Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The X-Files S2:E8 "One Breath"

[ S2:E7 "3" <<< Season 2 >>> S2:E9 "Firewalker" ]

Spoiler Warning: Yeah, this review is pretty much one huge spoiler.

Duane Barry was a good episode. Ascension was a great episode. Incredibly, One Breath is even better. Not purely in the "advancing the show's mythology" sense like Ascension was (although there are some all-time great scenes involving the conspiracy), but also in a more emotionally satisfying way. I said last episode that Mulder was at a low-point, but this is where he reaches rock-bottom. Scully's sudden and unexplained reappearance doesn't offer much relief, as she is comatose and on the brink of death, with instructions in her will to pull the plug. It doesn't look like there's anything anyone can do to save her. This episode is about Scully's journey between life and death, but it's also about Mulder's journey, and his ability to overcome his anger, and choose to be with Scully - to communicate his feelings to her - instead of seeking revenge.

Perhaps it would be enough to say that this was one of the episodes that made the biggest impression on me during my original viewing of the series, but to go even further, this is the only episode that I made a point to buy on tape (yes, VHS - this is the late nineties we're talking about here). And considering that this is another "Scully's journey" episode (in spite of her spending most of the episode unconscious) - like one of my favorite episodes from the first season, Beyond The Sea - it makes me feel all the more stupid about what I said previously about the Scully episodes. Beyond the emotional weight that this episode carries, I think I've always responded to the metaphysical elements as well - the symbolism of Scully being tied to the shore in a boat on a foggy river, contemplating whether to return to life, or pass on. Very weighty stuff. In truth, I'm neither a religious nor a superstitious person, but I think that one's journey into the realm beyond consciousness - especially into death - makes for some great fantasy fodder.

I wonder how much audiences knew when these episodes first ran. Did they think that Gillian Anderson was leaving the show for good? How public was her pregnancy? Yet her name remained in the credits even in the last episode, after she disappeared off the show. Curiously, I don't remember much of my own reaction the first time I watched these episodes, except that I think I was a little bit surprised that Scully came back so soon (after only one episode being away). I probably never thought that she'd be going away for good, since four seasons of the show had already run by the time I started watching the series, and I probably had some idea of how integral Scully was to the show, and that wouldn't have made sense if she'd dropped off early in the second season. Regardless, the show did plant enough hints that she'd be returning (although, as always with this show, you can never be sure), and, again, she was only gone for a single episode - so that doesn't give much time for speculation.

I have to tell you, I'm sure I'm biased by the fact that I owned this episode on tape, and thus probably watched it more times than any other, but it plays like a greatest hits reel of some of my favorite moments from the series. Mulder has his most memorable confrontation with X (after using the x-on-the-window trick to no avail), that avidly demonstrates the latter's intensity. I feel like he's the Malcolm X to Deep Throat's Martin Luther King, Jr. We're introduced to Scully's sister, Melissa (Melinda McGraw) - I find it interesting that there's some rivalry between her and Mulder, being that Mulder is such a believer, and yet he doesn't seem to go for Melissa's new-agey beliefs. The Lone Gunmen make another appearance - and we learn about "The Thinker", a hacking genius who will factor in a small but very important way into a key episode to come.

And then there's Mulder's attempted resignation, which is aborted by a rousing speech by Skinner - who also puts up a "Thank You For Not Smoking" sign in his office in this episode! But perhaps most notable of all is the unforgettable scene in which Mulder confronts the Smoking Man (who is referred to in this episode as the "Cancer Man", although he's been consistently listed in the credits as the Smoking Man, which I've always preferred, albeit in its lengthened form - the Cigarette Smoking Man, or CSM). This is the first time we see the Smoking Man off duty, and the first scene that humanizes him. Also, I find his explanations - that he likes Mulder (in a frenemy sort of way, I'm sure), and how he describes the conspiracy as a "game" - much more satisfying than the excuse he gave to Krycek in Ascension as to why he doesn't just kill Mulder. (Although, the best explanation, in my opinion, is yet to come - yes, I'm referencing the huge fourth season finale revelation again).

All in all, this is a fantastic episode, and if not the absolute best in the series (I'm gonna withhold judgment at least until I rewatch them all), it's definitely in the running.

Memorable quotes:

X: You're my tool, you understand? I come to you when I need you.

Mulder: What the hell are you talking about?
X: You're not supposed to know - that's the point.

Mulder: She's here because of unnatural circumstances.
Melissa: She's dying - that's perfectly natural. We hide people in these rooms because we don't wanna look at death. We have machines prolong a life that should...that should end. That's a much more unnatural circumstance than any cause for death.
Mulder: That's very politically correct.
Melissa: That's very human.

Mulder: How does it feel? Constant denial of everything. Questions answered with a question.

Skinner: We're not the mafia, Agent Mulder. I know it's easy to forget, but we work for the Department of Justice.
Mulder: And that's what I want!

Skinner: We all know the field we play on and we all know what can happen in the course of a game. If you are unprepared for all the potentials then you shouldn't step on the field.

Mr. Scully: To me, life went at a proper pace, with many rewards. Until the moment that I knew, I understood, 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.

Smoking Man: Don't try and threaten me, Mulder, I've watched presidents die.

(A curious comment, and one that may have inspired a future episode that lays out the Smoking Man's alleged background).

Smoking Man: I'm in the game because I believe what I'm doing is right.
Mulder: Right? Who are you to decide what's right?
Smoking Man: Who are you? If people were to know of the things that I know, it would all fall apart.

Smoking Man: I have more respect for you, Mulder. You're becoming a player. You can kill me now, but you'll never know the truth. And that's why I'll win.

Skinner: Your resignation is unacceptable.

Mulder: You put your life in danger.
Skinner: Agent Mulder, every life, every day, is in danger. That's just life.

X: They will be armed and you will be waiting.
Mulder: Waiting?
X: To defend yourself - with terminal intensity. It's the only way, Mulder. The law will not punish these people.

Melissa: Why is it so dark in here?
Mulder: Because the lights aren't on.

Melissa: I don't have to be psychic to see that you're in a very dark place.

Mulder (to Scully): You've always had the strength of your beliefs.

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

(This is pretty much as close to a confession of love between these two as we can expect to get :p).

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