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Millennium – Owls (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.

I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am become as an owl of the waste places.

– Psalm 102:6

Birds of prey...

Birds of prey…

The owl is an interesting and complicated (and occasionally contradictory) piece of symbolism. At once a creature to be admired and feared, owls can be both embodiments of wisdom and harbingers of doom. The etymology of the modern Irish and Scottish words for “owl” come with their own negative connotations about darkness and night. In Wales, the word “tylluan” is argued to derive from twyll (deceiver) and “huan” (sun). In Irish, “cailleach oíche” literally translates a “night hag.”

In Southwest Asia, the bird is considered to represent desolation or destruction. In Sumeria, Cursing of Agade referred to the owl as “the bird of depression”; Lament for Eridug described it as “the bird of destroyed cities” and the “bird of heart’s sorrow.” There were similarly grim portrayals of owls in classical Europe. Ovid described the “cowardly owl” as “an omen dreadful to mortals.” According to Peter Tate’s Flights of Fancy, owls reportedly oversaw the deaths of Emperors Augustus, Valentinian and Commodus Antonius.

Easy for you to say.

Easy for you to say.

Within Christianity, the owl is often reviled. In the Bible, it is listed among the abominations in both The Book of Leviticus and The Book of Deuteronomy. Hrabanus Maurus’ De Universo assures readers that “the owl signifies those delivered into the darkness of sins, and those fleeing the light of righteousness. However, this is by no means the only Christian perspective on owls. According to the Aberdeen Bestiary, the owl could be seen as a symbol of Jesus Christ.

Still, perhaps the most iconic owl imagery comes from Ancient Greece. The owl is associated with the goddess Athena, frequently considered to be wise or thoughtful as a result. In Birds of the Ancient World, writer William Geoffrey Arnott proposes that the link developed due to the relative abundance of owls in the region. Whatever the reason, this portrayal was carried over into the Roman pantheon; owls became linked with Minerva. The “owl of Minerva” has become a potent metaphor, evoked by writers like Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Noam Chomsky.

Digging up the past.

Digging up the past.

Over the years, owls have been linked with any number of secret societies – perhaps due to their nocturnal habits; perhaps due to symbolism carried over from earlier generations. Conspiracy theorists link the owl with freemasonry. Such commentators have suggested that the image of the owl was covertly incorporated into the very foundations of the United States. It has been claimed that an owl can be found nesting in the corner of the dollar bill note. Similarly, it has been argued that Washington, D.C. has streets laid out to resemble an owl as seen from above.

Perhaps the most (in)famous owl in the history of conspiracy theories is to be found associated with the Bohemian Club in San Francisco. The group is a loose association of men from various backgrounds – from the arts, to business, to politics – that meet in San Francisco in absolute privacy. Members have included figures like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton. The owl appears on the secretive organisation’s seal, but also as a gigantic sculpture at the heart of Bohemian Grove.

As the world burns...

As the world burns…

The Bohemian Club has understandably become an object of fascination to all sorts of people. After all, this is a group of powerful men who frequently get together in order to do some very strange things. Quoted in The Bohemian Jinks, William Henry Irwin spoke of the group in rather lofty terms:

“You come upon it suddenly. One step and its glory is over you. There is no perspective; you cannot get far enough away from one of the trees to see it as a whole. There they stand, a world of height above you, their pinnacles hidden by their topmost fringes of branches or lost in the sky.”

Jon Ronson wrote about the group in Them: Adventures with Extremists. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed that all sorts on unholy activities were taking place there. Comedian and actor Harry Shearer offered a somewhat lighter take in The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

Crate and terrible things...

Crate and terrible things…

Writing an exposé for Spy magazine, Philip Weiss presented a somewhat more mundane vision of these powerful men camping in the shadow of the large owl statue:

You know you are inside the Bohemian Grove when you come down a trail in the woods and hear piano music from amid a group of tents and then round a bend to see a man with a beer in one hand and his penis in the other, urinating into the bushes. This is the most gloried-in ritual of the encampment, the freedom of powerful men to pee wherever they like, a right the club has invoked when trying to fight government anti-sex discrimination efforts and one curtailed only when it comes to a few popular redwoods just outside the Dining Circle. Tacked to one of these haplessly postprandial trees is a sign conveying the fairy-dust mixture of boyishness and courtliness that envelops the encampment: Gentlemen please! No pee pee here!

However tempting it might be to believe in secret cabals that control the fate of the world, it sadly seems more likely that rich and powerful men simply enjoy the luxury of urinating where they will.

It never is...

It never is…

As such, it seems apparent that there is a distinction to be made between the owls and the roosters. As symbols, they seem almost diametrically opposed to one another; they embody radically contradictory ideas and ideals about knowledge and faith. At the same time, there are some very clear points of overlap to be found in antiquity. There are some indications that the owls and the roosters are not as different as their history and their ritual use might suggest at first. They are both birds, after all.

Indeed, writing in The Mysteries of Freemasonry, John Fellows noted that both birds were used to announce sacrifices to the goddess Hecate. “When the sacrifice was to be made at night, they put an owl near the figure that proclaimed it,” Fellows explained. “A cock was put in the room thereof, when the sacrifice was to be made in the morning. Nothing could be more simple or convenient than this practice.” It appears, for all their symbolic distinctions, owls and roosters were close enough in many regards.


"You can see the owl, right here..."

“You can see the owl, right here…”

The second season of Millennium is an incredibly ambitious season of television. It is utterly unlike any other season of television ever produced, taking a variety of eccentric and radical ideas and fashioning them into a single cohesive narrative about the end of the world. The second season of Millennium embraces ideas and concepts that even The X-Files might think absurd or ridiculous, and packs them in together with reckless abandon. It genuinely feels like the show knows that it only gets a single twenty-three-episode shot at this, and everything counts.

However, while the second season of Millennium might play with objects and theories that seem incredible or impossible (or even just crazy), Morgan and Wong are quite meticulous in their research. It might be a stretch to suggest that many of the more outlandish concepts featured in the second season are real, but they are pre-existing ideas. The second season of Millennium is painstakingly compiled from real-life conspiracy theory and eschatology, tying together a web of elements that are all rooted in some established belief system.

It always comes back to Hitler...

It always comes back to Hitler…

In an interview with Back to Frank Black, writer Glen Morgan argued that one of the most polarising aspects of the second season was this sense that the show had become a tapestry of outlandish craziness. Morgan insisted that the duo had painstakingly researched all of their ideas for the show:

“I think if there’s a mistake, we had done a lot of research. The Owls and Roosters were not just made up. There’s actually that kind of stuff out there. My memory is that there was Hebrew apocalyptic literature that is just not talked about, and I think that we had touched upon a lot of these things that the audience doesn’t know about. You probably don’t know about it unless you’ve read about it. So that was our mistake, such that a lot of this stuff just seemed like it was crazy writers making stuff up. But, in actuality, I believe that it didn’t hit or it causes confusion because a lot of people weren’t aware of these obscure things that we were drawing upon.”

The second season of Millennium is undoubtedly outlandish and absurd, but that craziness is not coming from Morgan and Wong. Instead, the duo are filtering a rich vein of eschatology and conspiracy theory into the show, presenting a world where it seems that every crazy theory might possibly be true.

Eye see...

Eye see…

Morgan and Wong did not invent the concept of “owls” and “roosters” as they relate to millennial theology. The terms were first used in that context by Richard Landes in an article for Union Seminary Quarterly Review in 1996. Landes argued that there were two schools of thought on millennial eschatology:

Apocalyptic beliefs are the only religious beliefs that people in the past have held about which the historian can safely say: they are false. Indeed, by definition, they are almost always proven false in the lifetime of the believer. This curious point has great significance for the kind of record these beliefs leave behind in the documentation, hence in those sources by which a historian must reconstruct what happened in the past. Before analyzing these phenomena, let me introduce two animals in the eschatological breviary: the roosters and the owls. Roosters crow about the imminent dawn. Apocalyptic prophets, messianic pretenders, chronologists calculating an imminent doomsday—they all want to rouse the courtyard, stir the other animals into action, shatter the quiet complacency of a sleeping community. Owls are night-animals; they dislike both noise and light; they want to hush the roosters, insisting that it is still night, that the dawn is far away, that the roosters are not only incorrect, but dangerous—the foxes are still about and the master asleep. In some sense, the history of eschatology is the history of the conflict of these two birds; and the documentation naturally favors that one who has been and will be correct as long as history is written—the owls.

In fact, the phone call that Frank receives at the start of Owls seems to quote almost directly from the article in question. “Roosters crow at the dawn hoping to arouse the barnyard. But the owl knows it is still late at night. The foxes are about. The master sleeps.”

Means to an end...

Means to an end…

Landes himself acknowledges that he is drawing on a rich vein of theological philosophy. In his article, he acknowledges that his use of “owls” and “roosters” was largely taken from Rabbi Sinlai’s commentary on Sanhedrin 98b in The Soncino Babylonian Talmud:

What is meant by, ‘Woe unto you, that desire the day of the Lord! To what end is it for you? The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light’? This may be compared to a cock and a bat who were hopefully waiting for the light. The cock said to the bat, ‘I look forward to the light, because I have sight; but of what use is the light to thee?’

Landes changes the “bat” into an “owl” so as to avoid many of the pejorative connotations of the allegory. Landes argued that while bats are traditionally portrayed as blind, owls are associated with wisdom and knowledge. Regardless of which animal is used, it remains a potent metaphor.

Straight lines...

Straight lines…

Owls and Roosters also introduces Nazis into the overarching mythology of Millennium. The two-parter throws the Millennium group into conflict with ODESSA. ODESSA is itself something of an urban legend. Many believe it to be the organisation that smuggled war criminals out of Europe following the end of the Second World War. However, the material existence of the organisation has yet to be proven, as Gitta Sereny argues in Into That Darkness:

Herr Wiesenthal’s theory has always been that the escapes of people such as Stangl were carefully organised and aided by organisations such as the mysterious ‘Odessa’ (often referred to in novels and popular journalism), the existence of which has never yet been proved. The prosecutors at the Ludwigsburg Central Authority for the Investigation into Nazi Crimes, who know precisely how the postwar lives of certain individuals now living in South America have been financed, have searched all their thousands of documents from beginning to end, but say they are totally unable to authenticate (the) ‘Odessa.’ Not that this matters greatly: there certainly were various kinds of Nazi aid organisations after the war — it would have been astonishing if there hadn’t been. But we should not allow the seductiveness of various theories of conspiracy to prevent us from examining with an open mind the identities and motivations of individuals who – now an established fact – really did help people like Stangl to escape.

While countless members of the Nazi regime did escape after the Second World War, the stories about these war criminals quickly took on a life of their own. In 1972, The ODESSA File introduced the concept of ODESSA to the general public. In 1976, The Boys from Brazil seemed to suggest that South America had become a literal breeding ground for a resurgent Nazi conspiracy.

"Don't you know the boys from Brazil are little hitlers? I saw it in a movie! Whose name I can't remember!"

“Don’t you know the boys from Brazil are little hitlers? I saw it in a movie! Whose name I can’t remember!”

In keeping with the themes of the second season, Owls and Roosters does hint at the occult associations of Nazism. Rudolph Axmann keeps “die Blutfahne” hanging in his living room, a Nazi flag that had been splattered in the blood of sixteen party members during the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. The relic took on great importance to the Nazi party following Hitler’s release from prison. The last reported public sighting of the flag took place in 1944, although there are rumours that it survived and endured beyond the war.

Popular culture had been increasing fascinated by Nazi occult imagery from the sixties onwards, reflecting both a general resurgence in interest in the occult and a generational gap between those who had witnessed the horrors of Nazism first-hand and those who were reading about it in history text books. In 1960, The Morning of the Magicians introduced these occult links to a wider public; at around the same time that it proposed a theory that would become the “ancient astronauts” idea. Nazi occultism played a major role in the Indiana Jones films, for example.

Looking out for himself...

Looking out for himself…

Historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke has argued that these pop culture link between Nazism and occultism is rooted in difficulties understanding how something like Nazism could have been so successful in Europe during the thirties and into the early forties. As he argues in The Occult Roots of Nazism:

The appeal of this sensational literature lies in the uncanny intrusion of an extinct order, generally considered both monstrous and forbidden, upon the familiar world of liberal institutions. Nor is this fascination with the macabre aspects of Nazism confined to literature. Insignia and mementoes from the Third Reich are often collected by psychopaths and sadists, while extreme right-wing groups and bizarre sects have adopted Nazi dress and ceremonial. This literature of clandestine revivals, illicit initiations, and the persistence of evil ideas and agencies defines a realm of speculative history which has built on slender evidence and tenuous associations to suggest that National Socialism was linked with occultism.

Since 1960 a number of popular books have represented the Nazi phenomenon as the product of arcane and demonic influence. The remarkable story of the rise of Nazism is implicitly linked to the power of the supernatural.

This makes a certain amount of sense. Both The X-Files and Millennium have suggested that conspiracy theories largely exist as a way of imposing order on a chaotic world. This fascination arguably does something similar.

"We really need to pick less thematically appropriate meeting places..."

“We really need to pick less thematically appropriate meeting places…”

At the same time, even as Goodrick-Clarke is critical of the portrayal of the links between Nazis and occultism in popular fiction, The Occult Roots of Nazism does argue that the movement can trace its roots back to various occult traditions and movements:

This is an unusual history. Although it presents an account of past events relating to the origins and ideology of National Socialism in Germany, its proper subject is not the parties, policies and organizations through which men rationally express their interests in a social and political context. Rather, it is an underground history, concerned with the myths, symbols and fantasies that bear on the development of reactionary, authoritarian, and Nazi styles of thinking. It is also a marginal history, since its principal characters were mystics, seers and sectarians who had little to do with the outer realities of politics and administration. But such men had the imagination and opportunity to describe a dream-world that often underlay the sentiments and actions of more worldly men in positions of power and responsibility. Indeed, their abstruse ideas and weird cults anticipated the political doctrines and institutions of the Third Reich.

This is obviously quite detached from the type of links and conspiracies that exist within the second season of Millennium, but it does reinforce the idea that Glen Morgan and James Wong were not simply pulling crazy ideas from thin air. The insanity of the second season of Millennium is carefully and meticulously researched.

So nineties...

So nineties…

In fact, even the rivalry between ODESSA and the Millennium Group might be rooted in something resembling fact. The second season of Millennium has presented the Group as a secret society in the style of the freemasons. The Nazis engaged in their own campaign against the masons. In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler observed:

The general pacifistic paralyzation of the national instinct of self-preservation, introduced into the circles of the so-called ‘intelligentsia’ by Freemasonry, is transmitted to the great masses, but above all to the bourgeoisie, by the activity of the great press, which today is always Jewish.

Hitler presented the freemasons as part of a conspiracy against the German people. Reich Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick identified the freemasons as “hostile to the state” in 1934 In 1933, Hermann Goring asserted that “in National Socialist Germany there is no place for freemasonry.”

As thick as two planks...

As thick as two planks…

As with The Pest House, Owls and Roosters seems like a pretty logical point at which to contrast Morgan and Wong’s vision of Millennium against that of The X-Files. Millennium and The X-Files are both shows created by Chris Carter; they both air on Fox; they are both undeniably engaged with the existential dilemmas of the nineties. Although David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s stand-ins might have appeared in Lamentation and Charles Nelson Reilly might have appeared in Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense”, Millennium is not a spin-off in the traditional sense.

Millennium and The X-Files cover a lot of the same thematic ground. Even before Morgan and Wong turned it into an explicit cult, the Millennium Group was another one of those shadowy organisations that tends to pop up in Chris Carter’s work – a mysterious body that seems to be primarily compromised of middle-aged white men. Both The X-Files and Millennium were designed as shows about people who face monsters and evil, with Millennium‘s much criticised early “serial killer of the week” format arguably mirroring The X-Files“monster of the week” approach.

Point and shoot...

Point and shoot…

Morgan and Wong affectionately acknowledge the similarity and overlap between the two shows. In Owls, Peter Watts takes time to mock the mythology of The X-Files while outlining his own grand conspiracy theories. “Can you imagine the effect conclusive evidence would have on a world, in which millions actually believe they’ve been abducted and experimented on by aliens with the knowledge and co-operation of government officials?” Peter demands. “A country which obsessed for decades on Elvis sightings? Roswell?”

That might seem like a passive-aggressive swipe at The X-Files, but Frank quickly draws attention to the fact that Peter is proposing equally absurd theories. “It’s no more ludicrous than you expecting me to believe that a handful of people, a secret society, can control the destiny of millions,” Frank insists, offering another point of overlap between Millennium and The X-Files. In The Time is Now, Peter discovers one of the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s brand of cigarettes in the Group’s basement – suggesting a clear overlap between conspiracies.

And it just gets crazier from there...

And it just gets crazier from there…

However, there is a notable difference in how The X-Files and Millennium tend to portray their conspiracies. The X-Files proposes something of a single unifying conspiracy that runs through the entirety of modern history. On The X-Files, it seems like the fate of the world rests in the hands of a single cabal dealing with aggressive extraterrestrial colonists. Episodes like Patient X and The Red and the Black suggest the conspiracy and the aliens are not entirely monolithic, but The X-Files is the story of what purports to be a single conspiracy with a single purpose.

It seems like The X-Files proposes a single linear world history that dates back to the end of the Second World War. Almost everything falls back to the same conspirators. Whether it is black hole experiments in Soft Light or mind control testing in Wetwired, it can generally be assumed that the same group of conspirators are involved with everything. There are occasionally episodes like Tempus Fugit, Max or The Pine Bluff Variant that branch away from the core conspirators, but they are very much the minority.

Studying all the angels...

Studying all the angels…

At the heart of The X-Files is the idea that conspiracy theory gives order and purpose to the world. Every horrific action or decision can be traced back to a single easily-defined evil. The brutality and horror of the modern world is not a reflection on human nature, but instead the product of a single powerful force operating beyond our perception and awareness. The world is not random and chaotic; there is a very clear order at work, if we can only allow ourselves to see it. There is almost something comforting in the conspiracy theory of The X-Files.

Morgan and Wong touched on this idea of conspiracy theory in a couple of their scripts for The X-Files. Late in the first season, E.B.E. seemed to wonder why Mulder found the idea of a vast international conspiracy so compelling. In the fourth season, Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man relentlessly parodied the idea of a world run by a secret cabal as a bizarro version of Forest Gump. It was not mad men or random individuals who had shot Kennedy or Martin Luther King; it was all the work of the Cigarette-Smoking Man.

In a bit of a fix...

In a bit of a fix…

In contrast, the second season of Millennium seems to present conspiracy theory as a chaotic concept rather than an ordering principle. In The X-Files, there is a single group of powerful men who are responsible for everything from experiments upon prisoners to the systemic exploitation of women. In the second season of Millennium, it seems like there are so many secret groups and organisations that they muddy and confuse an already complicated situation. There is not a single conspiracy driving the world; there are multiple cabals fighting over the wheel.

In Paper Clip, it was revealed that former members of the Nazi party had been recruited into the conspiracy at the heart of The X-Files. In Owls, it is suggested that the Nazis have their own secret occult organisation vying for control of the world in Millennium. While The X-Files spends most of its run developing a single core mythology, the second season of Millennium keeps piling in conspiracy after conspiracy into its twenty-three episode run. There is no room to develop ODESSA or the Trust between episodes, because there is always another party to introduce.

They should call it a lie-bary...

They should call it a lie-bary…

Owls and Roosters are designed to evoke the big conspiracy two-parters of The X-Files. The episodes aired during sweeps. They were broadcast alongside Patient X and The Red and the Black, the two big high-profile mythology episodes from the fifth season of The X-Files. They represent an escalation in the scale of the season. Over the course of the two-parter, a lot of important stuff happens for the Millennium Group. The Old Man dies; the Elder is elevated to the Old Man; the True Cross is recovered; an old enemy is defeated.

All of this is vitally important to the Group, and Owls and Roosters gives it a suitably epic scale. Patient X and The Red and the Black stretch from Kazakhstan to Quebec. Owls and Roosters reach from Damascus to Paraguay. The final act of the two-parter plays over the Prelude to Act I from Wagner’s Parsifal. Burying the Old Man, the Elder quotes from the final few lines of Book I of Lewis Morris’ The Epic of Hades. In a way, both of these choices are quite telling; they both suggest that Owls and Roosters is simply the start of something rather than the end.

Getting his fax straight...

Getting his fax straight…

In truth, Owls and Roosters seems to suggest that the Millennium Group is grossly unprepared for what lies ahead of it. For all its mysticism and research, for all its understanding of occult prophecy and good intentions, the Millennium Group is just a bunch of squabbling and in-fighting zealots with no idea of what lies ahead of them. For all that the show makes glorious fanfare about the Millennium Group’s recovery at the end of Roosters, what do they actually accomplish?

Peter might build up the threat of ODESSA, but Owls and Roosters seems to suggest that this creepy Nazi organisation has already been whittled down to nothing more than Helmut Gunsche and Rudolph Axmann. The Group proves more than capable of handling Gunsche and Axmann once they get their act together towards the end of Roosters. The entire point of Owls and Roosters becomes the fact that the Millennium Group simply doesn’t have its act together; that it can be divided or manipulated so easily that killing two Nazis becomes an impossible task.

It has a nice ring to it...

It has a nice ring to it…

Similarly, what does all the struggle in Owls and Roosters actually accomplish for the Millennium Group? The Elder finds himself elevated to the role of the Old Man. However, this is the last time the character appears on the show. The Elder wanders into the woods to assume his new role, but he remains curiously disengaged from the workings of the Millennium Group in The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now. Indeed, if the Elder is responsible for the Millennium Group’s actions later in the season, the ending of Owls and Roosters is much grimmer than it seems.

However, perhaps the most moment of Owls and Roosters comes at the very end. The Millennium Group has fought long and hard to acquire a piece of the True Cross. As an organisation with its roots in early Christianity, the True Cross has tremendous symbolic importance to the Group. However, what good does the True Cross actually do? As the Elder tucks it away at the back of his bookshelf, it seems like the True Cross is little more than a trinket or a collectable. It is just a curiousity, rather than an object of material import. And so many people died for it.

You can't be Syria-ous?

You can’t be Syria-ous?

If The X-Files is the story of a group of people who rule the world, the second season of Millennium is the story of groups of people who would like to think that they rule the world. In Roosters, members of the group squabble over internal power. The Elder seems incapable of understanding how such a split could possibly take place. “Now, what I don’t understand is, this is not a split caused by opposing inherent viewpoints. No one is allowed in this room unless they believe the monumental events that are before us and are about to come.”

However, this is how large groups inevitably work; there are schisms and reformations, splits and divisions. No large group is entirely monolithic. “The Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland both believe in Christ as Lord,” Peter explains. “Yet for decades they’ve taken each other’s lives, they’ve lost any sense of national direction or progress, because the split has lost its basis in religious or political ideology. It’s become about who controls who. And that’s what is happening here. And this is not who we are.”

Doing his best Travis Bickle...

Doing his best Travis Bickle…

Owls and Roosters ultimately suggests that the divide is one based on power. The conflict is not entirely ideological, it is just between people who want to be in control when the dust settles. Indeed, one of the members of the Group responds to Peter by asserting, “I’m not ashamed to say it is about control.” Despite Peter’s optimism and idealism, it would seem to suggest that this is exactly who we are. Trying to save the world is ultimately less important than deciding who rules the world.

Owls reinforces this idea in its imagery and iconography. The first meeting of the “Roosters” takes place in what looks like an abandoned scrapyard, an industrial environment that already looks like it has endured the apocalypse. Later, the first confrontation between the two rival factions takes place at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. It is the same room where the body of John F. Kennedy was examined. “Everyone’s trust died in this room,” Peter tells Lara.

Bring out the dead...

Bring out the dead…

Owls and Roosters suggests that the Millennium Group is incredibly petty and volatile; it is not an organisation that could be trusted to protect the world. Peter cuts Lara out of the investigation based on nothing more than five words (“made contact with Lara Means”) in Johnson’s burnt notebook. The two factions bicker over the autopsy procedure like parents bitterly fighting over custody of a child. There is no sense of the greater good or a common purpose here. There is only hearsay and resentment.

Building off Luminary, Owls finally allows Frank to lay into Peter about the self-defeating nature of the Millennium Group. “I’m not even sure I’m with you; I don’t know who or what you are exactly,” Frank contends. “I agreed to work for them because I believed that they were a criminal investigative consulting firm. I was devoted. I respected Millennium. I respected you. Now it’s all distorted with hints and intimations. Passwords and candidacies. Centuries-old origins. End-of-the-World prophecies. Secrets and lies.”

Being Frank...

Being Frank…

Indeed, the two-parter dares to suggest that there might be very little difference between the Millennium Group and ODESSA. Sure, their ideologies are radically opposed; but in terms of how they conduct their business and what they fight for, Owls and Roosters suggests that the two organisations are not so different. In fact, both organisations are fighting over Frank Black’s soul. ODESSA approaches Catherine in the form of “Aerotech Guidance Systems”, offering her a job and a purpose. The Millennium Group approached Frank offering similar promises.

Peter travels to Paraguay to conduct an extra-legal assassination of Rudolph Axmann, while his associates kill Helmut Gunsche with a carbomb. The Millennium Group has morality on their side by virtue of not being Nazis, but their methods are not so far removed from the way that Helmut Gunsche murdered his way through the Millennium Group in pursuit of the True Cross in the first place. Of course, the third season pushes the Millennium Group into the realm of Nazi-ish super-villainy quite quickly.

Stacking up the bodies...

Stacking up the bodies…

Even the religious undertones of the Millennium Group are contrasted with those of ODESSA. “When Adolph Hitler made a personal pilgrimage to Wagner’s grave, emotional, he believed he could make a religion out of Parsifal,” the Old Man explains. “And, unfortunately, he did.” He explains, “The Nazi SS was a secret society. Heinrich Himmler modeled it after the medieval Order of Teutonic Knights. They displayed ritualistic insignia. The sig-rune. Two lightning bolts were worn on the left sleeve. The rune of power, the lightning bolts of the storm god, Thor.”

ODESSA has its own artifacts and rituals. “This is who we are,” is the standard greeting of the Millennium Group. Axmann and Gunsche greet each other with a similar refrain, “Rome lies on the Tiber.” The offices of Aerotech Guidance Systems brazenly hang a painting by Adolf Hitler in plain sight, “an original one of Hitler’s, awarded to high ranking members of ODESSA.” It is perhaps a reminder of who they are, and a way of identifying themselves to others, a reminder of their roots; it is not too dissimilar to the ouroboros for the Millennium Group.

Not a man you want to cross...

Not a man you want to cross…

“Millennium became what we fight against,” the Old Man laments in Roosters. “Damned Owls, Roosters, power and control. The world will end in 656 days, if we fail to act now. Somehow, I’ve failed. And I don’t know what I can do to pull it back together.” The Millennium Group and ODESSA are simply pathetic and lost organisations fighting in the soon-to-be ruins, grappling for what little power they can claim. They are groups that are so myopic in focus and so self-involved that they are ultimately worthless.

For all that the second season build up the Millennium Group as an organisation standing on the edge of the an abyss, the Millennium Group itself is ultimately a red herring. Owls and Roosters reinforce the idea that the second season of Millennium is fundamentally a story about broken families and how those most personal apocalypses find themselves projected to a much larger scale. The second season of Millennium is not a story about men who claim to control the world; it is a story about the death of a family and the end of the world that is wrought by such a death.

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

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