Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

Millennium – 5-2-2-6-6-6 (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.

It is interesting to compare and contrast the scripts that Morgan and Wong wrote for the fourth season of The X-Files with the scripts that they wrote for the first season of Millennium. The duo were writing for both shows at the same time – with episodes frequently airing within a week of each other. Morgan tended to focus more on the four X-Files scripts, while Wong worked primarily on the three Millennium episodes. While the seven scripts are all fascinating in their own way, there is a marked difference in how the duo approach the two shows.

Their four episodes of The X-Files are very bold and experimental – they look and feel utterly unlike anything that the show has done; before or after. These four scripts seem to needle at the show, pushing it further. Home seems designed to see how much unpleasantness the writers can get on to Fox prime time in the nineties. The Field Where I Died is a thoughtful and melancholy romance with no companion in the X-Files canon. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man parodies the show’s central conspiracy. Never Again makes the Mulder/Scully dynamic toxic.

Having a blast...

Having a blast…

That makes a great deal of sense. After all, The X-Files was in its fourth season. It was approaching that impressive “one hundredth episode” landmark, the number of episodes necessary before the show would be secure in syndication. (At least in the television landscape of the nineties.) Although less than half-way through its eventual nine-season run, The X-Files was an old dog by this stage of its life cycle. As such, it made a great deal of sense for Morgan and Wong – two writers who had been there at the beginning – to shake things up.

In contrast, the three scripts that Morgan and Wong wrote for the first season of Millennium are a bit more conservative in scope and tone. They are fascinating pieces of television that help to establish the mood of the show, but they are not as experimental of the work that Morgan and Wong were doing on The X-Files. Again, this makes a great deal of sense. Millennium was still a very young show. It was still defining its own identity, figuring out what it wanted and needed to be. Morgan and Wong’s three scripts are essential in that development.

Taking a page from the Group...

Taking a page from the Group…

One of the more interesting aspects of Wong and Morgan’s three scripts for the first season of Millennium is the way that the two writers tend to avoid the big millennial themes that are flashing in the episodes around them. While Wong and Morgan tease the idea of Frank’s visions as paranormal or supernatural, their scripts for the first season steer clear of explicit fin de siècle anxiety or the heavy religious imagery that populates surrounding stories. Wong and Morgan seem less interested in the ambiguous dread of a looming future than in more immediate concerns.

In these early episodes, Wong and Morgan seem less concerned with the big thematic and philosophical statements of Millennium; the duo are much more interested in figuring out how a show like this should work on a more intimate and personal basis. After all, Dead Letters, 5-2-2-6-6-6 and The Thin White Line are all broadly similar in structure. They are built around the quintessential Millennium story. There is a bad person out there killing people, with a unique twist, and Frank has to stop that murderer at all costs.

A boom industry...

A boom industry…

The episodes weave around that basic structure, finding a lot of interesting things to say, but there is none of the grand experimentation that these two writers would bring to second-season episodes like The Curse of Frank Black or The Time is Now. There is a sense that Wong and Morgan are trying to establish a very clear tone and structure for the show, as they did on the first season of The X-Files. These are episodes that lay down, quite simply and clearly, what Wong and Morgan feel like Millennium is intended to do, stripped of convolution or obfuscation.

The teaser is very clearly structured in that way. It is designed to be accessible to somebody who is unfamiliar with Millennium, and who needs to get a read on the show quickly. The moment that Frank hears about the bomb, he begins packing. Sure, it might not be entirely logical – surely every second news story might merit the Group’s attention? – but it sets a very clear mood. This is what Frank does, in simple terms. When Catherine asks how long he will be absent, Frank replies, “Until we’re certain it won’t happen again.” This is who Frank Black is, simply.

A lot on the line...

A lot on the line…

While their three scripts for the first season all loosely conform to the “serial-killer-of-the-week” structure, clearly working within the established framework of the show, Wong and Morgan work quite hard to establish a context for Frank Black and the work that he does. Dead Letters offers Frank a glimpse at a reflection of himself in James Horn, a man who has stared into the darkness so long that it has taken a heavy toll. The Thin White Line gives viewers a glimpse into Frank’s past, suggesting that history is just as important as an approaching millennial deadline.

At the same time, the procedural trappings allow room for variation. Wong and Morgan’s first season scripts for Millennium are all structured around a race to stop a serial offender. However, the details change. Dead Letters is more interested in Frank’s fellow profiler than it is in the mystery killer. 5-2-2-6-6-6 is about a bomber rather than a traditional killer. The Thin White Line offers a deeper exploration of a psychopath already in custody than the one committing the current killing spree. Wong and Morgan seem to be testing the flexibility of the format.

"No, I said, 'If you'd been sitting in that booth at the moment of detonation your flesh would have been Kleenex'..."

