Season 2

2x08 One Breath

Air date: 11/11/1994
Writer: Glen Morgan, James Wong
Director: R.W. Goodwin
Editor: James Coblentz
Director of Photography: John S. Bartley, C.S.C.
Documented Phenomenon: Abduction, Spirit Visitation

Episode summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

We begin as a bird, soaring high above the clouds, as we hear the voice of Margaret Scully talking about her daughter, Dana, telling a story of a time when she was a little girl, in the woods, always the tomboy like her sister Melissa, which Margaret points out. A leaf falls as we see young Dana Scully running happily. The long barrel of a rifle fills the shot, as Margaret explains Dana’s brothers had given her a BB gun for her birthday and we see Bill Jr. and Charles showing her how to use it. We see Bill place a can on a tree stump, as Margaret explains he’d instructed them only to shoot at cans, but he finds a garter snake in a patch of grass and the boys start shooting at it. Dana, wanting to fit in, Margaret explains, also started shooting at the creature, but as she saw it struggling for life and bleeding, she lowered her gun and began to cry with “irrevocable guilt”. She cries, aware she had taken a life, and though, as Margaret explains, she is “deathly afraid of snakes”, Dana picks up the dead reptile and holds it, trying to will it back to life. The snake dies, young Dana sobbing at what she’d done.

Cut to Margaret, a resigned smile on her face at the memory, as Fox Mulder, sitting next to her, declares it’s too soon and they can’t give up. Margaret states that on that day in the woods she felt for Dana, but at this moment she knows how her daughter felt. A clerk appears and places an object covered in cloth on a desk, pulling it across. Mulder turns away, unable to look at what it says, but Margaret simply looks down on a grave marker, which reads:

‘DANA KATHERINE SCULLY. 1964-1994. LOVING DAUGHTER and FRIEND. “The Spirit is the Truth.” 1 John 5:07

We open on X-Files and paperwork scattered on a cluttered table, including Dana Scully’s open file, and the echoing sounds of a porn film Mulder lies on his couch at night watching, dispassionately. The phone rings.

Northeast Georgetown Medical Centre, Washington D.C. Mulder runs through the hospital corridors with haste as a nurse, Wilkins, attempts to stop him entering a medical bay where he finds her. Scully. Alive. Covered in plasters, tubes running out of her, machines keeping her just about alive. Margaret Scully sits by her bed, silently watching her daughter. Mulder loses it, aggressively asking all the hospital staff who brought her there, “how did she get here?!” He tries searching through some paperwork, tearing the place up, as hospital orderlies restrain him while he angrily warns staff and the on-call doctor, Daly, that he’ll do anything he can to find out what happened to Scully and he better not be with “them”. Mulder is dragged away.

Later, in a private room, a calmed Mulder sits with Margaret as Dr. Daly somberly explains how Dana is comatose, not reacting to stimuli, and how nobody can recall how she arrived at the hospital, when, or how she was attended to in such a critical condition. Daly can’t determine without Scully’s medical history how long she may have been in a state like this and, when asked by Margaret why she’s in this condition, he admits they don’t know; they’ve conducted every test possible and have no clue. Mulder says he wants her examined for trace evidence but Daly admits she’s been bathed and cleaned since she got there. Daly mentions the FBI have notified them about her will and it states that she doesn’t want to live on life support, a will Mulder co-signed as her witness.

Some time later, Scully, who remains on life support machines, is visited by Mulder. As he returns to her bedside, he finds a young woman meditating over her body. She tells him Dana told her not to call him ‘Fox’, just now. Mulder is surprised and confused to hear that, asking if Dana spoke, but when Melissa claims “her soul is here” he realizes she is talking from a spiritual point of view. Margaret arrives and greets her daughter, telling her she is glad she could come. Mulder realizes this is Scully’s sister, Melissa, who claims Dana is trying to choose whether to remain or move on. Margaret walks away, unable to listen. Melissa places Mulder’s hands next to hers, over Scully, in a reiki-type movement, suggesting they can ‘feel her’. We close in on Scully, unresponsive—

—before we cut to her, awake, looking serene, dressed in all black, on a small rowing boat in the middle of a misty lake. The boat is tethered by a rope to a dock on the shore, where stands a middle-aged woman dressed all in white, looking very much like a nurse. Before her, at the end of the dock, are Mulder and Melissa. We hear Mulder suggest “she’s not here” but Melissa believes his anger is blocking any positive emotions she needs to feel—

—and we’re back at the bedside, as Mulder pulls his hands away, claiming he needs to do more than just “wave my hands in the air” before walking away, leaving Melissa forlorn.

