TV's Best Kept Secret Improves In Its Sophomore Season
Paula Vitaris speaks to Morgan and Wong, Chip Johannessen, Erin Maher and Kay Reindl about Season 2 of Millennium.
Paula Vitaris speaks to Morgan and Wong, Chip Johannessen, Erin Maher and Kay Reindl about Season 2 of Millennium.
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Originally published in Cinefantastique Magazine - written by Paula Vitaris. Kindly supplied by Libby..
This is a crew interview with Glen Morgan.
The best kept secret on television last season was MILLENNIUM, which offered some of the year's most thoughtful, imaginative, and suspenseful story-telling. Unfortunately, the second season received virtually no build-up---quite a contrast to the campaign waged by the Fox Network for the debit in 1996; since the noticeable drop in ratings after the premiere, the network no longer exerted a major effort to promote the show. The losers were the television audience, both first and second seasons.
For the second season, creator Chris Carter turned the show over to others while working on the fifth season and feature film of THE X-FILES. Glen Morgan and James Wong, who had served as consulting producers during the first season, were tapped for the job. New writers joined the staff. Glen's brother Darin signed on and wrote and directed two episodes. Michael Perry, who had won an Emmy for an episode of NYPD BLUE co-written with Steve Gagahn, had been recruited by Chris Carter. Morgan and Wong also brought on board writing partners Erin Maher and Kay Reindl. Held over from the first season were Chip Johannessen and Robert Moresco.
Both critics and the audience had expressed the opinion that MILLENNIUM's first season was too grim, violent and monotonous, with the majority of the episodes devoted to serial killer plots and not enough time spent on Frank's inner life or the Millennium Group. The network wanted changes, and Morgan and Wong were happy to oblige. "There was too much gore in the first season, and it was for shock's sake," Morgan said. "There was no humor. Everybody wanted to know more about the Millennium Group. What was Frank's role with them? We needed to develop Frank. We had a good actress, Megan Gallagher, playing his wife, and what could we do with their relationship? Where can this go?"
Not everyone agreed with the changes, including some of the producing and writing staff who had been retained from the first season. "I think it was good to open the show up a little in terms of its tone," Johannessen said. "To my taste, some of the stuff became much more adolescent, and it changed the center of gravity a little bit--but it did open up the show."
Despite first year problems, Morgan and Wong believed MILLENNIUM possessed a number of strong elements. They had a strong leading man in Lance Henriksen as Frank Black. They were also intrigued by the symbolism of Frank's yellow house, his ideal home. "What really appealed to me was that Chris had said that he had made the show because of the Black's yellow house," Morgan noted. "this year was an opportunity to make a hero-myth of the story; take the house away from Frank, have him go through the dark forest, and get back to the yellow house."
At the beginning of the second season, Morgan and Wong sat down with Carter and explained their ideas. Carter told them to go ahead, and although they consulted with him during the season, he had very little input. Carter had been planning to write and direct an episode but eventually backed off due to his X-FILES responsibilities.
In the season opener, "The Beginning and the End," Morgan and Wong quickly resolved the kidnapping cliff-hanger from last season. Frank's stalker, the Polaroid Man (Doug Hutchison), was now holding Catherine captive and taunting Frank. By the end of the episode, Frank has located them and killed the Polaroid Man, precipitating a crisis in Catherine, who is afraid of the feelings of hatred and anger she senses both within herself and Frank. She asks him to move out so she can gain some perspective. In the second episode, "Beware of the Dog," Morgan and Wong introduced a character known as the Old Man (R.G. Armstrong, a long-time favorite of Morgan's) who acts as a spiritual guide for Frank and begins to expose him to the arcane knowledge of the Millennium Group.
The third episode, "Sense and Antisense," written by Chip Johannessen, was a government conspiracy about bio-terrorism that seemed more appropriate to THE X-FILES. "That didn't quite come off the way I'd hoped," Johannessen said. "That was one of those tortured things. To my mind, the rewrites got colossally worse, and part of that had to do with the fact that the first draft concerned a much more sensitive area--race--and Broadcast Standards had certain concerns."
The fourth episode, "Monster," about accusations of abuse at a day care center and the evil within one particular child, introduced a new recurring character, psychologist Lara Means, played by Morgan's wife Kristin Cloke (previously seen in Morgan and Wong's SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND). Lara, like Frank, is a candidate for the Millennium Group and, also like Frank, experiences visions. Unlike Frank, however, her visions, often of an angel, fill her with fear, and by season's end she suffers a complete mental collapse.
Morgan and Wong created Lara as a character who would both challenge and reflect Frank. "My biggest worry was that people would think we were trying to make them like Mulder and Scully," Morgan said. "We wanted somebody with an incredible gift to counter Frank. Right from the beginning, the idea was to have Lara see these visions and know what the Millennium Group was saying was true. Knowing that would drive her crazy because if the world is ending, what's the point of going on? Coupled with that, we had the Millennium Group saying, `We not only have the responsibility of knowing; we have the responsibility of doing something about it.' The knowledge overloads her, and she goes insane. By seeing that, Frank Black will have a person to compare and contrast himself to: `This is my potential fate.' And that took him back to the yellow house. Lara is a possibility of what Frank could be. If you're going through the forest, you could be eaten by a troll, or you could get out. Lara did not get out of her dark forest. When the Millennium Group says to Frank, `Do you want to become an initiated member? You're ready to move up a rank,' he can look at Lara and say, `I don't know.' And yet, he believes in what she sees and that what the Group is after is right. It's such an extraordinary responsibility."
Another new character was computer wizard Brian Roedecker, played by Allan Zinyk, who had been in Darin Morgan's X-FILES episode "Jose Chung's `From Outer Space.'" Roedecker was a sarcastic wisecracker created to serve as an occassional foil for the humorless Frank. Fans did not take kindly to Roedecker, who came across to them as a knock-off of THE X-FILES' Lone Gunmen and totally out of place on MILLENNIUM. "I was surprised by the rejection of Roedecker," Morgan admitted, adding that he wished the fans had given the character more time before pronouncing judgement. Roedecker remained a favorite with Morgan, however, and he and Wong were disappointed when Zinyk left the show to fulfill another acting commitment.
A major goal for the season was to give Frank's life the kind of narrative drive absent last season, and many of the episodes dealt with his on-going relationship with Catherine, his estranged father, and his friendship with colleague Peter Watts (Terry O'Quinn). Intertwined with all this was Frank's growing knowledge of the Millennium Group's true nature and the ethical situations their actions forced him to confront. These episodes made for some of the season's strongest story-telling, particularly the extraordinary "The Curse of Frank Black," a surreal, ghostly journey from uncertainty to renewed determination, played out on the silent, wind-blown streets of Frank's neighborhood on Halloween night.
Since Frank is often alone in this episode (which was influenced by the Japanese ghost move KWAIDAN), there is very little dialogue; much of the meaning is conveyed visually. "I didn't want to do any more dialogue," Morgan said. "Lance is so great with looks." The director was Ralph Hemecker, whom Morgan praised highly: "Ralph came up with some beautiful shots, and I really have to credit him with a lot of the episode's tone."
Frank's Halloween journey is as much through his memories as it is through the streets of his neighborhood. At one point, he recalls his Halloween encounter at age six with the neighborhood recluse, Mr. Crocell (OZ's Dean Winters). Crocell is a World War II vet suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but all Frank and his friends know is that he is a figure of fear to them. Crocell had killed himself, but now he appears as a ghost to challenge Frank to give up his fight against evil, because he can't beat the devil. "Frank's journey is similar to Lara's," Morgan commented. "That's where Frank could go, where he could quit and find a place for himself. He is at the brink--he goes back to his yellow house and throws eggs at it, like kids do at Halloween. He was on the brink of becoming Mr. Crocell. But he's got to go back and clean up the mess; otherwise he would just be giving up. What I liked is that it did seem like a slip-up in his quest."
The episodes by Erin Maher and Kay Reindl also highlighted Frank's development. Their first episode, "A Single Blade of Grass," sent Frank to New York City to investigate a death at a construction site that employed a Native American crew. The story included a ceremony where rattler venom induced hallucinations. At Morgan's behest, Reindl and Maher restored Frank's gift--his near-psychic abilities--which had vanished early in the season. "I felt last year those visions were a cheat," Morgan said. "The camera would go to a coffee cup and Frank would say, `The murderer used a coffee cup.' It drove me nuts. 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. I had wanted to strip away the gift for a long time and see if the show really played well without it. But we got back into that. The Old Man in `Beware of the Dog' was trying to tell Frank, `Your gift isn't gone; it's going to be different.'"
