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Millennium – Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” (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.

Well, all’s well that ends well. Though that’s easy for Shakespeare to say – he’ll be around for another millennium. But what of our own millennium? Will it all end well? No one of course can know, but that of course doesn’t stop anyone from guessing. And the nature of these predictions always revolve around the usual suspects: salvation and/or self–satisfaction. With that in mind, I humbly add my own prophecy of what the dawn of the new millennium shall bring forth: one thousand more years of the same, old crap.

– Jose Chung

The write stuff...

The write stuff…

Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is the first of two Millennium episodes to be written and directed by Darin Morgan. Darin Morgan joined the writing staff on the second season of Millennium, where he served as a “Consulting Producer.” Morgan has been affectionately cited by several other members of the staff for his contributions to other scripts over the course of the season. Chip Johannessen has acknowledged his advice on the iconography of Luminary, for example.

While Darin Morgan was not as prolific as writers like Vince Gilligan, Glen Morgan, James Wong, Howard Gordon, Frank Spotnitz or Chris Carter, he stands out as one of the defining creative voices on Ten Thirteen productions into the nineties. His scripts of The X-Files are widely praised. He took home an Emmy award for the script to Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, which often vies with Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” for the title of “best episode ever.” So having Darin Morgan write for Millennium was a pretty big deal.

Taking a stab at criticism...

Taking a stab at criticism…

It is always surprising that fans of The X-Files have been so reluctant to embrace Millennium. After all, there is such a rich overlap between the two shows – not just in continuity and theme, but also in talent. Writers like Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan, James Wong, Frank Spotnitz, Chris Carter and Chip Johannessen have written for both shows. Given how highly regarded some of those writers are by fandom, it seems strange that there has been no greater effort to seek out their contemporary work on a similar show.

Of course, it should be noted that Millennium is not easy to love. There are extended stretches in the first or third season that are incredibly nihilistic and dull. As brilliant as the second season might be, it is an acquired taste. It is arguably more surreal and ambitious than anything that The X-Files ever attempted. It is hard to blame anybody for avoiding Millennium, but it seems a little strange that the audiences never crossed over as much as they might. (The fact that many X-Files fans first met Frank Black in the seventh season episode Millennium probably doesn’t help.)

“You have my word as a writer…”

Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” should provide a fairly easy bridge for curious X-Files fans into Millennium. It features a beloved writer handling the return of a beloved character. More than that, it is a truly brilliant piece of television. It is probably one of the best episodes of television ever produced by Ten Thirteen, and deserves consideration in those “best episodes of the decade” discussions. In fact, for the sake of lazy pun, it could be argued to be among “the best episodes of the millennium.” Sorry.

After all, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose and Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” are episodes that are broadly loved among fans and casual viewers. On a purely structural level, Darin Morgan’s script for Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” blends the sensibilities of the two scripts. It humanises Chung in the same way that he humanised Bruckman, while retaining the playful postmodernism that made Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” such a joy. It is accessible, enjoyable, intelligent, funny television. What more could you ask for?

That might come in handy...

That might come in handy…

This makes it all the more tragic that Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is relatively unseen. The ratings for the episode were surprisingly low, even by the standards of Millennium. As Glen Morgan recalls:

“I think that was one of the better shows,” enthuses Morgan. Surprisingly, even though Fox aired The X-Files’ Jose Chung episode prior to the Millennium crossover, the audience didn’t carry over between the two shows. “The ratings just went down,” he laments. “It wasn’t like they carried over and they dropped in the second half-hour. After The X-Files, people just turned it off. It was one of our lowest rated shows, and I really believed it would be one of the highest rated shows.”

There is no real correlation between quality television and high television ratings, but there is something quite disheartening in all that.

Going pro(filer)...

Going pro(filer)…

Darin Morgan joined the writing staff on Millennium at the start of the second season, when Glen Morgan and James Wong came on as showrunners. “Darin had said he felt bad that he didn’t come and work on Space,” Glen Morgan recalled. Although Darin Morgan had collaborated with Glen Morgan and James Wong on the story and script for Blood in the early second season of The X-Files, Glen Morgan and James Wong had moved off The X-Files towards the end of the second season to work on Space: Above and Beyond.

