Welcome back. This time around we’re rehashing “Chrysalis”, the concluding part of our season premiere, and it seems to have been reasonably well-received again, which is pleasing. Later I’ll give a little bit of a preview of this Friday’s new episode, “The Eye of the Needle”, and do some Q&A, but first the matter at hand..
As I said last week, making the premiere a two-part story allowed us to spread around some of the shopping-list items that needed covering, and specifically the second part took us to some of the things we’d been thinking about in terms of modern-day millennial thinking in much more detail. There’s always the risk that Part Twos never quite live up to the set up of Part One, and I don’t know if you could say that about “Chrysalis” or not. The story is just as it was developed by Tony Black and I way back, but because of his time commitments to other projects and such, I ended up writing most of the script for this one, although he still had a hand in it. My hope is that it remains consistent with “The Begotten” in spite of this.
I wanted to open “Chrysalis” with a voice-over montage that the show had done on occasion in the past, but it’s really more inspired by the more numerous instances in which this was done on The X-Files in such Part Twos as “One Son”, “Without”, and “Providence”. I liked this stylistic device, and felt it was a more effective way of bringing the audience back into the story and setting up its themes, rather than jumping straight in with a “Previously…” recap and charging ahead. In some ways, it's another case of something that would play better on film than it does on the page, but I hope readers are able to visualise the kind of montage images of disaster, war, famine, and of course 9/11 which you can’t help but mention given its significance to doomsday thinking. You might like to think of these as the four horsemen of the apocalypse – war, pestilence, famine and death – which is what I had in mind when I was choosing the montage images. Hopefully Frank’s monologue gets you thinking about this kind of stuff too before we resume the story proper.
This takes us back to where we left off with “The Begotten” – Peter Watts emerging from the shadows alive and well. Like I said last week, in many ways this is the biggest thing we’re asking the audience to accept and not think we’ve descended into trite fanfiction. I’d defend this from anyone who’d see it that way, as we’re not bringing him back from the dead really, we’re not re-writing history. The end of “Goodbye to All That” was very, very ambiguous, and we sure as hell never saw or were told that Peter Watts was dead. Indeed, there are many fans that never believed for a second that the body we saw at the end of Season 3 was his. The Virtual Fourth Season, which we are treating as “fanon” and are trying to respect in every way we can, intimated that Peter was in fact dead, but we still never saw a corpse. As a result, I don’t think it’s all that much of a stretch to bring him back, because he’s one of the greatest characters the show produced, and will be very useful and enjoyable to write for in Virtual Season Five.
The scene that opens Act One was actually written by Tony, from the Polaroid flash to the top of Page 9. I think he does a good job here of capturing the shock and disbelief that would come over Frank, and wisely resists trying to explain everything as quickly as possible. In cases like this, it’s always best to play the confusion and to hold back on too much exposition, otherwise it would just drag all the life and emotion out of the scene and would become about selling this idea to the audience, which is not what we’re wanting to do. So much more effective to hold stuff back, to keep the enigma going, and let Peter’s return play out across the episode rather than cram it into the first scene. Tony also chose to drop in the name “Ogmios”, which is a reference to VS4, but not something you really need to know anything about. More of a cool little extra for those who read our predecessor’s work, so you can either go back and revisit their episodes or ask Tony about it. Pretty much the only thing I added in here was the dolly-zoom, because it’s one of my favourite shots you can do, looks very cool, and really emphasises the impact of the news Frank has just received.
We then move on to the crime scene in the aftermath of Jordan’s abduction, which is a scene I enjoyed writing. I wanted to play it out with as little dialogue as possible, and tell it all visually. This gives us a chance to really focus on Frank’s internal facility, and let those images tell the story of what he sees and what it means. In some way, this is another X-Files nod back to “Ascention”, where Mulder does something similar in Scully’s apartment after she has been taken by Duane Barry. Again, you could say that this would come across better on film, because it’s so visual, but I still think it works on the page and gives us a change of rhythm for the constant dialogue, since Frank would naturally be very quiet and internal given what’s happened, and not really in the mood to talk.
