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Millennium – Pilot (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

You think you’re protecting me but you make it worse, Frank. You can’t shut the world out for me. You can’t ask me to pretend that I don’t know what you do.

Everyone pretends. We all make believe. These men I help catch – make us.

We’re raising a daughter, Frank. The real world starts to seep in. You can’t stop it.

I want you to make believe that I can.

Fade to Black...

Fade to Black…

Given the success of The X-Files, Millennium was all but inevitable.

Launched in a thankless Friday night slot with a low budget and minimal fanfare, The X-Files had managed to become a breakout hit for Fox. It was one of the network’s most successful shows, and on the cusp of becoming a national phenomenon. Chris Carter had created a show that had managed to become one of the defining television shows of the nineties, and everybody had taken note. Fox was eager to keep Carter on-side, imagining a future where Carter would produce a whole slate of successful shows and manage The X-Files as a successful franchise on television and on the big screen simultaneously.

We all keep secrets...

We all keep secrets…

Fox seemed to want to harness Carter as a creative force, in the mould of classic “super-producers” like David E. Kelley and Donald P. Bellisario – idea-generating machines that could populate entire networks with catchy concepts and big ideas. It’s not too hard to imagine that Fox wanted a relationship with Carter like ABC currently has with Shonda Rhimes – the goal being to write off a significant portion of their schedule to a known creative force who could be trusted to capture the audience’s attention and the mood of the time.

Indeed, the success of Rhimes’ three hour “Shondaland” block suggests that splitting The X-Files and Millennium across different nights may have been a miscalculation. Asking Millennium to carry Friday nights on its own was a gamble; the show’s ratings were roughly in step with where the ratings for the third season of The X-Files had been the previous year. The biggest problem with Millennium, commercially, was that it could not match its massive opening week-on-week. Expecting a new series to excel in a tough slot like that without any real support beyond name recognition was perhaps a little foolhardy.

He's only happy when it rains...

He’s only happy when it rains…

The expectations going into Millennium were huge. Chris Carter had largely build The X-Files up from nothing. However, he was approaching Millennium as a known quantity – an almost mythic figure. This was Chris Carter at the height of his creative power. Fox would convince him to abandon his original plan to wind down The X-Files after five years, and would convince him to keep the show on television at the same time as he tried to launch a major motion picture franchise. Fox was eager to bring Carter on board, and hopeful that he could recreate the magic that made The X-Files such a hit.

It’s not for nothing that The Simpsons Spinoff Showcase, airing in May 1997, dreamed of a world where the future of Fox lay at the feet of Matt Groening, Chris Carter… and Melrose Place. However, Millennium was rather different than anybody expected. While the show would prove massively influential on television that followed – with DNA that can be traced to shows as diverse as CSI, Medium, Hannibal and True Detective – it felt rather esoteric on initial broadcast. In fact, it still feels esoteric, all these years later.

"I love her show. When they mix the sexuality and the violence, I like it."

“I love her show. When they mix the sexuality and the violence, I like it.”

In an interview with Emmy TV Legends, Carter explained his inspirations for the show:

I was asked to do a second series while The X-Files was in production and I had gone to Seattle to do research on one thing, but which ended up being another. It was fueled by the fear of the coming millennium. I felt that there was a fear that was building in society. Y2K was coming into the familiar lexicon. I felt that there was something brewing. Little did I know what was brewing in the bigger sense. I wanted to do a show about a guy who had a facility – if you will – to looking into the minds of killers, and to wed that with the coming millennial malaise.

Watching Millennium now, divorced from the hype surrounding its launch in 1996, it is interesting how much of the show comes from Carter’s own interests and ideas. The result is a show that feels rather esoteric and individual, more personal and even intimate. It is no wonder that horror critic John Kenneth Muir described Millennium as “one of the most pure works of art [he’d] ever seen on television.”

French killin' in the USA!

French killin’ in the USA!

Speaking in the documentary Order in Chaos, producer Ken Horton explained that Carter was able to leverage his success to circumvent many of the problems that creators face in dealing with the network during early production:

Chris had such juice at that point, and everyone so trusted him, that he skirted the normal pilot process. Which is, if you talk to anybody… your elephant gets eaten by mice, on a regular basis. Because Chris had the power to basically conceive this project as he wanted to do it, there was very little input along the way.

