The X-Files: Tithonus

Case: Scully is sent to join a new partner investigating a crime scene photographer who has been turning up to dead bodies before the death is reported to the police.

Destination: New York City

"Death only looks for you once you seek its opposite."

This episode is a classic X-File in the sense that it does some of the series' staples very well. It's creepy and sad, shot in dark alleyways and echoing corridors. Our hero - in this case, Scully - has to confront obstreperous FBI employees who simply won't accept that their suspect is a 149-year-old man who can see those about to die but cannot save them (nor is he killing them - mostly). The central mystery is odd but conforms to its own logic and the whole thing has an air of tragedy in the way Fellig can see death coming but is helpless to prevent it. Incidentally, it includes Final Destination's famous bus death almost exactly, a year before Final Destination was released.

Like 'Elegy', it uses black and white effects on ghostly images - or, in this case, images of those about to die - to make them look washed out, spooky and not quite human. Also like 'Elegy', and to an extent like 'Leonard Betts', the episode offers a gut punch to the audience when Fellig sees that Scully will be Death's next victim, though of course, Scully being the hero, Fellig finally manages to look Death in the face and end his immortal existence, thus saving her.

My favourite thing about this episode is something I see in its subtext that perhaps no one else does, but let me know if you agree with me! We've seen a character who could see people's deaths before - unlike Fellig, Clyde Bruckman could see exactly how people were going to die without knowing when it would be (and was entirely mortal himself), but there is a similarity to both characters in their world weary morbidity, brought on by their situation (though Bruckman would never dream of murdering people in an attempt to catch Death).

In 'Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose', when Scully asked Bruckman how she was going to die, he told her "You don't". Chances are, he was joking, too much in love with her to want to tell her the truth, or perhaps even unable to see it himself. But this is The X-Files, after all - what if he wasn't joking? At this episode's climax, Scully is accidentally shot by her partner (this is what happens when you split up Scully and Mulder, who at least only shoot each other intentionally), and Fellig's camera is broken. Fellig tells Scully to close her eyes and not to look at Death. When he looks instead, does he merely draw Death's attention and end his situation? Or, does he take Scully's death onto himself? She makes an apparently remarkable recovery at the end of the episode. Was Bruckman right? Is Scully immortal now? I don't know, but I love the callback - and I love the subtlety of it, something you only really notice if you binge-watch the entire series (as I did while suffering from flu a few years ago!).

A thematically rich episode looking at the downside of immortality, the importance of facing death (literally) and exploring the idea of Fate, the only real downside to this episode is that Mulder and Scully are separated for most of it, and Mulder isn't in it very much. But their occasional phone conversations are fun and sweet enough to make up for that.

Other Thoughts

 - Tithonus, in Greek mythology, was a Trojan prince who was taken off by Eos/Aurora, goddess of Dawn. She asked Zeus to grant him immortality but forgot to specify eternal youth as well, so Tithonus lived on but continued to age. Eventually he ended up wrinkled and shrivelled, shrinking until he fitted into a basket.

 - 6 years working on the X-Files finally seems to have more or less worn down Scully's natural scepticism, as Kersh and Ritter are disappointed to discover.

Quotes

Mulder: How's your X-File coming?
Scully: Mulder it's not... (gives up) We haven't made much headway.

Mulder: Young man Ritter has been sending progress reports to Kersh. My computer may have inadvertently intercepted a few of those. He's got nice things to say about you, though. Mostly.

Mulder (to Ritter, once he knows Scully is going to live): You're a lucky man.

Final Analysis: Spooky, sad and thought-provoking. Four out of four depressed immortals.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

3 comments:

Mallena said...

Very good, an even darker "Clyde Bruckman". I've always thought living forever would get boring and depressing. The scene where Scully's partner shoots her is so well done. Love This one.

ChrisB said...

My favourite thing about this episode is something I see in its subtext that perhaps no one else does, but let me know if you agree with me! Wow! What a fantastic idea, one which never occurred to me until I read your review. Scully does seem to escape death's clutches often.

This episode is a great example of the X-Files writers taking an idea and running with it to a very dark place. The upside of immortality is expressed so beautifully by Scully. Yet, imagine living so long you forget your wife's name. Definitely food for thought.

Outstanding review, Juliette. I am going to keep watching for clues to Scully's mortality now.

Juliette said...

Thanks Chris! :) I have no idea if that's what they were going for, but I like the idea. I guess we'll have to see what happens in the new series to see if it still seems possible by the end of it!