- “There were many rewards, until the moment that I knew ... I would never see you again ... Then my life felt as if it had been the length of one breath, one heartbeat.”
- — William Scully
"One Breath" is the eighth episode of the second season of The X-Files. It first aired in the United States on November 11, 1994 on the Fox network. Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong, and directed by R. W. Goodwin, the episode helped explore the series' Mythology arc.
Scully miraculously appears in a Washington, D.C. hospital, fighting for her life, as Mulder struggles to find the secrets to how she vanished and who is involved.
Margaret Scully is telling Fox Mulder a story about how Dana Scully exhibited guilt, after she killed a snake with a new BB gun her brothers gave her for her birthday. As the snake dies, young Dana Scully shows remorse and picks up the snake, repelling her fear of serpents. Mulder advises it is too soon to give up on her. Margaret Scully says she now knows how her daughter felt, that day in the woods. Then, an object is placed on a table near the pair; it is a tombstone, with Dana Scully's name on it.
Mulder returns to his apartment, re-reading the file on Duane Barry and Scully's kidnapping on the table. He is later lying in the darkness, watching pornography, with a look of despair written across his face. The phone rings and an unknown caller informs Mulder that Scully is in Northeast Georgetown Medical Center, Washington, D.C.. Mulder speeds over to the hospital, barges down the hallways and, despite a nurse trying to stop him, bursts through the ward doors, where he finds Scully in a coma, in critical condition and on life support, as Margaret is watching Dana. Mulder snaps, demanding to know how she got into the hospital and who brought her there. He approaches a Dr. Daly and angrily asks to see the admission forms. Mulder is dragged out of the ward, threateningly screaming at Daly, worried the doctor is involved with "them" and swearing he will find out what "they" did to Scully.
In a private room later, Mulder, Margaret and Dr. Daly are speaking about Scully's condition. Daly comments she is listed in critical condition, with total unawareness of self, and does not respond to external stimuli. The doctor states no-one at the hospital knows anything about Scully's arrival and admits that, because there is no recent medical history about her, he is totally at a loss regarding how to treat Scully. He can't determine why and how long she's been in this state. Mulder wants her tested for trace evidence but Daly says she's already been bathed and cleaned. Daly then mentions that Scully has very specific living terms in her will and is very clear on life support. Mulder, who signed the will as her witness, says Scully does not want to live in this condition.
At Scully's bedside, a woman remarks to Mulder that she was told not to call him "Fox" by Scully. The woman claims Scully's soul is present. Just then, Margaret arrives and they greet each other. The woman is Scully's older sister, Melissa Scully. She says Dana is deciding whether to remain in this world, or move on.
Meanwhile, inside a metaphor representing Scully's mind, Dana sits alone in a small rowboat, tied to a pier by a rope. Mulder, Melissa Scully and an unknown woman are standing on the pier. Mulder says she isn't here and Melissa tells him to stop being angry, as his negative energy is blocking her. Mulder says he needs to do more and leaves.
Back at his apartment, Mulder places tape in an "X" shape on his window to try to call for X. However, day after day, he checks, but doesn't receive anything in is daily newspaper delivery.
In the hospital, Melvin Frohike, dressed in a smart suit and with flowers, arrives. He and Mulder look at Scully's chart and Frohike spots something odd. Frohike steals the chart and all three of The Lone Gunmen then discuss it, observing how the data shows odd protein chains in the blood. The Lone Gunmen send her medical records to the so-called latest member of the group, "The Thinker". He reports the protein chains are a by-product of branched DNA, the apparent cutting edge of genetic engineering, supposedly fifty years down the line. The Lone Gunmen speculate it may be an identity tracker, or even the product of grafting human to non-human DNA. Mulder asks if she'll live, to which the Lone Gunmen exchange worried glances. They reply that Scully's immune system has been decimated and that even a healthy human may not be able to fight her illness. They tell Mulder he can do nothing.
