Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Millennium – The Beginning and the End (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The Beginning and the End manages the impressive and paradoxical feat of both rebooting Millennium and resolving the cliffhanger at the end of Paper Dove. These two contradictory impulses become part of the thematic fabric of The Beginning and the End, an episode fascinated by duality and opposition. Can the polaroid stalker be both a serial killer of the week and the herald of something so much greater? Can Catherine and Frank Black be both united and separated? Can Millennium be the same show it was last year and something completely new?

The Beginning and the End is the start of the show’s polarising and divisive second season. To critics, the second season completely branches off from the first season of the show, replacing a framework that had grown and developed over the course of the year with a bizarre and unwieldy approach that was gonzo and surreal. To fans, the second season was an ambitious and exciting piece of television utterly unlike anything that had been broadcast before or has been broadcast since.

Up in the sky...

Up in the sky…

With Chris Carter back focusing on the development of The X-Files and the looming release of The X-Files: Fight the Future, Fox drafted in Glen Morgan and James Wong to steer the second season of Millennium. The duo had helped to define the identity of The X-Files in its first year, and had produced the failed (but ambitious and prescient) series Space: Above and Beyond for the network. After working on the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium, Fox allowed the pair to produce their own pilot – The Notorious Seven.

When Fox opted not to take The Notorious Seven to series, they asked Glen Morgan and James Wong to take charge of Millennium in its sophomore season. As The Beginning and the End demonstrates, Morgan and Wong promptly made the show their own.

Looking up and wondering...

Looking up and wondering…

When it became clear that he could not oversee two twenty-odd episode prime-time dramas and a blockbuster film, Chris Carter apparently asked Frank Spotnitz to run Millennium in its second season. However, Spotnitz declined, due to his own lack of experience and his preference to remain involved in The X-Files. According to the documentary The Turn of the Tide, Carter was not directly involved in the selection of Morgan and Wong:

I was really busy during season two. I didn’t even know that Morgan and Wong were interested in doing season two. I got a call one day saying that a deal had been struck, so it came as a surprise.  But they had done such great work on The X-Files it seemed like a no-brainer that these were the guys to step in and take the reins while the rest of us at Ten Thirteen worked on X-Files and on the X-Files movie which was at that point in post-production. Jim and Glen had certain ideas, obviously, about the show, and they wanted to express those ideas, and I think they did. I didn’t see all the episodes in season two, I just didn’t have the time. I would still like to go back and see them.

The documentary was produced in 2004, more than half-a-decade after the second season aired. It seems strange that Carter had not found the time to revisit the second season in all that time. Nevertheless, it seems like the show was well and truly out of Carter’s hands at that point in its life. He loses the “executive producer” credit from The Beginning and the End onwards.

Looking for answers...

Looking for answers…

Interviewed by Back to Frank Black, Glen Morgan has stated that the decision to radically change the direction of the show was motivated by conversations with the network:

Morgan goes on to talk about the reasons for the significant shift in direction for the series when the two stepped in. “The network had said, ‘The serial killer thing is killing us.’ We looked at it, Jim and I talked, and what was really interesting was the Millennium Group.” Wong agrees, “It was always the conspiracy, the Millennium Group. There’s a part of you asking, ‘Are these really a good group of people? Why are they doing this stuff?'”

Certainly, Fox were unhappy with the first season of the show. Millennium had largely been commissioned on the success of The X-Files, even occupying that show’s old Friday night slot. However, it was not delivering numbers.

The darkness at the centre of it all...

The darkness at the centre of it all…

Fox had invested an incredible amount in The Pilot. They had allocated a phenomenal budget for publicity and promotion of Chris Carter’s new show, even staging a number of cinematic screenings of The Pilot. The approach managed to bring viewers in; The Pilot had brought in record viewing figures for the network. However, almost immediately, the viewing figures began a rather brutal descent. Whereas The X-Files had seen its ratings consistently increase over its lifetime, Millennium saw them perpetually decreasing.

There are lots of possible reasons for these declining figures, but it seems that viewers were not particularly interested in a sombre mediation on the nature of evil featuring serial killers. While The X-Files was fun and crazy and welcoming, Millennium was a dark and serious affair. The show rarely smiled, and the idea of doing “a Millennium comedy episode” would have seemed absurd in the first season. Indeed, it even seems absurd in hindsight. That alone illustrates the differences between the first and second seasons.

Snapshot...

Snapshot…

The Beginning and the End marks a conscious shift away from the “serial-killer-of-the-week” format of the first season. To be fair, the reliance on that formula is somewhat overstated in criticisms of the show, and the first season itself had begun to move away from the template in its final third. Paper Dove really pushed the idea as far as it could go, emphasising the humanity of its chosen murderer rather than stressing his “otherness.” It seemed like an appropriate note on which to end the season.

In contrast, The Beginning and the End is not content to simply evolve or temper that format. Instead, the episode ruthlessly murders it. The show peels off those trappings as easy as the polaroid stalker peels off his beard and sideburns. Underneath that clever disguise hides actor Doug Hutchinson. Hutchinson not only has a long association with producers Glen Morgan and James Wong, but he is indelibly associated with Eugene Victor Tooms, the first real “monster” that Mulder and Scully faced in Squeeze, Morgan and Wong’s first script for The X-Files.

Unpacking all that baggage...

Unpacking all that baggage…

As Frank hunts desperately for the stalker, the stalker boasts that Frank will not succeed as long as he adheres to the safe and familiar formula. “I don’t fit into the serial killer profile he’s come to understand,” the polaroid stalker warns Catherine. “Now, I am so far beyond.” There is a sense that the show has moved beyond the realm of simple serial killers, and that Frank is wading into something more bizarre and inexplicable. If Millennium is to be a show about a man hunting monsters, The Beginning and the End embraces the idea that they should be truly monstrous.

And, yet, the polaroid stalker remains a relic of the first season. He has haunted the narrative since the moment that Frank opened that envelope at the end of The Pilot. He only appeared in Paper Dove, but his presence was repeatedly evoked by the television show over that twenty-two episode run. He might be played by Doug Hutchinson instead of Paul Raskin, but he provides a clear tether to the show’s history. The polaroid stalker exists as another contradiction at the heart of The Beginning and the End, albeit a self-aware contradiction.

Picture a killer...

Picture a killer…

“I am the end,” the polaroid stalker advises Catherine. “The question that ends here. I am the first and I am the last, I am the alpha and I am the omega, I am the beginning and I am the end.” In a way, the polaroid man draws attention to his nature as a tool of the show’s rebirth. There is also something decidedly metafictional about the character; Doug Hutchinson himself was there at the beginning of Morgan and Wong’s association with Ten Thirteen, and he appears to herald the end of that association.

Discussing the comet travelling through the heavens, the polaroid stalker reflects, “You see, we’re being told that we have a choice in the millennial outcome. One path, or the other.” Standing between the first and second seasons, the polaroid stalker seems to recognise that the show is at a crossroads; it must decide how it wants to develop. The Beginning and the End is largely about making the choice – ending the show as it was, beginning it as it will be. When Frank murders the polaroid stalker at the episode’s climax, he is killing the show as it had existed to that point.

"Yes, I look exactly the same as I did in Paper Dove. Why do you ask?"

“Yes, I look exactly the same as I did in Paper Dove. Why do you ask?”

This shift in perspective was quite clearly noted at the time. In particular, Lance Henriksen found himself fielding questions about the changes to the show and to the world of Frank Black. In a 1997 video interview, Henriksen attempted to account for the move away from the more formulaic procedural aspects of the first season:

In reality, there’s a lot more in life than serial killers. There are some out there, and there are some operating and things like that, but I know that on this journey that we’re on this year, it’s not like we’re stopping doing that, but there’s a lot of other things to do.

In a 1998 interview with Xposé, Lance Henriksen offered a similar justification for the shift in the portrayal of Frank Black:

“It isn’t so much that my character has changed,” he says, “so much as that you are seeing more of him; more sides of him, rather than just dealing with an issue or a crime. You are seeing a human being. I’d like to see more of that human side come out because it can take the character so much farther. There are many sides to real people and I want to show those different sides in Frank.”

It often seemed like the production team was struggling to account for the radical change in direction during the summer hiatus.

Heart of Blackness...

Heart of Blackness…

In fact, that contemporaneous video interview makes it seem like Henriksen himself was on the back foot when it came to the changes to the show and the character, as well as the developments surrounding the Millennium Group:

It’s being revealed to me, as it’s revealed to the audience, what this Millennium Group really is. The spectrum can be enormous. Any secret organization that you know something about, you become a danger to them if they want to remain secret. And so I don’t know if that’s possible. I mean, I don’t know what direction it’s going in, which is exciting for an actor.

It is an approach that could also be quite frustrating, and perhaps accounted for some of the disagreements around the direction that the show took.

Gutting the show...

Gutting the show…

To be fair, James Wong argues in his interview with Back to Frank Black that the direction was agreed upon at the time. According to Wong, this was not a case of the duo “hijacking” the show or anything as dramatic:

“You can always go back and criticise afterwards, but everyone agreed on the path that we were going to take before we took it. We weren’t just going in there and saying, ‘We’re going to change everything, and we’re not going to tell anyone what we’re doing.’ Everyone said, ‘Yeah, this sound good, let’s do it’ before we did it. It was only afterwards that people felt like we went too far. I got to the point where I didn’t really listen to that because I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, and lots of times I disagree, so I can’t get into listening to it.”

There is some ambiguity around how everybody on the show felt about the conscious departure from the aesthetic and design of the first season.

Everything goes around...

Everything goes around…

In a retrospective interview with Back to Frank Black, Lance Henriksen explained his conflicted feelings towards the second season, observing that they had softened in the intervening years:

“It wasn’t hated,” he states before broaching the subject. “We felt the second season was subversive to the show. The first thing that happened was Glen Morgan and James Wong put out a t-shirt saying, ‘98% less serial killers!’ What?! The whole premise of the show was solving crimes that were almost impossible to solve. We felt it was subversive in a real way!” Henriksen’s opinion of the epic stories told by Morgan and Wong has shifted somewhat in the years since those episodes were shot, however. “Remember, I couldn’t watch the show while I was doing it! I couldn’t, I didn’t have the time. I didn’t see the shows themselves until the box sets were coming out. As I got deeper into Season Two, I felt the writers were trying out some very unusual work, some very strange events! I started to see one or two of the episodes were very creative! That took the sting out of my original feelings.”

The consensus opinion seems to be that the second season was just as divisive among those working on the show as it was to those watching at home. This was not the show that it had been, causing understandable creative friction.

Countdown...

Countdown…

That reflection is even reflected in some stylistic choices; the second season (mostly) does away with the quotes introducing the episodes. In his interview with Back to Frank Black, Glen Morgan acknowledged disagreements among the show’s behind-the-scenes staff concerning these changes:

“Ken [Horton] and Chip [Johannessen] were less than thrilled with what we doing. There were arguments and fights back then but – and I’m not just saying this to patch things up or sound like a good guy – the hatchet has been buried. Chip and I walked the picket line together [during the Writers Guild of America strike in 2007 and 2008], and Ken and I had a flight back from Vancouver where we talked about all kinds of stuff, so everybody’s friends. But at the time the guys who had been there the first year wanted to keep it that way, and Jim and I had a new way of going.”

Though eventually resolved, these creative differences over the second season did linger for a while. The Turn of the Tide, the aforementioned 2004 documentary, acknowledged the lack of contribution from the pair. “Executive Producers Glen Morgan and James Wong were invited to participate in this documentary but declined.”

Photo finish...

Photo finish…

The second season of Millennium knows exactly what it wants to do. It gets down to business immediately. The opening sequence takes outside the world of Millennium as we have known it, in a very literal sense. In a shot that would probably seem more at home in Space: Above and Beyond, the camera follows life inside the asteroid field. Staring at these lifeless chunks of rock, Frank Black informs us, “In number, there is one for every life which ever was, or ever will be.” Tying even tighter into Space: Above and Beyond, the comet is named as “Vansen-West.”

Indeed, Frank Black’s opening monologue sequence cannot help but recall Shane Vansen’s similar philosophical musings at the start of And If They Lay Us Down to Rest… In fact, it fairly explicitly inverts that monologue. Vanson’s reflection on how all life was ultimately connected at its point of origin served to open the last episode of the first season of Space: Above and Beyond. In contrast, Frank Black’s reflection on how all life will ultimately be connected at its point of terminus serves to open the first episode of the second season of Millennium.

Cutting to the heart of the matter...

Cutting to the heart of the matter…

At the start of And If They Lay Us Down to Rest, Vansen suggested that all life had meaning because everything that has ever been or will ever be had once existed within the space of a single point of life. At the start of The Beginning and the End, Frank ponders if any life can have meaning if it is all heading the same direction. Contemplating the asteroids stuck in orbit of the sun, Frank observes, “And like most lives, they wait for a moment, the moment, when it will be sent on its journey back toward the yellow sun.”

In many respects, this sets the tone for the second season of Millennium. The second season is apocalyptic. After all, the show is building towards The Fourth Horseman and The Time Is Now. However, the idea of the end of the world is just one aspect of the fevered apocalyptic vision of the second season. The second season suggests that the apocalypse must – by its nature – be personal. Every life ends; every life implodes. Just like those rocks in outers space, every life shatters and collapses.

Killer instinct...

Killer instinct…

The beauty of the second season is the way that it ties in the broad apocalyptic worldview associated with millenniualism to a more intimate end-of-days. The season might seem to creep towards the end of the world, but worlds die all the time; people endure smaller apocalypses on a more regular basis. “Perhaps smothered by its own dust, the dark, soulless body continues eternally through space and time. It may disintegrate and crumble into inconsequential rubble. Or it may be lost forever, crashing, burning, into the yellow sun.” Choose your apocalypse.

The apocalypse can be the destruction of an entire community, as depicted in A Single Blade of Grass. It could be the death of an individual’s inspiration and creativity, as suggested by A Room With No View. It might be four lives ruined by lonely outside forces, as in Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me. It could be a moment of personal enlightenment at the end of it all, as for Alex Glaser in Luminary. Or it could be – as it is for Frank Black over the course of the season – the loss of his family and everything he sought to protect.

Frankly, he looks quite worried...

Frankly, he looks quite worried…

There are a lot of shocking moments in The Beginning and the End, but there is one very clear sign that this is not the show it once was. In the scene directly before Glen Morgan and James Wong are identified as the new executive producers, Frank and Catherine decide they cannot stay together. As Glen Morgan explained:

“Chris had said the reason he made the show was because of the yellow house. So, we thought, why don’t we take Frank out of the yellow house and make it so that he’s on a hero’s adventure, where he has to go through the dark forest in order to get back to the yellow house. That was essentially where we started.” Then, he adds, “once you find out what you want the show to do, you just try to drive the characters through that.”

The safety and sanctity of the yellow house had been a feature of Millennium since The Pilot. It was a place that Frank Black had created for his family, to keep them safe from the horrors of the outside world. So having Frank exile himself from the yellow house sends a clear message that this is not the same as it was previously.

A captive audience...

A captive audience…

Indeed, Thomas J. Wright shoots the sequence beautifully, just as he shoots the rest of the episode. The sight of Frank’s distinctive red car pulling out from the yellow house and driving in the distance conjures up images of Frank as the western hero leaving town after his job is done. In fact, the same sequence was used at the end of both of Robert Moresco’s scripts for the first season – Covenant and Broken World. It reinforced the idea of Frank Black as an archetypal American hero, wandering around the country to fight evil.

The Beginning and the End, however, inverts that ending. Frank is not leaving a damaged community to return to the safety and security of his home; he has discovered that the safety and the security of his home has perhaps been damaged beyond repair. Evil is no longer simply an outside force that chips away at wholesome family life. It is not something that can kept external and distinct. The first season of Millennium presented evil as an insidious force that creeps between the cracks in our defences. The second season suggests that it might already be nestled inside.

For the love of Pete...

For the love of Pete…

The Beginning and the End suggests this shift in emphasis in a number of ways. It is interesting that Frank’s pursuit of the polaroid man takes him to two different yellow houses, both of which are dilapidated and decaying – foreshadowing the looming destruction of the safe haven that had been the yellow house. The first home explicitly belonged to the Black family before they bought their current residence. In both cases, the polaroid stalker has left some evidence, tainting the homes.

More to the point, the polaroid stalker exists primarily to draw out the darkness within Frank. The opening sequence of The Beginning and the End reveals Frank staring up at the stars, blood running down his hands. The climax revealed that he brutally attacked the polaroid stalker. Although the act might be justifiable as self-defence, the show renders it decidedly ambiguous. The sequence is stunningly edited together by Chris Willingham. There is a sense that Frank is pushing too far, reacting too strongly.

The empty house...

The empty house…

It is a moment that immediately humanises Frank. As with Walkabout, it demonstrates that Frank has his limits and his failings; the character is not simply a rock in uncertain times. Frank Black has darkness inside him, and he has to live with that. It is a markedly different approach to Frank than the approach seen in the first season. The first season treated Frank as a character who was absolutely grounded and centred. The second season then rattles Frank a bit, an approach that underscores just how heightened and surreal everything has become.

After all, The Beginning and the End underscores the idea that the Millennium Group might be the real threat here – that the organisation that works so hard to protect the world from evil might itself have been infiltrated by evil. It is revealed that the polaroid stalker was known to the Millennium Group, but they did not share that information with Frank. The polaroid stalker’s last words exists to warn Frank about the dangers of the Group. “You think you know me, Frank, but you don’t them.”

The harshest cut of all.

The harshest cut of all.

In the first season, it was never entirely clear with the Millennium Group was, beyond a convenient storytelling device that could explain how Frank caught all these serial killers. They were mostly a bunch of random guest stars with few defining qualities. Terry O’Quinn got a chance to develop Peter Watts a little in episodes like Force Majeure and Walkabout, but most of the group were interchangeable. The seemed to exist purely to provide exposition or to help the plot move further.

At the end of the first season, what do we know about the personalities of Jim Penseyres, Cheryl Andrews or Mike Atkins to distinguish themselves from each other? These are characters who have appeared in multiple episodes. In fact, it could be argued that The Hand of St. Sebastian does not work as well as it might because the first season never defined Cheryl Andrews at all. By the end of the first season, the Millennium Group existed as a void at the heart of the show.

Stumbling into the future...

Stumbling into the future…

In The Turn of the Tide, producer Ken Horton recognised the focus on the Millennium Group as one of the fundamental shifts between the two seasons:

So they basically gave it a mythology and it became a sort of sect of knights, or it had a long history. And Frank was just beginning to understand what that was and what it meant and that there were struggles within this group itself and those struggles eventually became more personal. So, it was less about outside evil with Frank Black as our knight in shining armor, defending us, and more that there were interstruggles within this group.

Although he had objections to that shift in emphasis, Horton has a clear understanding of the difference in philosophy between Carter and the duo drafted in to take the reins.

On the road again...

On the road again…

The Beginning and the End makes it quite clear that things are not going to be the same. When the Millennium Group arrive at the airport, it is an event. Thomas Wright films the sequence so that their arrival seems almost epic; shot at a low angle, the airport doors open and the group marches in, the camera pulling back to keep up with them. There is a clear sense of purpose to their appearance. “Peter, how did you–?” Frank starts to ask, but he is cut off. The Millennium Group is suddenly mysterious, all-knowing and decisive. The stage is set.

In fact, The Beginning and the End emphasises the moral ambiguity of the Millennium Group. “Frank, you’re a good man, and you’re an exceptional candidate, but the Millennium Group is involved in an unprecedented arena and we’re gonna make mistakes for which we will not apologize,” Peter warns his colleague. It is the first true sense that we get of Peter Watts as a true believer. “However, the Group feels you should know that his interest in you is because of our interest in you. That’s all I can tell you right now.”

Have no fear, the Group is here...

Have no fear, the Group is here…

Tying the Millennium Group into the polaroid stalker is a nice touch; it retroactively ties the Group’s ambiguity into the first season and beyond. The polaroid stalker harassed Frank and his family even before Frank came to work with the Millennium Group. As such, it invites the audience to wonder just how long the group has been watching Frank. What is so intriguing about Frank that the polaroid stalker would be compelled to document and follow his family based on the interest of a consulting agency?

It is interesting to compare The Beginning and the End with Redux I and Redux II, the two-parter opening the fifth season of The X-Files. It provides a nice contrast between the aesthetic of Morgan and Wong and that of Chris Carter. Both episodes are big and conscious epic; both episodes are framed by monologues and bold ideas. However, while Mulder and Scully’s long-winded monologues seem pretentious and self-righteous, Frank Black’s opening narration is decidedly more abstract and portentous.

Floating in space...

Floating in space…

While Carter present evil as an outside force, Morgan and Wong present it as something decidedly more primal. Both Redux II and The Beginning and the End offer their protagonists a deal with the devil. In Redux II, Mulder is offered two separate deals that would make his problems and Scully’s cancer go away. In The Beginning and the End, Frank wonders what he would have to do to get Catherine returned to him. “What did I overlook? What could I have done? And now, what must I sacrifice to have her back safe?”

In Redux II, Mulder firmly declines both offers. Although the episode does not explicitly confirm the implication, the story is structured so that it seems like Scully’s cancer goes into remission as a reward for Mulder’s integrity. This is the morality of The X-Files, after all. In Zero Sum, Skinner learned that you cannot barter with the forces of darkness and expect any benefit. It the sort of moral absolutism that was on full display during the first season of Millennium, where evil is a dark presence that seeks to worm its way into the hearts of decent people.

Goatee of eeevil!

Goatee of eeevil!

In contrast, Morgan and Wong suggest that Frank Black made the bargain anyway, that he lost something in his desperate attempt to save Catherine. The deal paid off; Catherine came home. However, there was a horrific cost to that trade, and Frank has to pay it. As Peter Watts notes, “But I’m starting to wonder if you can sacrifice one thing to get another. I know there’s a price to be paid.” In effect, this feels like the biggest difference in moral philosophy between Chris Carter’s vision of Millennium and the show produced by Morgan and Wong.

Of course, there are lots of little differences to be seen; Millennium feels like a totally new show at this point in its run. The sequence of the polaroid stalker sneaking Catherine out of the airport is a stunningly exciting piece of television; the use of Talking Head’s Life During Wartime is an inspired touch. (And one that works well in the context of the series; reviewer Bill Janovich described the song as an “apocalyptic punk/funk merge.”) There is a sense that Millennium is really cutting loose here.

Talking it out...

Talking it out…

Similarly, director Thomas J. Wright has a wonderful time the material. That beautiful shot of the group arriving at the airport is just one memorable stylistic flourish. With the freedom of working in widescreen for the first time on the show, Wright gets to do a nice homage to Alfred Hitchcock – he offers a wonderful “Vertigo shot” of Frank panicking as Catherine goes missing. Wright had worked with Hitchcock, so it is an appropriate shout out. Similarly, the red flares during the roadblock scenes lend the night time chase a suitably apocalyptic air.

The Beginning and the End also affords Peter Watts his first true characterisation. There were shades of character to be found in episodes like Force Majeure and Walkabout, but The Beginning and the End gives Peter a thoughtful and profound conversation with Frank about his history and his motivations. It is a haunting story that clearly sets up Peter’s arc for the year ahead. It also gives Terry Quinn something into which he can sink his teeth. It is another example of the many delightful (and less overt) shifts in the mood and direction of Millennium.

"Yeah, Frank. We picked red flares because they'd fit the mood better."

“Yeah, Frank. We picked red flares because they’d fit the mood better.”

The Beginning and the End does exactly what the title promises. It ends one stage in the evolution of Millennium so that another may begin. It is going to be weird. It is going to be wacky. It is going to be wonderful.

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

Advertisements

2 Responses

  1. Great reviews! I can’t wait to see the reboot of The X-Files!

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: