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The X-Files: One Breath

Case: Scully is back and Mulder needs to come to terms with what happened to her.

Destination: Washington, DC.

This episode takes a serious step back from the typical MotW and deals with the powerful issues of death and loss. Throughout, the characters we watch interact with Mulder and explain their takes on the subject as each, in his or her own way, tries to deal with Scully’s seemingly inevitable death and tries to help Mulder deal with it as well.

The opening story of Scully and the snake crosses the line into cheese, I’m afraid. I struggle with the idea of a pre-adolescent dealing with “irrevocable guilt,” but the parallel is clear. Mulder is dealing with his own guilt and will struggle to keep Scully alive through “sheer human will.”

Mrs. Scully is accepting of her daughter’s death, or at least she is trying to approach it in a rational, stoic way. She believes it is better to grieve and move on than to hold on to hope long past its expiration date. While there is a certain rationality to this, there is no way that Mulder is going to accept the loss until he sees it for himself. His guilt simply won’t allow him to give up until he has undeniable proof.

Melissa Scully, like her mother, is advocating acceptance of Scully’s death. Her take on it, however, is New Age to an extreme and irritates both Mrs. Scully and Mulder. It is interesting how quickly and how out of hand Mulder dismisses Melissa’s beliefs. I mean, it’s not as though what he believes is widely accepted either. What is really grating to Mulder, I believe, is that he is unable to see Scully’s death as the natural order of things. It is too soon and, in his mind, it is his fault.

And yet, it is Melissa who saves Mulder from himself. She is not afraid of her feelings and she is not afraid to force Mulder to face his. By forcing Mulder to confront the fact that someone he loves is about to die, Melissa helps Mulder be able to let go of his need for revenge and go sit with Scully.

The Lone Gunmen are perhaps the best with Mulder. They give him scientific facts (as Scully is unable to), and they try to reassure him that there is nothing he can do. They do so in a way that is very gentle and caring and try to take his mind off what is happening.

In direct contrast, Mr. X wants Mulder to mourn and move on not because he cares about Mulder but because he cares about himself. But, in a turn around that is head spinning, Mr. X goes from holding a gun to Mulder’s head to shooting someone else so that Mulder can learn who is possibly behind Scully’s disappearance. What is so well done in this scene are the hints we get of the man’s backstory. If we are to believe him, he was once like Mulder, idealistic bordering on naive, but the world has knocked him around. It almost feels as though, for some reason, he is compelled to help Mulder, even though he knows that what he is doing is dangerous for them both.

My favorite part of the episode is Skinner’s conversation with Mulder. We learn that Skinner has had experiences of his own that he questions and that he is not afraid to do what, finally, he thinks is right. And, throughout the conversation, he does not try to placate Mulder or to tell him to simply accept the inevitable. Skinner’s transition to father figure is complete.

Scully’s experiences are beautifully filmed. I like the brief moment when she is aware that Melissa and Mulder are standing with her and the scene when the boat drifts away from the dock is powerfully done and a wonderful metaphor. However, the scene with her father is one of the most beautifully written in the entire series. Coming to her in full dress uniform, she finally hears him say how much he loved her and it always brings a tear to my eye.

Duchovny does a wonderful job in this episode. He plays the entire spectrum of human emotion and does so with grace. His rage when he first sees Scully is unsettling as is the way he approaches CSM. This is a truly terrifying man, yet Mulder is so angry and guilt ridden that he manhandles him without a thought of the consequences. Even so, CSM plays Mulder beautifully. He knows that the truth is everything to Mulder.

The scene at the hospital where Mulder just sits with Scully is lovely and moving. The emotions this man feels are complicated at best, but it is painfully clear how much he cares about her and is terrified of losing her. When he finally breaks down in his apartment, my heart aches for the man.

The final scene between Mulder and Scully makes the shipper in me very happy. The way they smile at each other, Scully’s words to him, and the other women’s reactions all tell us that this is a couple who will travel a long way together.

Other Thoughts

The way that Mrs. Scully and Mulder refer to each other is interesting. She insists on calling him Fox, even though she knows he prefers Mulder. He calls her Mrs. Scully, although by the time most adults are in their 30s, they refer to other adults by their first names. It seems as though, for some reason, each is keeping the other at an emotional distance.