In many respects, that show up on screen. Watching Millennium, there is very little sense of creative compromise. It feels like this is the show that Carter very clearly and very enthusiastically wanted to make, rooted in ideas and themes that interested him.

Happy families...

Happy families…

To be fair, The X-Files was obviously rooted in things that intrigued Carter. It was full of lots of little odd quirks and themes, a lot of which served to articulate Carter’s worldview. However, The X-Files was quite a populist and friendly show. Mulder and Scully provided a warm and friendly undertone to the series, offsetting some of the cynicism at the heart of the show. The X-Files could deal with truly horrific subject matter, but it could also offset that horror with humour and wit. Home is full of nightmarish imagery, but it also featured Scully doing her best Babe impression.

During its first season, Millennium makes fewer concessions to the viewer. It doesn’t have the same sort of bouncy energy that offsets the darkest moments in The X-Files. There are very few laughs in The Pilot. Early on, Detective Giebelhouse asks how a particular cannibal liked to cook his victims, to which Frank provides a very matter-of-fact answer. (“In a skillet, with potatoes and onions.”) Later on, Detective Bob Beltcher has to wade into freezing water, and wryly observes, “It’s a good thing I already got a family!” Other than that, everything is very sombre and serious.

He read the news today, oh boy...

He read the news today, oh boy…

Indeed, discussing what he learned from his time working on The X-Files, writer Vince Gilligan argued that he learned one of his most important lessons from Millennium:

I learned a long time ago when I was on The X-Files, we had our sister show, which was also created by Chris Carter, called Millennium. And it was one show that I felt was very worthy, but it was so very dark, because it was about one very haunted man hunting serial killers week in and week out. There was really no honestly derived humor that you could attain with a show like that. I remember I would watch episodes—I didn’t work on the show, but I would watch every episode—and afterward, I would just feel like I couldn’t sleep at night, it was so dark. I guess that was instructive to me. That show told me, “Be honest with your show, make it as dark as it needs to go, but you’d better find a way to leaven it with humor, otherwise people are going to want to slit their wrists after they watch it.”

It should be noted that Gilligan is speaking from a place of great affection for Millennium. He cites Darin Morgan’s Somehow Satan Got Behind Me as “one of [his] all-time favourites.” It is worth noting that Darin Morgan – in collaboration with Glen Morgan and James Wong – worked to introduce more humour into the show’s second season.

Smile!

Smile!

A large part of this sombre mood is down to the leading man. Lead characters inevitably set the tone for their show. Mulder and Scully are both charismatic and wry, and so The X-Files cannot help by skew in that direction. You can always count on Mulder’s pithy one-liners or Scully’s well-honed sarcasm to diffuse a horrific situation. While Mulder is almost single-minded in his pursuit of the truth, the show is careful to ensure that Mulder’s zealotry rarely overwhelms his sense of humour about himself and his situation. It prevents things getting too heavy.

In contrast, Millennium is centred around a character named Frank Black, played by veteran character actor Lance Henriksen. Henriksen gives a phenomenal performance – one on par with Duchovny and Anderson, by just about any technical measure. However, Black is written as a very stoic and solid anchor at the centre of the show. He is a character who sees nothing but the darkness in the world, but cannot bring himself to look away. In many ways, Black is a more purely heroic character than Mulder (or even Scully), but his world-weary seriousness gives Millennium an incredible weight.

Addressing the issue...

Addressing the issue…

However, this is entirely intentional. Carter has argued that Frank Black is intended as a very classical put-upon hero with incredible responsibility on his shoulders, one conscious of that weight pushing down on him:

I wanted to do something that wasn’t the The X-Files. I had this idea of doing something about the millennium for a while, and the time was right. The heroic qualities of the character appealed to me a lot. … There’s not a hero like him on TV. I’m interested in his purity, his calm, his focus. I wanted Frank Black to be heroic in a way that men are not allowed to be heroic. There’s a line in an episode coming up where he says, “Somehow, we can’t do the right thing anymore, because to involve yourself in somebody else’s problems is to needlessly invite them on yourself.” And I think that’s become the world we live in. It’s frightening. You cannot reach out. You can’t do anything truly altruistic anymore without taking into consideration, first of all, the legal consequences. The question is: how can we act heroically? How can you reach out and help someone?

There are a lot of recurring themes in Carter’s work, a lot of which tap into the general mood of the nineties. His pet interests tend to pop up time and again in his work, as you might expect for a producer responsible for over three hundred hours of television in the decade.

Poetry in motion...

Poetry in motion…

Lance Henriksen responded to Frank Black’s very old-school style of heroism. In an interview with Back to Frank Black, he was particularly proud of the fact that Frank Black doesn’t generally carry a gun:

I never wanted to see him with a gun in his hand, because it’s so mundane. It’s like cop, cop, cop, and I didn’t want to do that… I don’t think anything can be solved with that violence. Certainly war is like a protracted, disastrous, futile, wasteful thing in every way. Why haven’t we been able to crack the issue of communication instead of manipulation? It’s just unbelievable.”

While the second and third seasons do make Frank a more traditional gun-totting protagonist in some ways, The Pilot is careful to make a big deal of Frank as an unarmed hero. It isn’t Frank who kills the Frenchman at the climax, but Bob Beltcher – arriving conveniently at the last minute.

Into blackness...

Into blackness…

Millennium is – at its heart – a story about good and evil. It is the story of a good man confronting evil in the world, for no better reason than because it is the right thing to do. Black spends most of The Pilot inviting himself into a homicide investigation, after reading about it in the morning paper. He works with a consultancy group, but he works on the case before they assign it to him. “My guys want to know why you’re here, Frank,” his old friend confesses. “I still don’t know what to tell them.” Frank replies, “I’m here because I have a wife and a kid and I want them to live in a place where they can feel safe.”

That is a very pure and earnest form of heroism. Frank Black doesn’t have a missing sister or an abduction experience to motivate him. He does the right thing because it is the right thing, because he cannot ignore the darkness in the world. Explaining to his wife why he does the things that he does, Frank reflects, “Everyone pretends. We all make believe. These men I help catch – make us.” Frank is a man unable to pretend, even though life would be much easier if he could. Frank sees the world as it really is.

Trying to keep ahead of evil...

Trying to keep ahead of evil…

Trying to sum up Millennium in Order in Chaos, producer and collaborator Frank Spotnitz argued that the series served as Carter’s treatise on the nature and existence of evil:

Chris had this idea that evil  as a concept had been degraded in our society, by secularism, by science. And he still believed in evil as a real force. So he wanted to make the scariest show that he could, and that is what Millennium was.

This idea of evil as a concept that existed almost beyond mankind would be a recurring theme on The X-Files in episodes like Aubrey, The Calusari or Empedocles. However, it was a theme much closer to the heart of Millennium, with the show suggesting Frank was the only one who could truly see it.

Well, you gotta spend that pilot budget!

Well, you gotta spend that pilot budget!

Beginning with The Pilot, the show has an interesting fixation on vision.“Tell me what you want,” the dancer instructs the Frenchman in the eerie opening scene set at a Seattle peep show. The Frenchman replies, “I want to see you dance on the blood-dimmed tide.” When Frank tries to track down the Frenchman, he is stunned to discover so much of the evidence is in plain sight. The “PESTE” graffiti and markings are visible to everybody, but nobody seems willing to actually look at them.

Frank’s deductions are visual in nature – an ability to see the world as the killer does. It’s no coincidence that Millennium opens in a peep show, where even those who are watching are themselves being watched through concealed video cameras. The show’s recurring ouroboros resembles a giant iris. Much of The Pilot asks – or dares – the audience to see the world in the way that killer sees it. When Beltcher asks Frank what he sees, Frank explains, “I see what the killer sees.”

Grim viewing...

Grim viewing…

Perception is at the heart of the show, and there’s a sense that Frank’s ability is not to see the world differently, but instead to see everything. Frank sees the world that ordinary people deny and refuse to face. He butts heads with the local police department who are happy to write this off as a once-off killing rather than something much larger and more unsettling. Indeed, the movie manages to fit in a considerable amount of graphic content by quickly intercutting it into Frank’s visions, inviting the viewer to wonder what they have (or haven’t) seen.

