Jump to content

Millennium Retrospective


matta2k

Recommended Posts

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.

  • Like 1

Twitter: @sheriffbullock

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Elders (Admins)

Thanks for sharing this retrospective Matt, much appreciated!

  • Thank you for not contributing to the spread of fake or inaccurate content, speculation or false information especially in relation to current worldwide health events.
  • Need help? For technical related issues, please use our Support Forum.
  • To report spam or inappropriate content, please use the Report option which flags all community Elders and autohides the content if multiple reports are received before site staff can respond directly.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest RodimusBen

I think your insights about season 1 and critics' response to it was right on. By the time the show had started to incorporate supernatural elements (in Lamentation and PPTD), most of America had already made up their mind that Millennium was a humorless SKOTW show. In the public eye, it was never given time to develop.

Naturally I have to take issue with your assessment of season 3. Pound for pound, I think it holds up to the other two seasons just fine, even though it got off to a rough start. And you say it was unfair that people called MM S3 "X-Files Lite," then go on to call Emma Hollis "a poor man's Dana Scully." THAT description would have been fit by the type of casting the originally had in mind-- pairing Frank with a bleach-blond stereotype. I would encourage you to listen to the BTFB interview with Klea Scott and then reconsider whether we didn't have something special with Emma.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Matt,

Many thanks for sharing this and it is an enjoyable read. Whilst I agree with you for the most part I have never understood the ire that was once directed towards Roedecker. I appreciate the inevitable Gunmen-lite assertions but I still find him highly enjoyable and I know I am in a minority here when I say that I found Bardo Thodol to be one of the better episodes of season three. I've yet to come across anyone who enjoys it to the degree I do. Whilst the episode is set against a backdrop of Eastern Mysticism that is not what is at the heart of the story and to judge it on those terms will find it lacking. It is, essentially, an alchemical tale and in those terms it succeeds rather well.

Whether season three is great or grim depends on the individual but I still maintain that to ignore the Marburg pandemic and attempt to explain it in the manner they did was the biggest failing. To assert, as they do, that they were written in to a corner that it was almost impossible to navigate from I find hard to accept. To say the only options open to them were to decimate the whole world or just ignore the pandemic altogether seems lacking in creativity a little. I can think of numerous other options, off the top of my head, that could have been explored and the whole 'we wrote it but we were made to write it because of other writers' thang never sat well with me. Other than that gripe, a great season overall. Still better than most television being served up before or since.

Eth

josew.gif

style5,Little-spc-Roedecker.png

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just watched Bardo Thodol last night and I have to say, it really is a very intense and great episode. Each time I see it I like it more. Seeing the mabius at work, his determination, and especially his frustration trying to get into the Buddhist temple was great.

I especially enjoyed all that the monk said, especially at the end.

MONK: [VO] We see what our karma allows us to see.

[The hands in the ice.]

MONK: [VO] The beauty of this world, and the terrors. Both illusions of our own making. The peaceful deities and wrathful. Mere projections, not real.

[Computer screen with strange letters, spelling out 'Frank Black'.]

MONK: [VO] Even this form we take is an expression of our own minds.

[screen now shows words: '5) Don't change the ideals, change the people.']

[A dark room. A hand places a chipped red bowl into a display cabinet crammed with other objects. The glass door is closed and locked.]

[Day. A snow–covered hillside. A body wrapped in white cloth has been placed in a sitting position inside a frame covered with yellow and red cloth. Rice is being thrown into the structure.]

MONK: Do not cling to the illusions of this world. Leave them behind. And find truth to take their place.

[The structure stands on a pile of logs. Several monks stand around the structure – a funeral pyre.]

MONK: Understand – and you are liberated.

  • Like 1

DarleneSignaturePic1.jpg

"Time is too slow for those who wait; too swift for those who fear;

too long for  those who grieve; too short for those who rejoice.

But for those who love, time is eternity."

(Jane Fellowes)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest byron lomax

Great retrospective. I agree that season three is the weakest, partly because it is at times derviative of the X-Files; I also agree with your point on most of the S3 Legion epiosdes - too overtly supernatural compared to the clever ambiguity of Legion stories from the previous series. Still, the season developed its own strengths, and most episodes are worth watching.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest RodimusBen

Television seasons have to be constantly upping the ante to stay interesting to me. I can safely say I would not be a big fan of Millennium if all three seasons of it were like the first. The first season is excellent and has a lot of great, entertaining stand-alone episodes that I can still revisit and enjoy, but the show just doesn't jump out at me as being something truly unique until you factor in the apocalyptic mythology (primarily focused on in season 2) and the supernatural factors (a major focus in season 3). Shows like CSI and Law & Order can be content to be exactly the same for decades on end, but not a show like Millennium. Millennium was always "going somewhere," and you have to up the stakes for an audience to believe that. If the supernatural elements in season 3 are more overt, to me that is only a natural function of a story building to a climax. We just never got the climax.

I cite LOST as a great example of "upping the ante." I have been harshly critical of season 5 (thus putting me in the minority of hardcore fans), but one area where the show has continually excelled is in its slow, steady reveal of series secrets. LOST season 5 is a completely different show than season 1. Yet they are united by a larger story arc that is building in intensity toward a climax. Similarly, I think Millennium, in spite of its seasonal changes of direction under different showrunners, created a powerful sense that it was building toward a climax (in the year 2000). Season 1 was necessary to establish a status quo of the Millennium Group and Frank's life, and to vaguely hint at the existence of higher powers and a pure evil beyond that which is human. Season 2 challenged the status quo by throwing the nobility of the group into question and breaking up Frank's marriage, but it was so heavily focused on Group mythology that it forgot the mythological strides made in episodes like Lamentation and Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions.

That's why I feel season 3 is a perfect synthesis of the various elements of seasons 1 and 2. Coming back to the show, Chris Carter realized that Millennium had become a different story than he intended, and he (rather ingeniously) managed to combine elements of the show he had originally intended to make with the established mythology Morgan and Wong had constructed in season 2. He brought back more SKOTW episodes like Closure, Darwin's Eye and Nostalgia, included "apocalyptic paranoia" episodes (note the similarities between S1 episodes like Force Majeure and Maranatha and S3 episodes like TEOTWAWKI and Forcing the End). But most importantly, he "upped the ante" on the supernatural elements of the show that first introduced themselves in season 1 episodes in what BTFB's James refers to as the "Legion arc" of season 1 (Gehenna, The Judge, Sacrament, Lamentation, and PPTD). This was a key component of season 1 that was largely sidelined in season 2, but continued in season 3 episodes like Borrowed Time, Antipas, Saturn Dreaming of Mercury and Seven and One.

I would argue that there is nothing in season 3 that is any MORE overtly supernatural than in PPTD. There's just a lot more of it. Perhaps, for some who don't enjoy the supernatural elements of season 3, the problem isn't as much that they are too overt as it is that our attention was once again jerked in a new direction after having spent a whole season (season 2) largely ignoring those elements. For others, it really does boil down to what Mark said-- it depends on the individual.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest thadarkside

Well said Rodimus. You've basically summed up most of what I have been trying to say from day one. It's why I think Season 3 is the standout season to me, not taking anything away from the first 2 seasons.

Television seasons have to be constantly upping the ante to stay interesting to me. I can safely say I would not be a big fan of Millennium if all three seasons of it were like the first. The first season is excellent and has a lot of great, entertaining stand-alone episodes that I can still revisit and enjoy, but the show just doesn't jump out at me as being something truly unique until you factor in the apocalyptic mythology (primarily focused on in season 2) and the supernatural factors (a major focus in season 3). Shows like CSI and Law & Order can be content to be exactly the same for decades on end, but not a show like Millennium. Millennium was always "going somewhere," and you have to up the stakes for an audience to believe that. If the supernatural elements in season 3 are more overt, to me that is only a natural function of a story building to a climax. We just never got the climax.

I cite LOST as a great example of "upping the ante." I have been harshly critical of season 5 (thus putting me in the minority of hardcore fans), but one area where the show has continually excelled is in its slow, steady reveal of series secrets. LOST season 5 is a completely different show than season 1. Yet they are united by a larger story arc that is building in intensity toward a climax. Similarly, I think Millennium, in spite of its seasonal changes of direction under different showrunners, created a powerful sense that it was building toward a climax (in the year 2000). Season 1 was necessary to establish a status quo of the Millennium Group and Frank's life, and to vaguely hint at the existence of higher powers and a pure evil beyond that which is human. Season 2 challenged the status quo by throwing the nobility of the group into question and breaking up Frank's marriage, but it was so heavily focused on Group mythology that it forgot the mythological strides made in episodes like Lamentation and Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions.

That's why I feel season 3 is a perfect synthesis of the various elements of seasons 1 and 2. Coming back to the show, Chris Carter realized that Millennium had become a different story than he intended, and he (rather ingeniously) managed to combine elements of the show he had originally intended to make with the established mythology Morgan and Wong had constructed in season 2. He brought back more SKOTW episodes like Closure, Darwin's Eye and Nostalgia, included "apocalyptic paranoia" episodes (note the similarities between S1 episodes like Force Majeure and Maranatha and S3 episodes like TEOTWAWKI and Forcing the End). But most importantly, he "upped the ante" on the supernatural elements of the show that first introduced themselves in season 1 episodes in what BTFB's James refers to as the "Legion arc" of season 1 (Gehenna, The Judge, Sacrament, Lamentation, and PPTD). This was a key component of season 1 that was largely sidelined in season 2, but continued in season 3 episodes like Borrowed Time, Antipas, Saturn Dreaming of Mercury and Seven and One.

I would argue that there is nothing in season 3 that is any MORE overtly supernatural than in PPTD. There's just a lot more of it. Perhaps, for some who don't enjoy the supernatural elements of season 3, the problem isn't as much that they are too overt as it is that our attention was once again jerked in a new direction after having spent a whole season (season 2) largely ignoring those elements. For others, it really does boil down to what Mark said-- it depends on the individual.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest AD Skinner

I'm glad to see that season three has some valiant defenders (did I just type that, sounds like we're in Lord of the Rings for crying out loud) because I've often been a big fan of what I view as Millennium's most underrated season. I am of the opinion that it does have a somewhat struggling start, but I think once we get past the first six or seven episodes, the show finds its feet again and really flies. I happen to think that Something Borrowed, The Sound of Snow, Forcing the End and Saturn Dreaming of Mercury are episodes which show the series at its very best, pushing it to limits almost with television that is complex and original.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I enjoyed this retrospective but I agree with the season 3 defenders too...

Each season had great episodes, and each was ahead of its time. Each season stands up nicely to the tv of its day, and even the tv of our day.

I think trying to choose which season is best is something like choosing what is best, chicken pot pie, pumpkin pie, or mince meat pie. Each is wonderful, yet each so different that comparison always seems abit hollow.

We live in a world where too many people won't go far enough... won't do what they know is right... what they believe. I don't know how or why it got this way but the world has become so complicated, to involve yourself in someone else's problems is to invite them needlessly on yourself. ~ Frank Black

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now



×
×
  • Create New...