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Frank's Facility - Understanding criminal profiler Frank Black's unique gift

Millennium's Frank Black.

Millennium's criminal profiler Frank Black displayed a finely tuned sense of awareness, intelligence and understanding when it came to what he referred to as his 'gift'. Often misinterpreted and misunderstood, Frank's insight when visiting a horrific crime scene was often easily confused by the show's viewers as a series of graphic, violent visions. Although Frank's gift would later be reformulated, it was not the original intention of series creator, executive producer Chris Carter that Frank be psychic.

We asked James Jordan (aka TIWWA's ZeusFaber), Co-Executive Producer of Millennium Virtual Season Five to explain the original intention behind Millennium Group criminal profiler Frank Black's gift, its on-screen visual representation and how it changed throughout later seasons of Chris Carter's Millennium.

 
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Lance Henriksen on Frank's Gift:

In a four page article by Paul Simpson and Ruth Thomas, published in SFX, Lance Henriksen talked a great deal about Millennium:

"I felt that Chris Carter wanting to do Millennium was so courageous. He was the only guy who could have got it done, and I was happy to be part of that. We went three years so I think it succeeded."

Lance had some criticism about the show: "You know what? They didn't use Frank's flashes right. It's like poetry: there are good poems and bad poems. A good poet uses less and less words, and the ones he uses are so specific, they're stunning. You can stop and feel it. With Frank Black, they started using those flashes, which should have been like poetry, to make up for, let's just say, a weak narrative. That bothered me."

 

Acknowledgement

Our eternal gratitude to James Jordan (aka TIWWA's ZeusFaber) for his kindness in authoring this article for Millennium - This is who we are.

 

Frank's Facility

by James 'ZeusFaber' Jordan

 

The techniques used to convey criminal profiler Frank Black's thought processes, as seen for the first time during the Millennium episode, Pilot.

© 1996/2004 Copyright Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Inc and its related entities. All Rights Reserved.

The character of Frank Black has a unique criminal profiling ability to see through the eyes of killers, referred to by creator Chris Carter as a “facility” but commonly called a “gift”.  Millennium illustrated this on screen using a combination of stylistic devices resulting in a tachistoscopic flashing effect.

However, Frank is not psychic, nor was ever meant to be.  Chris Carter envisioned the character as an experienced professional whose facility had evolved as a finely-honed combination of instinct and skill, something human from years of training and exposure to the darkest side of human nature as opposed to anything supernatural or paranormal.  The dialogue written by Carter in the pilot episode attempts to make this clear from the beginning:

FRANK: I see what the killer sees.
BLETCHER: What, like a psychic?
FRANK: No. I put myself in his head. I become the thing we fear the most.
BLETCHER: How?
FRANK: I become capability. I become the horror, what we know we can become only in our heart of darkness. It’s my gift. It’s my curse. That’s why I retired.

Indeed, much of Frank’s profiling skills were based on the Academy Group, a real group of profilers comprised largely of former FBI agents, just like Frank himself.  These individuals work in a very similar manner, combining experience with expert methodology to piece together things so well that it appears like magic or psychic ability to those who lack this same understanding.  Academy Group founder Roger L. Depue even notes that this can be like a form of perception, similar to the device used in Millennium intended as a means of communicating the mental process to the audience in a visual manner.  “Many times in a crime scene you can see the fantasy of the perpetrator,” he explains.  “Frank Black does this from time to time. He does it in a more dramatic way than we do it. He almost sees it, and you see these splashes and flashes of what he’s seeing. But we do something similar to that. We look at the crime scene and we see the behaviour, and we see the evidence of the fantasy.” 1

However, these images led to something of a misconception amongst critics, audiences and even writers, mistaking the visual metaphor for psychic ability.  Co-executive producer and writer Frank Spotnitz states: “I can see why people thought there was a psychic component to it… At least for me, and I think for Chris, we never wanted to cross the line into the supernatural with any of that. It was more about an exquisite sensitivity to the way some people think, to the monstrous way some people think.” 2

When writer-producer partnership Glen Morgan and James Wong took over as showrunners for the second season of Millennium, this outlook was changed somewhat.  Episodes began to openly talk about Frank’s gift in otherworldly terms, such as “A Single Blade of Grass” penned by new writers Erin Maher and Kay Reindl, working under instruction from Morgan and Wong.  Frank was shown to be seeing far more abstract and symbolic mental clues, and spoke of accessing a higher plane.

Of this change in approach, Glen Morgan stated: “What we were trying to do this year was to elevate Frank's visions to a dream-like state, so he would have to interpret what he's seeing. There would be more mystical, symbolic imagery that might give him more of a sense of what's going on.” 3

This was cemented further over the course of the second season, and was again foregrounded in another episode scripted by Maher and Reindl, “Midnight of the Century”, in which Frank’s gift is declared to be an inherited trait from his mother rather than a product of profiling skills and experience.  Maher asserts that “it's something that's passed from generation to generation.” 4

When Morgan and Wong left the show at the end of the second season and creative control passed over to new executive producers Chip Johannessen and Michael Duggan, such implications were scaled back again.  Despite these changing ideologies over the years, many amongst the cast and crew still hold firm to Chris Carter’s original vision, such as co-executive producer John Peter Kousakis, who states: “Frank Black was not a psychic. It’s a misconception on the audience’s part and a lot of the critics.” 5

“We never, ever, used the term, ‘Frank was psychic,’” explains Lance Henriksen.  “That came from the outside. I thought of him as anything but.” 6


Sources:

  1. Order in Chaos: The Making of Season One, Millennium: The Complete First Season, DVD, 20th Century Fox, 2004.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Paula Vitaris, “TV's Best Kept Secret Improves In Its Sophomore Season”, Cinefantastique Magazine, 1998.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Order in Chaos: The Making of Season One, Op Cit.
  6. Ibid.