What Millennium and Frank Black mean to me
Being asked to try to describe what Millennium and Frank Black mean to me is a tricky prospect. So often you hear people throw around sayings like 'it changed my life' etc, to the extent that we no longer pay much attention to such things.
And yet the dangers of not paying attention to those around us, is at the core of what Millennium was all about.
I therefore have no hesitation in saying that this show was a major event for me. Before it came along, I would look at what TV and movies had to offer, and was often left thinking 'These shows are fine, but they're not saying anything to me - this isn't the world I know, these aren't the issues that concern me'.
And then there was Millennium. Eschewing the gloss and the standard 'smart, slick and sexy' trappings of other ratings hungry shows, it attempted to mix entertainment with serious messages about the human condition and society.
People love Millennium for many reasons, but this is one of the key issues for me. Because finally, finally there was a show that was willing to engage in the difficult debates; that had the courage to say 'There are serious things going wrong with our society, there are serious things going wrong with us. How much longer can we keep ignoring the way things are?'
But of course, this was a lot to ask of a viewer. TV is so often about escapism, showing us only the things we want to see and hear about the world, or else presenting an idealised fantasy that is better, safer and warmer than the real thing.
If we were to consent to watch something nearer to the knuckle like this, we would need something or someone to help us take this medicine.
And that someone was... well, how long do you have?! A benevolently parental figure, a voice of authority and morality. a friend to share your worries with and a guide to help you through an often terrifying world...
The ultimate Father for Justice - Frank Black!
Rather than commanding the kind of superficial respect that comes from being the 'young screen hunk of the moment', Frank earned the attention and respect of the viewer through his sheer moral authority. And again, I don't throw the word 'earned' in lightly.
When he spoke, you knew straightaway that he was someone whose insights and comments were coming from a place that was completely free of pride and arrogance. That his knowledge had been hard won, by a lifetime spent exposing himself to the abysses of the human condition that we so studiously elect not to see.
Because whilst we see these things in the newspapers and on the television every day, whilst we may feel sickened momentarily, we then push it to one side. Because it's just too much to deal with the thought, that this is the kind of animal we are.
It's easier to just say 'There are some wicked people around... ' and turn the page, believing it has no real relevance to us. But Frank did not look away, because he believed that such things needed to be confronted, even if it might not lead to anything changing.
Someone had to care.
Our worst fears and anxieties about modern life, suddenly had a voice. And to our great surprise, we found that it actually felt good, felt refreshing to hear someone say these things aloud at last. Because he spoke with the kind of candid conviction that showed he truly understood the realities of being human, once you stripped away all the artifice.
He articulated the feelings of dread and uncertainty that come from knowing that the bonds of family and community were breaking down, that the idea that all children had the loving parents they deserved was just a myth, that people were falling through the cracks and that those cracks were fast becoming chasms.
And though this was dark stuff, it is to the show's great credit that it offers no easy answers. Where other shows would trivialise matters by imbuing their hero with spectacular powers and fighting skills, for a classic Good versus Evil pulpy experience, Millennium insisted on being real.
You could never 'kill' evil, nor somehow 'cure' the mindset of neglect and fear in society through force of arms or the arrest of some criminal mastermind. Sugar coating everything with schmaltzy happy endings would achieve nothing.
So what could one man do against this? That was the question Frank regularly had to grapple with. And for me, the simple answer is that he tried his best and did all that he could that felt right to him.
An early episode puts it nicely with a billboard that announces the need to 'Never stop Looking, Never stop Trying, Never stop Caring.'
It is extremely difficult to explain the feelings of relief and hope that Frank gave me. Through the power of Lance Henriksen's performances, we believe absolutely that Frank had seen it all - the terrible things we do to each other.
But even though he had had to understand why we did these things, and that we would probably always continue to do them, he found a way to keep on going, and to keep trying to help, however he could.
And help people he did. To me, Frank was a special kind of priest for our modern, faithless times, both performing 'exorcisms' on the evil amongst us, but at least as often, offering confession to tragically damaged souls.
Because the fact was that many, if not most of Frank's adversaries were as much victims, as they were villains. They were outcasts, rebelling at the unfairness of society or how nature or fate had damaged them.
