• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

Millennium – The Judge (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.

The Judge feels very much like an episode that might have worked better later in the first season of Millennium. It deals with pretty big ideas and themes at the heart of the show, but in ways that feel almost clumsy and haphazard. Millennium is still a show that is finding its way, and The Judge pokes and prods at ideas close to the heart of the series as a whole. The episode feels rather clumsy, as though the show hasn’t reached a point where it really has a handle on itself, let alone the sorts of hefty existential questions suggested by The Judge.

At its core, The Judge is fascinated with issues of moral authority and justice – in particular, it asks questions about whether such authority can exist outside (or even inside) the mechanism of the state. Given that Millennium is the story about a man working with a private group to the potential collapse of civil order on the eve of the millennium, The Judge feels like it would be the perfect opportunity to broach questions about the Millennium Group and the work that they do. After all, the Millennium Group and the supporting cast have been haunting the narrative since The Pilot.

Judge not...

Judge not…

While these tough questions hover at the very edge of the episode, it never seems like The Judge addresses them. Then again, The Judge is the fourth episode of the first season of a new show. Millennium is still young. The Judge is written by Ted Mann; it is the first episode of Millennium that is not written by a veteran of The X-Files, by somebody who isn’t Chris Carter or hasn’t experience working within Chris Carter’s world. It is, perhaps, too much to expect it to have a handle on all of that. And The Judge deserves a great deal of credit for marking out areas that the show may want to explore as it grows and develops.

At the same time, while it has some interesting big ideas and a great cast, The Judge feels little clumsy and awkward in its execution. It avoids a lot of the interesting implications of what it says, and it features a rather convenient and contrived final act that seems to exist solely so Frank Black can move on to doing other stuff in the next installment. The Judge is a misfire, but it is an intriguing and interesting misfire. It is precisely the sort of episode that you might expect at this stage in the season.

You've got male (body parts)!

You’ve got male (body parts)!

It is interesting, watching The Judge, how little we know about the Millennium Group. We are four episodes into the season. The show has done good work to develop a supporting and recurring cast around Frank. When you compare the first season of Millennium to the first season of The X-Files, it seems like Millennium has done a lot more world-building, at least in terms of developing fixtures in the world of Frank Black. There is a sense that a static world exists around Frank Black that wouldn’t develop around Mulder and Scully until the end of their first year.

The Judge might trade out Stephen E. Miller’s Detective Roger Kamm for Brian Markinson’s Detective Teeple, but the supporting cast seems pretty established. Bill Smitrovich returns as Detective Bob Beltcher, with Stephen J. Lang also reappearing in a minor role as Detective Giebelhouse. Giebelhouse is – at this stage, at least – a minor character. If he never appeared after The Pilot, or had been replaced by an officer of the week, we wouldn’t really miss him. However, the show makes a conscious effort to keep him around to add some sense of continuity to the world around Frank Black.

Keep us posted...

Keep us posted…

Outside of the Seattle Police Department, Millennium has also added a bunch of recurring faces to the Millennium Group. Pete Watts was introduced as the point of contact in The Pilot, but he has been curiously sidelined at the start of the season. Gehenna brought in two more recurring group members in Atkins and Penseyres. The fourth episode of the first season, The Judge marks the third appearance of Penseyres. At this point, he has appeared more often than Watts. The Judge also throws in C.C.H. Pounder as Cheryl Andrews, who will appear in five episodes across the show’s three seasons.

Millennium is making a point to cast actors that Chris Carter likes in significant roles. Terry O’Quinn would become known as “Mr. Ten Thirteen” for his work with the production company. C.C.H. Pounder had earned an Emmy nomination for her guest spot on The X-Files. Chris Ellis had appeared in Quagmire shortly before being cast here. Brad Dourif would later pop up in a supporting role affiliated with the Millennium Group. The first season works really hard to add all these quirky recognisable guest stars in minor roles that seem to be building to something more significant.

All good in the hood...