The captivity scenes between Jordan and the Disciple that take us out of Act One and kick off Act Two are inevitably going to be evocative of the Season 2 episode “The Beginning and the End” amongst fans, when Catherine was in a similar situation at the mercy of the Polaroid Man. This was less an attempt to repeat that, but there’s only so much variation you can bring to a scenario where you’ve got a kidnapper and a captive victim. Maybe people felt they had seen this all before, substituting Jordan for Catherine, and I guess you can make that criticism, but I hope it still manages to create a frightening situation and give you an insight into some of the religious ideology at work.
Next we go back to the investigation with Locke briefing the troops, and in some cases these are the less-interesting scenes to write and to read. The danger is for it to become all exposition and plodding-investigation, putting the pieces together one by one, and that can be a necessary evil from time to time, so in this case I tried to break that up by going to a more emotional scene between Locke and Danner. This was also a chance to flesh out some of Brad’s backstory and his history with Frank, and also to re-affirm a certain antagonistic relationship with Danner as the police chief. It was good to keep her involved, as I think she’s a type of boss we haven’t really had on Millennium before, not least of which because she’s female, and that female presence is also something we had to make sure we had in the episode and indeed the season, given that our show leads of Frank and Brad are both male. Jordan gives us one female voice, and Miranda gives us another, but since she isn’t in this episode and since Jordan is shown in a distinctly intimidated position as a victim, it’s important to show the other side with Danner in a position of strength and authority.
That then takes us to one of my favourite scenes of the episode, Frank and Peter laying their emotions bare to one another. In some ways this could really risk turning off the audience, since it’s essentially five-and-a-half pages of dialogue between two men sitting in a room talking, but in this case I think it’s justified and even demanded given the weight of the situation and the amount of history between these two men. This was the chance for Peter to really tell his story, to explain how he’s alive and why he’s come back. That could again run the risk of becoming all exposition, so hopefully the emotional angle of his daughter’s murder – which now so closely parallel’s Frank’s situation – makes it stronger and more interesting. It’s also the point where we really make it clear about the message these killers are trying to get across, which is pretty much the message about the millennium in our present day which we are trying to get across. This is where it’s spelled out, if you like, the idea that a conceptual Armageddon got underway in 2001, with the events of 9/11 the first blade of grass, and that it’s in progress and building even as we speak.
When Act Three begins, we really shift into a different gear, and the story becomes less about ideology and character and more about tension and suspense. This comes in the form of the Disciple contacting Frank and forcing him to do his bidding because he has Jordan as his bargaining chip. In some ways this is more like 24 territory, which is no bad thing in my book, and sees Frank in a compromised position that he has to keep secret from those around him or risk losing his daughter. There is a natural tension that comes out of that, which is essentially the beat we’re playing all through Act Three as Frank engineers the escape of the Raincoat Man. This provided a few practical challenges in the writing, mostly in making sure that the cell-phone on speaker was a believable device in facilitating the manipulation, ensuring that the Disciple could hear everything Frank was doing. In some ways it’s a bit of a stretch, but it just about works.
Similarly, in engineering Frank’s escape with the Raincoat Man, we’re always treading a fine line between getting the characters where we need them to be and making the rest of the department look foolish. It’s tough to do, because we know for the sake of the story that Frank has to get away with the Raincoat Man, but it’s always going to be hard to believe that one man could do this. In this case it’s a little easier to accept because Frank is so experienced and respected, and that his trick in distracting the guard and pocketing the key might just work. Is it believable? Maybe, maybe not. I think it’s just one of those things you have to run with and move on.
Then we have Act Four which is really all about the exchange. Yes, you’ve seen this sort of thing before in a thousand other shows and movies, but then again it hasn’t really been done on Millennium before. Most of the time we just track down the killer and confront him at his location. I can’t recall any other episode of the show that had this kind of voluntary exchange. Also, we try to make it more interesting in that the prisoner, the Raincoat Man, doesn’t want to be exchanged. He thinks his Disciple should hang on to Jordan, and so that adds an extra little layer. Also, I hope his act of stopping mid-exchange and grabbing his fellow-exchangee, in this case Jordan, is something a bit unexpected. This was one of those cases where the character just spoke to me and told me what he was going to do. It was his belief that his own life was unimportant, and that Jordan was the one they needed, so it would just be the thing for him to do.
Having the SWAT team then appear from nowhere and bring the curtain down is also an attempt at the unexpected. In some ways, you could legitimately criticise this for being a convenient solution out of the blue, which is a fair thing to say, but I just didn’t want to go through the old motions of showing Peter, Locke and Danner tracing their phone calls and studying the map, blah blah blah. I didn’t see anything interesting in going through all that again, so I hope people can accept that all that happened off screen while our attention stays with the more interesting stuff between Frank and his prisoner. Besides, the real drama here comes with Frank holding the Disciple down the barrel of a gun. This is deliberately an echo of what happened in “The Beginning and the End”, when Frank executed the man who had kidnapped his wife. In that case, Frank chose the violent route of retribution, and he paid for it over the course of the season. I wanted the audience to genuinely question whether or not Frank was going to pull the trigger at this point, which is why we linger on it for a long time, and is why I wrote in some very specific camera angles that cut back and forth between Frank, the Disciple, and the gun. We know Frank has it in him, so I think readers can genuinely be undecided as to which way Frank is going to go, just as Frank himself is undecided until the very last moment.
This time, he doesn’t do it, because he’s learnt from his past and is in a new place. He also learns from this experience, which is what sets up the rest of the season in his willingness to help out Brad Locke in the future. It’s true what Frank realises at the end, that if he hadn’t have accepted Locke’s offer to join the investigation, the Disciple would still have come for Jordan only he would be in no position to make a prisoner exchange. This delivers the message that Frank needs to be willing to do his part, or he’ll suffer anyway, and that staying out of it isn’t the answer. This is played out back at the Quantico lecture theatre, which is where I knew we’d end up when writing “The Begotten”. It’s a good way of bookending the two-parter, and it’s a structural device I often like to use. It gives us that sense of symmetry, and it ties up this story on a reasonably happy note, while giving us our entry into the regular episodes that are going to follow.
Speaking of which, this Friday we have our first standalone episode called “The Eye of the Needle”. It’s a much more traditional Millennium tale that calls back to the style of the first season, which is what we’ve constantly been saying we want to do. It’s scary, it’s gruesome, and it’s got a message to it. It also taps into our fears about modern technology, in the sense that we have a severed head appear on an internet auction site. Dark enough for you? I like to think of it as a cross between “The Judge” from Season 1, and “The Mikado”, which was one of the most Season 1-like episodes from Season 2. Here we go with the print ad:
Finally, a bit of Q&A. Be sure to keep your questions rolling in, specific or general, they’re all good:
As a writer, what's the hardest part about scripting a Millennium episode? The tone? Making sure the characters stay true to form? Sustaining suspense? Story continuity?
All of the above, probably! I’d say the hardest part for me personally is dealing with the investigative parts, in the sense that I’m always trying to make sure it isn’t mechanical or plodding. There’s always things you need to have to get the characters from A to B, usually in finding clues and deducing motives, and sometimes it can be difficult to make sure that doesn’t seem contrived or boring. It should always flow organically, and never just seem like there’s a handy clue to get them to the next scene, but sometimes the story just needs to move ahead already, and negotiating the two is probably the part that always worries me most.
Will there be any characters returning from seasons 1-3, and if so, was it a conscious decision to bring them back for the fans or for servicing the story?
That’s a possibility. We’ve also been thinking about some of the original characters form VS4, but we’re probably not going to involving any of them. There is the chance of seeing some of the old faces from the real show, and right now there are one or two specific names on our minds, and whether they’ll recur or not and how much, but obviously I can’t reveal who they are. Doing so will inevitably be a treat for the fans, and it would be foolish to ignore that part of it, but they should always be servicing the story at the same time. If we do it, it’ll have to strike that balance, and also make sense of where they are as people after these seven years.
That about wraps it up, folks. As is fast become traditional, I’ll leave you with a sneak peak of dialogue from “The Eye of the Needle”. Thank you, and goodnight.
Servers were picking it up on other networks.
People were finding out a severed head was
being sold online. There was a disturbing amount
of bids coming in before eBid removed the lot.
Who would want such a thing?
The world we live in today, Brad, is one of intense
voyeurism. Nothing is sacrosanct, or private.
Not even death.