Mulder goes back to his apartment, and places the standard ‘X’ on his window in sticky tape when night has fallen. Transitions show him pacing around, throwing a ball at the wall, and nervously sitting on his couch. By morning, he’s fallen asleep on the couch and the ‘X’ remains in place. The morning newspaper is delivered to his door; he rushes to pick it up, and then scans through it – but there’s nothing inside. He throws it away in frustration and angrily swipes the tape from the window frame.

At the hospital, a short, bespectacled man in a suit and bow tie awkwardly approaches the desk where Nurse Wilkins works, carrying a bunch of flowers and asking to see Scully. A nearby Mulder exclaims in amusement: “Frohike?” Mulder takes Frohike in to see Scully, and Frohike checks her bedside report, finding something he claims to be weird.

Later, in the offices of the Lone Gunmen, after some banter about the size of Frohike’s pants, Mulder listens as he, Byers and Langly suggest he come over to nitpick for scientific inaccuracies in Earth 2 (ah, the 90s!). Byers claims that Scully’s blood charts show properties they’ve never seen before, and that for further help they have roped in the unseen fourth member of the Lone Gunmen to help, who goes by the name ‘The Thinker’. They all look on in shock as Byers claims the Thinker’s work shows Scully’s protein chains are the product of ‘branched DNA’, the biological equivalent of a silicon microchip and technology they claim to be around “50 years down the line”. Mulder asks what it’s used for and the Gunmen theorize it could be a biological marker, a hi-tech identity card, but Byers claims their data shows the DNA is inactive, waste product, and simply biological poison now the experimentation on Scully has finished. Mulder asks if she’ll live, but the Gunmen sheepishly admit her immune system has been decimated and it’s unlikely that even a healthy body could fight this – there’s nothing they can do.

On the boat, tethered to shore, Scully sits as the voice of a woman who says she is Nurse Owens talks to her, as we see the nurse now standing on the edge of the dock. Owens claims she’s here to help take care of her, watch over her, help her find the way home—

—and we see Nurse Owens standing over her by the bed, suggesting she knows that where Dana is peaceful, and it would be nice to stay, but that she must leave “only when it’s time”. Mulder walks in, as Owens kisses Dana on the forehead, but oddly Mulder doesn’t register her as Owens walks away, focused mournfully on Scully. Nurse Wilkins then approaches, to take some blood. As she does, Mulder notices a shifty-looking man in a suit by the bed next to hers, and they exchange a glance. Wilkins draws the blood, placing it on the bedside table – but she is called across the bay when a patient goes into cardiac arrest, distracting Mulder. When he turns back, the vial of Scully’s blood is gone, as is the man in the suit. Mulder follows the man down the corridor, chasing him when he runs, the man desperate to escape into the parking lot beneath the hospital, which Mulder reaches after some searching. As Mulder closes in on the man, he’s grabbed by a figure in the shadows, slammed against the wall, and a gun is pointed in his face—

—by none other than Mr. ‘X’, who aggressively tells Mulder to stop searching for who put Scully in hospital. Mulder is angry at him barking orders when he won’t even show up to help him, but ‘X’ alludes to how his quest got ‘Deep Throat’ killed, it’s got Scully killed (or as good as), and he won’t let it happen to him, insisting Mulder is his “tool” and not the other way around. Mulder claims he can’t just let her die, but ‘X’ is scared. He warns Mulder he used to be him, but equally warns Mulder he’s not him. ‘X’ tells him to walk away, grieve for Scully and never look back, that he will be able to live with himself. Mulder breaks free of a frustrated ‘X’’s grasp and chases the man – who shoots at him. After stalking him further through the parking lot, Mulder chases the man into a laundry room and corners him, taking the vial of blood and asking him who wants it. The man breaks free, knocks Mulder to the ground and the vial goes flying. ‘X’ suddenly appears, violently beating the man up, before executing him as Mulder watches, suggesting that this is what it takes to find the truth, to know what he knows. ‘X’ promises to clean the mess up and leaves Mulder winded.