“No, I said, ‘If you’d been sitting in that booth at the moment of detonation your flesh would have been Kleenex’…”

5-2-2-6-6-6 draws rather heavily from the real-life case of George Metesky, the “mad bomber” who terrorised New York for sixteen years in the forties and fifties. Metesky in an interesting case, because he was one of the first high-profile offenders to be arrested based primarily on a psychological profile. During the early phase of the investigation, traditional investigative tools proved useless. Finger print experts, handwriting experts, the bomb investigation unit; nobody could get a trace on this erratic and anonymous threat.

During the Second World War, the OSS had commissioned Walter C. Langer to develop a psychological profile of Adolf Hitler that might be useful in conducting the war. Langer’s psychological study of Hitler – drawing from a wealth of sources and information – was so insightful that the psychologist even predicted Adolf Hitler’s suicide in the last days of the war. In 1972, Langer published certain sections of his report as The Mind of Adolf Hitler. It was released three decades after Langer had compiled the original report.

Where there's smoke...

Where there’s smoke…

Pursuing the “mad bomber”, the authorities thought that such an approach might be useful. They drafted in James Brussel, the assistant commissioner of the New York State Commission for Mental Hygiene. As Wayne Petherick notes in Serial Crime, Brussel’s contributions would become almost legendary:

Following the work of Langer, the New York-base psychiatrist James Brussel was to provide a profile of the Mad Bomber, who had been terrorising the city for a number of years. The apprehension of George Metesky in 1956, being almost the mirror image of Brussel’s prediction, right down to the legendary double-breasted suit Bressel predicted he would be wearing, was to guide profiling into a new era. Whereas Langer had information on his subject and was aware of him as a person in the physical sense, Brussel had been able to provide his assessment on the basis of other information and with no prior knowledge of the actual offender.

This was a massive moment for psychological profiling as a tool in criminal investigations. It would be decades before John Douglas would bring the art of into the mainstream, but Brussel’s contributions to the “mad bomber” case paved the way for such investigative techniques.

Following the signs...

Following the signs…

However, Raymond Dees reflects George Metesky in more than just his choice of weapon. Metesky turned himself into something of a public figure during the investigation. Following an explosion in the Radio City Music Hall in 1953, the authorities described the then-unknown bomber as “a publicity-seeking jerk.” Indeed, Metesky engaged in something of a public discourse with the authorities. After Pearl Harbour, he vowed not to plant any bombs during the Second World War; a letter compiled from newspaper clippings cited his patriotism. He was as good as his word.

When he returned to the fold in the fifties, he engaged in a very public discourse. Edited versions of his letters were published in The New York American with the blessing of the authorities. It seemed that Metesky just wanted to be heard – that he just wanted a public acknowledgement of the injustices he felt had been done to him. It is interesting to note that the two most famous pictures of Metesky were taken after his capture, and feature the bomber smiling proudly, as if languishing in all the attention.

Talk about judging tone...

Talk about judging tone…

Re-examining the evidence, Bruce Joshua Miller observed from Metesky’s letters that he was “a writer who loved the sound of his own words.” Michael M. Greenberg reflects on the dilemma facing the press at the time when it came to engaging with Metesky:

“During the period of time when the bombings reached their crescendo, there was, you know, panic, apprehension, a great deal of fear in the city,” Greenburg says. “And Mr. Berkson got together with his staff, and decided that the best way to approach this story would be to publish what he called an open letter to the bomber. And this letter promised good treatment to the bomber if he would reveal himself and turn himself in. Well, this had the effect of drawing out the bomber, so to speak. And he got into a very public dialogue with the newspaper, and it really created an ethical dilemma for Berkson, who was working very closely with the New York Police Department, who had asked him on several occasions to withhold information. So it was the journalist’s paradox: trying to balance his commitment to the community against his duty to zealously cover the news.”

Metesky became something of a celebrity. Steve Pelletiere, writing in WIN magazine, remarked that “George’s bombs were ideal happenings for television, as they took place in movie theatres, subways, public telephone booths.” It was the perfect public spectacle.

Building to something...

Building to something…

Of course, it is interesting to juxtapose this perspective of the Metesky case with a much more contemporary investigation. In July 1996, security guard Richard Jewell had discovered a bomb at the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. Although Jewell worked frantically to clear the area, the bomb detonated. It killed one person and injured over one hundred others. Although Jewell was hailed as a hero in the immediate aftermath, he was labelled a “person of interest” on the third day following the bomb. This was based on the psychological profile of the bomber.

It was suggested that Jewell had planted the bomb so that he might find it and become a hero. As with Metesky, the psychological profile of the bomber seemed to point towards an offender aspiring towards fame and notoriety. The profile cased a lot of harm, turning Jewell’s life into a media circus. He would not be exhonorated until the end of October 1996 – less than a month before 5-2-2-6-6-6 aired. As such, the decision to build an episode around the psychological profile of a mad bomber seems quite apt.

