"You know, most people want to live forever."
REVIEW: Vince Gilligan's second photography-related mystery, Tithonus has a properly creepy guest character, Fellig, who may or may not be causing people's deaths as the episode opens, and takes on a certain measure of pathos when it's revealed he longs for death and takes pictures of it to catch the Reaper's attention. The morality of this behavior is called into question. Why doesn't he intervene or at least give emotional support to the dying, instead of hovering there like a vulture? Truth is, he envies the dying, and doesn't feel sorry for them. And there lies the key to his eventual release - something telegraphed in his secret origin, easily spotted - and Scully's salvation (see The Truth). When she's marked for death, it becomes a question of how she'll get out of it when all signs point to an inevitability. The difference between her "death" and the others we see is that Fellig takes a hand.
It's a good Scully episode, and though Mulder-light, it's not a bad one for him either. While Kersh proposes to save her career by giving her this case (which isn't an X-File until she realizes it is), he's declared a lost cause and is stuck on the phone doing background checks. But he's found some humor in the situation and actively uses his background check powers to help Scully on the up and up. Her new partner, meanwhile, is an ambitious moron called Ritter who I hope ruined his career by crashing in guns blazing and shooting a fellow agent. Kersh points him out as a promising agent, someone Scully should be more like, but his aggressive, not thoughtful, and wants results, even if they don't take the facts into account. Hang the corrupt a-hole out to dry.
A few words on Michael W. Watkins' direction which takes its cue from Fellig's age and the black and white effect that marks a person for death, to render a noir atmosphere throughout. The lighting, the music, the muted colors, all contribute to making the episode slick and oppressive.
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Has the universe been balanced again with the death of Fellig, or has his powers been transferred to Scully? The story allows for both possibilities, but Scully's miraculous recovery is still suspect. Think back to Clyde Buckman's Finale Repose when the eponymous psychic foresaw she would never die. At the time, a cute metatextual statement which could have been explained a number of ways (a flirty kindness, something beyond the scope of his powers); in light of this episode, could it have referred to Scully being turned into Captain Jack Harkness? As we know, she indeed DOESN'T die over the course of the series, and will be alive and well in the upcoming X-Files mini-series. Will be watching closely every time she gets wounded from this point on...
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A cool Scully solo outing that balances creepy atmosphere and humor just right, and brings one of the lead as close to death as they are permitted to get.