Inside her mind, Scully sees the woman who spoke to her in the hospital. After introducing herself as Nurse Owens, she says she is going to look out for her and help her find her way home. Owens tells her she must leave only when it is time and that she will be there for her. Mulder arrives and Nurse Owens leaves, without saying a word. Another nurse arrives and says she must take some blood. She does so and Mulder looks behind, only to see a suspicious-looking man, staring. The nurse places the test-tube of blood the bedside table. Suddenly, elsewhere in the room, a male patient flatlines, so nurses and doctors rush to his aid. During the chaos, Mulder looks back at the table and notices the blood vial is gone. Mulder dashes out the door and chases the suspicious man, who manages to escape into an elevator at the last second. Mulder runs down the stairs, determined not to lose him. The chase continues into the underground parking garage, where X suddenly appears and grabs Mulder.
Mulder tells X a man took Scully's blood but X instructs Mulder to forget about the escapee. Mulder retorts that X ignored his calls for help, yet now expects him to do what he says. X says he comes to Mulder when he needs him and that Mulder is his tool, not the other way round. X divulges that Mulder is leading "them" right to the hospital and that Mulder is not meant to know the truth. Mulder breaks loose and runs after the man once again. He closes in but the man opens fire and escapes the car park. Mulder flanks the man and demands that the man tell him who wants Scully's blood. The man doesn't say a word and instead manages to flee from Mulder, but X intercepts him, breaks his arm and tells Mulder to stay where he is. He then asks Mulder if he wants to see what it takes to find the truth and eliminates the man, execution style.
Sometime thereafter, Mulder, Melissa, Dr. Daly and Margaret are again in a private room. Daly tells them that some people have lived for nine years on mechanical ventilation. He reports this is not likely to be the case with Scully, however, and that she will not improve. Margaret observes to Mulder that he and Scully had a relationship built on respect and concedes that, even though she lost her husband in the last year and is desperate not to lose Dana too, she has always respected Dana. She says it's a moment for the family but that Mulder is welcome to join them. He solemnly shakes his head, however. In Scully's dream state, the rope holding her boat snaps and Scully drifts away, into parts unknown.
A pack of Morley cigarettes lies on Assistant Director Skinner's desk in his office. The Cigarette Smoking Man places a file on the desk, saying it's all there. The CSM advises Skinner that, if he is having trouble sitting on Mulder, the CSM can deal with it, with no trouble. As the CSM leaves, Mulder enters via a side door and sees the burning stub of an abandoned cigarette. Skinner tells him to sit down and asks him about rumours that he was involved in an incident in the hospital. Mulder turns the tables on Skinner by denying all knowledge, so Skinner demands to know what's going on. Mulder tells him it's simple, accusing the CSM of all wrongdoing. Even though Skinner wants to know how Mulder is so sure about this accusation, Mulder instead asks who and where the CSM is. Skinner reminds him that they work for the Department of Justice and Mulder specifies that that is exactly what he wants. Skinner says Scully was a fine agent and, more than that, he liked and respected her.
In a white-lit void, Scully is lying on a wooden table, wearing a white dress. Her father, William Scully, emerges and tells "Starbuck" about how people repeatedly talked to him concerning the shortness of life and how children grow up fast. He never listened, however, until he realized he would never again see her, his little girl. He also declares their time to be reunited has not yet come. As he disappears, Nurse Owens returns. Echoing William Scully's sentiments, Owens says that, despite death being close to Dana tonight, her time is not over.
Melissa and Mulder are speaking in the hospital cafeteria about how Mulder could spend his life hunting down who did this to Scully and it still won't bring her back. She tells him that whoever did it has an equal horror coming to them. A woman then approaches and asks Mulder if he has change for the cigarette machine, to which he replies that he doesn't. As Melissa is about to further question Mulder regarding what he thinks about Dana, the woman points out that there's a pack of Morley cigarettes already in the machine, not her brand. Realizing what is going on, Mulder examines the cellophane-sealed packet and finds a slip of paper with an address inside.