In the hospital waiting room, Dr. Daly speaks to Margaret, Melissa and a frustrated Mulder, suggesting taking Scully off life support doesn’t necessarily mean the end of her life, but he believes if they do she won’t improve. Mulder tells them about the so-called “branched DNA”, suggesting that it can be treated, but Daly casts aspersions on his “diagnosis”. Mulder wants to study her, as he’s aware she’s here because of “unnatural circumstances”, but Melissa claims her impending death is very natural and rails against trying to prolong her life. Margaret reminds everyone that Dana has made their decision for them, and tells Mulder to respect her wishes as a friend. She invites him to join “the family” in turning off the machine, but Mulder shakes his head, filled with sadness.

The rope of Scully’s ethereal boat snaps and, as the nurse in white looks on, she begins floating away from the shore, into the mist…

FBI Headquarters, Washington D.C. A file is dropped on A.D. Walter Skinner’s desk, near a pack of Morley’s cigarettes, by the Cigarette-Smoking Man. He encourages Skinner to read it, suggesting they’d have no problem sitting on Mulder. He goes to light a cigarette but Skinner coolly directs him to a ‘THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING’ sign on the desk. Smoking Man insouciantly lights it anyway, takes a few puffs, stubs it out in an ashtray, and leaves. Mulder comes in through a side door, not the one Smoking Man left through, and Skinner explains he’s heard a rumor about a murder in the laundry room of the hospital, but Mulder plays dumb about the whole incident, to Skinner’s visible anger. Mulder asks him how it feels to have questions answered with more questions, but Skinner just wants answers. Mulder grows angry now, seeing the still-smoking cigarette butt and picking up the ashtray, insisting ‘Cancer Man’, as he calls him, is responsible for what happened to Scully. Mulder is desperate, telling Skinner he’s ready to give up his badge and the X-Files; he just wants to know who he is and where he is. Skinner tells him they’re not the Mafia and reminds him of the dangers Scully faced when she came to work for the FBI. Mulder admits that perhaps he never told Scully about the level of danger she may be in while working with him, and Skinner suggests if that’s true he’s as much to blame for her condition as the Cancer Man is. A helpless and distraught Mulder leaves.

In a room filled with light and a dark tunnel in the distance, Scully now lies dressed in white on a wooden table, unconscious. Footsteps from the darkness reveal William Scully, her father, who appears dressed in full military uniform. He speaks to her with great emotion, talking about how much he loves her and how he never quite told her, assuring her “we’ll be together again, Starbuck. Not now… soon…” He walks away into the darkness…

Beside her bed, Nurse Owens speaks to Scully again, assuring her that though death is near, her time is not over.

In the hospital cafeteria, Mulder eats with Melissa, who explains he could spend the rest of his life searching for Dana’s killers and it still won’t bring her back. A woman asks Mulder for change for the cigarette machine, and when he doesn’t have any to give she loudly that declares a pack of Morley’s are already in the machine anyway, before walking off. Mulder, understanding he’s been given a message, grabs and opens the cigarettes, where he finds an address written on a note slipped inside…