And being something of an outcast himself, Frank knew what had driven them to these actions. But crucially, he believed that whilst they need to be stopped, they also wanted to be stopped. That they just wanted to know that someone of moral authority had understood their pain, and what they had to say about it.
Frank didn't approve of their actions of course, but neither did he condemn them. Because despite what they had done, they had legitimate grievances messages about the way life is, that someone needed to take notice of, to diagnose the complications developing in the human condition.
He gave them a chance to stop of their own accord, giving them at least one moment of dignity and letting them know he had heard and would remember what they said. That if he did the right thing by them, they would do the right thing also, because they knew that what they were doing was wrong.
And whilst not all heed his advice to stop, most are at least visibly affected by Frank. People wanted to agree with Frank, wanted Frank to give his approval to them and their actions. He didn't preach to people, or force his ideals on them, but would sometimes ask how people could possibly want their lives to be how they were, how surely they must want to show themselves if no-one else, that they were better than this.
For those who might think that the show apologised for evil however, it should be noted that Frank was certainly no pushover. If people tried to mess him around, lie to him or seemed to be gloating and revelling in their crimes, he would condemn them for their actions with devastating conviction.
This again was hugely refreshing, making a break from shows that glorify evil or anti-heroic acts (like those of the Millennium Group). Through Frank, we are able to make our protest at such portrayals heard, to say their behaviour doesn't impress us at all - that it's just pathetic and the only person they are fooling is themselves.
And the show certainly never pulled its punches or lied to us that there is always a happy ending. Frank was not invincible, evil can and did hurt him and those close to him terribly. He loses so much - his friends, his wife, even his very sanity at times.
He cannot and does not manage to save everyone, and some of the worst villains manage to evade him. Faced with all this, there is always the temptation to say 'Why do you bother - why don't you just give in?'
But he doesn't give in. By the end of the 3rd and final season, he is still offering help and a sympathetic ear to any who need it, and is even gradually coming to believe that things can get better, if we try, if we all just care a little more.
And the show's ending leaves us with a powerful symbol of how far Frank has come, as he attains a kind of closure with the man who almost cost him his sanity -Ed Cuffle. Cuffle represented the most loathsome aspects of humanity, a vicious killer who was gleefully happy with the crimes and suffering he had committed, and who was unrepentant to the end.
To see humanity in such a twisted and wilfully evil form, had driven Frank over the edge, causing him to doubt how you could ever feel safe, when anyone and everyone was potentially an Ed Cuffle.
And yet the show ends with Frank trying to save the life of a man who now basically has become Cuffle. It shows that the closure he needed was not the execution that he earlier witnessed, but to accept Cuffle as a part of humanity, as he has to so many others.
That whilst Cuffle and his capacity for the most appalling evil is part of us; there is so much more to us than just that alone. That whilst the capacity for evil is in us, so too is the capacity for goodness. And its up to all of us to help each other to see that.
And as any Millennium fan will tell you, for Frank to be able to take such a view after all he goes through and loses, engenders such a feeling of pride on the part of the viewer towards both Frank and humanity in general.
And so lastly, I pay tribute to the both the writers and of course to Lance Henriksen, whose unfailingly powerful portrayal of Frank Black was so refreshingly believable and real, that it allowed us to explore these most weighty of issues, free of the usual sentimental schmaltz.
In a show that hinges on the main character to help us believe things can be better and that evil times can be borne out, the power of the performances is undeniable. Few other characters can claim to so settle the soul of the person watching, with even the most offhand of comments on just about any subject.
When Lance spoke as Frank, the viewer really listened and most of the time, it was something you felt you could live your life by!
As viewers, we can ask nothing more of an actor, than that they bring conviction and passion to the screen, to let us know that it matters to them. Because then it will matter to us, and I know I speak for all of the show's fans, when I say to Lance, thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving so much to this role.
And if I have conveyed nothing else about how much this show meant to me, then believe that at least. It's easy to say such things, but quite another to really mean it. It's what you gave to us in Millennium and what we now give to you.
Because a world without Frank, would be a Black place indeed.