A ray of hope...

A ray of hope…

As of November 1996, cases involving the apprehension of bombers had been among both the most high-profile success stories and the most damning failures of psychological profiling. Here, Dees is portrayed in keeping with these psychological profilers. He is a man who wants to be famous. When Frank Black asks who he is talking to, Dees replies, simply, “A star.” Rather pointedly, Dees’ big plan is based on the original psychological profile of the bomber at the Centennial Olympic Park. Dees plants a bomb in his place of work so he can be a hero.

5-2-2-6-6-6 is fixated on the idea of fame. Dees is constructing his own narrative. Taunting Frank, he promises, “You do your job, you’ll be famous. A real star.” Frank consciously rejects the glamour that comes with this grim work. When the FBI want to send a talking head on to Nightline, Frank declines. “I have a job.” Frank is not looking for a book deal or a column or a movie. He just wants to do the right thing. Agent Pierson is horrified by the bomber’s motivations. “Are you saying he killed 18 people so he could be on Good Morning America?”

Phone home...

Phone home…

Andy Warhol infamously predicted that, in the future, everybody would be famous for fifteen minutes. Dees seems to have turned this into his whole philosophy. 5-2-2-6-6-6 feels rather pointedly a product of the mid-to-late nineties, existing on the cusp of the reality television boom that would make that true. Reality television really developed in the late eighties and into the nineties as a result of a number of different factors. While there were undoubtedly wider social influences at play, there were also technical and political considerations that made it more and more feasible.

For example, the introduction of non-linear computer editing software made it easier to edit down a television show from mountains of footage. As a result, cameras could follow “personalities” all week, only to edit the work down to fit the half-hour slot. A number (and increased threat) of high-profile strikes in Hollywood made it more and more practical for studios to produce material that did not rely on writers or actors. After all, Fox had kick-started the genre with Cops in 1989 as a response to the 1988 writers’ strike.

Out of his ballpark...

Out of his ballpark…

Reality television was mainly produced by the younger networks in the early nineties. MTV enjoyed great success with The Real World in 1992, following it up with Road Rules in 1995. However, as Chad Raphael notes in The Political Economic Origins of Reali-TV, the genre’s influence began to be felt in more mainstream media:

The more recent crop of Reali-TV game shows and survival contests make far less pretence to public service, except for the network newsmagazines. These programs still purport to offer investigative reporting even as they abandon the kinds of subjects most in need of journalistic scrutiny. A recent study of four network newmagazines found that over one-half of all stories focused on lifestyle, human interest, and celebrity news. Just 8 percent of reports were about politics, economics, social welfare and education. As the news magazines began to compete with fictional and tabloid television programs, such as Entertainment Tonight or Inside Edition, all increasingly focused on the same topics. By 1997, there was little difference in story selection between the tabloid programs and the network newsmagazines, according to one television monitoring company. The runaway story of the year for both was Princess Diana’s death.

This created a culture built around cheap fame and disposable celebrity. The media tended to build up “personalities” and “stars” out of nowhere. The paradoxical idea of being famous for being famous began to slip into the mainstream. Relationships and rumours became harder currency than material accomplishments.

The makings of a madman...

The makings of a madman…

This is the culture to which Raymond Dees desperately wants to belong. In his conversations with Frank, he spouts deliberately nonsensical clichés that sound like rough drafts of a public speaking tour or a later-night infomercial. “I touch people in a deep, lasting way,” he tells Frank, as if interviewing on a morning chat show. “A life-altering way.” He insists, “My art brings out the truth. People are either vic-tors or vic-tims. My explosion strips every hypocrisy, every pretension sheltered in the human heart and exposes the naked soul.”

It feels like the copy from the back cover of a questionable autobiography. It is the kind of empty rhetoric that Dees likely expects to hear recycled in those talking-heads documentaries about particular decades. Dees feels like he is owed fame, like he is entitled to his celebrity. He manipulates the narrative around himself. He positions himself as the hero running into the bomb site, or the outlaw who dies with all guns blazing. Dees’ rhetoric might sound trite, but he is very cleverly selling himself.

Ticking time bomb of insanity...