David Nutter’s direction of The Pilot is absolutely wonderful, demonstrating why he has become so highly-sought. Millennium is another entry in Nutter’s impressive (and well-known) pilot-to-series run that ran from the nineties into the new millennium. Many of the people who worked with Carter would cite The Pilot as one of the best episodes of television that Ten Thirteen ever produced. In terms of clarity of purpose and technical craft, it stands out as a fantastic accomplishment.

Quality family time...

Quality family time…

Nutter had a tremendous influence in defining the world of Millennium. As with Space: Above and Beyond, the director not only helmed the pilot, but he also directed the first episode of the first season. As such, he helped to ease the transition from The Pilot, which had a longer turnaround and a higher budget that usual, into the tighter and more focused production of Gehenna. Although Nutter only directed four episodes of Millennium, his influence on the series is keenly felt.

There are a lot of nice flourishes here that would come to define Millennium as television show. Nutter dials back the saturation in the shots outside the family home, but ramps it upside inside the Black residence. As such, he makes Millennium feels rather stylised. The snapshot effects that fade into each of the acts are a nice touch. They serve as an effective way to keep “the polaroid killer” close to the heart of the show, even when he doesn’t actually appear. These effects probably outstayed their welcome, but they help to give Millennium its own visual language.

Burning man...

Burning man…

As the title implies, the show is fascinated with the  arrival of the new millennium, lurking just over the horizon. The mid-nineties saw a lot of these anxieties and uncertainties gaining traction, with what some described as “Pre-Millennial Tension”:

Nutters, loonies, headcases, crazies, step forward: your hour is rapidly approaching. Logically, the year 2000 should excite little more interest than the mileometer on a car dashboard when it turns back to a row of zeros (though apparently some sad people get quite thrilled by this phenomenon, too). In fact, however, with three years still to go, there is already a wave of fuss, hoo-ha and general over-excitement swelling around the millennium. At the Fortean Times, the magazine which casts a cool eye over strange happenings, they are calling it Pre-Millennial Tension. The magazine has already started a Millennium Watch column, tracking such essential data as the main contenders for the title of Antichrist in the year 2000, and a quick run-down of previous predictions of the end of the world (all reassuringly wrong).

While it seemed that nobody could agree when this “new millennium” would arrive – would it be 2000 or 2001, or maybe even 2012? – it did seem like there was something palpable in the air.

Pay attention, homicide department!

Pay attention, homicide department!

Writing in The New York Times in August 1997, journalist Tom Kuntz noted that America was increasingly conscious of this approaching landmark:

As we approach the millennium, two trends have become clear:  1) We are approaching the millennium.  2) People are intent on pointing this out.

Including President Clinton, who, after all, recently landed the job as contractor-in-chief for the bridge to the 21st century. Rolling out the blueprint of Federal millennial events the other day, he urged Americans ”to take stock as we approach this new millennium, to commit ourselves to begin the world over again for our children, our children’s children.”

But the President is hardly alone in infusing his utterances with the grandiose air of the millennial reference. An on-line search of the country’s 50 largest-circulating newspapers and the top weekly news magazines reveals hundreds of uses of ”as we approach the millennium” and its variants over the past two years. (This paper is responsible for its share.)

Actually calling the show Millennium may be a little on the nose, but it’s certainly an example of Carter having his finger on the popular pulse.

All-seeing...

All-seeing…

That millennialism finds expression in a number of forms here. The Frenchman is not so much a character as a collection of social anxieties and millennial themes. He quotes liberally from a variety of sources that are all rooted in the idea of millennialism. He references the prophecies of Nostradamas, which enjoyed something of a resurgence in the late nineties, bouyed on by the inevitability of the new millennium. He even throws in some of William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming to make it seem particularly classy.

The Frenchman serves as a mouthpiece for all sorts of anxieties, effectively establishing the tone of the series in his attack on Frank during the final act. “You can see it – just like I do,” he tells Frank. “You know the end is coming! The thousand years is over! But you think you’re the one to stop it! You think it can be stopped! It can’t be stopped.” It feels like an anxiety of all the dread and discomfort that was lurking in popular culture during the nineties.