All good in the hood…

However, the show never seems to arrive at this destination with the guest cast. Jim Penseyres disappears from the show after this episode. Cheryl Andrews pops up a few times, and gets a major character beat in her second-season appearance; however, that major character beat doesn’t feel earned, because she has spent the first season as a very minor character. At the end of the season, Entertainment Weekly would quip that the supporting cast was nothing more than “a collection of personality-free poker faces.” It is not an unreasonable criticism.

At this point, Millennium doesn’t seem too interested in characters outside of Frank, except in how they relate to Frank. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it does lead to the sense that Millennium is wasting a very talented ensemble. It also means that an episode like The Judge carries less weight than it might otherwise have, because we don’t actually know anything about the Millennium Group – except that they are a group that consults with local law enforcement on violent crime.

"You've just been disbarred!"

“You’ve just been disbarred!”

That would become a very serious problem when the show later tried to do stuff with the Millennium Group, as it seemed like the show itself had no idea of what the Millennium Group was meant to be. As Carter acknowledged on the commentary for The Pilot, he modeled them on the real-life Academy Group:

The actual Millennium Group, which is what Frank is referring to here, was a group of retired FBI agents whom I came in contact with, who I spent some time with, out in Virginia. They were very helpful with giving me a real world of ideas of what guys who have left the FBI do; how they make their living. And even though what I imagined was not, in fact, reality, the idea that there are a group of people with a special knowledge of crime in the world and criminals in the world was not such a far-fetched idea. There are men out there with certain skills who are willing to work extra-legally.

The Academy Group was founded by retired FBI agent Roger Depue. Depue continued to work on some cases after his retirement, and has consulted on cases like the murder of Terri Brooks and even served on the panel investigating the VA Tech shooting in 2007.

"If the cops come, you may have to leg it..."

“If the cops come, you may have to leg it…”

However, it is also quite clear that the Millennium Group is more than just a bunch of retired FBI agents who collaborate with local law enforcement on tough cases. As John Kenneth Muir has noted, Carter has tendency to “return again and again to the idea of the unelected privileged — a small group, a cabal — whether it be the Syndicate, the Millennium Group of the military industrial complex in Harsh Realm dominating the many.” It seems quite clear that the Millennium Group is more than just a consulting firm, even if it isn’t clear exactly what the Millennium Group actually is.

The Judge would work a lot better if the audience had any real idea of what the Millennium Group actually does. The Judge hits on a lot of big and interesting ideas. It is a script about vigilantism and justice that exists outside the remit of the state, but it never grapples with Frank’s somewhat ambiguous position and authority. After all, the Judge inserts himself into criminal justice cases without invitation, much like Frank Black did in The Pilot. He conducts his own inquiries, and passes his own judgement.

Bits and pieces...

Bits and pieces…

While we haven’t seen the Millennium Group conduct its own brand of justice, it doesn’t seem too implausible – even at this early stage. Indeed, the last act of the episode even stresses that members of the Millennium Group can do things outside the remit of local law enforcement. Bob Beltcher cannot pursue the investigation of the eponymous vigilante due to all those pesky civil rights and legal protections. However, since Frank Black is not employed by the Seattle Police Department, he can just wander on in.

“I can’t go near there, Frank,” Bob tells our hero towards the end of the episode. “I step on this man’s property and Bardale’s not there, I put the department and the city in real legal trouble.” The bad guy hiding behind the protection of the system feels like a cliché plot element, a holdover from those seventies crime films like Dirty Harry. The episode never draws the obvious parallel between what Frank is doing and what the Judge does; he is a regular citizen presuming to take on responsibilities usually assumed by the state to combat the inadequacy of the system. The show never calls him on that.

Eyes like a Hawkes...

