Written by Howard Gordon
Directed by David Nutter
For the first third of the second season, with Mulder and Scully away from the X-Files, the series had been consistently better and more solid than it had been for Season 1. Now, however, with the X-Files reopened and our two heroes reunited (and in Scully's case, rapidly recovering from what seemed to be a near fatal illness) our heroes leave the conspiracy behind and return, unfortunately, to business as usual.
To give props to the team, they try to go back to a classic bit, and try to redo Ice. Unfortunately, Howard Gordon is not up to the challenge, though we must give him credit for not leaping back immediately to 'supernatural revenge' But the fact of the matter, going out to the mountains to search and rescue a team of scientists with rampaging spores isn't the same as being stuck in the frozen north with parasitic worms or even being stranded in the forest with bugs that eat you as soon as it gets dark. It's also not nearly as much fun, and this episode plays more like a bad run through of 'Ten Little Indians'.
Gordon seems to know that you need more than a 'silicon based life-form' snuffing people out to make an episode work, so he tries to make everybody tremble in fear in front of a brilliant vulcanolagist. Which brings us to the second big problem with the episode: Daniel Trepkos. From the opening footage, he is made to seem like some kind of mad genius worthy of worship--- and he just isn't. Some would be inclined to blame Bradley Whitford (a full five years before The West Wing would shoot him to superstardom) for not being able to do justice to the part or his being simply miscast, and yes, it is part of the problem that Whitford, at this stage of his career, was simply not up to the challenge. But the sad truth is, no actor could do much with the character that Gordon has written. All of this genius simply comes as pretentious, and the fact that he is revealed early in the episode as being bipolar just seems like another cliché. I find it very hard to believe that any scholar could be driven insane by learning that a silicon-based lifeform could exist, but then again, I'm not a genius.
There are elements that might be considered fresh--- it's certainly an interesting concept to have a lifeform that could exist as silicon based, but it doesn't really come across as much of a threat, and it certainly doesn't explain why this particular one has such different effect--- irritability and ferocity at first, and by the time it gets to Jesse, it's alert enough to use clever human tricks to try and infect Scully. But there's only so much that the effects team can do to make a fungus seem dangerous. (Maybe a few seasons later, when they had more of a budget. And without anything more menacing than the shadow we get in the volcano in the teaser, there's really nothing to explain the trick that gets Mulder and Scully here in the first place. The fact that Mulder and Scully find themselves in a month-long quarantine after this episode and that every aspect of the research is being impounded by the CDC just makes it seem evident which episodes Gordon is trying to rip off
It's not altogether bad. Aside from Whitford who seems to channel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, the rest of the guest cast is pretty good, which is a shame, because with the exception of Shawnee Smith, no one is given much to work with. The direction, as is the case with many Nutter helmed episodes, is tight. But there isn't really much any of them can do with this twisted concept.
Any episode that followed after One Breath would almost inevitably suffer in comparison. So, perhaps, Firewalker's scheduling may have made it seem weaker than it is. But it seems too flat and too simple (and coming after a mythology episode, that tells you something) and not interesting enough compared to what we've seen so far. We knew we were going to back to normal, except at this point, we had a new definition of what normal was.