Indeed, Morgan watched Space: Above and Beyond with interest. On the commentary for Who Monitors the Birds?, Glen Morgan recalls a story about how his brother managed to secure the special effects necessary for Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” by pointing out that Glen Morgan and James Wong got to have pterodactyls in their Fox television series. However, Space: Above and Beyond was cancelled after a full season, and by the time that Glen Morgan and James Wong had rejoined The X-Files in the fourth season, Darin Morgan had moved on.

Tossing out ideas...

Tossing out ideas…

Darin Morgan’s scripts of The X-Files were unlikely any that had been written before. Humbug caused no shortage of controversy among the staff and crew. According to an interview with Back to Frank Black, Glen Morgan witnessed a similar response when his brother turned in the script for Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense”:

“When Darin wrote his first X-Files episode with the circus freak, there was chaos! What was he doing to the show?! It was Chris Carter that trusted him, and it really opened up what The X-Files could do and made a lot of room for Vince Gilligan’s  work. So when Darin did Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” on Millennium, Lance especially despised it, but Chris understood what Darin had done on The X-Files and said, ‘Okay, we’re going to try it here.’ And I think it did open things up for stuff that Michael R. Perry did in season three.”

Certainly, Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is an episode that would have been unthinkable during the first season. Millennium was a show that took itself very seriously – almost painfully seriously. Introducing comedy into that structure was inevitably controversial.

Into darkness...

Into darkness…

Henriksen was really upset when he first read the script, taking exception to how Darin Morgan was approaching the show:

“I’ll tell you what happened,” the veteran actor explained. “When I first read the script I got really angry. I said, ‘What? Are you [Morgan] trivializing the show?’ But when I first saw Charles Nelson Reilly doing a scene, I said to myself, ‘What am I upset about?’ Reilly is a warm, wonderful human guy and I completely surrendered to the story and script. But, when I first read it, I was very angry. I got with Darin and said, ‘Darin, is this what you do? Take something you really like and respect and then absolutely trash it?’ He just looked at me like he was afraid of me, I was so angry. But he’s a sweet guy. Darin’s a nice guy.”

This was not the only problem that Henriksen had faced over the course of the second season. It demonstrates just how turbulent the production could be.

Going by the book...

Going by the book…

To be fair, Glen Morgan and James Wong worked quite hard to prepare the audience for Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense.” The second season of Millennium has been a bit less self-conscious and a bit more comfortable in its own skin. Although this might be the first out-and-out comedy episode, scripts like Beware of the Dog and The Hand of St. Sebastian had been noticeably “quirkier” than most of the first season. The introduction of Brian Roedecker had suggested that the show might have more room for eccentricity than it had before.

However, even with that groundwork laid, Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” was utterly unlike anything that Millennium had done before. It is madcap and zany, bright and beautiful. The dream sequence featuring Rocket McGrain is obviously heavily stylised, but even the saturation in the clothing and the apartments of Roland and Ratfinkovich look completely out of whack with the visual style of Millennium to this point. The humour is fast and flippant, the one-liners clever and rapid-fire.

Fizzling out...

Fizzling out…

Although he did have some initial reluctance about the script, Lance Henriksen admitted in an interview with Back to Frank Black that he really appreciated the opportunity that it gave him to step outside the usual tone and mood of Millennium:

“There was this scene where they had me play the detective in the book,” the outrageously optimistic private eye Rocket McGrain. “I had a blue trench coat on and blond hair, like Kirk Douglas, and I punched a guy in the nuts! To me that was one of the funniest scenes I’d ever done in that show, where suddenly the guy is out of control. It was hilarious. I had such a good time doing that scene.”

Everything about Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” has an infectious energy to it. The script moves at a quick pace, with the “writing” montage serving as one of the best sequences that Darin Morgan has ever written, and the “dream” sequence also serving as a season highlight.

“Boys, boys, boys, lighten up: this is a homicide, not a funeral.”

Some of the incredibly pacing on Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is likely down to the fact that Darin Morgan’s script was incredibly dense. Early cuts of the episode ran long. Describing it to Back to Frank Black as one of his favourite episodes of the show, Glen Morgan admits that the finished product was packed incredibly tight:

“I watch Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” probably once every three months with my kids,” confesses Morgan. “Man, I love that episode. And it’s a third of what it was, because he was long. There was so much more to it. If you listen to it, you can hear Charles Nelson Reilly talking really quick because they had to cram so much into it. The original version was really great.”

Glen Morgan and James Wong themselves had a similar experience on the fourth season of The X-Files, where the early cut of The Field Where I Died ran over an hour and had to be heavily trimmed. Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” comes out of the editing process a lot stronger than The Field Where I Died did.

“Where was this a season-and-a-half ago?”

Ignoring any of its (many) other merits, there is an infectious energy to Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense”, a sense that Morgan is scripting it with a reckless abandon. Whether as a result of Morgan’s energy or as a result of the need to edit the episode down to a mangeable forty-five minutes, Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is packed to the brim with clever concepts and ideas, not to mention witty lines. On a line-by-line basis, Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” might just be the funniest script that Morgan ever wrote.

Indeed, it would be easy to turn any discussion of the episode into a run-down of the episode’s most memorable quotes or best gags. Not only does Morgan throw out the beautifully absurd (and suitably pretentious) adjective “millenniumistic” to describe the show’s aesthetic, he does it without breaking a sweat. Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” has Frank go through an existential crisis about his own darkness that climaxes in the character wearing a Hawaiian shirt – but it is so busy with everything else that it becomes an ingenious blink-and-you-miss-it sight gag.

Nuts to that...

Nuts to that…

As with any Darin Morgan script, there is a lot to unpack here. Morgan’s scripts for The X-Files would frequently play with the core ideas of the show, tweaking some of the underlying assumptions and teasing out inherent contradictions and inconsistencies. Morgan had a habit of deflating Mulder somewhat, acknowledging that the root of his characterisation of the lead character was “the guy who doesn’t write things down.” Morgan’s scripts were quite prone to interrogating Mulder’s viewpoint in a way that the show had never really done to that point.

Indeed, scripts like Humbug, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, War of the Coprophages and Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” seem quite critical of Mulder and his pursuit for the truth. As such, it is interesting to consider how Morgan approaches the task of writing for Frank Black and Millennium. After all, it is arguably a lot easier to deconstruct Millennium than The X-Files. Millennium presents itself with a much greater seriousness and self-importance than The X-Files tended to, so it is easier to deflate that.

No shortage of jokes...

No shortage of jokes…

And there are elements of that, to be sure. There are points in Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” where Darin Morgan is affectionately mocking the excesses of Millennium. There some very funny gags about the show’s tendency toward gratuitous violence. Frank Black’s favourite Jose Chung novel is revealed to be “A Lap Full of Severed Tongues”, but the title is more than just a clever pun; it feels like a reference to the opening teaser to The Judge, a first season episode which saw a woman receiving a severed tongue in the mail.

Later in the episode, Frank is reading one of Goopta’s “Rocket McGrain” books. “It was the thirty-seventh murder by the same serial killer, but no one knew who he was or why he killed. One thing’s for sure: he had tons of unresolved personal problems.” It reads like the opening to the worst first-season episode of Millennium ever written, a collection of depraved brutality and senseless violence boiled down to crude popular psychology. Then again, this is all low-hanging fruit when it comes to playing with Millennium.

“Die, you dark bastard.”

Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” does offer some good-natured criticism of the self-importance of a series titled “Millennium” and dealing with the end of the world. In a conversation with Frank in a book store, Chung effectively eviscerates the idea of end-time prophecy and eschatology. “At the start of the nineties, they predicted major breakthroughs for the neurosciences,” he goads. “The ‘decade of the brain’, it was supposed to be. Instead, it was the decade of body–piercing. Now why should the millennium predictions be any more accurate?”

Frank steadfastly sticks to his guns. “Personally, I think this is a very significant time in mankind’s history,” he insists. Chung wryly observes, “But that’s what every man throughout history has said about his time.” Chung has a point. With his rapier-sharp wit, he manages to deflate a lot of the potential pomposity of the series, pointing out an idea foreshadowed in 19:19 and The Hand of St. Sebastian: there is a comfort to end-time prophecy, because it affirms the importance of those living to witness it. The apocalypse is just a tool to inflate one’s sense of worth.