Eyes like a Hawkes…

And that is glossing over all the potential evidential issues related to Bob Beltcher’s plan. Unless Beltcher plans on killing Bardale then and there, it seems highly unlikely that any evidence obtained by Frank would hold up in a court of law. There was no warrant to search the premise, and it is not as if it would be difficult to prove a link between Frank Black and Bob Beltcher. The Judge condemns its eponymous guest star for working outside the confines of the democratic system, but it also seems to glorify Frank Black when he engages in the same sort of behaviour.

This is typical of the problems with The Judge. It feels like the script could have used another couple of passes, and that it is never entirely sure of what it wants to say about the things that it is talking about. The broad strokes of the plot work in interesting ways – and broach fascinating issues – but the execution feels rushed and uncomfortable. The Judge is a story that could probably have been told better once Millennium had found its legs. Tackling these big questions at this early stage of the show’s life is perhaps a little too ambitious.

Impressive handiwork...

Impressive handiwork…

At the same time, The Judge does a lot to contextualise Millennium as part of Chris Carter’s broader milieu. As Michael Valdez Moses notes in Kingdom of Darkness, the themes and ideas are familiar:

The Judge neatly encapsulates the political-theological mythos of Millennium (and, I would argue, of The X-Files as well). Protagonists and antagonists are at once agents and products of the disciplinary order of the state. Their lives are entirely circumscribed by the institutions of government: the courts, the penal system, the police, social services. Even an apparently innocent victim of the judge, Jonathan Mellen, turns out to be a corrupt former cop, and Annie Tisman’s husband, who was genuinely innocent, dies as a prisoner in a state-run penal institution. To be sure, one might claim that the Millennium Group is not really an arm of the government; it is only acting in a private consulting capacity. But, of course, the members of this elite group are all ex-FBI agents and the group’s only clients, it would seem, are local, state, and federal agencies. Like the conspiratorial Elders of The X-Files (aka The Firm, The Consortium, and The Syndicate) who are in league with alien colonisers, the Millennium Group operates with the tacit consent and full cooperation of national, state and local governments. (Its members have, for example, unlimited access to all FBI and NCIC – National Crime Information Centre – databases.)

In a way, this sets up one of the more interesting aspects of Millennium, one that the show would not explore until the second season. In a way, Millennium is the story of a man working at the cusp of an elite and mysterious organisation that has infiltrated methods of governance; as opposed to working against it.

Speaking in tongues...

Speaking in tongues…

The Judge claims to exist above “the law”, representing a purer institution. “Mine is not a court of law, Mr. Bardale,” he informs his young ward. “It is a court of justice.” The difference may seem like mere semantics, but the gulf is wide. Once again, Millennium flirts with big philosophical ideas. If Gehenna suggested that evil can exist outside of mankind, does that mean that concepts like “justice” also exist outside of human constructs like “law”? Although this is a very basic question of moral philosophy, it remains a weighty and substantial idea. The Judge never really does it justice (ha!), but it’s there.

The storytelling problems with The Judge are primarily structural. Although the ideas at the heart of the story are very grand, the actual execution of the story feels somewhat rote. Before joining Millennium, Mann had served as a producer on NYPD Blue, and his procedural instincts tend to bleed into his work on the first season of Millennium. Mann structures his episodes around the murders, with the script offering on a new dead body or a grotesque reveal at consistent intervals. Structurally, The Judge is the kind of episode that people think about when they describe the “serial-killer-of-the-week” format.

The Judge is buried in casework...

The Judge is buried in casework…

To be fair, this was the way that Mann tended to approach Millennium. Outside of his work on Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions, Mann tended to write fairly conventional episodes of the show. Mann is credited on Loin Like a Hunting Flame – one of the first season’s most sensationalist “serial-killer-of-the-week” episodes. He also wrote Paper Dove, the first season finalé; it is interesting that Paper Dove is also primarily a “serial-killer-of-the-week” story with a cliffhanger, rather than a larger “event” story like a season finalé on The X-Files.

