#MLM-213 The Mikado
Frank Black and Peter Watts call in Millennium Group computer expert Brian Roedecker for assistance on a very serious case when they find a serial killer who broadcasts his gruesome crimes over the internet to a bevy of sick spectators. Is this the work of Avatar, a sadistic killer Frank’s tracked before, utilizing a brand new technological medium for his crimes?
Written by Michael Perry
Directed by Roderick Pridy
Edited by Chris Willingham, A.C.E.
Lance Henriksen as Frank Black
Megan Gallagher as Catherine Black
Allan Zinyk as Brian Roedecker
Greg Michaels as Captain Bachman
Gillian Carfra as The Web Girl
Patrick J. Phillips as Detective Brusky
Harrison R. Coe as S.F. Officer
Dawn Murphy as Special Agent Tully
Aaron Fry as Columbus Man
Jonathan Bruce as Haverford Man
Rachel Hayward as Angela
Justin Wong as Danny
Tony Sampson as Anthony
Micah Gardener as Brandon
Eileen Pedde as 'Pain' Victim
Rachel Griffin as Makeup Artist
Bobby Stewart as Sergeant Collier
Seasonal Episode Tagline
this is ... who we are ... the time is near
Please note that this is the original Fox synopsis and occasionally this may differ from the events that were actually filmed. Please also view the The Mikado episode transcript which has been painstakingly checked for accuracy against the actual episode.
Three teenagers cruising the Internet come upon a "live sex" web site, where a woman wearing a white bra is tied to a chair. Behind the woman is a wall, on which is painted a number, "37122." The teenagers watch as an electronic counter at the bottom of the screen records the number of "hits" the web site has received. As the count reaches "37122," a man wearing a black hood comes up behind the girl. As the teenagers watch, horrified, the man places a machete to the girl’s throat and kills her. One of the boys hits the "print" key on his computer, saving an image of the web site as proof of what transpired.
The Millennium Group receives reports from police departments across the United States, all having received complaints from people who witnessed the alleged murder as it played out on the Internet. Frank senses that the killing was not a hoax. Using his computer, Roedecker compares the victim’s picture (printed by the teenagers) to images posted on the National Missing Persons Registry. He and Frank determine that the victim was Rebecca Damsen, who used the Internet on a regular basis.
Roedecker accesses Damsen’s e-mail messages, narrowing the suspects to three primary correspondents. Using a special live video link-up, Frank watches from the Group’s computer room as law enforcement officials in three different cities travel to the suspects’ homes. In one of those cities, San Jose, Watts and a police officer force their way into the residence of Branson Heygood after determining no one is home. As Frank watches from a live video feed, he notices the painting of a cemetery hanging on the wall. He tells Watts and the officer that Damsen’s body is in that cemetery. Watts travels to the cemetery, where the dead girl, Damsen, and a boy’s severed head, is discovered inside a shed. Frank realizes that Heygood was not the killer, but a victim. Inside the shed are a series of numbers, which is determined to be another Internet address.
The address turns out to be another of the killer’s home pages. This time, however, the web site contains an empty chair. Roedecker attempts to trace the signal, but it turns out the killer has somehow made the origin untraceable. The killer, however, provides a clue in the form of a number painted on the wall behind the chair: 696314. Frank realizes the number is an F.B.I. case file on a serial killer known as Avatar, who was last heard from twelve years earlier. Shortly thereafter, the killer releases another clue, this one a multi-charactered cipher, which is transmitted twice. He also places his next victim, another woman, on the web site, but is careful not to show her face, preventing identification.
Roedecker realizes there is a slight discrepancy between the two ciphers sent by the killer. The difference turns out to be a sound file embedded in the message: "The Mikado," Avatar’s favorite operetta. Frank responds by posting his own cipher—a quote from Henry James, minus the last word—on a news group monitored by the killer. Avatar responds by burning the word "pain" into his victim’s forehead... thus completing a misquote contained in one of Avatar’s ciphers from years earlier.
Frank realizes that another of the killer’s numerical clues is the latitude and longitude for San Francisco. The Group, however, receives no help from skeptical San Francisco Police Captain Bachman, who believes that the killer is not Avatar.
As the web site’s counter edges upward, Frank realizes time is running out. Suddenly, he is inspired with an idea. The Group recreates a replica of the web page’s setting, right down to replacing the victim with an identically dressed woman. This keeps the counter number on the killer’s site from increasing. Shortly thereafter, the hooded figure apparently murders the girl on the "Avatar" web site... and sends another cipher.
This time, the hidden message turns out to be two web site addresses. The first is a home page containing another empty chair. The second shows the exterior door of a mobile home. Eventually, police are able to locate the trailer. As an officer opens the door to the dwelling, he trips a booby trap and is killed by a shotgun blast. Meanwhile, Frank travels to San Francisco and, acting on a hunch, winds up at an abandoned theater where a poster for "The Mikado" is displayed in the lobby. Suddenly, shot guns blasts ring out, and Frank dives for cover. Frank chases Avatar, whose face is hidden by the hood, into the shadows. He finds Avatar standing in a dim hallway, arm extended, gun in hand. But Frank notices something isn’t quite right. Frank pulls off the hood and sees the kidnapped girl, with "pain" etched into her forehead. Frank realizes it was all part of a plot to trick him into shooting the girl. He also realizes that Avatar has disappeared.
Background Information and References
Although serial killer plots were downplayed this year (1998), 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."
Source: "TV's Best Kept Secret Improves In Its Sophomore Season" - Cinefantastique Magazine (1998).
Michael R. Perry reveals the inspiration for this episode by explaining, "I got the idea for 'The Mikado' by hearing about Jennicam, the first girl to put herself on netcam 24/7 in the spring of '97. Now there are thousands." It is thanks to the writer's insistence, in fact, that the webcam transmissions seen throughout the episode are presented in a realistic manner rather than in realtime, a common inaccuracy in television representations.
Avatar, one of Millennium's most terrifying and memorable villains, is nearly identical in all respects to the Zodiac Killer, the infamous slayer who claimed responsibility for seventeen murders in San Francisco and northern California between 1966 and 1974. In the first draft of Michael R. Perry's script, in fact, Avatar was the real life Zodiac Killer. Like Avatar, the Zodiac Killer was never caught.
Clearly, since Frank Black is not stalking Zodiac in "The Mikado," Avatar underwent a number of name changes during the writing process. Network executives, despite Perry's wishes, insisted that the character could not be identified as a real world serial killer. Co-Executive Producer Ken Horton fought with the network in an effort to maintain the blurring between fiction and reality that Perry had intended but, ultimately, the network demands were met. Zodiac thus became Omega, adopting a new, fictional moniker. Lance Henriksen's endorsement agreement with the Omega watch corporation, however, made this name equally unsuitable for the production. Ultimately, the show's staff decided that the character would be known as Avatar.
Credit: Brian Dixon, The Millennial Abyss
During the scene where the small web camera falls off the top of the monitor and Frank leans down and picks it up, Roedecker can be seen playing with the Digipet or Cyberpet that Frank gave him for Christmas in Midnight of the Century.
Credit: Daniel Graham 26th July 2007
Original Fox Promotional Episode Stills
View the 4 available original 1996 Fox Millennium Episode Guide images for this episode of Millennium here.
(Comprised of 4 murders + 0 kills in self defence + 0 justifiable homicides + 0 suicides.)
NB. Where applicable, large groups of victims (such as multiple victims in a plane crash) are represented by a count of group count of 1 due to impracticalities with listing so many unidentified persons. For enhanced details, see the Violence Markers below.
- Avatar was responsible for the attempted murder of Frank Black during this episode of Millennium (The Mikado).
- Avatar was responsible for the attempted murder of Second Pain Victim during this episode of Millennium (The Mikado).
- Avatar was responsible for the murder of Rebecca Damsen during this episode of Millennium (The Mikado).
- Avatar was responsible for the murder of Brandon Heygood III during this episode of Millennium (The Mikado).
- Avatar was responsible for the murder of unnamed person in mobile home during this episode of Millennium (The Mikado).
- Avatar was responsible for the murder of First "Pain" girl during this episode of Millennium (The Mikado).
(View Millennium's Violence - Deaths, Killers, Victims and Criminality Analysis)