“His film career was still more successful than David Duchovny’s.”

In a way, this is Darin Morgan hitting on one of his favourite recurring themes. Morgan is a writer who is fond of the idea that mankind works too hard trying to justify or rationalise their basic natures, trying to pretend that there is meaningness in what is effectively chaos. It was an idea that existed at the very heart of War of the Coprophages, but it also found expression in Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.” There, the famous author showed up to ridicule the very idea of Mulder’s pursuit of “truth” in a world where “truth is as subjective as reality.”

It makes sense that Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” would ridicule the self-seriousness of Millennium as a television show. The episode is quick to dismiss anybody seeking to impose their own order on a chaotic existence. Both Selfosophy as a whole and the Nostradamus Nutball are looking to impose meaning on the universe. They are ultimately another reflection of the Millennium Group in a season populated by funhouse mirror versions. They are more ridiculous than Joe Reynard’s tribe or ODESSA or the Trust, but they provide a vehicle for commentary.

Gotta hand it to him...

Gotta hand it to him…

There is something quite delicious about Chung’s decision to cut the Millennium Group out of his eponymous tome of apocalyptic analysis. “I just didn’t feel you were millenniumistic enough,” Chung explains to slightly upset Frank. For all his laser-guided zingers and well-observed punchlines, Jose Chung seems an almost impish sort. His criticisms of Frank Black never land quite as cleanly as the observations that Clyde Bruckman or Doctor Blockhead make about Mulder and Scully. There are some superficial (and well-deserved) blows, but nothing too damaging.

Ultimately, Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is nowhere near as cynical about Millennium as it might initially appear. For all that Darin Morgan’s script playfully prods at the series’ solemnity, it is very clear that the script respects Frank Black as a character. Even amid all the comedy, the script draws attention to the fact that Frank does really important work with actual weight to it. Frank is presented as a fundamentally well-meaning person with a deep-rooted sense of decency, far from Morgan’s scepticism of Mulder.

The brains of the operation...

The brains of the operation…

Even as Chung mocks Frank, the script is quick to give Frank the final word. Chung never seems too convinced of the worth of profilers. “Like television weathermen, giving information one could gather simply by looking out the window, forensic profilers provide little of practical value,” he writes. Later, he compares his work to that of Frank Black. “You see, based on some vague details and notions, you try to sketch out a person’s past, in order to imagine their future actions. Detection, dramaturgy: it’s all the same.” Frank simply responds, “You can’t erase blood.”

Later on, Frank tries to lighten up. He decides to use the tools of Selfosophy, listening to a tape handily labelled “How Not to Be Dark.” As the Onan-o-Graph monitors his stress levels, the voice on the tape assures him, “Picture in your mind something you’ve seen recently that disturbed you. It can be a stain on your favorite shirt, or a scratch on your new car. Just close your eyes and try to picture an unpleasant image.” Those are, of course, superficial examples of unpleasantness. When Frank closes his eyes, he sees real evil and real unpleasantness.

Dolled up...

Dolled up…

After all, the central thesis in Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is the idea that people should be free to be downbeat and depressed if they so choose. Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is essentially a story about how it is acceptable to be dark. As much as the Selfosophists are blatant parodies of Scientology (“how could a religious order with ties to Hollywood be involved in anything immoral?”), they are also fascists who would seek to stamp out anything that does not agree with their upbeat and optimistic worldview.

In a way, it feels like Morgan is acknowledging some of the pressures on Millennium as a television series. The show could be astonishing and uncomfortably bleak and nihilistic. There were points – particularly in episodes like Weeds and Loin Like a Hunting Flame – when the show wandered into gratuity. One of the biggest differences between Millennium and The X-Files was the sense that Millennium was unrelentingly grim. It seemed that Frank Black never smiled, and the darkness never let up.

“I only read it for the articles…”

Understandably, that darkness became a point of contention in discussion of the show. In the documentary Order in Chaos, Frank Spotnitz recalls this being a bone of contention with the network:

One of the funny things about the show was, as much as the network respected the show, they were afraid of its darkness and sombreness. We had these very nervous network notes meetings after the first few episodes, where they very politely tried to ask us to lighten it up with a little humour. We weren’t unsympathetic but we just shrugged, because the subject matter was so dark and disturbing. It was very hard to find places for humour.

Watching the first season, it is quite easy to sympathise with the network in this particular instance. Millennium could be soul-destroyingly (and unrelentingly) bleak at points.

“I only read it to not read the articles…”

This was not just an in-house criticism. In his appraisal of the first season, Entertainment Weekly television critic Ken Tucker offered a similar assessement:

X-Files has been justly praised for being dark, but there’s a crucial difference: Mulder and Scully are heroic gloomy Gusses in a busy world full of interesting people of every sort of temperament; in Millennium, everyone is a morose depressive.

While Glen Morgan and James Wong had worked hard to add some sense of levity to the second season, Millennium was never going to be an upbeat or optimistic show.

Wink wink, nudge nudge....

Wink wink, nudge nudge…

And Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” mounts – appropriately enough, given the title – a blistering defense of this decision. The episode repeatedly focuses on the “negativity” of the world of Millennium, contrasted with the self-centred optimism of the Selfosophists. In “The Hacked-Up Hack”, profiler Rocket McGrain refuses to examine the body. “Is there blood?” he asks. “Whatever goes in the peepers ends up in the neurobiology: I only look at things that are pretty.”

Asked how he will figure out what killed the writer at the centre of the story, McGrain replies, “I know what killed this writer: his own bad writing! He wrote downbeat stories about depressed people doing dark things. Who wants that? People don’t want to know how rotten mankind is: they want to be enlightened while they’re being entertained. That’s what real writers do: to serve man.” It feels like a parody of the criticism of Millennium‘s own unrelenting darkness.

“Roland, you look like you’re thinking negative thoughts. Please don’t be dark.”

When Roland confronts Chung at the climax of the episode, he takes Chung to task. “Why?!” Roland demands. “Why bring pain to people who are trying to wipe away their pain and find true happiness?” However, Chung refects the idea that pain and trauma can be erased so easily. “If I used your therapies to wipe away my pain, I’d disappear!” he advises Roland. “And if my right to choose amusement wherever I want – if that were wiped away, too, I’d die!” Chung asserts his right to his own autonomy – his freedom to be dark, if that is what he wants to be.

In conclusion, Chung is much more philosophical and open-minded. “So feel free to use your Onan–o–Graph and your therapies, if that’s what it takes to make you happy,” he tells Roland. “And I truly mean that; good luck to you, buddy. But please allow me to wallow in my own misery in peace. And if I should look up from my ‘downbeat abyss’ and find you to be a fool, that’s no right for you to commit upon me a foolish act.” Chung later dismisses it as “a diversionary tactic”, but it is a very heart-felt observation. Cynics must be allowed to be cynical.

A shocking end...

A shocking end…

This arguably reflected Morgan’s own outlook about Millennium. “The problem wasn’t that it was too dark,” Morgan argued when discussing the troubled first season of the show. “It just wasn’t too good. If the stories were better who’d care if they were dark?” He has a valid point. There was not a major tonal difference in the best and worst episodes of the first season. There was, however, a significant qualitative distinction to be made. As such, Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” reads as a validation of the show. It can be as dark as it wants to be.

There is a resonance to the story that is more pronounced now than it would have been in 1997. Chung is targeted for assassination for offending a religious zealot. Darin Morgan joked that he originally wanted Salman Rushdie to play the role of the second man in black in Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, so it feels appropriate that he gets to cast Chung as a writer who is the victim of religious persecution. Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is more poignant following the murders at Charlie Hebdo or the attempted murder of Kurt Westergaard. (By axe, coincidentally.)

A hack job...

A hack job…

So Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” feels like it champions and cheers the occasionally bleak and nihilistic outlook of Millennium. For all that Chung affectionately mocks the self-importance of a series about the end of the world, he does hone in on one of the big themes of the second season. Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” fits quite comfortably with the rest of the second season of Millennium, never appearing quite as dramatic a departure as Darin Morgan’s scripts for the second and third seasons of The X-Files.

Just like Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” looked back to The Pilot on The X-FilesJose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” looks back to The Pilot on Millennium“The Selfosophy Psycho” is the episode’s primary thread, but the script also features “the Nostrodamus Nutball.” This killer seems like a rather blatant parody of the literature-quoting psychotic “Frenchman” from The Pilot. He is really just a stock psychopath, but one who imbues his horrific actions with greater meaning by reference to scripture and prophecy.

Always good advice...

Always good advice…

In assessing and “profiling” this killer, Chung manages to stumble across the season’s recurring motif – the idea that the end of the world is a deeply personal event. “So the girl breaks off the relationship; the boy’s world is shattered,” Chung speculates. “His own personal apocalypse. But in his madness, he finds – now this is very good – in his madness, he finds an explanation for his unhappiness. Nostradamus, you see, wasn’t predicting world events: he was predicting the cataclysmic events of this poor boy’s life.”

It is a very clever way to play into ideas hinted at in The Beginning and the End, Monster and The Curse of Frank Black. In fact, Chung himself winds up facing his own apocalypse of the course of the hour. When nobody shows up to his signing, Chung reflects, “This is how it will all end: not with floods, earthquakes, falling comets or gigantic crabs roaming the earth. No, doomsday will start simply out of indifference.” Over the course of the episode, Chung confronts his own increasing irrelevance, his sense of lost purpose.

A sign of the times...

A sign of the times…

Reflecting on his own relationship with Onan Gupta, Chung seems to concede that he has lost his way as a writer. “He thought I was a literary genius,” he recalls. “And I was, then.” The unspoken implication is that Chung’s talent has disappeared over the years – leaving nothing but a bitter old man grasping desperately for relevance. A soon-to-be-hacked-up hack. During one feverish writing session, Chung admits, “This book will be the death of me. I just can’t write anymore.” He concedes, “My life has fizzled away.”

In a way, Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” serves as a synergy of Darin Morgan’s two strongest scripts for The X-Files. When Jose Chung was introduced in Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, he was more of a cypher or a vehicle than a fully-formed character. He was a clever and incisive commentator, who could poke at the show and keep the audience engaged throughout the script’s postmodern hijinks. He was never as thoroughly humanised as Clyde Bruckman had been over the course of Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.

Putting the matter to bed...

Putting the matter to bed…

So Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” retains the postmodern sensibilities of Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, but is much more interested in Chung as a character. We get a much greater sense of who Chung is and where he came from. Morgan even gets to work in some footage of Charles Nelson Reilly’s work on Lidsville. As with Clyde Bruckman, Jose Chung is presented as a character facing his own mortality and forging a deep emotional connection with the lead character on the show.

Indeed, it is telling that Charles Nelson Reilly picked up an Emmy nomination for his work on Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense”, just like Peter Boyle had won an Emmy award for his work on Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose. Reilly and Morgan conspire to humanise Jose Chung a great deal. More than simply a playful imp with a cheeky sense of humour, Jose Chung becomes an altogether more tragic figure – a man who hides his aching wounds behind a flippant and irrelevant exterior. It is a great performance from a great script.

Death of the author...

Death of the author…

Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” ends with the death of Jose Chung. It is a potent and fitting ending, one which gives the character’s arc a sense of weighted tragedy. Glen Morgan defended the decision to kill Chung off:

“I don’t know what else you’re going to do with him. When I was a kid, everybody in a movie died. It’s weird, because now you never see anybody die. That’s just the way that character ended. As an audience member you’re going to miss that guy. But you should be happy and leave that character alone, where he wanted to go.”

As tempting as it might have been to see Jose Chung on something like Tower Prep or Intruders, Morgan makes a convincing point. Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is a story that needs the weight of Chung’s death.

Yes, it's a Hawaiian shirt...

Yes, it’s a Hawaiian shirt…

Of course, Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is just as self-aware and postmodern as any of Darin Morgan’s other scripts. It is not quite as dense and confusing as Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, with the action unfolding in a roughly linear fashion. However, there is a similarly flexible sense of reality and a very clear sense that Jose Chung’s function as a writer grants him some measure of insight into the workings of the narrative around him. Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is heavily stylised and hyperreal, drawing attention to its own artifice.

There are dreams and segues and imaginary sequences. There is narration and commentary. Both forensic profiling and storytelling are conflated as the same artform, despite Frank’s own misgivings about the comparison. There is a sense that Morgan is having a little fun with the format of the show. We never find out exactly how Ratfinkovich dies – we are treated to theories proposed by Giebelhouse and Chung, but Frank dismisses both. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how Ratfinkovich died, but it does play with the audience’s expectations about how Millennium should work.

An investigation of note...

An investigation of note…

The nexus that ties Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” together is not the idea of Frank-as-a-profiler. Instead, the episode is built around Chung-as-a-writer. Chung compares himself to Frank, but he makes other allusions. He ties himself into Goopta-as-writer-as-divinity. “I once knew your god,” he advises Roland. “He worshipped me.” Frank even makes a connection between the “Selfosophy Psycho” and his writing. “His profession might be dictatorial in nature, complete control over his underlings – a management executive or a foreman. Or maybe, a writer.”

Everything ties back to writing and storytelling. Chung appears to be almost as adept at profiling as Frank, simply using his own storytelling instincts. Roland is quite an effective psychopath, perhaps using the same self-importance and dictatorial instincts that drive him to write. Goopta can turn himself into a deity simply through the use of his own storytelling prowess. Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” anchors everything in writing, constructing all sorts of thought-provoking metaphors.

The writing's on the wall...

The writing’s on the wall…

Chung seems almost aware of the nature of his existence. He seems to be controlling or driving the narrative of the episode. While Clyde Bruckman had the gift of prophecy, Chung’s authorial insight seems to grant him similar powers. When Chung is not worried by the first threat from the “Selfosophy Psycho”, he explains, “the antagonist in my story sends many such threats before acting upon them.” Frank replies, “Just because this person copycatted one element doesn’t mean he’s going to follow the whole story.” However, Chung’s outline proves incredibly accurate.

Chung is even able to predict the ending of the story, albeit in a rather cynical and grim fashion. “The Selfosophist Psycho finally confronts the writer, killing him. The police give chase, but because he keeps a positive attitude – ‘I can get away, if I think I can get away’ – he gets away.” Roland doesn’t directly kill Chung, but he distracts Frank so “the Nostrodamus Nutball” can murder Chung. Although he doesn’t escape to freedom, he does evade capture by jumping the top of a building – evading the consequences of his actions, albeit in a decidedly grim fashion.

Bedtime reading...

Bedtime reading…

However, things get really interesting once Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” embraces this idea that Chung’s storytelling can drive the episode. In several places, Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is wryly recursive. Chung writes a short story about a Selfosophy Psycho who is inspired to kill a writer based on a blasphemous text. Ironically, that short story then becomes a blasphemous text that inspires a Selfosophy Psycho to try to kill him. Chung’s narration of the story plays over the story of how Roland came to read the story in the first place.

The recursion reaches a peak in the brilliant montage where Chung, Roland and Frank are all writing their own stories – each intersecting, overlapping and parallelling. Set to one of Mark Snow’s best compositions, the extended montage is one of the best sequences that Darin Morgan has ever written. It expertly juxtaposes and contrasts, even slipping in a few well-observed one-liners under the radar. (“Boy, my writing’s really improved since I got this new software!”) It is a beautiful composition, as Chung, Frank and Roland all seem to writing the narrative.

Good times!

Good times!

Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is also notable for engaging with the issue of Scientology – albeit indirectly. Glen Morgan has stated in interviews that the episode is very definitely not about Scientology:

“The Scientologists were not happy with us,” remembers Morgan of the reaction to the episode by representatives of the Curch of Scientology, who objected to Jose Chung’s criticism of a millennial self-help movement. “We kept saying, ‘This is not about you.’ But they wouldn’t believe us and went back and forth. Ultimately, the episode was a great experience, and I wouldn’t trade that. However, you don’t like being called a religious bigot, and you don’t like getting constant phone calls.”

To be fair, the episode is not really about Selfosophy as an institution, although it does take a few very well-observed shots. The Selfosophists exist mainly as a vehicle for Darin Morgan to mount his defense of cynicism.

In any case, all this secrecy and profits drew criticism from some quarters, but these critics were quickly silenced. Either by libel suits, or by what Selfosophists call

In any case, all this secrecy and profits drew criticism from some quarters, but these critics were quickly silenced. Either by libel suits, or by what Selfosophists call “knock, knock, zoom, zoom affirmations.”