Maher and Reindl's next episode, "Midnight of the Century," examined Frank's relationship with his emotionally withdrawn father (Darren McGavin). The two writers had drawn the assignment of scripting "a scary Christmas episode." They rented every scary Christmas movie they could find, like SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. "We came up with the idea of doing `A Christmas Carol' with Frank," Reindl said. "The three ghosts would be serial killers of the past, present and future. We pitched our board, and after the first act, Glen said, `Did we talk about this at all?' And we said, `Well, not really, just generally.' He said, `Well, we have this scene in the Halloween episode.'" The scene Reindl and Maher had written was a flashback where a youthful Frank discovered his neighbor was a murderer. While not identical to the flashbacks in "The Curse of Frank Black," it was close enough that it was jettisoned. At that point, Morgan gave new instructions about the episode: while he didn't want a scene that close to "The Curse of Frank Black," he wanted the Christmas episode to be similar in that it would be a day in the life of Frank Black, rather than have Frank investigating a case. "It was Frank being guided along some kind of spiritual journey," said Maher. "Since it was a Christmas episode, we wanted to deal with Frank's family. It was a good opportunity to show some of his past with his father. Originally we had talked about Johnny Cash as Frank's dad, but then he got sick. And then of course we were very jazzed to get Darren McGavin. The Night Stalker as Frank's father! It was so perfect. We could not have asked for a better performance.
"We were thinking about Frank's visions, and we thought if one of his parents had visions, that would mean something, since his daughter Jordan has them," Maher added. "It's something that's passed from generation to generation. So we decided that his mother would have visions too, mainly because last year in `Sacrament,' the episode with Frank's brother, we got a very strong impression that Frank and his father weren't very close and that his father was very remote and very strict. We were wondering why that was. And Frank and his brother never talked about their mother. So we came up with the idea of Frank's mother dying when he was six years old, and he really didn't understand how deep his father's love was, so he blamed his father for letting her die alone. We also thought about the idea that Christmas is always supposed to be this perfect family holiday, but Frank's family has split up--he's without his wife and child. He really doesn't have a good relationship with his dad. It's sort of the Christmas that you end up with, rather than the Christmas that you really want." This time, Reindl noted, by reconciling with his father and enjoying with Catherine a Christmas pageant in which daughter Jordan appeared, Frank finally got the Christmas that he wanted.
Maher and Reindl also wrote the one episode this season, "Anamnesis," in which Frank did not appear. Instead, Catherine Black and Lara Means team up to investigate the strange behavior of a group of high school girls. One of the girls, Clare (Genele Templeton), claims to have seen Mary. Lara and Catherine both come to the case as psychologists, and in their discussions with the girls, eventually realize that the Mary of Clare's visions isn't the Virgin Mary but Mary Magdalene.
Maher and Reindl became thoroughly fascinated with Mary Magdalene while researching the early years of Christianity. "We thought, `Wow, she rocks,'" laughed Maher. They were surprised by what they learned, that Mary, although portrayed for nearly two centuries as a prostitute, was more likely a woman of good family and reputation. "She's the apostle to the apostles. She's the one who really understands what Christ is saying," Maher said. "She was pretty much weeded out of the Bible. Women can't be in any position of power, but when you look back at the history there were early Christian women who are priestesses. What happened to them? Why was that so threatening? We wanted to play with that a little bit."
The episode questioned the purity of Jesus, a divergent view of Christ that Maher and Reindl had also come upon in their research. Network Standards and Practices objected, and the two writers spent many hours on the phone trying to explain their position. "They suddenly realized what the episode was about, and they were horrified," Maher said, "because we're implying that since Jesus was Jewish and a rabbi, he probably was married and had children. Standards said, `You're implying that Jesus had sex!' And we're going `Yep!'"