While reaching for a cigarette inside his home, the Cigarette Smoking Man is startled by a noise. He reaches for his firearm but Mulder grabs him and hurls him back into his seat. Holding the CSM at gunpoint, Mulder demands an answer to Scully's abduction. The CSM simply says he likes Mulder and also likes Scully, which is why she was returned to him. The CSM purports his involvement is only because he believes that what he is doing is right. He admits a growing respect for Mulder but observes that Mulder cannot kill the CSM because if he does, he will never learn the truth. The CSM notes that, due to this predicament, he himself will consequently win. Mulder then slowly takes his finger off the trigger and leaves.
Back in his office, Mulder prints off a resignation letter for Walter Skinner and is packing away his own belongings. Skinner enters and has a brief conversation with Mulder about his early years in the FBI. Skinner then takes the resignation letter out of his pocket and tears it in half, deeming the request for resignation as unacceptable because it seems to be motivated merely by self-punishment and defeat. Mulder realizes it was Skinner who gave him the Cigarette Smoking Man's location, and put himself at great risk by doing so.
Mulder, now walking down a flight of steps, is approached by X. He gives Mulder a plane ticket and says he doesn't know why Scully was taken but can give Mulder the man who took her. He reveals that the conspirators believe Mulder will be out of town, that he has information in his apartment, and that they will break into the apartment at 8.17 p.m. X insists Mulder will be waiting, armed and ready to defend himself with "terminal intensity."
Later inside his apartment, Mulder sits in the darkness, ready to deliver his vengeance. Melissa knocks on his door. She relays to Mulder that Scully is weakening and encourages him to visit her. Though initially reluctant, Mulder accepts her invitation.
At Scully's bedside, Mulder arrives. He takes her hand and says he feels that Scully isn't ready to leave. He doesn't know that being there will help but that he is there anyway.
The next morning, Mulder arrives home and sees his apartment has been trashed, he having missed his chance to exact revenge. Struck by the seeming futility of the whole situation, he sinks to his knees and weeps.
Scully, in her hospital gown, is lying in bed. Her surroundings are at first forestland but the scene fades back to her hospital ward. A nurse passes the bed and calls for Dr. Daly, as Scully has awoken.
Mulder, sitting on his sofa with an expression of despair on his face, ignores his phone as it rings. He eventually picks it up as the voice machine kicks in. He broadly smiles.
Out of intensive care, Scully lays in bed with her mother and sister by her side. After Mulder enters, Scully says she remembers nothing after Duane Barry kidnapped her. Mulder tells Scully to get some rest, and she says that she had the strength of his beliefs. He gives her back her crucifix necklace before he leaves. A nurse comes in and Scully asks to see Nurse Owens, as she wants to thank her for looking after her. The newly arrived nurse tells Scully that she's worked there for ten years and that there has never been a Nurse Owens at that hospital. Scully holds her cross necklace as she lies back down and stares at the ceiling.
"Good work, sneakin' out these charts."
"Snuck 'em in my pants."
"There's plenty of room down there."
"You look down, Mulder. Tell you what, you're welcome to come over Saturday night. We're all hoppin' on the internet to nitpick the scientific inaccuracies of Earth 2."
"I'm doing my laundry."
- - Byers, Frohike, Mulder and Langly, after smuggling Scully's medical charts out of her hospital ward, with Mulder turning down a television-viewing invitation from Langly
"Tell me what happened at the hospital, last night."
"Are you referring to the tooth found in the cafeteria jello?"
- - Skinner and Mulder, the latter cheekily implying ignorance
"Hello, Starbuck. It's Ahab. People would say to me, 'Life is short. Kids, they grow up fast, and, before you know it, it's over.' I never listened. For me, life went at a proper pace. There were many rewards, until the moment that I knew, I understood that I would never see you again, my little girl. Then my life felt as if it had been the length of one breath, one heartbeat. I never knew how much I loved my daughter until I could never tell her. At that moment, I would have traded every medal, every commendation, every promotion for one more second with you. We'll be together again, Starbuck. But not now. Soon."
- - William Scully's speech to his daughter, Dana Scully
"How'd you find me?"
"Shut up! Tonight, I ask the questions! You're going to answer me, you son of a bitch!"
"Don't try and threaten me, Mulder. I've watched presidents die."
"Why her? Why her and not me? . . . Answer me!"
"I like you. I like her too. That's why she was returned to you."
"You should be the one to die."
"Why? Look at me. No wife, no family; some power. I'm in the game because I believe what I'm doing is right."
"'Right?' Who are you to decide what's right?"
"Who are you? If people were to know the things I know, it would all fall apart. I told Skinner you shot the man in the hospital, but I didn't really believe it. And here you are with a gun to my head. I have more respect for you, Mulder. You're becoming a player. You can kill me now, but you'll never know the truth. (Mulder wants to shoot, but doesn't) And that's why I'll win. Don't worry. This'll be our secret. We wouldn't want others to . . . start rumors."
- - Mulder and the Cigarette Smoking Man
"Only the light . . ."
"Oh, enough with the harmonic convergence crap, okay? You're not saying anything to me."
"Why don't you just drop your cynicism and your paranoia and your defeat? You know, just because it's positive and good doesn't make it silly or trite! Why is it so much easier for you to run around trying to get even than just expressing to her how you feel? I expect more from you. Dana expects more. Even if it doesn't bring her back, at least she'll know. And so will you."
- - Melissa Scully and Mulder
"I brought you a present: Superstars of the Super Bowl."
"I knew there was a reason to live."
- - Mulder and Scully
- The title of this episode is from William Scully's speech to his daughter.
- This episode represents the third part in a trilogy that also includes the Season 2 episodes "Duane Barry" and "Ascension". Although "Duane Barry" ends with a cliffhanger as well as the legend "TO BE CONTINUED", "Ascension" does not; this episode is therefore an indirect follow-on rather than a direct sequel.
- This episode was originally inspired by Mulder actor David Duchovny challenging writers Glen Morgan and James Wong to write an episode that would be similar for Duchovny to what Season 1's "Beyond the Sea" had been for Scully actress Gillian Anderson.
- The original intent for this episode was that it would be based entirely upon Raising the Dead, a non-fiction book that Glen Morgan had read. The book was written by surgeon Richard Selzer and detailed dreams he had apparently experienced while being comatose for twenty-three days in 1991. According to the book, Selzer had also been declared dead during his coma, a fate that Skinner includes as part of his recollections to Mulder in this episode, before the writer underwent a period of recovery over three weeks. Morgan was fascinated by the book and had been wanting to plan an episode around it, ever since the beginning of 1994. He originally thought it would be a great opportunity for Duchovny, but the comatose character was changed to Scully after the series' production staff were forced to deal with actress Gillian Anderson's pregnancy.
- The writing duo of Morgan and Wong also intended to feature a side of the paranormal that they felt was very hopeful - the phenomena of angels, hope and peace - because the series, so far, had been, at least in Morgan's opinion, very dark and bleak. Morgan believed that the whole theme of the episode was summed up by Scully's sister, Melissa, when she says to Mulder, "Just because the belief is positive and good doesn't make it silly or trite."
- This episode is the first in the series to feature the idea of Dana Scully having a sister and the first in which that specific sibling appears. This episode is also the second of only two that feature an appearance by the sisters' father, William, and the only time - apart from a possible background appearance, in a single scene of "Beyond the Sea" - that the sisters' brother, Charles, appears. Similarly, William Scully was never named before this episode but the naming of his eldest son - Bill, Jr. - in this episode marks the first time that his name can be inferred. This is all consistent with the comparatively heavy use and introductions of the Scully family by Morgan and Wong, having previously written "Beyond the Sea", which not only includes the aforementioned first appearance of William Scully and the possible presence of his rarely seen son, Charles, but also the introduction of William's wife and his children's mother, Margaret, who also reappears in this episode.
- The role of Melissa Scully, Dana's sister, was written specifically for actress Melinda McGraw, who had previously worked on The Commish, a series created by Morgan and Wong.
- The character of Nurse Owens was named after Morgan's grandmother.
- The alias "The Thinker" was inspired by the Internet pseudonym "DuhThinker", used by Yung Jun Kim - a highly knowledgeable online fan of The X-Files.
- This episode also marks a development of the character "X", after frustrations had arisen regarding Steven Williams, the actor portraying this character. Even though Glen Morgan had initially complained that the character was too similar to "Deep Throat", he believed that Steven Williams was a good actor and that this allowed the writers to include the scene where X performs an execution. Morgan also came to define the two characters by realizing that, whereas Deep Throat had been willing to lose his own life for revealing the secret, X was still scared and his character was figuratively somewhere between Mulder and Deep Throat.
- Director Robert Goodwin initially instructed Morgan and Wong to minimize the scene in which the Cigarette Smoking Man is confronted by Mulder, due to Goodwin's assumption that actor William B. Davis would be able to do little more than appear, smoking a cigarette - the task that Davis had originally been hired to perform, for the pilot episode of The X-Files. Despite similar fears from other members of the production crew, Morgan argued that Davis, an acting teacher, was also a capable actor. Goodwin discussed the character of the Cigarette Smoking Man and his role in the episode with Davis, and the director was ultimately impressed by the actor's performance.
- This episode was originally planned to be produced immediately after "Ascension" but was not ready to be filmed when time for its production initially came and "3" was therefore produced first, as an extra episode, resulting in Season 2 ultimately having twenty-five episodes, rather than the twenty-four that was the standard quantity for each season.
- This was the first episode filmed after Gillian Anderson gave birth to her first child. The filming of her scenes from this episode began on 5 October 1994, ten days after the delivery of her daughter, Piper. "It was rough," she admitted. "I was on Tylenol and codeine." (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 3, p. 27) Anderson spent much of her time on the set lying on tables or beds in a hospital gown. Occasionally, she fell asleep between takes while filming these scenes. According to James Wong, the biggest problem in the creation of the episode was in postproduction, when the production crew, who unfortunately could do nothing about the problem, realized that signs of Anderson's recent pregnancy were highly noticeable.
- This episode was, according to Chris Carter in or before 1996, one of the most popular episodes of The X-Files. Although Carter thought that some people at Fox didn't like the episode, due to the fact that its paranormal content is minimal, the episode was received on the Internet as one of the series' best. Director Robert Goodwin noted that the episode was highly unusual for The X-Files because it was more about human emotions, drama and relationships than about the series' usual material. James Wong admired the episode, appreciating Duchovny's performance herein.
- For his work on the episode, Director of Photography John S. Bartley, was nominated for an Emmy award in the category of Cinematography for a Series.
- When Mulder signs his resignation his signature is clearly different than the one that can be seen in his ID in the opening.
- Mulder's return of Scully's crucifix necklace to her follows on from him finding it in "Ascension".
- Although he is merely referenced in this episode, "The Thinker" later appears in the Season 2 finale, "Anasazi".
- Similarly, even though this episode shows William Scully, Jr. in his boyhood only, an adult version of the character (played by Pat Skipper) subsequently appears in the Season 4 finale, "Gethsemane", before returning in Season 5's "Redux II" as well as the two-parter "Christmas Carol" and "Emily". Child versions of both him as well as his sister, Dana, reappear in "Christmas Carol".
- The Cigarette Smoking Man's address, 900 West Georgia, is the address of the Fairmont Hotel, Vancouver.
- In this episode, the "2" from the number "42" on Mulder's apartment door is shown as missing.
- The bible verse on Scully's tombstone is cited incorrectly. It actually comes from 1 John 5:6, not 5:7 as actually shown.
Cast and Characters
- Sheila Larken as Margaret Scully
- Melinda McGraw as Melissa Scully
- Mitch Pileggi as Assistant Director Walter Skinner
- Steven Williams as X
- William B. Davis as Cigarette Smoking Man
- Don Davis as Captain William Scully
- Bruce Harwood as John Fitzgerald Byers
- Dean Haglund as Richard Langly
- Tom Braidwood as Melvin Frohike
- Ryan Michael as Overcoat Man
- Tegan Moss as Young Dana Scully