Scully’s headstone has a typo. The Bible quote should be “the Spirit is Truth.” It is 1 John 5.6, not 1 John 5.07.

There is something jarring about Mulder rewinding his porn tape over and over again while Scully’s X-File is on the table next to him.

The Glasgow Outcome Scale criteria is still the standard for living wills; it is what is used in mine.

Frohike, in that suit with the flowers, is a simply lovely beat.

I love the juxtaposition of Skinner and Mulder dealing with CSM’s smoking. Skinner watches as the man lights a cigarette and then puts it out, mockingly. Mulder, on the other hand, knocks the cigarette to the ground.

Scully’s breasts defy gravity throughout the episode.

Who was Nurse Owens? I love the fact it is never explained.


Byers: “Good work sneaking out these charts.”
Frohike: “Tucked them in my pants.”
Mulder: “There’s plenty of room down there.”
Langly: “You look down, Mulder. Tell you what, you’re welcome to come over Saturday night. We’re all hopping on the internet to nitpick the scientific inaccuracies of Earth 2.”
Mulder: “I’m doing my laundry.”

Mulder: “Get that gun out of my face.”
Mr X: “This high capacity compact Sig Sauer 40 calibre weapon is pointed at your head to stress my insistence that your search for who put your partner on that respirator desist immediately.”

Mr X: “I used to be you; I was where you are now. But, you’re not me, Mulder. I don’t think you have the heart. Walk away, grieve for Scully and then never look back. You will be able to live with yourself, Mulder, on the day you die.”

Skinner: “I’m afraid to look any further beyond that experience. You? You are not. Your resignation is unacceptable.”
Mulder: “You. You gave me Cancer Man’s location. You put your life in danger.”
Skinner: “Agent Mulder, every life, every day is in danger. That’s just life.”

Mulder: “I brought you a present. Superstars of the Super Bowls.”
Scully: “I knew there was a reason to live.”

Scully: “Mulder, I had the strength of your beliefs.”

Final Analysis: A good episode, very revealing of Mulder’s character. The beginning mythology is still a bit weak, but the foundation of what is to come is being developed.

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.


  1. From an episode I really don’t like to one I love, love, love. I didn’t realize just how many times I must have watched this episode, until I knew practically every line of dialogue before it was spoken on this re-watch. I must have truly obsessed over this one.

    I love the parallel of Scully fighting for her life, as Mulder fights for his soul. Mulder passing on his chance for vengeance to be at Scully’s side was a beautiful moment. “I don’t know if my being here will bring you back … but I’m here.” Followed by that heartbreaking return to his apartment, feeling that he’s lost absolutely everything --- even his chance for revenge. I love the way he holds his hands out in unspoken supplication in that moment. So much great imagery in this one. Like you, I found the boat scenes very powerful, and the subsequent scene with Scully’s father really choked me up this time around. Hearing those words now that Don Davis has passed on was incredibly poignant.

    And so many other good moments, too. I loved the scene between Mulder and Skinner, and Frohike showing up in the suit with the flowers was so sweetly touching. I also really liked the silent glance between Scully and her mother when Mulder returns the cross. So much “said” in that moment.

    I’m glad you made note Scully’s gravity-defying breasts, Chris. It seems like such a crass thing to comment on, but in my own notes I had “... it was nice that they could give Gillian Anderson a little more time where she didn’t have to do much, except lay around with her post-baby breasts propped up uncomfortably ... they were WAY distracting in a number of scenes.”

  2. What a gorgeous episode, and so beautifully metaphysical. Loved the boat scenes, the so touching scene with Scully's father, "Nurse Owen", and Skinner's tale to Mulder about his near death experience in Vietnam. The only thing about it that doesn't work for me is how distracting the enormity of Scully's breasts were. :)

  3. BOOBA :D A force of nature of its own

    And indeed, that was a much much better return on Scully's dad than what her mom had to relay to her. I'm still not over that lol. "Does dada love me?" "Stop it, child, I will not play this game. He was your father, that is all" (Inaccurately paraphrased ofc.) Couple that with her still referring to Mulder as Fox, and I mostly just continue to find her a strange, remote woman. Also her sister sucks. I hate it when they play morality pets.

    Anyway it was a very cool thing they decided to do with an actor's pregnancy. Glad she's already back though. I agree with whoever said that even with the Mulder focus something about the show feels best as the show seen through Scully's eyes.


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