The two writers enjoyed playing the rational Catherine off against the visionary Lara, who senses the breakdown that awaits her. "We got to do a little Mulder and Scully thing with them, because Lara is the spiritual one and Catherine is more scientific," Maher noted. "But in this episode you really see Catherine opening up a little bit more to the possibilities." Added Reindl, "She has a really great strength in this episode. I think that one of the things she learns is that although she's very protective of her family, she's not protecting out of fear but out of strength, and she can do that for Frank and Jordan. Nobody is going to mess with those two when she's around, and that's what we really wanted to bring out in this episode."
Another episode that traced Frank's growth as well as his relationship with the Millennium Group was "Luminary," written by Chip Johannessen. Frank defies Millennium Group orders and searches for a young man lost in the Alaskan wilderness who may have already died from exposure. "I wanted to write a story where Frank chose to stand up to the Millennium Group and do something he felt was personally important, based just on his instinct and his vision," Johannessen said. "Although the Millennium Group was clearly pleased with him in the end, it wasn't a task they set for him. And yet it was the right thing for him to do, and they were wise enough to see that. I wanted Frank to get out in the woods, having followed his inner voices, and have this moment where he realizes that the kid is dead and that he had been completely wrong to go on the search. It should be one of those moments in your life where you just feel lost. And then he'd realize the kid was still alive and that he was called there for a reason."
Although serial killer plots were downplayed this year, one of the season's best episodes, `The Mikado,' centers around a particularly baffling serial killer who calls himself Avatar. Writer Michael Perry based Avatar on the Zodiac serial killer who had plagued the San Francisco area in the 1970's. Like Zodiac, Avatar sends cryptic telegrams and coded messages to the police, wears an executioner's hood and robe and, also like Zodiac, is never caught. He comes to the attention of the police and the Millennium Group when he displays his victim on a camera hooked up to a website and slays her in full view of thousands of people. Before Avatar cuts the on-line connection, a teenage boy manages to print the frame, and brings it to the police.
"I wanted a crime that no police department would have jurisdiction over," Perry explained. "Who's going to go after it? Ordinarily, if there's a murder down the street, the city is going to take care of it. That's how our entire society has been built. With a murder that isn't tied to a physical place, this guy can go on forever, unless there's a Millennium Group. That was the sport of it. It also has the great beginning for a mystery. It's articulated by Frank, who says, `We don't know who the victim is; we don't know where the crime scene took place. We don't have any crime scene. We don't have any evidence except for a blurry print-out.' That's such a tantalizing beginning."
With the location of Avatar's set-up unknown, Frank is unable to connect physically with the evidence of the scene, a concept that Perry enjoyed. "Avatar cut Frank off from what he naturally does; this also has to do with the demonizing elements of the internet. It's both a character and a thematic element, because 4,000 people per hour are logging on, hoping to see this girl die. The dehumanizing aspects of mediated communication, the internet in this particular case, are a sub-theme, and it ties in to how Frank, being cut off from being in a real place, can't do what he normally does. That was a fun thing to play around with, and it works for both plot and character."
"The Mikado" also marked the last appearance of Roedecker, a character Perry had loved from the beginning. "Frank and his colleague Peter Watts are accustomed to dealing with the macabre, so as a viewer you think they're much cooler than you are. They don't have to flinch; they're tough guys. What I like about Roedecker in this episode is that he becomes an advocate for the audience. Roedecker is able to express the revulsion, the tears, that Frank has to constantly hold back. For the first time, Roedecker has a chance to see this is what Frank and Peter do all the time. It makes Frank seem grander because, if nobody in an episode reacts to the gruesome and macabre things that are around, they don't seem so terrifying."
MILLENIUM mythology--the development of Frank's relationship with the Millennium Group and the revelations about the group's mission--also took up a number of episodes, particularly "The Hand of Saint Sebastian," and two-parters "Owls" and "Roosters," and "The Fourth Horseman" and "The Time is Now."
In "The Hand of Saint Sebastian," Peter Watts calls upon Frank to help him on an unauthorized mission that brings them to Germany to retrieve the long-lost, recently recovered, mummified hand of St. Sebastian. They soon realize that someone is working against them, and the traitor turns out to be Millennium Group pathologist Cheryl Andrews (CCH Pounder). Wong, who wrote the script, wanted to write a Watts-driven episode, which would showcase O'Quinn and develop the Millennium Group. "I felt that by revealing that the Millennium Group had existed for centuries and setting the episode overseas, that would give the story greater scope and weight," Wong said. "I also thought it would be interesting to get Peter excited about something that was not sanctioned by the Group and to show that he will do something like that. Terry is such a great actor, and we thought he deserved something to do instead of just saying, `That's right, Frank...`You're right again, Frank.' I thought, `What's a great way to divide the Group?' I thought about doing a spy kind of show. I was doing research on the Knights Templar and the Masons, and it seems like all those groups had other groups who were against them and betrayed them. There was so much intrigue. I realized that this is how groups act, and I thought, why shouldn't the Millennium Group have the same thing?"
The two-parter "Owls" and "Roosters," revealed a new level of conflict among the Millennium Group, when an artifact believed to be a part of the True Cross is stolen. One faction, the Roosters, believes it was taken by another faction, the Owls, to weaken the Roosters. Morgan said that "Owls" and "Roosters" grew directly out of "The Hand of Saint Sebastian," an episode he had loved. "It's nice to be so influenced by something your partner did," he said. "I wanted to break the split we saw in that episode into a secular one. How can you make people believe that the end of the world is in sight? I tried to look to a scientific possibility. In the two-parter at the end of the season, I tried to tie those together with a plague. I started reading about germ warfare and thought, "Here are scientific events occurring in our world, and they're predicted theologically."
The season's two-part finale, "The Fourth Horseman" and "The Time Is Now," showed the outbreak of a plague which builds on the division within the Millennium Group and Frank's growing distrust. He is tempted by an offer to join a rival investigatory group called The Trust. Meanwhile, he and Peter investigate the outbreak of a deadly plague, while Lara, who has been initiated into the Millennium Group's secret knowledge, begins her final descent into madness. At the end, the Blacks have taken refuge in the remote cabin of Frank's late father, where a sick and probably dying Catherine sneaks off into the woods so that already inoculated Frank can use their one vial of plague vaccine on Jordan. The cabin, for Morgan, had become Frank's yellow house, where the Blacks are reunited, even if death soon takes Catherine away. "I didn't feel right leaving Frank without his yellow house. I think in life you sometimes search for a yellow house, but for Frank, it actually was that cabin."
Morgan and Wong wrote the season finale not knowing whether MILLENNIUM would be renewed. They pitched several endings to Carter, who made a surprising suggestion that they kill Catherine. Morgan and Wong were taken aback, but didn't object, especially when Carter said to leave her death ambiguous. After thinking how to make Catherine's death meaningful, Morgan discussed it with Megan Gallagher and described the scenario to her. "I told her the neat part will be that after Frank Black has done so much sacrificing for his family, ultimately it will be Catherine who makes the ultimate sacrifice. She liked that. So that had a big part in the decision to kill Catherine."
Like so many plot ideas, the plague as millennial doom emerged from the writers' research. "When I looked at the current research, I found the thing that was most likely to get us was some sort of plague or virus," Morgan said. "I didn't really pay much attention during the mad cow scare in England, but in reading about it I found it horrifying."
One of the most striking sequences of the two-parter is the third act depicting Lara's visions of the apocalypse and her breakdown. It was shot and cut much like a music video, accompanied by the Patti Smith song about heroin, "Horses," which had been a college favorite of Morgan's. He had always envisioned someone going crazy to it. "Editing was really difficult. Doing this was rather naive on my part," Morgan admitted. "Music videos probably have a budget close to what one of our entire episodes costs, and we had only three days to put it together. I don't think we competed very well with the kind of imagery you see on MTV. But I felt that this hasn't been done on a primetime, network drama. I'm glad we did it, but it was really, really hard."
With renewal confirmed last May by Fox, the responsibilities of running MILLENNIUM's third season have been given to Chip Johannessen and Michael Duggan (EARTH 2). Michael Perry, Erin Maher and Kay Reindl have remained on staff. Chris Carter also plans to be more involved than he was in the second season. Morgan and Wong have departed, satisfied with their work on the show. "I'm really proud of a lot of the episodes this season," Wong said. "The frustrating thing was that we didn't find a new audience. Some of the people who watched it the first season decided it wasn't for them and didn't come to watch it this season to see if they liked it better or see how it changed."
Originally published in Cinefantastique Magazine - written by Paula Vitaris. Kindly supplied by Libby..