Contributor: The Polaroid Stalker
Synopsis: The murder of a Group agent who had recovered a portion of the Crucifixion Cross leads to a bloody feud over apocalyptic beliefs that furthers the rift between the Millennium Group's rival factions, the secularist Owl group and the religious Rooster faction. After a confrontation with Watts, Frank threatens to leave the Group, while Lara Means falls victim to the infighting. Meanwhile, Catherine receives employment from a company called Aerotech, which Frank discovers may have Nazi ties.
The Stalker's Review: Hold tight, this is a long one...
After tension carefully developed over the course of the second season, many of the primary character conflicts finally come to a breaking point with "Owls." Frank Black, Peter Watts, and Lara Means are all forced to consider their places in the Group, and towards each other. In a sense, each one's beliefs are right, yet at the same time, they're dead wrong.
This episode seems to be what was predicted back in "The Hand of Saint Sebastian." There was a sense that there was to be a rift in the Group, or that there had already been one. But it was subtle, not really explosive. But now, with "Owls," it all comes crashing to shore.
The opening scene is fantastic, with a group of French Group agents recovering a fragment of the very Cross of Christ's Crucifixion in Damascus. One of the agents, a man named LeFur, takes the Cross and attempts to smuggle it into an airport, before being killed by a German assassin, Helmut Gunsche, who makes off with the Cross itself, using an electronic device to disable the security cameras.
Gunsche then phones an associate in South America, Rudolph Axmann, an elderly German who lives in a fortified house in the Paraguay lakeside. He wears a cuff link, on which is engraved an ancient Germanic rune.
The following scene between the members of the Roosters faction, Watts included, was also pretty good, because it explained the whole Owls / Roosters dichotomy. Peter embodies many of the differing attitudes and suspicions that have created the rift that is tearing Millennium apart. He doesn't want to suspect the Owls were responsible for murdering LeFur and suggests that they offer full Group membership to Frank and Lara, something the other Roosters don't want to do. Finally, one of the senior members at the meeting, Gordon Johnston, suggests they contact the one person who can bring Millennium back to its former strength--the Old Man.
But, try as he might, Watts can't help but get caught up in the Roosters' paranoia, even going so far as to suspect Frank of secretly working with the Owls and later expelling Lara from the Group when he discovers that she hadn't told him of her encounter with Johnston, who may have been an Owl posing as a Rooster and who is later murdered.
And yet his defense of the Group's secrecy to Frank comes off not as the ravings of a fanatic but as the carefully considered reasoning of someone who cares deeply about humanity's future. His characterization was one of the strongest aspects of the second season, as Morgan and Wong consistently portrayed him as someone with only the best of intentions who always has a good reason for what he does.
Back in "Luminary," Frank was becoming less willing to put up with the Group's secretive methods and growing closer to Catherine, and when he discovers that Peter Watts has entered his house of his own accord yet again, he's finally had it. Indeed, it seems that this explosion was long overdue. I've been waiting for Frank to explode all over Watts, to accuse him and the Millennium Group of orchestrating the abduction of Catherine by the Polaroid Stalker in "Paper Dove" and "The Beginning and the End," which led to Frank's estrangement from his family.
"Are you with them?" Peter challenges him, referring to the Owls, whom he discovers had hacked into Frank's modem, but Frank doesn't even seem interested in this. No, he's angry because he's found himself part of an organization that once claimed to be a criminal consulting firm, but which he has now learned dates back to early Christianity, which seems to have a wide-reaching agenda for the turn of the century, and which has lied to him when it suited their purpose. He demands to know the whole story about what the Group is up to and why, and he wants to know it now. When he still doesn't get a clear answer from Peter, he throws down the gauntlet and says he wants nothing more to do with him, or the Millennium Group.
Meanwhile, Catherine has gotten a job at a company called Aerotech, which is a reference to the sinister corporation in Morgan and Wong's previous series, "Space: Above and Beyond." Catherine's boss is Clear Knight, a pleasant woman who looks so obviously untrustworthy that I knew she was a bad guy to begin with. And it really got unnerving when Frank checked out her background, and finds nothing online anywhere about Aerotech...
"Owls" also boasts one of the more inventive plots of Season Two. We learn more about the Millennium Group's Christian origins in a nice scene where Peter reluctantly explains the circumstances of LeFur's death to Lara, and states that they must have the Cross on their side in the event of a showdown between good and evil at the millennium. This scene is very well written and acted -- Peter looks like he believes every word he says, though he knows it sounds crazy. Lara, on the other hand, is more skeptical and slightly sarcastic, but she both trusts and respects Peter enough to aid in the investigation of LeFur's death.
At the same time, the introduction of the Owls brings some necessary ambiguity to the Group's ideology: it's much more compelling if the Roosters might actually be wrong about how many "days remaining" there are than if they are blatantly right in what they believe and we're just waiting to see who comes out ahead when the time arrives. The Nazi tie-in is also interesting, as it helps to establish the breadth of the Group's sphere of influence, and shows their enemies taking advantage of the split to further weaken the Group by killing LeFur and stealing the Cross fragment. There's also a clever echo of Legion's past offers of "employment" to Frank in Clear Knight's admission that she has researched Catherine's background and her statement that at Aerotech, "they only want the kind of people that they want." Creepy.
But one of the best scenes in this episode was when Mr. Johnston is driving to the Capital, listening to "A Horse With No Name" by America on his radio, when suddenly, he is run off the road by Gunsche, who uses the transmitter device from earlier to knock out the workings of Johnston's car. He then attacks Johnston, revealing that Gunsche has the Germanic rune cuff link as well. He knocks Johnston unconscious and forces a hose down his throat, before setting him and the car ablaze. Perfect writing, perfect music. That song has always been one of my favorites, and now every time I hear it, I think of this scene.
In one scene, where Frank meets Clear Knight, the camera shows that Knight also has the German rune cuff links. So she was involved in Johnston's death, but we didn't need this shot. We already knew from watching that she was up to no good, but it looked to me like the crew of this episode were trying to say "She's evil!" to the viewer. But the rest of this episode is so good I don't care about this.
The final scene is also worth noting, with Frank realizing the Group is spying on him, so he confronts those who are surveilling his house, even going so far as to take out his gun. But, unbeknownst to our hero, one of the mysterious men has a gun at the ready...
To Be Continued... three little words that mean so much. When I saw the guy checking his gun in the car, I felt like screaming, "Look out, Frank!" But then, when the scene faded to black, I was shocked. Not because this episode had ended in the scene that would have been perilous for Frank, but because this episode had landed on such a climactic ending that I can only think of one episode that can top that (the ending of "Paper Dove"). I couldn't wait for the next episode.
Overall, "Owls" is a riveting episode, all around. The final scene has us on tenterhooks, just waiting for the follow-up episode, "Roosters." Bravo, Mr. Morgan and Mr. Wong!
My rating: SIX "Millennium Group's Believe-It-Or-Nots" out of five!
-- The Polaroid Stalker