A bland apartment, where the Smoking Man watches an old movie on TV, empty beer bottles and a full ashtray near him. As he goes to light another one, he hears the door behind him click open. He goes to get up but Mulder appears, pulling him back in his chair, and when Smoking Man asks how he found him, Mulder angrily squares a gun on him and declares tonight he’s asking the questions “and you’re going to answer them, you son of a bitch!” Smoking Man calmly pops the smoke into his mouth and tells Mulder not to threaten him, adding, “I’ve watched Presidents die”. Mulder smacks the cigarette out of his mouth and asks why Scully, and not him. Smoking Man claims he likes Mulder, and he likes Scully too, that’s why she was returned. Mulder closes in on him with the gun, declaring he should be the one to die. Smoking Man asks why – he has no wife, no family, “some power”, and that he does what he does because he thinks it’s right. Mulder asks, incredulously, who he is to decide what’s ‘right’. Smoking Man: “if people were to know of the things that I know… it would all fall apart”. He told Skinner that Mulder shot the man in the hospital but he didn’t believe it, that he has more respect for him. He claims Mulder can kill him now, but he’ll never know the truth, “and that’s why I’ll win”. Smoking Man promises this encounter will be their secret, and lights up a smoke. Mulder just keeps the gun on him, traumatized, knowing he can’t shoot.

Later, in the X-Files office, Mulder prints out his letter of resignation from the FBI and signs it…

The next morning, Mulder is starting to pack up his desk when Skinner enters, pulling out the letter and ripping it up, claiming his resignation is unacceptable, especially if it’s over guilt for not being able to save Scully. Mulder claims that for everything they’ve done on the X-Files, all the evidence and things they’ve seen, it’s all been for nothing and now Scully is lost because of it: “I hate what I’ve become”. Skinner takes a breath and starts to open up, uncharacteristically, telling Mulder a deeply personal story from his past – of when he was a Marine serving in Vietnam, having enlisted as an 18-year-old on ‘blind faith’, believing it was the right thing to do. Three months into his tour, a ten-year-old Vietnamese boy walked into his camp, covered in grenades, blowing himself up. Skinner lost his faith in everything after that. On patrol, later, his squad were caught and all killed. Skinner had an out-of-body experience, experiencing his own death, watching his body from outside of it, peaceful and unafraid. The morning after he’d been put in a body bag they found a pulse and he woke up in a Saigon hospital three weeks later. Skinner claims he’s always been afraid to look beyond that experience: “You? You are not”. He states again that his resignation is unacceptable. Shaken, Mulder realizes it was Skinner who fed him Smoking Man’s location, that he put his life in danger. “Agent Mulder, every life, every day, is in danger. That’s just life” Skinner sagely opines before leaving.

Later, walking in the bowels of the FBI with a box full of items, Mulder is accosted by ‘X’, who gives him a plane ticket and explains he can’t reveal who took Scully, it’s too close to him, but that he *can* give him the man who took her. ‘X’ tells Mulder a trap has been staged, that they believe Mulder will be away and information lies in his apartment about Scully – when they show up at 8.17pm, Mulder must be armed and waiting to kill them, in revenge. Mulder looks exhausted at the suggestion but ‘X’ claims it’s the only way, as “the law will not punish these people”. Mulder takes the ticket and ‘X’ leaves, claiming after tonight they cannot make contact for several weeks.

In his apartment, night having fallen, Mulder sits in wait, a gun on the table next to him. He sees a shadow appear under the doorframe and checks his watch. 7.30pm. They’re early. Mulder grabs the gun as there is a knock at the door. It’s Melissa, who calls to him. Mulder, feeling both panic and irritation, opens the door, looking around in a paranoid fashion. Melissa asks to come in, and Mulder very reluctantly lets her. She asks why it’s so dark; “because the lights aren’t on” is Mulder’s pithy response. Melissa gets down to business, claiming Dr. Daly says Dana is weak and it could happen any time, and she wants to know if he’d come down to the hospital and see her – Melissa had tried to call but Mulder’s not picking up his phone or voicemail. Mulder claims he can’t right now and Melissa attempts to appeal to him through accessing her spirituality, but Mulder cuts her down angrily, “enough with the harmonic conversions crap, ok, you’re not saying anything to me!” Melissa reacts, goes on the attack, calling him out for mocking her positivity and not being brave enough to simply express how he feels to Dana rather than trying to get even, how Dana expects more. Melissa storms out and Mulder sits back at the table, holding the gun in his hand.

Later, Mulder appears at Scully’s bedside. He takes her hand and quietly tells her he believes she isn’t ready to go, that she’s always had the strength of her beliefs. Close to tears, he assures her that he’s here, even if he isn’t sure it’s enough to bring her back. Scully is now off the ventilator, and the closest to death she’s ever been.

A clock registers 8.17pm.

Mulder returns to his apartment the next morning, which has been completely turned upside down. He crouches and breaks down into silent, anguished tears. Alone.

From Scully’s POV, she lies on her bed, surrounded by clear trees in a forest lush with the sound of birds, and a blue sky overhead which fades into the hospital before her. Nurse Wilkins stops as she passes, noticing a change in Scully, ordering Dr. Daly be called. Scully slowly begins opening her eyes.

In his apartment, Mulder sits alone. The phone rings, going to voicemail, but he picks it up. Whatever he hears on the other end, relief gently covers his expression.

Later, in a private hospital room, Mulder arrives and is greeted warmly by Margaret, who is sitting with Melissa around the bed where Scully, awake, retorts with, “Not Fox, Mulder…” She turns and faces him, admitting she remembers nothing and goes to recount as much as she can, but Mulder says it doesn’t matter. He suggests she get some rest, moving to leave. Scully tells him, “I had the strength of your beliefs”. Mulder pulls out of his pocket her cross on the chain, gently placing it in her hand, and quietly leaves. Scully looks at the cross…

…and later, alone in the room, she plays with the cross as Nurse Wilkins enters to give her some meds. Scully asks to see Nurse Owens, saying that she has something she wants her to have. “Nurse who?” Wilkins asks. Scully tells her again, giving a description of her, and explains that Owens watched over her in intensive care and she’d like to thank her. Wilkins claims she’s worked at the hospital for ten years and there’s no Nurse Owens who has ever worked there. She leaves Scully to ponder who or what her guardian angel might have been…

Episode Summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

  • This is the second episode where we see Charles Scully, and even then it’s during a blink and you’ll miss it childhood flashback. The first was as an unmoving figure in the distance, standing with his family, at William Scully’s funeral in S1’s ‘Beyond The Sea’. Though he is made verbal reference to several times, and finally has a part to play in the Event Series (‘Home Again’), it always seemed strange that we never met the adult Charles and that Chris Carter never apparently found a good enough storyline to bring him in on, or include him in Scully family-centric episodes. Did they just forget about him most of the time? – Tony Black
  • The theme of the episode, about a person’s faith, or lack thereof, extends into the illustration of the dark place that Mulder is in. This makes Skinner’s revealing conversation about Vietnam all the more interesting, as we see the way he had to find a way back into trying to believe again about his role as a solder defending his nation – very often in the real world, people who get wrapped up in conspiracy theories and paranoia lose their way, so one could argue that by ‘believing in nothing’ they become susceptible to anything. – Matt Allair
  • Morley as a fictional brand on The X-Files comes into its own here, mentioned in dialogue for the very first time as the Smoking Man’s cancer sticks of choice. See the S7 episode ‘Brand X’ for a Morley-centric storyline involving the billion dollar company, but did you know that Morley as a fictional Marlboro-esque brand goes back 50+ years and isn’t solely the creation of The X-Files? They possibly first originated in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic ‘Psycho’, no less, and are a play on ‘Marley’s’, a nickname for Marlboro smokes. Morley has appeared in dozens of TV shows and many movies. – Tony Black
  • Between Mulder’s arc and the government shenanigans, the mystery of Nurse Owens can get lost to an extent. There’s an interesting moment when she’s talking to Scully and Mulder arrives where, in a ‘Sixth Sense’ fashion, he doesn’t seem to register her but it’s ambiguous; he could just be being Mulder and ignoring people, as he’s known to do, but it could be that he doesn’t see Owens and the only person we ever see her engage with is Scully. So who was she? Most likely an angel of some kind, given she says she’s there to “watch over” her. Could she be a form of William Scully, given that we see him appear to her in the ‘in-between world’? +  – Tony Black
  • The first appearance (sort of) here of ‘The Thinker’, the unseen fourth member of the Lone Gunmen. He would go on to be seen in the flesh in ‘Anasazi’, albeit briefly, before meeting an untimely demise. – Tony Black
  • Does anyone else occasionally detect some level of frisson between Mulder and Melissa Scully, albeit driven by ideological disagreement? There is a chemistry between David Duchovny and Melinda McGraw and it’s almost a shame they didn’t capitalize on it in future episodes, though it perhaps would have sank the show into more soap opera theatrics than was becoming of it. – Tony Black
  • Melissa Scully’s role in the series, although sadly short lived, is an important one when you consider her partial similarity to Mulder – there’s the point about how they both view things on a metaphysical level, but then they diverge, as Mulder almost comes across as pragmatic with his conflicting views. Something else that people need to consider is the role of Melissa acting as a template for Monica Reyes in the later seasons. – Matt Allair
  • There’s a big question over how exactly Scully *did* get into that hospital, and also on how many people were complicit in her return. Would nobody have noticed her be returned then hooked up to all the equipment she was attached to? And indeed be bathed and cleaned, presumably by government forces, to ensure a lack of trace evidence? It seems a huge reach that Dr. Daly’s assertion nobody can remember is true. Was *he* in on it? Nurse Wilkins? There’s no indication they were but somebody must have seen people they didn’t recognize admitting a new patient in a critical condition; ergo plenty of people in the hospital must be in on the cover-up. – Tony Black
  • Scully’s headstone reads “The Spirit Is The Truth”, a Bible quote from 1 John 5:6, Amy Donaldson, in her book “We Want To Believe”, noted this point and explained the origin: “Both the spirit world and the truth are major themes on the show, as they are in Scully’s life, in her roles as a Catholic, a scientist, and an FBI agent working on The X-Files. The phrase on the headstone echoes also the Gospel of John, where the Spirit and Truth are often equated and the spirit is referred to as “The Spirit of truth” This is related to God’s nature: God is spirit (John 4:24), and God is truth, so the spirit of God is the spirit of truth.”** – Matt Allair
  • Who was the man ‘X’ killed, and who was he working for? Has he just been sent to keep an eye on Scully? Why does he take the vial of blood? Is he simply cleaning up any evidence Mulder could find? There’s a suggestion in dialogue he took that blood because someone wants it, but if they did this to Scully wouldn’t they have all that data anyway? It’s not certain who the man is, and seems to serve the purpose of simply allowing Mulder to see what ‘X’ does, so it’s somewhat of a dangling thread. – Tony Black
  • Regarding the execution of the man who swapped Scully’s blood by ‘X’, this action might have been done to show Mulder how great his resolve is to survive. ‘X’ could have been following the wishes of the Syndicate by killing the man, as a double down of ‘X’s duel agent role. Acts of evil to defeat evil. One could also view ‘X’ as a Trickster Archetype, a man who follows his own set of rules, and one who is savvier than his predecessor. – Matt Allair

Episode Summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

A strong meditation both on faith and the power of belief, ‘One Breath’ is among the finest episodes The X-Files has to offer, with tight scripting, a balance of emotional drama and conspiratorial plotting, alongside a brace of thrilling action and danger thrown in. A response to David Duchovny’s request that writing duo Glen Morgan and James Wong pen an powerful a character story for Mulder as they did for Scully in S1’s ‘Beyond the Sea’, this is a tour de force for Duchovny, who delivers one of his most searingly powerful performances as a Mulder on the brink of being broken by the sinister forces who have placed Scully on the brink of death. As a script, it skillfully balances the murky underworld of shadowy government forces, lived in by merciless killers such as ‘X’, and the close family drama of the Scullys, plus Scully's own ethereal battle for her mortality. – Tony Black

It’s an episode with more things between Heaven and Earth than we can hold in our hand. Scully receives her own quasi-spiritual visitations from a father she misses and, perhaps, a guardian angel appealing to her own inner struggle on whether to carry on, externalized by the metaphorical visions on the boat tied to shore. Scully may not be awake for most of the episode, but her internal conflict is no less important. Mulder’s own personal battle drives Morgan and Wong’s story, however, tying off the essentially five-episode arc from the threads begun in ‘Sleepless’ which pushes Mulder to the brink of becoming men like ‘X’ or the Cigarette-Smoking Man, here for the first time truly given externalized shades of deeper characterization by William B. Davis, which would set the template of his complex relationship with Mulder for the next 20 years; in many ways their first proper confrontation here is still their best. Mulder, torn between the ruthless justice offered by ‘X’ and the pull of positive belief and faith of Melissa Scully’s spiritualism, by way of Skinner’s deeply personal confession, is ripped apart emotionally in how he attempts to deal with the prospect of losing someone else he’s come to love.

Consistently gripping, heart-wrenching, full of subtext and with peerless character development for both its leads, ‘One Breath’ is simply one of the strongest X-Files which, by the end, may well leave you breathless in the bargain. – Tony Black

Critic John Kenneth Muir offered some observations: “As the final piece of the Scully abduction arc, “One Breath” also finds causes for hope and positivity… Accordingly, “One Breath: involves faith and belief (or lack of it) in virtually all the primary characters. Skinner delivers a stirring monologue here about his experiences in the Vietnam war, and the Cigarette-Smoking Man and X provide examples to Mulder of what he could become if he treads down the path of darkness: a lonely, empty, cynical shell of a man hated by all, driven only by the exigencies of his personal and professional crusade… Like all the best episodes of the series, “One Breath” meaningfully connects form and content. In keeping with that tradition, the visuals here prove nothing less than poetic and successfully reinforce the idea that life is a mystery, sometimes terrifying, and sometimes profoundly inspiring.”****

Author Robert Shearman offered up some observations about the episode from his book: “It’s very much a story about life and death, and the choices we make between the two. Melissa says early on that we hide the dying away in hospitals because we’re embarrassed by them, but that there is nothing unnatural about death. Mulder’s exasperation with her, and what he calls political correctness is wholly understandable – but what she says is the core of the episode. Every major character here is either staring death in the face, or called upon to inflict it… It’s the decision between being active or passive. And, in the middle of all of this is Scully and the decision she must make.”******

Once Chris Carter tapped Glen Morgan and James Wong to write the script, it gave the team the opportunity to do something more with William B. Davis: “In The Godfather, there’s people in the room who are, intentionally, never identified, and I believe that’s just what Chris was doing,” Glen has observed, “So we said, “Well, we’re going to have to do something with him, to explain what he’s doing there.” William B. Davis has observed: [The Smoking Man] “had made so many sacrifices in order to do what he had to do that it was though his emotional insides were empty or destroyed. He used the smoking to keep it at bay.”*

Glen Morgan has also noted that, “it was one of the only shows on television that could talk about the afterlife and what happens when you die.” Glen also noted that he named “Nurse Owens” after his grandmother.*** There were other aspects to the episode that were notable, such as the fact that the show’s producers were paying attention to the fledgling online fan base and the public’s appreciation of The Lone Gunmen characters, as noted by Tom Braidwood: “The producers were paying attention to what the fans were talking about. Apparently they really liked us in the chat rooms a lot.” Bruce Harwood further added: “We represented the AOL people who would chat about the show while it was on or after it had finished on Friday nights.” This cross communication with the online community went deep, as commented on by Dean Haglund: “We’d get lines directly from the news group like ‘nitpick the scientific inaccuracies of Earth 2’, that then made the newsgroup explode saying, “Aha! They are really reading this shit.”*

It has been noted that Gillian Anderson was feeling understandably disoriented and exhausted just days after giving birth to her daughter, Piper. She spent most of the episode in a hospital gown with fake tubes inserted, occasionally falling asleep while filming some of her scenes.*** The visual effect of Scully’s bedside and her point of view in a forest was created by effects supervisor Mat Beck, with the use of a blue screen, and gradual cross dissolves back into the reality of the Hospital. Initially, there was an assumption made by the production team that the effect was going to be quite involved, but it turned out to be fairly simple in its execution.

The situation with how Melinda McGraw (Melissa Scully) got involved with The X-Files was an interesting one. While working on The Commish, a successful comedy-drama about the police force which ran for five seasons on ABC, McGraw met Nicholas Lea, who had a recurring guest role on the series as Officer Enrico “Ricky” Caruso. Neither returned to The Commish’s fourth season, and at that point Lea took on the role of Alex Krycek. Glen Morgan and James Wong had written a number of episodes of The Commish and wrote the part of Melissa Scully with McGraw in mind. Much like the circumstances with fellow actor Mitch Pileggi, Melinda McGraw spent her early childhood outside the United States. Her father was a diplomat for the Agency of International Development under the Kennedy administration, and they lived in Cyprus, where she was born. They also lived in Beirut and Pakistan until her family moved back to the US when she was four. As a child living in Massachusetts she became involved with the Boston Children’s Theatre. After attending Bennington’s College, and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, she appeared in several West End productions and regional theatre plays. In 1989 she moved back to the US and appeared in an episode of Quantum Leap. Eventually this lead to her recurring appearance on The Commish as ex-FBI agent, Cyd Madison. Her feature film appearances include Albino Alligator, Wrongfully Accused, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, and The Dark Knight as Barbra Gordon. Other television appearances include Night Court, Seinfeld, The Human Factor, Cybill, Ally McBeal, The Practice, Desperate Housewives, The West Wing, Bones, Mad Men, CSI, Hawaii Five-O, NCIS, and Outcast.*****

Nicola Cavendish, who played Nurse Owens, is a Vancouver-based actress with a broad list of theatrical credits. Born in England, she was raised in the Okanagan village of Kaleden, and attended the University of British Columbia. She appeared in a number of Canadian TV series including Zig Zag and Red Serge Wives. She appeared in American Boyfriends and the mini-series IT, as well as Street Legal, Highlander, The Returned, and The Romeo Selection. She took a sabbatical from acting when her husband unexpectedly passed.*****

+ Our UK editor offered the following point: She could also be a real government operative sent by CSM and just slipped in when the nurse in charge wasn’t looking. I never thought she was invisible/an angel because at one point she puts hands on Scully’s head exactly like Jeremiah Smith! Aren’t we supposed to wonder later back to this and think she’s a healer shapeshifter like he is?? She is a guardian angel, yes, but I don’t think a literal one”


* “The Compete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies” by Matt Hurwitz and Chris Knowles, published by Insight Editions © 2008
**“We Want To Believe: Faith and Gospel in The X-Files” by Amy Donaldson, published by Cascade Books © 2011
***“The Truth Is Out There” by Brian Lowry, published by Harper Prism © 1995
****“The X-Files FAQ” by John Kenneth Muir, published by Applause Books © 2015
*****“Beyond Mulder and Scully’ by Andy Mangels, published by Citadel Press © 1998
******“Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen’ by Robert Shearman, published by Mad Press © 2009

Synopsis Review and Production Notes: Tony Black
Additional Production Notes and comments: Matt Allair
Page Editor: Liz Tray

Please visit J.J. Lindl's Tumbler account, The X-Files Poster Project, to find out how to purchase his work:

Please check out Tony Black’s X-Cast review of this episode.

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2x01 Little Green Men
2x02 The Host
2x03 Blood
2x04 Sleepless
2x05 Duane Barry
2x06 Ascension
2x07 3
2x08 One Breath
2x09 Firewalker
2x10 Red Museum
2x11 Excelsis Dei
2x12 Aubrey
2x13 Irresistible
2x14 Die Hand Die Verletzt
2x15 Fresh Bones
2x16 Colony
2x17 End Game
2x18 Fearful Symmetry
2x19 Død Kalm
2x20 Humbug
2x21 The Calusari
2x22 F. Emasculata
2x23 Soft Light
2x24 Our Town
2x25 Anasazi