The X Files Revisited: 6.10 Tithonus

Scully get a new partner in Tithonus, a classic piece of The X Files that harks back to the style of the show’s early days…

The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. And then in 2016, it returned for six new episodes, a mix of mythology and case of the week stories that brought Mulder and Scully back the FBI. From the brilliant Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster to the frantic mythology cliff-hanger in My Struggle II, it was largely viewed as a success and there are hopes that season 10 is just the first of more. In the lead up to the revival, The Digital Fix reviewed the best and most significant episodes of the first 100 episodes in the season’s run, from the pilot episode all the way through to the 100th episode Unusual Suspects. Now we’re going to continue that run, picking key episodes from the second half of the show – and two movies – and the latest episode Tithonus sees a change in the show’s style after the previous light-hearted stories of season six…

Tithonus is one of those episodes that I didn’t originally consider including in my series rewatch of The X Files. But as I looked at various ‘best of lists’ it came quite high on the season six list and as the last episode before the next big mythology two-parter re-shook the premise of the series, I decided to give it another go. And I am glad it did; in a season largely filled with lighter comic stories Tithonus is a thing of bittersweet beauty and harks back to the earlier stories of the show in tone and narrative.

It’s an episode that sees one last chance of redemption for Scully – at least in Kersh and the rest of the FBI’s eyes – as she is partnered with a new agent, Peyton Ritter (Richard Ruccolo) to investigate the mysterious case of Alfred Fellig, a freelance photographer who has the uncanny knack of being the first person to photograph a crime scene – often before the police have even been called. Naturally, being The X Files, there is a more supernatural element to Fellig’s ability and Scully’s five years of experience working with Mulder has opened her eyes to the possibility of something abnormal at play. Seeing Scully being the ‘Mulder’ in her partnership with Ritter show’s just how far she has come as a character, an idea that would be developed further with the introduction of John Doggett in season eight.

The episode begins in true classic The X Files style as an worker delivering mail to various staff offices, pursued by a creepy observer (Fellig). She quickly makes her escape to a packed lift…and plunges to her death with everyone as as the cables snap. As the doors open and her bloody arm falls out, Fellig is there to take the photo. After Scully is assigned to the case with Ritter they interrogate Fellig on this and other earlier cases but Scully’s suspicions divide the agents and soon she is turning to Mulder back in DC to dig deeper into Fellig’s past.

It’s here that the episode gets really interesting; Ritter is quick to demand Fellig’s arrest after his blood is found a crime scene (his knack for capturing death putting him in clear sight of his next subject’s killer). But Scully finds a deeper connection with him. Geoffrey Lewis plays a very tragic, sympathetic character, an old man tired of life and his long quest to capture death. Scully learns that he is over a century old, a man that survived yellow fever that swept through New York and had his death stolen by a nurse during that period. Having encountered Death incarnate, every attempt to photograph the final moments of his subjects have been in pursuit of death to end his long and tired life.

There are definitely elements of classic The X Files episodes, particularly the influence of season one’s Squeeze in Fellig’s ability to see the impending victims in black and white and Mulder and Scully’s investigation his past, tracking identies spanning decades. But Fellig is the opposite of Eugene Victor Tooms in almost every way. Tooms killed to survive; Fellig just wants to die but both are cursed by unnatural long life.

There has long been a theory substantiated throughout the years that Scully is immortal and this episode certainly plays on that. Fellig sees Scully as an impending victim and is shot as Ritter rushes to arrest him. Scully gets caught in the crossfire but survives, while Fellig finally trades her death for his own. There is a great poetic imagery in his blood pouring from the smashed lens of his camera as he falls to his death. But it is less a tragic death and more a welcome end for Fellig.

The darkness, the atmosphere and the often grim nature of Tithonus harks back to the early era of The X Files and is in many ways the perfect palate cleanser before the upcoming mythology two-parter Two Fathers, One Son. While the light-hearted nature of episodes like Triangle and Dreamland have been a lot of fun to watch, Tithonus is a proper classic slice of the show and one of the suprising, if low-key highlights of season six.


Updated: Jun 23, 2016

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