The Judge feels very much like a “serial-killer-of-the-week” story. It has a nice hook; the Judge is motivated by justice. The killer has a nice gimmick; he removes body parts and mails them to the victims. This provides a catchy image for the teaser, drawing on real-life horror stories about human bodies being sent in mail. Irish kidnapper Dessie O’Hare would send the fingers of his victims in 1987; in 2012, a Canadian killer sent an entire body. There is a sense that the episode is a little gratuitous. This is the “lap full of severed tongues” that Darin Morgan would mock in Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defence.”

Piecing it together...

Piecing it together…

In keeping with the general mood of the season, The Judge borrows quite heavily from the work of Thomas Harris. The scene where Bardale fakes a broken leg to lure a potential victim cannot help but evoke a similar sequence from The Silence of the Lambs, itself drawn from accounts of how Ted Bundy would stalk his prey. (In fact, the killer in Dead Letters did something similar.) Indeed, The Judge offers such an uncanny imitation of Thomas Harris that it even predicts the man-eating pigs that Harris would feature in his 1999 novel Hannibal.

Mann takes The Judge where it needs to go. The problem is that he never really makes the audience enjoy the journey. He misses several opportunities to say anything interesting or compelling, and the entire last act feels desperately rushed. As if aware that the episode is approaching the forty-minute mark, the Judge’s accomplice decides to turn on his master and offer up his own twisted form of justice. It seems like the plot is aiming for tragic irony – the Judge undone by his own twisted logic – but instead it only feels like forced contrivance.

Pooling resources...

Pooling resources…

A large part of this is down to the fact that Bardale only ever feels like a cypher; he is a henchman in service of the episode’s big bad, a goon. He gets a few lines about how “doing the right thing like this feels good”, but he’s not developed enough to support the final twist. That sort of reveal either needs to come like a sharp turn out of nowhere that makes perfect sense in hindsight, or a carefully foreshadowed inevitability. Bardale’s decision to turn on The Judge exists in a murky grey area between the two extremes, feeling both clumsily set-up and insufficiently developed.

Then again, The Judge is quite lucky with its guest casting. John Hawkes is a decade-and-a-half away from his Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone, and on the cusp of becoming one of the most consistent and impressive guest actors on television. Hawkes gives Bardale an intriguing ambiguity, making the most out of what feels like a fairly stock supporting role. Bardale is not an especially memorable character, but Hawkes does a lot of work to make him seem like more than a background element.

We all got paroles to play...

We all got paroles to play…

Marshall Bell was a lot more established when he took the role as the Judge, but he also does great work here. There is a sense that The Judge is positioning him as a mirror to Frank Black, and the casting cements that. Bell has the same sort of stoic deadpan delivery that Lance Henriksen brings to the role of Frank Black. Like Henriksen, Bell consciously underplays the Judge. The character seems more ominous and mysterious to us than he really should be. After all, one imagines he had to sign his actual name on all of those legal papers protecting him from harassment.

The Judge consciously positions its title character as a supernatural force.The Judge talks in almost biblical terms. “I want to keep you in the world,” he advises Bardale. “Your nature can serve a higher purpose.” The Judge is apparently able to alert Bardale roughly when and how the police will arrive. “He made eye contact,” Frank notes of the henchman. “He didn’t just know we were law enforcement. He was expecting us. He didn’t panic.” He implies that Frank Black only got close to him because he allowed it. Even his profession as “a livestock auctioneer” evokes the biblical shepherd.

Dead letter...

Dead letter…

He knows things that he cannot possibly know. “You acted as agent of this court while impaired,” he advises his soon-to-be-ex-henchmen. When the henchman insists that he only had a single drink, the Judge warns, “Remember I am who I am.” When he tries to recruit Bardale, the Judge makes reference to deeply-buried secrets in specific detail. “Never been tried for most of what you’ve done.” He recounts a deeply personal story about the crimes committed by Bardale of which nobody should be aware.

Given all of this, and the conscious positioning of the Judge as a twisted reflection of Frank, it seems hard to believe that Millennium wanted the audience to accept that Frank’s visions were purely rational in nature. Along with the suggestion that Frank’s visions might be based on genetics rather than experience from Dead Letters and his ability to “sense” an ambiguous evil beyond mankind in Gehenna, it is easy to see how the show’s attitudes towards Frank’s “gift” could quickly become muddled.

Storytelling...

Storytelling…

The Judge continues to sketch a rough mythology for Millennium, building off the ambiguously-defined demonic evil at work in Gehenna. As Adam Chamberlain notes in his essay Evil Has Many Faces, The Judge is the first time that the name “Legion” is mentioned, a concept that would come to be quite important to the show:

This single reference to Legion by name in Millennium was enough to inspire fans of the series to adopt the moniker in reference to the demonic forces that array themselves against Frank Black throughout the series. Certainly his meeting with the Judge also points to a larger threat of this nature and a considered plan. The Judge claims a common objective with Frank, promising, “I can show you an absolute justice, an unconstrained justice,” as well as claiming control over the whole situation in adding, “You and your group of associates have never been as close to me as I’ve allowed this time. I wanted you to hear my offer, feel its truth, see my strength.” Neither is the proposal a one-time deal, with his parting words to Frank indicating, “The offer’s open. And if I’m hard to reach, well, don’t make the usual assumptions.”

In many ways, the obvious point of comparison is with the over-arching mythology of The X-Files. However, demonic forces are – by the nature – much more abstract than human conspiracies. This flags a potential problem for Millennium, which is already lacking the sort of humanity and personality that made The X-Files so endearing.

"Just-us" on this one...

“Just-us” on this one…

While it was always possible to ground a vast human conspiracy in the humanity of characters like the Cigarette-Smoking Man or Deep Throat, the idea of demonic influence tends to push Millennium in the opposite direction – at least outside the confines of Darin Morgan’s Somehow Satan Got Behind Me. It is not in the nature of a concept like “Legion” to support a lot of what made the Syndicate so fascinating on The X-Files. We can’t imagine characters torn between Frank Black and an honest-to-goodness demon in the way that Skinner or Mr. X seemed conflicted in the early years of The X-Files.

It doesn’t help that The Judge seems to aim for an ambiguous ending that seems trite. The episode ends with the eponymous character fed to his own pigs. However, his conversation with Frank fairly heavily suggests that the character operates beyond the mortal plane – as does the fact that he leaves Frank a goodbye note pinned to the door of his house, which seems like an unlikely thing to do in the midst of being brutally murdered. The suggestion is that everything has been planned, and that this all part of some sinister scheme lurking just out of Frank’s field of vision.

Courting disaster...

Courting disaster…

It is a shame that the show didn’t opt to make Marshall Bell a recurring guest star. However, Legion would pop up time and again across the length of the series in a number of different forms, fashioning its own mythology across the show’s three seasons. Indeed, it could be argued that “Legion” serves as one of the very few threads connecting all three years of Millennium. To be fair, some of those appearances were more intuited by fans than explicitly identified by the staff, demonstrating the sort of difficulties with so ethereal a concept.

What is the link between the cult in Gehenna, the “court of justice” in The Judge and the various iterations of Lucy Butler beyond the fact that they are evil? Even the scale of the evil in question seems to vary from appearance to appearance. Sometimes the demon tries to stir up a public panic; sometimes it focuses on a particular person or a particular family. A generous argument might suggest that the various faces of Legion interact with and exploit various social anxieties and institutions of the United States, but that seems a rather tenuous link.

Better luck next time...

Better luck next time…

Then again, this is perfectly in keeping with the absolutist worldview of Millennium. Evil is evil. It does not matter the scale or the motivation, evil needs to be confronted in all of its form. This outlook can occasionally seem a bit simplistic or trite, but there are points where Millennium exploits it very well. The show isn’t quite there yet. The Judge is more interesting for what it implies and suggests than for what it actually does. It would have been interesting to see the show revisit these ideas later in the season, when it had a firmer handle on itself. But this will do for now.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: