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Millennium – Kingdom Come (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.

Kingdom Come is a horrible misjudged episode of Millennium, and the show’s first truly spectacular misfire.

Kingdom Come was notably the first episode to air out of production order. It had been produced as the fourth episode following The Pilot, between Dead Letters and The Judge. However, the episode was broadcast as the sixth episode of the television season, after 5-2-2-6-6-6 and before Blood Relatives. The official reason given for this delay was the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in mid-November 1996, following a long and public battle with cancer. It was suggested that an episode about a serial killer targeting religious figures would have been in poor taste at the time.

A light in the darkness...

A light in the darkness…

Still, whatever the official reason given, it cannot help but feel like the production staff were hoping to bury a stinker a little deeper into the season. Kingdom Come is an episode that does not work on any number of levels, offering a rather patronising and condescending view of religious faith as explained through stilted exposition and trite cliché. The show’s observations about faith and hope feel more like sentiments from Hallmark greeting cards than observations on the human condition.

The result is an episode that embodies the worst traits of Millennium, feeling just as crass and sensationalist as it does hollow and superficial.

The episode really bombed...

The episode really bombed…

To be fair, Chris Carter had an interesting approach to religion in the nineties. On The X-Files, Scully was revealed to be a Catholic who reconciled her faith with her scientific beliefs. In contrast, and with beautiful irony, Mulder’s belief in the paranormal and extraterrestrials was more overtly religious. In some ways, Mulder’s desire to believe in the supernatural felt like a commentary on faith in the nineties. As America seemed to lose touch with established institutions, more and more people looked outside the mainstream to find something to believe in.

The idea of faith permeates The X-Files and Millennium. The iconic poster on the wall of Mulder’s office pleads, “I want to believe.” The show would frequently integrate the alien with the divine. Red Museum teased an entire religion based around alien “walk-ins”, while Fearful Symmetry suggested that aliens were building their own version of Noah’s Ark. Carter infused the series with a mixture of Christian and New Age iconography, with Mulder dying and returning to life three days later thanks to a Native American ritual in The Blessing Way, or titling the fourth season finalé Gethsemene.

To coin a phrase...

To coin a phrase…

One of the more interesting aspects of the way that Carter’s shows approached religion was the idea that absolute and unquestioning faith was an ideal. People who could harness that level of belief were to be envied; doubt was weakness. Consider Owen Jarvis’ admonishment of Scully in Revelations, the lapse of Leonard Vance’s faith in Miracle Man, the dilution of the coven’s faith in Die Hand Die Verletzt or the honesty of Reverend Enoch O’Connor’s fundamentalism in Signs and Wonders. This romantic and nostalgic desire to believe unquestionably dates The X-Files as a nineties show.

That desire is in full forth in Kingdom Come, as Frank Black is confronted with the brutal murder of religious figures by a man who has lost his faith. “He’s not killing men,” Frank reflects at one point. “He’s killing faith.” Much of Kingdom Come is spent lamenting that lost faith, as the other characters struggle to comprehend how somebody could murder so many religious figures. “Churches, clergy – symbols of what is supposed to be safe haven, coming under attack,” Catherine states bluntly in her obligatory interaction with the primary plot. “Why do they do it, Frank?”

He hasn't a prayer...

He hasn’t a prayer…

Kingdom Come seems absolutely certain about its own faith, with every character assuming that religious faith in a Christian deity in a fixture of the human experience. Discussing his own religious beliefs, Frank reflects, “Maybe faith is like the picture album left in the closet. We don’t go back and visit it every day. We need to know it’s there, need to know it’s safe so we can pass it along when the time is right.” Indeed, when Frank confesses his own uncertainty about his religious faith to Father Schultz, it is simply to set up the renewal of that faith at the climax.

Indeed, at the climax, he assures the killer, “I’ve seen your ritual. You try to kill your faith with the tools of your own belief because of your pain, because you think God’s forsaken you. You think that you can get rid of your pain by slaughtering the faith that’s inside you.” The problem is not that the killer doesn’t believe. it is that the killer believes so much that he cannot stop believing – even though he might want to. It feels like a very patronising and heavy-handed commentary on the changing religious climate in the United States during the nineties.

The stakes are high...

The stakes are high…

However, all of this feels incredibly trite. There is an interesting story to be told about the erosion of Christianity’s standing in nineties America. However, Kingdom Come is an episode that places the blame for that loss of faith and disappointment on the congregations, rather than on the religious institutions themselves. Calloway’ crisis faith is not a symptom of a wider social trend, it is just a deeply personal loss of faith that is based entirely on factors external to both Calloway himself and the religious institutions in which he invested so much faith.

