, of course. She holds her hands above her sister and tells Mulder he’s blocking her energy, and Mulder, still the believer, holds his hands above his partner’s body to see if he can feel what Melissa feels. But Mulder, the broken believer, gives up quickly and walks away. He says he needs to do more, which is funny. Because what can you do for a loved one, who is sick? You can’t fight the illness. The illness has no form. Still Mulder is spoiling for a fight.
Another visitor: Frohike, in a bow tie, with flowers. He glances at Scully’s chart and notices something strange. He takes the something strange back to the Lone Gunmen, takes Mulder back as well. Mulder sits sullenly in the corner as Langly attempts to cheer him up, invites him over on Saturday night. “We’re all hopping on the Internet to nitpick the scientific inaccuracies of Earth 2,” he offers. Mulder declines, and Byers offers a scientific inaccuracy of our show’s own, a thing about branched DNA and a biological microchip, possibly a tracking system. Byers says it’s inactive, a waste product, one that is holding Scully near death. And while Mulder doesn’t make the connection verbally, you hope he does inside: Duane Barry claimed to be tracked, by what or whoever. If there’s a thing we know about the badness that’s out there, now, it’s that the badness likes to stick with the same folks. To track them. So it was with Max Fenig and so it was with Duane Barry and maybe this tracker is inactive? Maybe it isn’t? But if Scully lives, it may very well not be a thorough victory. It may instead be the beginning of things that are worse.
Scully, meanwhile, has been on a boat. A small boat, in her mind, tethered to shore. Sometimes people are on the dock. Sometimes these people are many people and sometimes just one, a woman in a nurse’s uniform. She’s called Owens and she whispers to Scully in the hospital and tells her she’s there to help Scully find her way home. Mulder stands next to her bed. Says nothing. Then a man steals a vial of Scully’s blood and Mulder has found his fight. He chases the man into the hospital parking garage where he’s intercepted by a furious, gun-pointing X. Mulder’s informant insists (1) that Mulder needs to let Scully go and that (2) Mulder is X’s tool, not vice versa. Neither of these things strike Mulder as acceptable. He breaks free of X, catches the thief, and retrieves the vial of blood. The thief fights back, with a pipe, and then X is there again. He coldly executes the thief and tells Mulder he’ll attend to “this.” Whatever this is.
Scully’s doctor takes her off of the ventilator, respecting the wish put forth in her living will. The Scully on the boat in the water starts to float away from the dock, and then she’s on a table, lying somewhere bright. Her father approaches her in uniform and speaks to her, turns her away from the light. Then we’re back in the hospital and Nurse Owens is there cooing at our girl and, fine, I’ll say it, okay, I’ll say it. The boat is a nice image. The father is a decent choice. Nurse Owens is I don’t know. But once she’s in the boat, once she’s on the table, once that weird nurse is there, do we ever have any doubt that she’ll get back to shore? She’s going to live, of course she’s going to live, you know she’s going to live. But taciturn dream-Scully makes me miss actual Scully, the one who’d be shouting at the shore. The choice to keep Scully mute throughout the episode was, very likely, another production choice—Gillian Anderson had just given birth to her first child when the episode was filmed—but I’m not convinced it was the strongest solution. It certainly wasn’t the most interesting fight.
Mulder stalks into Skinner’s office and catches the scent of cigarettes on the air. The two men holler at each other for awhile and then Mulder demands to know where he can find the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Skinner refuses, of course, but back in the hospital Mulder finds a pack of cigarettes with an address tucked inside. He confronts the Cigarette-Smoking Man at his drab little apartment, puts a gun in his face and slaps the cigarette out of his hands. “Don’t try and threaten me, Mulder,” says the old man. “I’ve watched presidents die.” I mean we all have? Because of moving pictures, but never mind. The point is that the Cigarette-Smoking Man is about as calm as a man can be. He tells Mulder he likes him, and he tells Mulder he likes Scully, and, almost gleefully, he tells Mulder that he now has more respect for him. “You’re becoming a player,” he says. Mulder squeezes the trigger, but not all the way. Everybody lives.
Back at the FBI, Mulder writes a resignation letter and Skinner tears it up. He visits Mulder in the basement and he takes off his glasses and in his through-the-teeth way Skinner tells Mulder a story about his service in Vietnam. He says he died in Vietnam, he says he watched himself die, and, he says, then he didn’t die. He woke up two weeks later in a hospital in Saigon and now he is here, telling Mulder, that his resignation is unacceptable. Mulder puts one piece on top of the other and realizes that Skinner gave him the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s address, a service greater than the one X does him next. X has set a trap in motion and offered it wholesale to our agent. Later that night, “the men who took her” will search Mulder’s apartment. He can wait there, he can kill them, and so. Mulder sits in the dark, with a gun nearby, until Melissa Scully knocks on the door. He lets her inside and tells her what we’ve all been thinking. “I expect more from you,” she says. “Dana expects more.”
Mulder goes to the hospital, and he sits next to Scully, and he tells her that she’s not ready to go. He tells her that she has the strength of her beliefs. And that he is there. In the morning he returns home to a ransacked apartment and a phone call. Scully is awake, and Scully is alive. Mulder can barely handle the emotion of being near her, now, he’s got his head down like a little boy as she tells him that she had the strength of his beliefs. Did she hear him, the night before? Is that an X-File? Or is it more likely that the two of them believe the same thing? That Mulder believes she is stronger? That Scully believes he is stronger? That as long as the two of them believe in the other, they don’t need any boats with ropes, or nurses that Never Worked Here, or revenge fantasies played out in lousy DC apartments? Our agents are back, you guys. Let’s solve everything.