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Millennium – The Mikado (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.

Glen Morgan and James Wong famously pulled Millennium away from its “serial killer of the week” format in its second season. While the label might be a little harsh (and perhaps a little exaggerated), it did hint at a recurring formula in the first season. Frank Black would be called in to catch a serial killer with a unique and distinctive modus operandi. The first season was littered with episodes built around that core format, wildly varying in quality. For every Blood Relatives or Paper Dove, there was a Loin Like a Hunting Flame or Kingdom Come.

The second season largely moved away from all that. Although Morgan and Wong occasionally made nods towards the classic format in episodes like Beware of the Dog, 19:19 or Goodbye Charlie, the second season of the show was a lot less formulaic and familiar. This is was a show that could transition from The Hand of St. Sebastian to Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” to Midnight of the Century to Goodbye Charlie to Luminary. It seemed quite reasonable to suggest that the second season of Millennium was not as firmly attached to the concept of serial killers as the first season had been.

This is Avatar calling...

This is Avatar calling…

This makes The Mikado a rather unique instalment, arriving a little past half-way through the season. Written by Michael R. Perry, The Mikado is very much an archetypal serial killer story. There is a case from Frank Black’s past, lots of victims, some occult imagery, and even a ticking plot. In fact, The Mikado is probably the only episode of the second season that would arguably fit more comfortably in either the first or third seasons of the show. All you’d have to do is write out the character of Roedecker.

However, there is something decidedly big and bold about The Mikado. It is perhaps the most archetypal (and maybe the most successful) straight-down-the-middle “serial killer of the week” story that Millennium ever produced. After all, if you are only going to do produce one truly traditional “serial killer of the week” story in a season, you may as well go big. And you can’t go much bigger than the Zodiac.

It's all about the execution...

It’s all about the execution…

The killer in The Mikado is very transparently the Zodiac killer. From the costume design to the way that he stalks San Francisco to his love of the eponymous musical, Avatar is very consciously and clearly modelled on that iconic American serial killer. Even Frank’s memory of searching for a killer who barely eluded him recalls the manhunt for the Zodiac killer in Presidio Heights following the murder of Paul Stine; police actually witnessed a suspicious white male in the area, but he slipped away because they had been informed to look for a black man in association with the killing.

Although Millennium has drawn rather heavily from real-life cases before, this is the first time that the show has been so overt about it. Indeed, it is almost surprising that the show goes to the bother of giving the serial killer another alias. This is very much the white whale of serial killers. After all, if The X-Files felt obligated to do vampire and werewolf stories as part of the basic “monster of the week” brief, then it makes sense that Frank Black would eventually find himself facing off against the Zodiac killer.

Still haven't found what they're looking for...

Still haven’t found what they’re looking for…

Writer Michael R. Perry was quite candid about the similarities in the documentary The Turn of the Tide, explaining that “Avatar” wasn’t even the first choice of name for the killer:

What if he’s investigating the Zodiac Killer who’s now got all these new tools, who now has the Internet. Out of that basis came The Mikado. And a lot of the details came from the real Zodiac case. The Mikado was the guy’s sort of musical favorite and he would write notes and quote it and stuff. Fox made us change the name, so we changed it to Omega. But Lance Henriksen wore an Omega watch, and I think they sponsored a wrap party or something, so we then changed it to Avatar, but it was a similar kind of case.

The Mikado is the second season’s most blatant “serial killer of the week” story, even forsaking a lot of the apocalyptic undertones that otherwise permeate the season. As such, it makes sense to draw from so iconic a killer.

Showtime!

Showtime!

The Zodiac killer is an iconic figure in popular culture. The mysterious serial killer was active in San Francisco in the late sixties, taunting the press with a number of high-profile letters and riddles, before silently disappearing into history. Although there have been no shortage of suspects proposed over the decades, the identity of the killer has never been conclusively determined. Like Dahmer, Bundy and Gacy, the Zodiac largely defined the American serial killer; while completely evading justice.

Because he was never apprehended (or even convincingly identified), the Zodiac holds a certain amount of sway over American popular culture. “Outside of Jack the Ripper,” Robert Graysmith wrote in Zodiac Unmasked, “there had never been a greater uncaught or more elusive monster than Zodiac.” There have been dozens fiction and non-fiction works produced dealing with the case, from Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry through to David Fincher’s Zodiac. There are on-line web communities dedicated to solving the case and identifying the killer.

Here comes the...

Here comes the…

The Zodiac is undeniably linked to the dark transition from the sixties into the seventies. As Tom Voigt, Zodiac enthusiast (and web site manager), explains:

When I was born, my parents were living in Southern California. My father was a newspaper man, and my earliest memories were of my dad coming home and turning on the black-and-white TV, and I remember all these crazy stories from the late 1960s. Not just Zodiac, but the Manson Family, all the anti-war protests, the Watts riots, and so forth. I remember the TV being really scary! We eventually moved out of the Los Angeles area to Oregon, because the Mansons had scared my mom so badly. But then we got to Oregon and it was Bigfoot, D.B. Cooper, Ted Bundy. That’s the atmosphere I grew up in.

Even the name “Zodiac” conjures up images of sixties astrology and occultism, the darker side of the decade of free love.

Sadly, IDW rejected my pitch for an out-of-continuity one-shot where

Sadly, IDW rejected my pitch for an out-of-continuity one-shot where “Sir Francis Black” hunts Jack the Ripper through Victorian London.

The Zodiac is a killer that lends himself to adaptation, evoking a lot of the aspects associated with the most iconic and distinctive serial killers.  Like Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac was never officially identified. Like Jack the Ripper or Son of Sam, the killer sent taunting letters to the authorities. The Zodiac killer cultivated his own iconography; he taunting the authorities with cyphers and codes, while victim Bryan Hartnell described his attacker as wearing an executioner’s hood and a bib with a symbol on it.

The Zodiac killer seems to have been fixated on the publicity and attention devoted to the case. At one stage, he insisted that four major San Francisco newspapers publish his letters on their front page. In another letter, he reflected that he would like to see more people wearing “some nice Zodiac butons.” Zodiac Unmasked quotes forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz as observing, “Zodiac was one of the early serial killers to acquire publicity.” One anonymous letter to Graysmith wondered, “Have you ever considered making a short film about the Zodiac?”

He always had a flare for the theatrical...

He always had a flare for the theatrical…

The Zodiac case is arguably a prime example of the serial killer as celebrity, as an entity trying to cultivate his own narrative. This would become a recurring feature of serial killer narratives towards the end of the twentieth century. As Kirsten Moana Thompson notes in Apocalyptic Dread:

Recognised through his signature or authorial function, the serial killer’s defining attribute is style – whether in the manner of the killings or ritualised modus operandi, homicide figures the serial killer as a postmodern producer through his repetitious masterpiece. Historical serial killers (like Dennis Rader, aka BTK, or Bind-Torture-Kill) have engaged in the construction of their own homicidal personae through letters to the police, diaries, journals, and, in recent years, also through video cameras and web sites, for they characterised by compulsive “graphomania and technophilia.” This self-representation has a feedback relationship with popular culture and cinematic representation, such that the serial killer operates as a metaphoric clone of societal consumption and reproduction.

The Zodiac was able to transform himself into a celebrity. The killer is frequently referenced and acknowledged, a monster prowling at the edge of all sorts of stories. It would almost have been disappointing if the character didn’t turn up in an episode of Millennium, even with the serial number filed off.

Remote control...

Remote control…

At the same time, there is something a little unsettling at the idea of the Zodiac killer as a celebrity. Indeed, Hollywood cinema in the nineties was utterly fascinated by serial killers. Millennium had debuted around the same time as Profiler, another forensic profiling procedural. Silence of the Lambs had been a huge influence on Chris Carter. Wes Craven’s Scream had helped to breath new life into the slasher genre, spawning an impressive number of copycats and imitators.

At the same time, there was the faintest sense of introspection around this public fascination with serial killers. Films like Kalifornia and Natural Born Killers were fascinated by the idea of serial killers as contemporary celebrities, people willing to murder to gain their fifteen minutes of fame. At what point does this fascination tip over into voyeurism or exploitation? It is a problem that Millennium had faced at a few points during the first season, with episodes like The Judge or Loin Like a Hunting Flame occasionally feeling a little tasteless and cynical.

How to get ahead in serial killing...