The problem is that Kingdom Come pretends this sort of observation is profound while the episode dances around a rather sizable elephant in the room. There are lots of reasons why the Americans seemed to lose faith in Christianity during the nineties. There were a lot of reasons why many came to feel abandoned and betrayed by the institution. In the mid-nineties, various Christian institutions were rocked by public allegations of sexual abuse around the world. Although the Catholic Church and other institutions would fight these allegations into the new millennium, there were and more high-profile reports.

The church's line...

The church’s line…

In 1994, UTV had aired Suffer the Little Children, a documentary exploring clerical sex abuse by the Catholic Church in Ireland. The same year, Archbishop Edgardo Storni resigned from his post in Argentina following a number of accusations made against him. The following year, Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër stepped down under a similar cloud of controversy. Rather than working to protect children, the Catholic Church conspired to cover up the crimes.

The problem was not just limited to the Catholic Church. It was reported in 1990 that two priests per week were arrested in the United States for crimes relating to sexual abuse. Due to the religious demographics of the United States, more than half of those arrested were Protestant. So, understandably, there was a lot of palpable anger and frustration with these institutions that had abused their trust so profoundly and so unrepentantly. Kingdom Come‘s assertion that any loss of faith in the Catholic Church is a personal failing feels glib and smug in that context.

Faithless...

Faithless…

These are undoubtedly uncomfortable themes, particularly for a mainstream American television show in the nineties. However, trying to avoid them robs Kingdom Come of any weight. It is a story about disillusionment and loss of faith in nineties. However, it isn’t willing to explore the larger context of these spiritual crisis. The closest that the episode comes to acknowledging that there may be reasons why people have veered away from their faith is early on, as Detective Kerney explains, “I went to a Jesuit high school. Father Dodson left a permanent impression on me – if you know what I mean.”

However, that is a single innuendo buried in a line of dialogue from a character who appears in one scene. It is not an idea with which Kingdom Come wishes to engage on any significant level. This is a disappointment, as the resulting story feels more hollow than hallow, a series of familiar clichés about faith and hope wrapped up in a fairly formulaic Millennium story. Calloway even has a snazzy gimmick and all, killing priests using the same brutal methods that were employed against heretics in earlier times.

What is George cooking up?

What is George cooking up?

There is also a sense that Kingdom Come is simply too narrow in its focus. While Christian religions may have been in something of a decline during the nineties, other religions were enjoying periods of significant growth. Some of that was fueled by immigration, but it was also fueled by the idea that Americans weren’t so much losing their faith as changing it. As Diana Eck reported in A New Religious America, published in 2001:

As Muslim Americans stand in the halls of Congress, Buddhist Americans ordain monks in temples flying the American flag, Hindu Americans run for local and state office, and Sikh Americans insist on their constitutional right to wear the turban and retain their uncut hair in the military, the presupposition that America is foundationally Christian is being challenged, really for the first time. There is no going back.

Like The X-Files before it, Millennium seems to be a show fascinated with white middle-class anxieties. As with The X-Files, the ensemble cast of Millennium is predominantly white and male. Even at this early stage, Millennium has a very white middle-class perspective, with very little interest in looking beyond the fears of that particular class.

Who monitors the birds?

Who monitors the birds?

To be fair, as Frank argues in The Pilot, most serial killers are white men. However, the first season tends to have quite a narrow focus on its subject matter. One of the recurring themes of the first season – forming a loose trilogy between The Well-Worn Lock, Wide Open and Weeds – is the idea that the suburban home is not safe. Although the socioeconomic and racial make-up of suburbia was becoming more diverse in the nineties, it was still a mostly white and mostly middle-class environment in the nineties.

During the first season, Frank rarely engages with crime outside that narrow social group. He makes a diversion in the world of poor Southern whites in The Wild and the Innocent and to immigrant communities in Gehenna or Maranatha. He visits rural North Dakota in Broken World. However, these are very much the exception rather than the rule. So it makes sense that Kingdom Come would be fixated on the perceived erosion of religious values in the nineties, overlooking the fact that there was more religious and spiritual diversity than there ever had been before.

Burning hatred...

Burning hatred…

Kingdom Come is also weighed down by a subplot about teaching Jordan how to cope with death. Confronting the reality that your parents are going to die is a pretty big deal, and there’s an interesting story to be told about Jordan Black reconciling that fact with what her father does. However, with its convenient dead birds and clumsy dialogue, Kingdom Come is not that story. To be fair, a lot of the early season one stories struggle to integrate Catherine and Jordan into Frank’s stories, but Kingdom Come serves as a textbook example of how not to do it.

Indeed, airing Kingdom Come out of sequence only emphasises the teething problems facing the show. Indeed, the episode introduces another under-developed member of the Millennium Group in Ardis Cohen. As with Atkins in Gehenna, Cohen has worked with Frank before; the show does a lot to explain how the Millennium Group came into contact with Frank and why he might have signed on with them. Sadly, this thread is never developed. We never get a sense of Frank’s history with characters like Atkins or Cohen, ultimately reducing them to plot cyphers.

Mass murder...

Mass murder…

Once again, the show goes out of its way to cast a recognisable actor in the thankless role of a Millennium Group guest star. This time it is Lindsay Crouse, who had shot to attention with a recurring guest role on the sixth season of Hill Street Blues and would go on to become a recurring guest star on the fourth season of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. She joins C.C.H. Pounder and Chris Ellis among the under-developed members of the group established early in the first season.

Indeed, Cohen would never appear on the show again. Like Jim Penseyres, Ardis Cohen would become another dead-end character who was introduced and used in a way that would suggest she was important, only to be forgotten. Penseyres appeared in three early episodes before fading into history; Cohen never appears again. To be fair, Crouse seems to have a bit of difficulty with the character. One gets the sense that the only reason Terry O’Quinn stuck around is because he was so good at imbuing standard plot exposition with hints of character.

Frank assessment...

Frank assessment…

Still, it seems like Millennium was trying to set up Cohen as a recurring character. Crouse appeared in promotional interviews early in the first season, suggesting an arc for her character:

I’m finding out what it is that my gift is, and I think that there are a couple of them. One of them, I think, is particularly womanly.  I think that I will turn over every stone and never give up. I think it’s a kind of maternal characteristic, that you’ll stand over a sick child until there’s absolutely nothing left to be done, and I think that kind of tenacity is a part of Ardis Cohen’s character. I also think she has an encyclopedic mind. She’s a scholar and she is fascinated by what motivates human behavior.

This – along with the fact that Crouse was chosen to interview about the series for promotional purposes – suggests that the actress had signed on expecting a more significant role than a one-shot guest appearance providing plot exposition.

Preach!

Preach!

To be fair, guest star Michael Zelniker does the best that he can with a generic serial-killer-of-the-week. Calloway is the kind of generic monster that would come to be associated with Millennium – a pop psychology motivation wrapped around a snazzy modus operandi. In the show’s strongest moments, Zelniker finds a hint of humanity in Calloway’s pain. Sadly, the script can’t quite keep up, and Galloway is precisely the sort of character that supports the stock “serial-killer-of-the-week” criticism that the show attracted at this stage of its life-cycle.

The gimmick itself isn’t that bad, even if Kingdom Come demonstrates that an episode of Millennium needs more than an effective serial-killer gimmick. The first death – a priest burnt at the stake – makes for an effective cold open, even if the rest of the episode struggles to keep pace with that effective sequence. It’s a smart move, putting the showiest death up front, even if there is a sense that the deaths can only get less creative from that point onwards. Still, the opening image of a priest burning alive at the stake is catchy and haunting, even if the rest of the episode can’t live up to it.

Knife gimmick!

Knife gimmick!

Kingdom Come is the show’s first real misfire, a clumsy exercise in naval-gazing that seems afraid to actually explore the ideas that it broaches. The result is something of a cliché, a shallow episode that has nothing particularly interesting to say, but insists on saying it anyway.

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

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2 Responses

  1. Have seen this a few times in my own life with regards to people who lose their religion and the reactions they provoke. A ton of religious believers just have an absolute mindblock against the idea that a person could simply consider the options and decide “wow, I really think this ‘atheism’ idea makes the most sense.” It’s always got to be explicable by deep trauma, or a rebellion against authority, or some kind of personal issue, or just a fad that’ll pass.

    Which to be fair, cuts both ways: atheists who consider religion a form of mental illness aren’t exactly unheard of. (Stop glaring, Roddenberry).

    • Yep, I mean I’m not saying that extremists on both ends of the spectrum don’t exist. (I think Rust Cohle in True Detective was a phenomenally well-written version of the “asshole atheist” archetype, if only because he was very clearly written from a position that acknowledged his views are extremist. I think that the second season of Millennium does a good job with its religious extremists, particularly Peter Watts. However, then we cycle out to the third season…)

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