“I need to do more than just wave my hands in the air.” – Fox Mulder
Our heroes are reunited when Scully is returned under mysterious circumstances and clinging to life…
Max: In the cold open of “One Breath,” Mulder is shown by Mrs. Scully the footstone she had made in the event that Scully wouldn’t return. Having just relayed a story about an episode in Dana’s youth when she participating in the killing of a garter snake with BB guns with her brothers, Mulder makes the case that the should not give up hope. Now, The X-Files has a long tradition of monologues, allegories, and other devices that are used to frame and enrich the story. It’s been said and noted that frequently these fall into the categories of the maudlin and trite, and we do have a mix here. The story about the snake is definitely a piece of glurge, but the allegorical device of Scully in the boat on a river is surprisingly powerful, even with this being the umpteenth time I’ve seen it.
But this is all scenery compared to the massive shock that Scully’s return has on everyone involved. The nurses and attending physician, having no idea how exactly she came to be at the hospital in Georgetown, earn the wrath and ire of Mulder’s frustrations. With Scully in critical condition, Mulder’s anger reaches a critical level. Calming down for a moment to listen to the doctor’s diagnosis, Mulder is wracked with nervous energy as he and Mrs. Scully hear that he has no earthly idea how she got there, what disease or trauma got her to that position, or what her prognosis is. Scully, clear in her living will, made sure that she should not be kept on artificial respiration. Thus, the decision being made, all they can do is watch and hope. Hope’s biggest source comes from Scully’s sister Melissa, who makes her first appearance on the show. Played by Melinda McGraw, Mulder is taken aback by this woman who seems to be the complete polar opposite of his partner. Hovering a crystal over Scully’s body and sensing her aura from waving her hands, she’s the protypical 1990s New Age adherent.
Frustrated over not being able to do anything, Mulder in desperation goes to a series of allies and foes of varying degrees. From The Lone Gunmen to X to AD Skinner to the Cigarette Smoking Man (he’s referred to here as “Cancer Man,” the first time in the series that he’s been named), all give him little to go on. However, most intriguing is that based on a blood sample from Scully, The Long Gunmen deduce (with an associate known as The Thinker) is that there are remnants of branched DNA in Scully, highly advanced genetic markers used for testing and identification. X warns him not to dig deeper into the matter and should grieve this “good solider” and move on. The CSM, in his most prominent appearance to date (he has lines this time!) gloats over the power and knowledge he has on Mulder, even as Mulder is aiming a gun to to head. Having been surreptitiously clued into the CSM’s address by Skinner, the Cancer Man plays ethical and epistemological mind games, and it works.
Fed up with it all, Mulder tenders his resignation with the Bureau, which later Skinner comes down the basement office and declares unacceptable. Relating a story of his tour of duty in Vietnam, he mentions when a 10 year old boy came into his unit’s camp covered in grenades, and how Skinner killed him, losing faith in everything. He goes on to tell of the time when he had an out of body experience after being shot on patrol and then waking up in a hospital two weeks later. It’s quite something to have scene like this that turns a character who was previously opaque (a cipher even) into a rounded complex individual. It colors how we see him, how Mulder sees him, and how he relates to the agents under his aegis.
Desperation, and the need to do something to ameliorate the tragic sequence of events, is the overarching theme of this episode. It takes us down into some dark places (including Mulder’s apartment… because the lights aren’t on) and right into the struggles that have defined the series thus far. Belief, faith, science, action vs. inaction, all come together to close one chapter of The X-Files, and opens the door with tantalizing hints of things to come.
Radhika: This isn’t an episode about the stereotypically paranormal; in fact, it’s largely about the human element that underscores The X-Files, thanks to the emotions brought about by Scully’s return. But there is a bit of a spiritual, New Age-y element (not just because of Melissa Scully) that still gives the episode an X-File quality — perhaps a more grown-up, philosophical version of the show we’ve been watching so far.
The episode doesn’t give Scully much to do, considering she’s lying in a coma during most of it. But we do get to see her in a different realm, if you will, largely in a couple of scenes where she’s seen sitting in a boat, surrounded by water, and in another where she receives a visit from her deceased father. The boat scenes serve as a metaphor for Scully’s faraway psyche — one such scene overlaps with Mulder and Melissa talking about her over her hospital bed. Scully appears to hear them, but they’re too distant for her to actually be able to connect with them in any way.
And then as far as the visit from Captain Scully is concerned, Scully is lying unconscious in a white room, while her father, dressed in his officer’s uniform, comes by to say a few words. In other scenes, she is visited by a Nurse Owens who says it isn’t yet Scully’s time to go — but by the end of the episode, we’re told that there is no such person as Nurse Owens working at the hospital, leaving us a bit of a spooky element to consider as the story wraps up.
In these scenes, Scully is going through all the usual near-death experiences that we have all become familiar with through individual accounts and popular culture. All of this is a bit reminiscent of the visions she had around the time her father passed away in the previous season’s “Beyond the Sea,” perhaps serving as a reminder that while our dear skeptic doesn’t necessarily believe in aliens and creatures that go bump in the night, there is something about her that leaves her open to spiritual visitations.
Even though Scully comes back to us and we can assume that most things will go back to normal with the X-Files reopened, not everything is resolved. We know that the Cigarette Smoking Man was involved in the abduction, but we don’t know the full extent of what happened. And though Mulder is given a chance to get some revenge and possible closure, when X informs him his apartment will be searched at a certain time, he ends up forgoing it after Melissa convinces him to go and sit by Scully’s side. Perhaps this is a hint that the “truth” can wait sometimes, even when it wreaks havoc with the agents’ lives. And it also adds more humanity to Mulder, who could be a far more one-note character than he ends up being.
The episode is pretty emotional and serious, but we are given a bit of a lighthearted moment when Mulder and Scully reunite after she wakes up. When Mulder informs her of the present he bought her — a video called “Superstars of the Superbowls” — Scully quips, “I knew there was a reason to live.” It’s a hint that our agents are back, and perhaps in spite of everything, they’re about to be better than ever.