Still, it is hard not to picture Selfosophy as Scientology. The organisation has its roots the work of a pulpy fiction writer who transformed bad science-fiction into a new age spiritual belief. Bobby Wingood serves as the movement’s Tom Cruise and/or John Travolta, all rolled into one crowd-pleasing package. The Selfosophy movement is established as extremely litigious, mirroring the general depiction of the Church of Scientology. Perhaps tellingly, the expansion of Selfosophy across America seems to be primarily confined to California.

While Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” had little time to explore the spiritual beliefs of Selfosophy, there are clear parallels formed. In the early nineties, it was noticed that L. Ron Hubbard’s books had been topping best-seller charts since the mid to late eighties. It has been suggested (against denials by the Church of Scientology) that these sales had been driven by the strategy of having members go out and purchase the books in droves, so as to keep them in the charts. Selfosophy adopts a similar strategy here towards the work of Onan Goopta.

He knows how to make an entrance...

He knows how to make an entrance…

There are little nods in Selfosophy that point towards Scientology’s philosophy. Although past-lives are not explicitly mentioned, Goopta warns adherants, “After wiping away its mind of darkness, the self must then wipe its eternal soul. And since our souls have existed for thousands of years before the advent of Selfosophy, we all have a great deal of wiping to do.” The design of the Onan-o-Graph calls to mind the infamous Scientology “E-Meter”, a device that is used during the “auditing” process.

This interest in Scientology makes a great deal of sense. Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” was broadcast in the nineties – at a point where the Church of Scientology was very much at the centre of national and international attention. In the mid-nineties, Scientology found itself facing an uphill battle for recognition in Germany. In a demonstration of incredible tact and level-headedness, representatives of the Church of Scientology compared its treatment at the hands of German authorities to the treatment of the Jewish people by the Nazis.

Plane sailing...

Plane sailing…

Even in the United States, the Church of Scientology was making a conscious effort to expand. In 1993, the organisation had finally been granted tax-exempt status as an organised religion. In June 1997, the Church of Scientology opened a new facility in Memphis to great fanfare. That same year, the Church of Scientology found itself in conflict with Mayor Gabe Cazares in Clearwater in Florida over its plans for expansion. The following year, the organisation continued to grow its organisation in Florida, this time in St. Petersberg.

However, it is interesting to note that Scientology is largely absent from nineties popular culture, except as glimpsed through spoofs like “MindHead” in Bowfinger or Selfosophy in Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense.” This was in a large part due to the chilling effect of the Church of Scientology’s behaviour towards prominent critics like Richard Behar or Paulette Cooper. The Church of Scientology was very fond of threatening to sue opponents “to the fullest extent of, but in full accordance with, the law”, but critics claimed to experience even harsher blowback.

Everybody read Chung tonight...

Everybody read Chung tonight…

“Everybody who wrote about Scientology knew they were taking a risk,” documentary-maker Lawrence Wright observed. Over the years, it seems like the Church of Scientology has lost its grip over its opponents. South Park was able to tackle the religion directly in Trapped in the Closet, while Paul Thomas Anderson was able to craft a gigantic prestige film around an obvious stand-in for the religion in The Master. Neverthesless, it is hard to overstate just how ambitious and bold Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” was for 1997.

Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is a fantastic episode of television, one that deserves to be considered among Darin Mogan’s best work. It is a superbly-crafted little story that is as funny as it is clever, balancing a lightness of touch with a deeper humanity and warmth. It is a season (and series) highlight for Millennium, and a sadly underseen piece of nineties popular culture.

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

4 Responses

  1. I was one of the few people who DID watch this the night it aired. And, interestingly enough, that was the one week of my life that I was sent a Nielsen diary in the mail, so I am literally one of the (few) ratings points for this episode. (I was offered a full Nielsen box two years later….. the week before I moved out of that address and thus became ineligible for the box).

    I was won over from the second the “Lidsville” clip showed up in the opening montage.

    • Ha! That’s pretty cool. I think that – along with Who Monitors the Birds? – Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” is one of the underseen genre television highlights of the nineties.

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