by Michelle Erica Green

The Perfect Shot Kills

"Tithonus" Plot Summary:

In New York City, a man with a camera follows a woman from an elevator through a corridor to another elevator, where all the people appear to be gray. He gets off on a floor before the woman's and runs down the stairs. Lights flicker and the elevator cable snaps. As the man reaches the basement, the cab crashes and its door spills open to reveal the woman's wrist, covered with blood. The man begins to snap photos.

In D.C., Mulder and Scully are working on background checks when A.D. Kersh calls Scully into his office. Agent Payton Ritter has come from New York with a report on a police photographer whose film reveals in several cases that he took photos of a death scene before summoned by the police, then returned afterwards to take official pictures. The photographer is Alfred Fellig, the man who took the photos at the elevator. Kersh tells Scully that because she has expertise in forensic pathology, he believes there is hope for her career' Mulder is a lost cause. While Mulder snoops in the material on Scully's desk and points out that the case looks like an X-file - and that Kersh is obviously splitting them up - the photographer follows another man in New York, whom he witnesses having a heart attack. As the man falls, still breathing, he looks gray like the people in the elevator. Fellig takes photos of his death.

Scully and Ritter discover that Fellig has worked as a police photographer since 1964, but are surprised to see that he has not aged at all in any of his official photos on his renewal applications. Elsewhere in the city, Fellig watches a criminal kill a youth for his sneakers. When he approaches to take photos of the dying young man, the murderer returns and repeatedly stabs Fellig, but he pulls the knife out of his back and walks away. Scully and Ritter learn of the crime and of the fact that Fellig's prints were on the knife, so he is brought in for questioning. Ritter demands to know how Fellig always seems to be around when people die, but Scully realizes that the man is in pain and asks whether he was wounded in the attack which Fellig says he merely observed. When she sees the wounds on his back and sends him to the hospital, Ritter angrily reminds her that they were looking to bust him, not exonerate him. Scully coolly replies that she thought they were looking for the truth.

Mulder calls Scully to tell her he has kept up with the case - he knows that Malcolm Wiggins is the name of the criminal who actually committed the stabbing - and asks whether she'll let him do a background check on Fellig. Ritter leaves Scully staking out Fellig's apartment, but Scully is unnerved when she sees Fellig shooting photos of her out his window and bangs on his door, demanding to know how he took photos at a crime scene before the police even knew the crime had been committed. He invites her to take a ride with him so he can show her. They drive all night while he looks for "the shot." Finally he sees a prostitute who appears to be gray to him. Fellig tells Scully that the woman will be dead very soon, though he doesn't know how she will die. A pimp approaches the woman and begins to harrass her. Scully leaps out of the car with her gun, announcing that she's a police officer and handcuffing the pimp, but when the prostitute tries to flee, she is hit by a truck. Fellig takes photos.

Ritter is angry that Scully left the stakeout and confronted Fellig; the young agent is determined to press murder charges. Scully asks if his methods include fudging evidence, and her angry new partner warns her that he will tell Kersh if she screws up the conviction. Then Mulder calls to tell Scully that as far as he can tell, Fellig is 149 years old; he previously worked under the names Henry Strand and L.H. Rice, but the fingerprints are identical. Scully admits to Mulder that the case looks like an X-file, and he advises her to get to Fellig before he becomes someone else.

Scully goes to warn Fellig that he is about to be charged for murder, which she isn't even sorry about because he profits off people's deaths. He scoffs at the notion that he should cry for them when he considers the dying to be lucky, and says, "I don't take those people. HE does." In his darkroom, Fellig shows Scully a photo of a dead woman with an odd fuzzy shape around her head, which the photographer claims is Death. When asked why he bothers to try to photograph Death, Fellig says that it's so he can look Death in the face...and die. He claims to be as old as Mulder said he was, and says he cannot kill himself. Scully tells Fellig that she doesn't believe him, but he says that he knows she does - that's why she's there.

When looking through a book of Fellig's old photographs, she sees the name "Lewis Brady" as the photographer. Withdrawing to another room, she calls D.C. and asks Mulder to check on the name. Overhearing, Fellig picks her pocket to steal her phone when she returns, continuing their conversation about how he can tell when people are going to die by how they appear to him. A while later, Mulder calls Ritter in search of Scully. Mulder says that Fellig is a murderer...though he murdered under the name Lewis Brady, killing two people in a Connecticut hospital to try to catch up with Death. Since Scully's phone is turned off, Mulder asks Ritter to find her; the other agent is already on the way to Fellig's.

Inside Fellig's darkroom, Scully points out that most people would like to live forever, but Fellig says that love doesn't last forever. When she asks about the science of his immortality, he says he was meant to die of yellow fever, but he refused to look Death in the face, so instead Death took the kind nurse who had taken care of him. Then he notices that Scully is gray, and says, "You're very lucky." Seeing the look on his face, Scully demands to know if he thinks she is about to die; when he turns on his camera, she demands that he turn it off, but he says Death is coming. A bright light suddenly shines into the darkroom. Fellig takes a photo just as Ritter enters and shoots. The bullet passes right through the camera and through Fellig into Scully, who collapses.

While Ritter rushes to call an ambulance, Fellig asks Scully whether she saw Death and begs her to close her eyes. He covers her hand with his own. The color returns to Scully's hand as Fellig's turns gray. Looking up, he dies. At the hospital, Mulder watches through a window as Ritter apologizes to Scully, then tells the other agent that he's a lucky man. Going inside the room, Mulder reports to Scully that Fellig died of a simple gunshot wound, while the doctors are amazed at her own rapid recovery. He says, "Death only looks for you unless you seek its opposite."


Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man--
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem'd
To his great heart none other than a God!
I ask'd thee, "Give me immortality."
Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
Like wealthy men who care not how they give.

First Clyde Bruckman tells Scully she's going to live forever, now she turns her head away from Death - is she going to gain immortality like Fellig, and like Tithonus after whom this episode is named? The quote above is from Tennyson's "Tithonus," the story of an immortal who wants desperately to die, though in his case it's because he loves an eternally young goddess while he is doomed to age. Fellig's fate is even sadder; he can't even remember the name of his wife. Love is not eternal in the X-Files world, though given Mulder's obsession with Samantha (supposedly to be resolved over the next two weeks), it may yet be stronger than death. I wish I could read Mulder's concern for Scully as something transcendent, but it appears to be born as much of envy that she alone has been chosen for an X-file as terror of losing her in any abstract sense. Or at least he leads us to believe that that's it. With Mulder, it's hard to tell sometimes.

At least he was not her salvation, and neither was Ritter (who was marvelously icky, I squirmed every time he called her "Dana" and cheered when she said, "Scully"). Considering how many episodes this season featured Mulder off pursuing a neat case while Scully was stuck in the office dealing with background checks, it was nice to see her sent out into the field while he languished back at the F.B.I. Interesting that Kersh considers her salvageable; interesting that Scully took the case with so little evident concern for what it might mean for her working relationship with Mulder. Nice that he responded by playing the faithful partner when he was supposed to be out of the loop - nice that she let him. This was a very strong 'shipper episode, I think. Mulder got what the case was really about before anyone else did, but in the end, what he discovered was irrelevant. This was Scully's story. Her instincts were for the most part dead-on - including her decision to trust Fellig, when everyone - including Mulder - saw him as a murderer.

I could gripe that so many Scully stories concern her death. She's been visited by the apparition of a dead girl suggesting Scully would die next ("Elegy"), warned by a cancer-eater that she had something he needed ("Leonard Betts"), featured in a photograph which predicted her murder ("Tithonus" had a little too much in common especially with "Unruhe," especially the Scully-in-danger motif). I like to see her solve mysteries where politics and medicine are on the line as well as her life (or her sister's, her daughter's, etc.). We're headed into a sweeps month arc which promises to resolve the mysteries of Cancer Man, Spender, the cabal, the faceless aliens, much of the mythology arc; let us hope that Scully does not revert to being Mulder's sidekick and he doesn't have to save her from any Antarctic prisons. Considering that the episode titles have to do with fathers and sons, though, I'm not counting on it.

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