Essay: Yom Kippur and The X-Files episode “One Breath”

One year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, I used the mid-day break to watch The X-Files. I randomly popped in the season two episode “One Breath” and realized that Mulder’s journey throughout this episode relates wonderfully to the journey many Jews take on this holiday. Now on Yom Kippur I always think of “One Breath” and Mulder’s process of letting go of his anger.

Before I continue, I should briefly explain the holiday. Yom Kippur comes after ten days of introspection that begin on the Jewish new year of Rosh Hashana. The task during these days is to look inside yourself and ask what sins you may have committed in the past year and then ask for forgiveness so that you can start the new year fresh.

Mulder begins “One Breath” in anger. When Scully arrives at the hospital unconscious after her abduction, he yells at the doctors, “How did she get here? Who did this to her?” He even goes so far as to threaten: “If you’re with them… Whatever it takes, I’ll find out what they did to her.”

Scully’s family reacts differently. Scully’s mother has already started the grieving process and her sister, Melissa, peacefully communicates with Scully using crystals. Mulder doesn’t understand. He has always been about action, and his immediate action is to find the people who hurt Scully in order to kill them. He sees this as justice.

Yom Kippur and the preceding days of introspection deal with mediating this anger to reach forgiveness. In Mulder’s journey, he will not fully find justice, or any peace of mind, until he can let go of his anger and forgive.

However, Mulder continues down his “dark path” of revenge. He has built up so much anger since the events of “Duane Barry” (and, of course, over his entire life), anger at the government and FBI, Cigarette Smoking Man and co., and, most important, anger at himself for what he believes is his role in Scully’s abduction and possible death.

Throughout the episode, Mulder receives advice. Melissa tells him not to be angry. Skinner urges him to acceptance: ‘Every life, every day, is in danger. That’s just life.” Even the Cigarette Smoking Man praises him for becoming a “player.”

Mulder doesn’t fully hear their words until he’s about to kill the men responsible for Scully’s abduction. His informant, X, has told him when they will enter Mulder’s apartment. He waits for them, mulling over the words of his friends and enemies and whether he should enact revenge or be with Scully when she’s at death’s door. He is able to make the right decision by comparing those who are driven by anger (X) and those who are not (The Scullys). He looks at himself in his dark, angry state and “hate[s] what [he’s] become,” realizing the futility of his action as he squats on the floor to cry, holding out his hands.

In choosing to be with Scully, Mulder finally understands that there can be action without anger. He is no longer a “player” but a human being free of sin. He has, in effect, gone through a spiritual cleansing much like Jews undergo on Yom Kippur. He is ready to start fresh.

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