Calling it in...

Calling it in…

It also effectively sets up the show’s central conflict, wondering whether Frank can stop this wave of terror bearing down on civilisation. Indeed, for all that the Frenchman is under-developed and thinly-sketched, he does serve as an effective foil to Frank Black. (Even their names mirror one another – “Frank” for “French.”) The Pilot implies that Frank and the Frenchmen have seen the same sorts of visions; they both confront the horrors in the world. However, they have chosen to respond to these horrors in different ways. The Frenchman accepts these horrors cannot be fought, and embraces them; Frank tries to fight the good fight.

Admittedly, Carter’s script glosses over some of the finer details. It trusts the audience to follow along with a minimum of exposition. It is never explicitly stated how the Frenchman got into the police lab, but the fact that he was using internal mail suggests he works in law enforcement, and the fact that he is an efficient surgeon (“the deseverance of the head and the fingers was done with skill, precision”), suggests he is an forensics employee. However, the episode doesn’t articulate this; it doesn’t even give us the character’s name.

Picture imperfect...

Picture imperfect…

Then again, Carter is shrewdly prioritising mood and tone ahead of story and plot. This is arguably the kind of approach that he took to The X-Files, counting on the imagery and atmosphere of the conspiracy to propel the plot more effectively than the finer details. The Pilot is a triumph of mood and tone, one which conveys to the audience everything that they need to know without labouring under exposition. We never find out who the Frenchman was, but that doesn’t matter; he was a bad man who did horrible things, making the world more terrifying.

The Pilot has a number of striking and memorable visuals. In particular, there is the body that Frank and Beltcher discover in the woods – with his eyes, mouth and hands sewn shut. It is a stunningly evocative image, one that tells us a lot about the killer and his motivations; one that immediately speaks to the character’s repression and self-loathing. In fact, the image of those characters with their mouths and eyes sewn shut was so wonderfully macabre that Carter would recycle it for Patient X and The Red and the Black during the fifth season of The X-Files.

All sewn up...

All sewn up…

Millennium is saturated with nineties iconography and subtext, hitting on a lot of the core fears of the decade. Most obviously, it is a show that can be snarkily (if not entirely inaccurately) be summed up as “serial killer of the week”, hitting on the palpable anxiety around these urban predators that had been brewing from the seventies through to the nineties. The nineties saw a wave of high-profile serial killer films and television shows. The Silence of the Lambs and se7en were among the decades’ most popular films, and Millennium débuted around the same time as Profiler.

Millennium wears its influences on its sleeve. If The X-Files drew heavily from The Silence of the Lambs in its portrayal of Scully, Millennium acknowledges the influence of Red Dragon in helping to define and delineate Frank Black. The Pilot makes reference to two of Black’s previous cases. Detective Giebelhouse makes reference to Leon Cole Piggett, a cannibalistic serial killer who would prepare his meals with great care – much like Hannibal Lecter. At the end of The Pilot, Black tells Beltcher about Ed Cuffle, who would use photography to stalk his victims – much like Francis Dollarhyde.

The way he looks at the world...

The way he looks at the world…

It is also clear that se7en was a major influence on the look and feel of Millennium. Talking to Back to Frank Black, Carter confesses:

One of the inspirations was the movie se7en. These were all dark, dark images and stories, and it was interesting to try to tell these stories for television. It’s almost like how far could you go before the censors stop you.

Indeed, Carter was so keen to capture the mood of se7en that he recruited production designer Gary Wissner directly from David Fincher’s film. The decision to set Millennium largely around Seattle also seems like a nod to se7en.

Putting the darkness to rest...

Putting the darkness to rest…

The peep club featured in The Pilot is designed to evoke the infamous Seattle club “The Lusty Lady.” The institution was a familiar part of popular culture in the nineties. Photojournalist Erika Langley worked there for twelve years, publishing a photobook on the club – titled “The Lusty Lady” – in 1997. The club had been featured in the 1992 Jeff Bridges film American Heart and has been described as “a Seattle landmark” by Mimi Gates, Bill Gates’ stepmother.  The all female management closed the club in 2010, citing declining revenue.

Although filmed in Vancouver, the decision to set Millennium in Seattle helps to establish a clear mood. The scenes outside the Black residence are desaturated so as to better capture the mood associated with the city – where it is apparently “cloudy” or “partially cloudy” almost three hundred days out of the year. On the commentary for the episode, Carter jokes at the irony that they often had to generate rain in Vancouver to better create the impression that they were filming Seattle, known affectionately as “Rain City.”

What's cookin'?

What’s cookin’?

Of course, Seattle in the nineties was inexorably associated with the emergence of grunge music, which seemed to capture a lot of the dread and gloom associated with the decade. In an interview with John Robb for Sounds, Kurt Cobain explained why Seattle lent itself to such moody music:

“It’s because we are a bit secluded, out on a limb up here. The local scene has always had an element of rock in it. But it’s always been a gloomy element. That’s why I reckon you guys in the UK like it, because your rock is on the gloomy side too. Maybe it’s the weather – we have the same sort of miserable climate that you have.”

The atmosphere associated with Seattle lent itself well to the sort of story that Chris Carter wanted to tell, one rather heavy and reflective; tied into the rather dark mood of the mid-nineties.

Dead letters...

Dead letters…

The Pilot even hits on the idea of “the great plague in the maritime city”, a plot point which could be said to obtusely foreshadow the two-part second season finalé The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now. However, through linking that “blood plague” to the Frenchman’s sexuality, The Pilot also ties the killings into the anxiety around AIDs that existed during the nineties. “He’s taking blood,” Frank realises at one point in the story, a revelation that helps him to fully understand the motivations at work here.

This brings up one of the recurring issues with Millennium in its first season. The show tends to link violence and sexuality, to the point where the series opens on a murderer’s blood-drenched fantasy at a Seattle peep show. To be fair, this link is understandable and justifiable; Carter has done his research, and sex and violence are frequently linked in real life cases like this. (Frank did work in “sexual homicide”, so it is his speciality.) However, watching the first season of Millennium as a whole, this union of sex and violence can occasionally feel a little exploitative and cynical. It’s not a problem with The Pilot per se, but it is an issue that builds up over the course of the season.

Survivors...

Survivors…

There’s also a sense that Chris Carter is not a subtle writer. While he is a phenomenal producer, a great ideas man and a wonderful director, Carter’s writing can occasionally seem just a little bit too heavy-handed. Millennium features a character bluntly confronting all the darkness in the world, called Frank Black. He retreats from the darkness into a big yellow house. The dialogue can occasionally be a bit on the nose, particularly when Frank explains his visions to Beltcher. “It’s my gift. It’s my curse.” It’s no wonder that Mad TV chose to parody that line for “Suddenly Millennium.”

Millennium has quite a few of these clumsy writing moments. Frank tries to keep the darkness out of the family house, represented literally in the scene where he converses with Peter Watts in the street and his decision to confine his work to the basement. When Frank reads the news article that will pull him into the case, ominous thunder can be heard in the background. Millennium is not a show that does quite or sedate or low-key. It is making some very clear statements; it does not want any confusion on the matter.

Mellow yellow...

Mellow yellow…

To be fair to Carter, there is an effectiveness to his writing. The Pilot has to establish a world and tell a story in forty-five minutes. As such, there is not always time for finesse or efficiency when it comes to matters of plotting or storytelling. In the teaser, for example, the soon-to-be-dead stripper pauses to call home. “I want to make sure the baby-sitter hasn’t left yet.” It’s a very quick way of telling the audience what they need to know about her, even if it is far from subtle. We immediately determine that she has a daughter and that she works to keep her daughter safe.

Indeed, despite – or perhaps because – of that earnestness, Millennium works quite well. It feels very much like a treatise of Chris Carter’s beliefs on the nature of good and evil. It feels like something that is particularly important to him, something that matters. Carter obviously loved The X-Files dearly, but there was a sense that Carter was making The X-Files as much for everybody else as for himself. After all, he paired up Mulder and Scully despite his initial reluctance to do so, and he kept the show running far longer than he originally planned.

The truth is buried...

The truth is buried…

Millennium seems like a much more intimate project, despite its scale. It is perhaps telling that Carter chose to show The Pilot at the Austin Film Festival in 2012, along with Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose. While the choice might seem a little odd, Carter argued for its inclusion:

The episodes I chose were for two reasons: I didn’t want to focus just on The X-Files. I thought that Millennium pilot stands the test of time. I think it’s a really good, scary episode of television, and I was very proud of it. I still am. It was very nice to see it again today myself.

That the decision to show The Pilot at the Austin Film Festival in 2012 was such a surprise does indicate how the narrative of history has arched around Millennium. The show has generally (and unfairly) been overshadowed by The X-Files in critical discussions of the nineties and in Carter’s larger oeuvre.

Stripped bare...

Stripped bare…

A large part of that is likely down to the sheer level of hype and publicity that Millennium received. Fox threw its whole marketing machine behind the new series, turning its launch into a multimedia event:

”We’ve got this very important date coming up,” explains Carter. ”The end of the millennium is an unsettling time, very nervous making. It sounds so obvious now, but I got this idea that someone should capitalize on it.”

That someone, of course, turned out to be the Fox network – home to The X-Files – which is betting big bucks on Carter’s new show. Spending $10 million on a feature-film-style launch, Fox is pre-premiering Millennium in 25 theatres across the country Oct. 23, followed by a satellite link-up in which Carter will answer questions from the audience. Millennium is also getting Fox’s prime time slot–The X-Files’ Friday-night hour–while Mulder and Scully are being transferred to Sunday evenings. A Millennium book is in the works as well, to be published by HarperCollins, a company owned by the same media mogul–Rupert Murdoch–who controls the Fox network (and Mulder thinks he’s the only one who can sniff out a conspiracy).

In short, get ready for Millenni-mania, the biggest hype attack of the TV season.

This high-profile launch undoubtedly created unrealistic expectations. Millennium premièred just before Halloween to over seventeen million viewers – a record for Fox at the time. This audience would have likely been unsustainable even if Millennium were accessible and populist.

Reflecting on it all...

Reflecting on it all…

Following a sharp drop between The Pilot and Gehenna, the audience decline slowed across the season. However, Paper Dove closed out the season with just over half the audience that had watched The Pilot. There is a sense that Fox quickly lost confidence in the new series, once it became clear that it would not be another breakout hit in the style and mould of The X-Files. This is a shame, because Millennium is an absolutely fascinating show and worthy companion to The X-Files. There some flaws that already apparent at this early stage of the run, but Millennium is an ambitious and powerful piece of television.

The Pilot gets the show off to a strong and confident start, even it is hard not wonder whether Millennium – like its protagonist – might end up crushed by the weight cast upon it.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the first season of Millennium:

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2 Responses

  1. They should have cast Steve McHattie. 😉 He could be Lance’s twin, and he’s a little more playful and animated.

    Reading your description, this show suspiciously like Criminal Minds. How long has that been running? 10 years? Or how about Profiler, the godfather of forensic shows? That had a healthy run.

    Both are pretty silly, but they have a veneer of “true crime” to rope in the female demographic. No offense to Vince (who is generally correct), I doubt Millennium was ahead or behind its time. More likely, Chris Carter takes too much credit for the X-Files. His scripts were always lacking.

    • Carter, I think, was a better “big idea” man than “actual execution” guy. I love the mythology of The X-Files for its big ideas about contemporary America, but it doesn’t really consistently work at a grassroots level. I’d argue Millennium doesn’t consistently work until Carter hands it over to Wong and Morgan.

      With regards to Profiler/Criminal Minds, they very shrewdly honed in on a very effective formula that (in the episodes I’ve seen) balances light quirky character stuff with the darkness of the show. Millennium has no Spenser Reid, no Garcia, not even a Morgan. Imagine Criminal Minds with just Gideon and Hotchner and you’re pretty much there.

      That said, I do love Millennium and Lance Henriksen. Henriksen is so centred that – when he loses that cool – he seems genuinely dangerous. And the first season of Millennium has some great episodes. It just threatens to drown in its own earnestness.

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