How to get a head in serial killing…

In This Is Zodiac Speaking, essayist Chuck Klosterman recalls visiting serial killer enthusiast who had a painting of Elvis by serial killer John Wayne Gacy hanging in his living room. He reflects on the ideas evoked by that imagery:

Now, I realise there are people who would find Nuzum’s decorating decision pretty $%!@ed-up. They wouldn’t hang one of Gacy’s paintings in their house if he had twice the talent of Picasso, and some might even suggest that Nuzum inadvertently perpetuates the gothic glamour of mass murder; by hanging a mediocre painting in this living room, it proves that (a.) Gacy is a celebrity, and (b.) killing people warrants celebrity stature. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that America is the most celebrity-driven culture on earth and the homeland of far more serial killers than virtually every other country combined. Serial killing is glam killing (or at least it seems that way after a culprit gets caught).

There is a sense that the serial killer occasionally drift over into something of a pop culture fetish object, which can drift even further into the realm of glamour or celebrity.

Bus-ted...

Bus-ted…

This is an idea that seems very much of interest to writer Michael R. Perry. The writer was already a television veteran when he joined the Millennium writers’ room during the second season. Although Millennium was his first credit as “producer”, he had already written for shows as diverse as American Gothic, NYPD Blue and The Practice; which would seem to be the perfectly surreal intersection of factors that would make a writer perfectly suited to Millennium. Like Erin Maher and Kay Reindl, he would remain with the show into the third season.

It is interesting to note that Perry’s script for The Mikado seems relatively out of touch with the rest of the season around it. There are very few of the apocalyptic undertones that permeate the second season. Instead, The Mikado is a relatively straightforward serial killer procedural with its own core themes and big ideas. It is not an episode that exists half-way between the first and second seasons – like Beware of the Dog19:19, Goodbye Charlie or The Pest House. This is a very traditional serial killer narrative.

The world's a stage...

The world’s a stage…

On the commentary, Perry concedes as much. He acknowledges that The Mikado would arguably work better as a later first season episode than a second season story:

This has much more in common with Chris’ season one episodes than it does with Glen and Jim’s season two episodes. I had expected… I loved the show, and I got to interview with them. And when I went over there, it was like a love-fest. I met with Chris and Frank and… I think, Ken Horton. We just talked crime stuff and drama stuff; and what makes a show scary and smart; and how to carry a theme in a story. And they just hired me. And then, like two days later, Morgan and Wong took over. And it became their show. But I think this has much more in common with a Chris Carter season episode.

It is perhaps no surprise that Perry only has a single writing credit on the second season, but was much more actively involved with writing and plotting during the show’s final season.

Killing time...

Killing time…

Still, The Mikado works very well. In fact, the script feels a lot fresher in the middle of the second season than it would in the first or third. It would always rank among the show’s most compelling and intriguing serial killer scripts, but positioning it in the middle of a long stretch without these types of stories really emphasises its strengths. The Mikado is a reminder that – for all the derision Millennium tended to attract for its “serial killer of the week” stories – the series could tell these sorts of stories very well when it wanted to.

Perry’s first two scripts deal rather directly with the idea of the serial killer as a celebrity. The Mikado has the killer performing for a web camera and even setting himself up in an abandoned theatre; there is a sense that Avatar is performing for his audience. Similarly, … Thirteen Years Later features an attempt to dramatise a case investigated by a young Frank Black, as our hero visits the set of a horror movie inspired by a spate of serial killings. Both are scripts that seem to ask uncomfortable questions about the relationship between serial killers and audiences.

Streaming suffering...

Streaming suffering…

In The Mikado, the serial killer seems to actively indict his audience. His killings are spurred by the hits counter on the website, meaning that every person looking at the site is implicated in the horror. The very act of watching makes a person a criminal. “Their actions now practically make them accessories to the crime,” Peter notes of those logging on to the site. As Perry argued to Back to Frank Black:

Then I wanted to get into the themes of alienation that mediated communication creates, and we see that it has become a huge national problem. People say vicious things via email or Facebook that they would never say in person, and people are far crueler when they are in the middle of things than they ever would be. That tide was just starting to go, and it was already starting to show that people can be very callous when they think they are just part of an anonymous group. That was the sub-theme of the thing. Would people keep visiting a room knowing that the more clicks it gets the closer somebody is to dying? Nobody died making that episode, but absolutely I think the answer is that people would go click crazy.

Indeed, The Mikado seems to foreshadow some of the more unpleasant aspects of the internet – the on-line herd mentality that leads to horrific situations like “doxxing” or anonymous death threats. For all that the internet has made life infinitely easier, it has also exposed and enabled some of mankind’s more base and horrifying instincts.

Screening their calls...

Screening their calls…

Michael R. Perry has acknowledged that part of the inspiration for The Mikado came from the press coverage surrounding Jennifer Ringley. In 1996, Ringley came up with the idea of “webcasting” her life – turning on a webcamera in her bedroom and streaming it around the world. The camera captured everything – from mundane study to emotional moments to sexual activity. While such a decision might seem passe today, it was radical at the time. It generated a whole host of debate and discussion about voyeurism and engagement, privacy and identity.

Ringley became an internet celebrity in the era before internet celebrities. She was featured in high-profile newspapers like The Wall Street Journal. The Mikado was broadcast in 1998, at the height of Ringley’s fame. Her story inspired an episode of Diagnosis Murder – the catchily titled Rear Window ’98. She also appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, where Letterman infamously gave the incorrect website and directed thousands of users to an unrelated porn site.

Does not compute...

Does not compute…

However, Ringley’s experiment is interesting on a number of levels. Most obviously, although Ringley would blog and engage with the camera, her project was not about two-way communication. Ringley was the subject, and the visitors were the audience. As Victor Burgin observes in The Remembered Film:

At the time Jennifer Ringley acquired her QuickCam, real-time video exchanges on the internet were already possible by means of a freely available program called CU-SeeMe. Ringley could have used this program but she did not. She has shown no interest in seeing those by whom she is seen.

The result is that Ringley’s project was pretty explicitly about voyeurism – the process of watching and being watched – rather than discussion or engagement. Far from enabling communication, the internet actively hinders it.

Voicing concerns...

Voicing concerns…

This sense of detachment and disengagement is a recurring theme in The Mikado. Frank repeatedly insists that he cannot do what he needs to do through a static image on a computer screen. “Dammit I should have seen it, should have felt it, but I’m in here in front of this monitor and I don’t feel a thing,” Frank complains at one point. “I cannot feel anything through those wires.” The Mikado suggests that stepping behind a monitor is numbing and distancing, providing a person with a “power hose” of information but no emotional connection.

Indeed, Peter even points out that there is no way to know if the killings are real. In his introductory conversation with Frank, Peter observes, “Now some of the Group think that might have been staged. Might be some kind of sick performance art.” Trust seems to be impossible over all those wires; those bits and bytes are not tangible or real. In a way, it enables those viewing the website to view it the same way that Avatar sees his victims; as a curiousity rather than an individual.

Title drop!

Title drop!

As such,  The Mikado seems quite astute in its cyberspace anxieties. Of course, the idea that anonymity brings out the worst in people is not necessarily a new idea. It is not even unique to the internet. In an interview with Johnny Carson in 1978, New Yorker journalist Kenneth Tynan reflected on the history of “citizen’s radio”:

He escorts me to my car, and notices that it is fitted with a citizens-band radio. “I had one of those damned things, but I ripped it out after a couple of weeks,” he says. “I just couldn’t bear it—all those sick anonymous maniacs shooting off their mouths.” 

I understand what he means. Most of what you hear on CB radio is either tedious (truck drivers warning one another about speed traps) or banal (schoolgirls exchanging notes on homework), but at its occasional—and illegal—worst it sinks a pipeline to the depths of the American unconscious. Your ears are assaulted by the sound of racism at its most rampant, and by masturbation fantasies that are the aural equivalent of rape. The sleep of reason, to quote Goya’s phrase, brings forth monsters, and the anonymity of CB encourages the monsters to emerge. Not often, of course; but when they do, CB radio becomes the dark underside of a TV talk show.

However, because of the prevalence and penetration of the internet into daily life, the idea that anonymity can be used to justify or excuse horrific behaviour has become more and more apparent. Researchers might formally refer to the “online disinhibition effect”, but perhaps John Gabriel was more on the money when he suggested the “Greater Internet F%$!wad Theory.”

Hot on his trail(er)...

Hot on his trail(er)…

There is always something a little awkward about watching older television shows tackle the internet. The X-Files and Millennium fare better than most of their contemporaries, but there is a weird innocence and simplicity to how such ideas are presented. William Gibson handled the idea of cyberspace quite well in Kill Switch, but he recalls that his original pitch for a story about a “haunted website” was declined because Chris Carter “felt that not enough people knew what a ‘website’ was.”

The Mikado handles its on-line ideas reasonably well. There’s nothing quite as credibility straining as the “localised online warning” that the FBI could send out at will in 2shy. To be fair, the fact that the basic plot of The Mikado was stolen and recycled for the plot of Untraceable a decade later suggests that Michael R. Perry had his finger on the pulse. The core story idea would be compelling, even without grafting a copy of the Zodiac killer into the finished script. A thriller about a killer streaming his murders on-line was a radical idea in 1998.

Frank won't be drawn on the matter...

Frank won’t be drawn on the matter…

There is a sense of The Mikado as a twisted dark reflection of Kill Switch. Both episodes are essentially stories about monsters lurking in cyberspace; they create a sense that cyberspace is essentially a new frontier that is uncontrollable. However, the differences between The X-Files and Millennium mean that the moods are distinct. Because its monsters are fictional, The X-Files can be happy that these creatures have a new world to explore and develop; as serial killers and human predators are decidedly more real, Millennium adopts a more jaded outlook.

The result is that The Mikado feels decidedly more cynical and paranoid in its portrayal of the internet. In some ways, The Mikado feels almost like a miniature moral panic about the dangers of the internet, reflecting all the nineties anxieties about how the internet would essentially open a door through which evil could come pouring into your home. Of course, this is a pretty Millennium way of looking at a new technology. Millennium is a show that tends towards cynicism and pessimistic about the human condition, so The Mikado fits quite comfortably with that.

A little tied up right now...

A little tied up right now…

There is something just a tad knee-jerkish and reactionary about The Mikado, even if the plot moves fast enough that the show never has a chance to dwell upon it. On the commentary, Perry acknowledges that The Mikado is plotted around classic horror “transgressions.” This tends to bring out the conservatism within the genre. There is a clear sense that the script is “punishing” the victims for partaking in some immoral behaviour. Unfortunately, that often seems to tie back to sex and sexuality.

In the teaser, the boys looking for pornography find more than they expected. When Frank and Roedecker narrow their pool of potential victims to eight names, it turns out that the victim is actually Rebecca Damsen. The Mikado reveals that Damsen is a member of various “xxx” groups on-line – including bondage. “Her pseudonym online was Queen Libido,” Frank tells us. Reading her email, Peter observes, “These are quite explicit. Doesn’t synch with a librarian from the Sheboygan Conservatory of Music.”

Down to the wire...

Down to the wire…

There are points at which The Mikado does feel like a grump old man complaining about advancing technology. Frank spends a significant portion of the episode being tetchy about being separated from the real feel of the crime scene. Even Peter seems to notice. “I can’t put it into words,” Frank complains at one point. “What I do exists somewhere on the other side of words.” Peter realises that the situation needs to be managed, and bluntly cuts in, “It’s going to rain, Frank. We’re not going to get a second chance at this.”

The Mikado acknowledges that the internet allows people far more freedom to define and explore their identity than the real world does, but it often seems fairly dismissive of that aspect of the information super highway. Rebecca Damsen is ultimately punished for exploring her sexuality in a way that “doesn’t synch” with her professional and career choices. The gentleman who adopts the “nom-de-plume” or “writing persona” of “Ladylove” is reduced to a joke or a freak.

The Mystery Room for the mystery guest...

The Mystery Room for the mystery guest…

Instead, The Mikado focuses on the internet as a barrier. It prevents Rebecca Damsen from realising that she has attracted a serial killer. It makes it difficult for Frank to engage with his instincts. It stops the people clicking on the website from seeing the victim as a human being rather than a novelty. It might even prevent Frank from meaningfully connecting with the San Francisco law enforcement officials who are quite clearly deeply uncomfortable with the idea of Avatar returning.

To be fair, Perry’s script does temper these reactionary urges ever so slightly. Frank observes that the internet is just a tool for Avatar; it is one method that the killer uses to satisfy his desires. “You take the technology out of it, it’s just the same crime,” Frank explains. On the other hand, The Mikado also allows Frank to veer into what seems like a moral panic, in one of the few overtly religious or apocalyptic lines of the episode, “From the slipstream of electrons. A world as real as life or death but disappears in the blink of an eye. The devil has a new playground.”

Police help...

Police help…

Still, this is a minor problem, and one that helps to establish The Mikado as a counterpoint to Kill Switch. In Kill Switch, William Gibson and Tom Maddox suggested that the internet was essentially a new frontier with limitless possibilities that would spawn its own folklore and mysteries. In contrast, The Mikado suggests that the internet is simply a new stalking ground for familiar horrors. It does seem ironic that the internet has arguably made it harder for serial killers than it was before.

Interestingly, The Mikado positions Avatar as something of a ghost – an ethereal spectre. We only briefly see him in the flesh, when he fires at Frank in the theatre. We never hear his voice. There is a sense that Avatar is almost a spirit haunting the information superhighway, a modern-day urban legend. “Did that really happen?” one of the kids asks in the opening sequence. When Frank asks about the website, Peter explains, “It disappeared. In your hands is the only visual record we have of the entire incident.”

They like to watch...

They like to watch…

The Mikado never reveals the face of the killer to the audience. It never confirms that this is the same killer who stalked San Francisco years ago; we only have Frank Black’s certainty on the matter. Word of the killer’s conduct spreads like an urban legend, repeated gossip and word of mouth that reaches from internet chatrooms to small-town pizzerias. In a way, the killer feels almost as supernatural and paranormal as something like Lucy Butler or Legion, a primal embodiment of fears and legends that is as elusive as the concept of evil itself.

Naturally, the killer escapes at the end of The Mikado. The killer feels more like a nightmare than a physical entity, so it seems perfectly reasonable that Frank should be unable to stop him. The Mikado really plays on the show’s “serial killer of the week” format as a companion to the “monster of the week” over on The X-Files, closing on the suggestion the monster is still out there. “Is he going to reappear?” Peter asks. Frank replies, “Not in this form. Not in this medium. But when he finds that next thing, that next weakness, that’s when he’ll be there again. You can count on it.”

Keeping Frank post(er)ed...

Keeping Frank post(er)ed…

According to the episode commentary, Perry pitched a sequel to The Mikado that never quite materialised:

I wrote an outline for a sequel to this episode, about cell phones – the terror surrounding the doubts around that technology. But we never wound up doing it.

The Mikado is such an interesting technological horror story that the idea of a sequel is quite compelling.

He was robed...

He was robed…

The Mikado is an exquisitely and carefully crafted episode, one that looks and feels incredibly stylish. The amount of inserts required on an episode like this is phenomenal, and it is a credit to the production team that everything looks so good. The Mikado is directed by Roderick J. Pridy, who had worked as a camera operator on both The X-Files and Millennium. It has a sleek and confident style to it, one which suits the material quite well. Millennium might not have had the same budget or prestige as The X-Files at this time, but it still looked impressive.

The Mikado is also notable for focusing on the character of Brian Roedecker. Roedecker was introduced by Glen Morgan and James Wong in The Beginning and the End, and served as the Millennium Group’s tech expert and the show’s plucky comic relief. Roedecker made a number of small and scattered appearances throughout the second season, most notably in Midnight of the Century. Indeed, Roedecker can be seen in The Mikado to be holding the Tamagotchi that Frank gave in Midnight of the Century, a nice piece of character continuity.

Pet concerns...

Pet concerns…

Roedecker was a controversial character. Many fans responded somewhat negatively to the computer expert. They accused Morgan and Wong of trying to turn the show into a lame copy of The X-Files, with Roedecker as a one-man Lone Gunmen. In an interview with Back to Frank Black, Morgan dismissed the idea:

“I remember at the time people said we were just trying to do that,” he recalls, “but what Jim, Darin [Morgan], and I did on The X-Files is what we do. You can see what Jim and I did on The X-Files is in Final Destination and Willard, and the other stuff we have done is what we like to do. So some of the tone and some of the humour – they thought were were trying to do the Lone Gunmen with the character of Roedecker – is just what we did.”

This makes a great deal of sense. After all, Morgan and Wong had introduced the Lone Gunmen in E.B.E. As with any authors, they have a fondness for certain character archetypes.

Seeing eye to eye...

Seeing eye to eye…

That said, it is not as if Roedecker is a perfect photocopy of the Lone Gunman. Most obviously, the Lone Gunmen are three distinct archetypes. Roedecker and the Lone Gunmen are both counter-culture computer geeks with a sense of irreverent messiness about them. However, Roedecker lacks the sense of purpose that defines the Lone Gunman. He is not toiling away on an obscure newsletter to expose the truth to the masses. Roedecker is just an IT support guy, the kind of character who could appear on a dozen other shows.

Roedecker’s relatively normality is emphasised. Millennium is a show packed to the brim with eccentric and odd characters, and Roedecker seems positively grounded compared to most of them. In Midnight of the Century, Peter invites Frank and Lara to join him for discussion about the end of the world and Lara then talks with Frank about what it is like to see angels; Roedecker shows up to Frank’s with two carefully (if not tactfully) chosen gifts. In The Mikado, Roedecker is positioned so as to serve as the straight man to Frank and Peter’s experienced veterans.

Gotta hand it to him...

Gotta hand it to him…

To Perry, this was a large part of the appeal of incorporating a character like Roedecker into the narrative in the first place:

Frank and his colleague Peter Watts are accustomed to dealing with the macabre, so as a viewer you think they’re much cooler than you are. They don’t have to flinch; they’re tough guys. What I like about Roedecker in this episode is that he becomes an advocate for the audience. Roedecker is able to express the revulsion, the tears, that Frank has to constantly hold back. For the first time, Roedecker has a chance to see this is what Frank and Peter do all the time. It makes Frank seem grander because, if nobody in an episode reacts to the gruesome and macabre things that are around, they don’t seem so terrifying.

Allan Zinyk does great work with the character, and episodes like Midnight of the Century and The Mikado underscore what a loss he was to the show.

It is a shame that the character could not stick around. In fact, The Mikado would serve as the final appearance of Brian Roedecker on Millennium. Morgan and Wong were eager to expand Roedecker’s role in the show, but actor Allan Zinyk moved to Toronto to pursue a career in theatre. His last on-screen credit is listed as a guest appearance on The Outer Limits a year after his last work on Millennium. It is a shame that Roedecker did not stick around. The character helped to give the ensemble a quirky and eccentric feel.

The Mikado is a triumph, a reminder that – for all the second season has branched away from the “serial killer of the week” format, there is not necessarily anything wrong with the concept if it is done well. And it is done exceedingly well here.

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

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4 Responses

  1. This was one of my favorite episodes of Season 2, which was the only season of “Millennium” that I watched straight through. Interestingly, I got hooked on the JenniCam a few months after — not only was RIngley’s site the inspiration for that “Diagnosis: Murder” episode, but she actually played the victim, too. Surely never had a female, so adventurous a tale…

  2. I think this actually fits better than I expected with season 2. If its theme can be summed up neatly, each episode attempts to examine how people cope with their own personal apocalypses. Each of these episodes indicts those whose response it is to turn inward, to become apathetic or to serve only oneself.
    Beware the Dog and Curse of Frank Black were explicit about this but it comes up with the parents in Monster, in Joe and his friends in Single Blade of Grass, and in both the kidnapper and the Sheriff in 19:19. It is powerful in Midnight of the Century when Frank wants to dismiss Catherine’s concerns about Jordan and “do nothing,” but instead he is urged to visit and listen to his father. Jose Chung is very good at articulating this: “in his madness he finds an explanation for his unhappiness,” and then “doomsday will start simply out of indifference.” He also emphasizes how each individual feels more important than they really are, living at a most important time in history. There seems to be a dichotomy between selfishly turning inward and the responsibility of freely giving for the good of all.
    Like Room With No View later in the season, Mikado plays some of these ideas out in an extreme example.
    In Monster Frank talked about “the functionaries that believe and act without question.” Here, the focus is not on these people but they so complicit that Frank’s failure bring the killer to justice in the end is almost appropriate. Avatar’s actions were enabled by these hordes online who were never going to be held responsible anyway. Their own personal apocalypses or madness that led them to avatar’s site in the first place are not relevant. What’s relevant is their reaction: to pursue self satisfaction without being held responsible for the consequences of those actions.
    At the risk of turning this political, it isn’t hard to draw comparisons to a Trump voters’ pleas that they harbor no hatred or racism themselves, but who ultimately only want to see someone provide some explanation for their own unhappiness. I feel like season 2’s view of evil, on a show with an incredibly horrific view of evil in the first place, would be harsh on those people.

    • Season two’s view of evil – of the banality of evil and the fact that inaction is a morally culpable decision – has aged remarkably well. Particularly this election cycle, as you suggest. Rewatching the show, it’s one the things I really liked about Morgan and Wong’s interpretation of Millennium as compared to Chris Carter.

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