"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."
REVIEW: Scully's return and all the developments that ensue should make this a great episode, but somehow, the idea that she would show up out of nowhere infects the script with a virulent case of things coming out nowhere, making it a little disjointed. Her miraculous recovery isn't a problem, of course, because it's the whole point. Not all paranormal concepts need to be about monsters and murder. A lot of it stems from people's need for hope, as exemplified by Scully's sister (see quote above) and the character of nurse Owens, an angel at Scully's death bed. The surreal scenes where Scully is insensate, in a boat, floating in a lake, and drifting towards the after-life, are a nice metaphor, and look beautiful, even though Scully lacks any agency. It's an unusual take. Normally, they'd have the character literally fighting fighting for their lives in a dreamscape. To show her in a catatonic state all the way through makes the audience wonder if she'll ever make it out alive, and that's a worthy goal.
But things do come out of nowhere. Scully has a psychic sister?! On the one hand, it would explain why she's so battle-hardened against belief in the supernatural by the time she's assigned to Mulder, but on the other, it's a heck of thing to spring on us this late in the game. Obviously an orphan from the original draft of the script, which was repurposed to serve Anderson's pregnancy leave. I'm not sure Melissa is that believable a character, and have to ask where her brothers were, especially since they're in the flashback to Dana's childhood (which provides a nice tie-in to the woodland mind scape and an origin for her medical vocation, by the way, and prefigures her compassion towards Spooky Mulder). Another strange bit: Mulder calls the Smoking Man "Cancerman" for the first time, and it really does come out of nowhere. Is that what the rumor-mongers call him? Is that his code name around the office? It's bizarre. (Bonus points for Skinner's duel with him though; the No Smoking sign a rejection that's followed by a quick smoke that thumbs its nose at Skinner's empty authority.) Even Frohike showing up to the hospital with flowers seems strange, or that the Lone Gunmen can talk about experimental genetics so expertly. I'm happy to have them there, but they contribute to the fractured narrative.
If Mulder can't save Scully, he must at least make sense of her death. He's desperate to do so. What we see in the "subplot" is Mulder unraveling completely. Scully completed him and he can't face losing her. Whether he's denying the existence of the supernatural (which isn't like him), screaming at Cancerman for answers, or crying in his apartment after he loses his chance to confront the people responsible for her abduction, Mulder's very self is frayed to the breaking point. It's powerful drama, and more emotional territory than the series usually goes into. Even the scene with X, which shows the mysterious character to be a lot more physical than one might imagine - and ruthless too! - has a visceral punch that adds to the audience's malaise. It's definitely an episode that scares you into thinking you'll lose not one character, but both. All the while, cracking wise with sharp dialog and doing its usual good job with cinematography.
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: If you want to reject the notion that Nurse Owens is an angel, be my guest, but then, what is she? An agent of the Conspiracy that, like X, thinks the overlords aren't in the right? Or could it all be part of the plan? Cancerman himself tells Mulder Scully was returned to him because he likes the two of them. Why return her if she's just going to die? Emotional closure? And what about the alien DNA grafted into her cells? Wouldn't it make some kind of sense if she'd been returned as a sleeper agent of some kind, those DNA strands awaiting activation? Then Cancerman would need her to be alive, and perhaps some treatment was administered when hospital staff wasn't looking. Mulder too close? Have a guy steal her blood and he'll be out of the way. Have X tell him his apartment will be invaded by enemy agents. Is that whole thing a smoke screen? Certainly goes hand in hand with my feeling that Deep Throat, and thus X, are working with Cancerman and merely manipulating Mulder. After all, Cancerman's the one who falsely accuses Mulder of killing that guy in the basement. It's like he knows all about X. Was it all staged? Trust no one.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - I have some problems with the structure, but One Breath nevertheless features a string of strong scenes. One more draft and it might have been perfect.