Ticking time bomb of insanity…

This is one of the more interesting aspects of 5-2-2-6-6-6. It isn’t just that Dees wants to be famous; he recognises that his fame can come from death. He positions himself as the hero, but he also plays the role of the villain when he is discovered. Fame is fame. As David Schmidt contended in Natural-Born Celebrities, the serial killer is just another type of celebrity:

Death not only makes the already famous more famous, but can also propel anonymous nonentities into stardom. As Mark Chapman found out when he killed John Lennon, by attacking the famous, you can become famous, achieving a kind of second-order celebrity that is no less enduring for being borrowed. The most significant example of this homicidal variant on the relationship between death and celebrity in contemporary America is the serial killer. Just as Diana has a large number of websites devoted to her, on many of which you can buy Diana memorabilia, so the serial killer’s fame has spawned websites devoted to “murderabilia,” or the selling of serial killer artifacts. Serial Killer Central offers a range of items made by serial killers themselves, including paintings and drawings by Angelo Buono (one of the “Hillside Stranglers“) and Henry Lee Lucas. For the more discerning consumer, Supernaught.com charges a mere $300 for a brick from Jeffrey Dahmer‘s apartment building, while a lock of Charles Manson‘s hair is a real bargain at $995, shipping and handling not included.

The sale of murderabilia is just a small part of the huge serial killer industry that has become a defining feature of American popular culture over the last twenty-five years. A constant stream of movies, magazines, t-shirts, trading cards, videos, DVDs, books, websites, television shows, and a mountain of ephemera has given the figure of the serial murderer an unparalleled degree of visibility in contemporary American culture. In a culture defined by celebrity, serial killers like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy are the biggest stars of all, instantly recognized by the vast majority of Americans.

Indeed, fame has been a motivating factor for some real-life murderers. “He is somebody who is a wannabe,” noted criminologist David Wilson of Stephen Griffiths, “the crossbow cannibal.” Wilson added, “He is desperately keen for fame, even infamy.”

This world isn't big enough for the booth of us...

This world isn’t big enough for the booth of us…

Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers had even hinted at the idea, with the lead characters carving their way across America – complete with a tabloid journalist to document their spree. The serial killer is a deeply problematic pop culture figure – it is very easy to fall into the pattern of glorifying or glamourising what they do. Millennium itself would occasionally struggle against this, occasionally delving a little too gleefully into the horror on display. There is an argument to be had about Hollywood’s complicity in turning the serial killer into such an iconic presence.

5-2-2-6-6-6 gingerly broaches the topic, drawing attention to the voyeuristic nature of these sorts of stories. Profiling the bomber, Frank warns the authorities, “Expect to find an array of eavesdropping devices – scanners, cell phone cloners, R.F. receivers. He’s listening to every transmission we make. It’s his way of inserting himself into the chaos – the chaos he creates.” We are introduced to the bomber sitting inside the pub he plans to destroy; he carefully scopes out vantage points so he can get the best view of the resulting chaos.

(Sky)scraping by...

(Sky)scraping by…

Although the device of having Catherine interrupt a stakeout because she needs to hear Frank’s voice is more than a little clumsy, it does set up a nice little sequence. Initially, Dees is eavesdropping on Catherine’s phone call to Frank. Then, after Dees rings Frank, Catherine finds herself eavesdropping on the conversation between the two. Despite the fact that this is an on-going investigation, Catherine doesn’t hang up. She continues to listen. In a way, it seems like Wong and Morgan are softly needling the audience, drawing attention to voyeuristic nature of these stories.

As with the similarities between 5-2-2-6-6-6 and the case of Richard Jewell, it does feel like Wong and Morgan are perhaps teasing the audience. The two writers seem to be gently acknowledging some of the more questionable aspects of Millennium, some of the uncomfortable truths nestled close to the heart of the series. This isn’t as loud and full-blown as their contemporary deconstruction of The X-Files, but they are drawing out some of the more problematic aspects of making a show like this.

Dees-tructive...

Dees-tructive…

However, it is quite clever how Wong and Morgan use Dees as a critique of celebrity culture. In fact, the bombs that Dees plant feel like a perfect metaphor for this most superficial and fleeting sort of fame. “Do you know precisely what happens at the moment of detonation?” Dees asks Frank at one point. “Shock waves moving faster than the speed of sound, pressure of over 500 pounds per square inch and this is all unleashed by me, Frank. It moves so fast that a vacuum is formed behind it, sucking back all the air that’s been forced out by the blast.”

In essence, this is the same sort of fame that Dees wants – one that explodes quickly, but collapses almost instantaneously. There is only a vacuum left in its wake, only a gaping void that will collapse into itself. Dees wants his fifteen minutes of fame, and the ironic twist of 5-2-2-6-6-6 is that his fame doesn’t even seem to last fifteen minutes. Dees is forgotten quickly. “With his death, the reasons behind the bombings may never be known,” a reporter observes, suggesting that nobody even cares. Dees is swallowed by news cycle he so desperately courted.

Closing shot...

Closing shot…

5-2-2-6-6-6 is a fascinating first-season instalment, a rather clever and insightful twist on a show that is only five episodes old at this point.

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

Advertisements

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: