I wrote this piece last summer (2008) as part of my plan to rewatch and review every episode. I only got as far as "Kingdom Come" before I was sidetracked by something, but this restrospective stands complete. I hope you enjoy.
One of the most maligned series of the '90s (of all time?) was Fox's Millennium, the second series by The X-Files creator Chris Carter. It never gained more than a smallish cult following nor the respect of critics and awards committees like the Emmys. In fact, it was frequently trashed for being dark, dour, impenetrable, etc., and nobody was keen to accept star Lance Henriksen's weathered mug as a TV hero the way they did dapper David Duchovny. Meanwhile, behind the scenes machinations caused the series to undergo at least two major personality shifts, which network execs hoped would bring in new fans, but likely succeeded in only driving existing ones away. However, despite its problems, Millennium represents the very best of scripted television and it's surprising how ahead of the curve it was. Television programs like Criminal Minds and Supernatural, and films The Da Vinci Code, Zodiac, Untraceable, Urban Legend, and Into the Wild likely owe a debt to Millennium because Fox's dark horse treaded that ground first. And, in my opinion, best.
Season One: In the pilot episode, a young man goes into a seedy strip joint and pays for a private viewing. As he watches the woman dance, he imagines her surrounded by flames, the walls dripping blood, and paraphrases Yeats: "I want to see you dance on the blood-dimmed tide." Later, a gay man is found buried alive in the woods with his mouth and eyes sewn shut and the stripper's head lying next to him a plastic bag. Yeah, it's that disturbing. A lot of Millennium's bad rep can be traced back to the pilot and the show's 'serial killer of the week' roots. No matter how far it strayed from these type of stories (and by the last episode, it was a good deal far) critics kept standalone outings like "Dead Letters," "Kingdom Come," "Wide Open," and "Weeds" (among others) at the forefront of their minds, not any of the supernatural or theological stuff that really drove the show. The premise of Millennium was that the uptick of crime could be traced to a kind of growing mania as we approached year two thousand. There was something in the water, and The Millennium Group, ex-FBI agents turned freelance consultants, are determined that this water doesn't reach its tipping point, i.e. some kind of apocalypse. Over the course of three seasons, the premise may have shifted, but the one constant remained our protagonist Frank Black, who loved his wife and loved his daughter, but had much difficulty keeping his demons at bay. Figurative ones and literal ones. Even as early as its second and fourth episodes, "Gehenna" and "The Judge," there were elements of the supernatural. In "The Judge," the titular character refers to himself as "Legion." One of many. The "character" returns in subsequent episodes in many guises, sometimes threatening Frank, sometimes tempting him. He/She/It promises Frank a peaceful life if he just sits this ballgame out. Sometimes it's tricky to separate the more grounded serial killer stories from the Legion appearances, because Millennium was very good at the subtle touch, but fans enjoyed pondering the question: Are the actions of so-and-so his own... or is he being pushed/manipulated by something external? Does Evil exist personified? Is it here? Can Frank Black stop it? The more grounded episodes aren't to be completely discounted. They provide psychological insights into sociopaths that recent crime dramas like to gloss over in favor of less interesting, though also less disturbing, avenues like forensics (CSI) and math (Numbers). "Blood Relatives" and "The Well-Worn Lock" are two examples that demonstrate the devastating repercussions of jealousy and control, murder and abuse. If only more television dared to be so real and discomforting and challenging.
Season Two: Chris Carter checked out completely in year two and brought onboard X-Files writers Glen Morgan & James Wong. Morgan & Wong were responsible for a lot of The X-Files's most famous standalone episodes ("Squeeze," "Ice," and "Beyond the Sea" are three from the first season that immediately spring to mind). The duo brought a new perspective to the struggling series (struggling ratings-wise, not creatively) and elevated Millennium to its highest point, but also made some questionable/controversial decisions at the start. For example, sabotaging the relationship between Frank and his wife Catherine. Catherine's anger at Frank over the resolution of The Polaroid Stalker storyline felt misdirected, and their separation odd, considering just a few episodes prior she was encouraging Frank to go back to work and not deny his nature. Later, the decision to split the pair would lead to some intriguing confrontations and gave Catherine a bit of purpose (she was always a bit of a cipher in the first season) but Morgan & Wong's first big move was something of a slap in the face to viewers who saw Frank's marriage as the one beacon of hope in the whole of the series. Also out of nowhere, the sudden influx of "humor." Suits thought Millennium wasn't funny enough, but was it ever supposed to be? I'll grant that Darin Morgan's spoof of Scientology (called Selfosophy) "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense" was hysterical, and to a lesser degree, his later offering "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me" but "Beware of the Dog" was tragically unfunny and the new supporting character Brian Roedecker was basically Millennium's version of Jar Jar Binks. What the second season did right was ditch rain drenched Seattle and the often provocative, but sometimes tedious, criminal investigations for more exciting theology-based stories. The focus became The Millennium Group. It morphed from a loose organization of criminal profilers to a secret society of doomsday prognosticators. The mummified hand of Saint Sebastian became a holy relic coveted by The Group, as well as a piece of the crucifixion cross, each thought to provide some kind of advantage to whichever side held them during the end of days. The new season involved prophets ("19:19"), angels ("Midnight of the Century"), immaculate conception ("In Arcadia Ego") and other elements familiar to Christianity. Of course, Legion makes return appearances, first as an evil young girl ("Monster") then seductive temptress ("Siren") and naturally Lucy Butler, the favorite form of Frank's antagonist ("A Room With No View"). There were many highlights in the sophomore season and Morgan & Wong penned the majority, so they deserve the most credit for breathing new and interesting life into Millennium despite their shaky start. M&W's tenure ended with the two-parter "The Fourth Horseman"/"The Time Is Now" which involved The Marbug Virus, a nasty disease that caused infected to bleed through their skin. (In one charming scene, at a Mother's Day family dinner.) We learn that The Millennium Group knew about the virus and made enough vaccines for Group members, but not their families, and that means tragedy for Frank Black.
Season Three: What do you do when your finale last season seemed to bring about the end of the world thanks to a virus of Stand-like proportions? Ignore it. Morgan & Wong departed. Chris Carter returned. Staff writer Chip Johannessen was promoted to executive producer, temporarily joined by newbie Michael Duggan. The three decided to move Frank from Seattle to Washington, D.C. and pretend that whole plague thing wasn't quite as bad as it seemed. Frank left The Millennium Group and rejoined the FBI. He was paired with a new partner, Emma Hollis, and butted heads with slimy agent Barry Baldwin and a dim bulbed bureau chief. Frank's purpose became set on exposing The Group as a dangerous cabal (a road that Morgan & Wong started the series down, it must be said) and saw conspiracies in every shadow. Detractors referred to this season as X-Files LITE, probably a bit unfairly. The Marbug Virus storyline resurfaced in "The Sound of Snow" and "Collateral Damage." "Skull and Bones" was an early episode involving an excavation of human remains that traced back to The Millennium Group's executions of dissident members. It tied nicely into the previous season's "The Hand of Saint Sebastian." Although The Group's latest incarnation (as antagonists) was judged unpopular, the producers often tied previous story elements to the show's new direction. Sometimes that didn't work. "Matryoshka" attempted to reconcile The Millennium Group's occult/religious history (dating at least as far back as 998 A.D.) with Hoover and the FBI (and the atomic experiments at Los Alamos) but the script underwent so many revisions as to render the episode mostly incomprehensible. "Bardo Thodol" tried to introduce Eastern philosophy (the title refers to the Tibetan Book of the Dead) and failed. Lucy Buttler returned yet again ("Antipas" and "Saturn Dreaming of Mercury") but subtly seemed to evaporate and Legion stories relied on silly horror clichés like gothic mansions, spooky dogs, and glass eyeballs that let sinister folk "remote view." Worse, a lot of the episodes simply stunk. They were not compelling either psychologically (season one) or philosophically (season two) but trite and ordinary. Probably the greatest sin of season three was ending the friendship/partnership between Frank and Peter Watts (the great Terry O'Quinn). Their relationship became irrevocably damaged by The Group's lies and half-truths, causing Frank turn self-destructively inward. Hard to watch, especially since his only ballast was Agent Hollis, a poor man's Dana Scully. Although there were still some standouts in season three, like the Emmy-worthy "Borrowed Time" that saw Frank pleading/screaming at God to save his daughter Jordan from an illness, much of the season was hit-and-miss. The series ended by returning to its origins with an unremarkable serial killer two-parter, but the very last scene is a touching moment between Frank and Jordan as they drove off into an uncertain, but hopeful future. Let's pray they found one.