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Millennium – Roosters (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.

Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

– Matthew 26:72

Everything is in runes...

Everything is in runes…

The rooster is inexorably associated with dawn. The crowing of the cock symbolises the dawning of a new day. It serves as a natural alarm clock, a way of knowing that the long night is over and that tomorrow has arrived. This association is so firm and so entrenched that the rooster is even incorporated into the branding of breakfast cereals. Kelloggs have decided to brand even individual cornflakes with the image of a cockerel crowing to welcome the beginning of a brand new day.

While the owl is a creature with a complex history of occasionally contradictory symbolism, the rooster has always been always been associated with the dawn. The rooster is not a predator in the same way that the owl is. It is not even wild. It is associated with farming; while The Bible repeatedly lists owls as “abominations”, chickens are livestock that can help to sustain entire communities. The rooster and the hen provide meat to feed the locals, but they also provide eggs.

Burying the past...

Burying the past…

The rooster was associated with these ideas even before it become an important animal to Christianity. In Weathercock on Early Seal of Bishop and Chapter of Exeter, Kate M. Clarke suggests that the weathervane has a history that extends back further than Christianity:

It seems not unlikely that the cock was placed above pagan temples to keep away evil spirits, and that the prac­tice was continued in Christian times, though the myth received a Christianised interpretation. The cock some­ times appears as one of the emblems of the Passion, and if directly associated with St. Peter, it signifies Repent­ance, though it does not appear that this was the inten­tion when used as a weathercock. It was also taken to be a symbol of vigilance.

The rooster was rather quickly coopted by Christianity. In the sixth century, Pope Gregory I suggested that the rooster “was the most suitable emblem of Christianity”, serving as “the emblem of St Peter.”

Moving in circles...

Moving in circles…

The symbolism of the rooster was not lost on anybody. “The cock is like the souls of the just, waiting for the dawn, after the darkness of the world’s night,” Saint Bede wrote of the creature. In the Mystical Mirrour of the Church, Hugo de Sancto Victore suggested:

The cock which is placed thereon representeth Preachers. For the cock in the deep watches of the night divideth the hours thereof with his song, and arouseth the sleepers. He foretelleth the approach of day, but first he stirreth up himself to crow by the striking of his wings. Behold ye these things mystically: for not one is there without meaning. The sleepers be the children of this world lying in sins. The cock is the company of the preachers which do preach sharply, do stir up the sleepers to cast away the works of darkness, which also do foretell the coming of the light, when they preach of the Day of Judgment and future glory. But wisely before they preach unto others do they rouse themselves by virtue from the sleep of sin, and do chasten their bodies.

The rooster serves to inform the world of what is coming. It spreads the word of the Lord, providing a call that will summon and enlighten the faithful. If the owl is a creature of the long and dark night, then the rooster is a creature of a new dawn.

City limits...

City limits…

As such, it seems apparent that there is a distinction to be made between the roosters and the owls. 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.


Into the woods...

Into the woods…

Owls and Roosters really demonstrate the unique style and flare that producers Glen Morgan and James Wong brought to the second season of Millennium. The two-parter is bold and ambitious, moving with the momentum of a runaway freight train. At the same time, the two-parter feels utterly unlike anything else on television at the time. As much as the stock comparison might be the mythology of The X-Files, Owls and Roosters are very different animals from Patient X and The Red and the Black, despite covering similar thematic ground.

The nineties really saw James Wong and Glen Morgan grow as writers and showrunners. Their experience on Space: Above and Beyond seemed to encourage the duo to push the limits of what could be done in a forty-five-minute episode of television. It seems highly unlikely that the second season of Millennium would have been so daring and intriguing had the duo not already written scripts like Who Monitors the Birds?, And If They Lay Us Down To Rest… and … Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best.

Knight of the hunter...

Knight of the hunter…

Owls and Roosters might not be quite as radical or striking as either The Curse of Frank Black or The Time is Now, but the two episodes are still striking pieces of prime-time entertainment. It is worth noting just how skilfully both Owls and Roosters incorporate music into their storytelling; Owls sets the murder of Johnson to the sounds of America’s A Horse With No Name, while Roosters plays the Prelude to Act I from Richard Wagner’s Parcifal over its entire final act.

These are the kinds of decisions that would seem more acceptable in this era of cable drama. In fact, Vince Gilligan would incorporate A Horse With No Name into Breaking Bad in a fairly similar capacity, with Walter White singing the song to himself as he drives along in Caballo Sin Nombre before being pulled over. Given Gilligan’s avowed fondness for Millennium, it is interesting to wonder whether he might have been inspired by the use of the song in Owls when he chose to include it in Caballo Sin Nombre.

You know, I think it might be just time to sell the yellow house at this point...

You know, I think it might be just time to sell the yellow house at this point…

Nevertheless, the way that Owls and Roosters incorporated this music was striking for a prime-time network drama in the nineties. Morgan and Wong’s use of music had evolved during their time working on The X-Files and Space: Above and Beyond. Bobby Darin was a pretty important part of Beyond the Sea, but Johnny Cash was a much more crucial part of Ray Butts. Episodes like Home and Never Again slyly incorporated wholesome pop songs into unwholesome situations. Frank Black has become a big fan of Bobby Darin over the course of the second season.

Owls and Roosters are a bold step forward for the way that the pair play with music. This is a show that can effortless stretch from early seventies folk rock to nineteenth century German opera. It seems like the second season of Millennium is consciously building up towards that crazy and mesmerising stretch of The Time is Now, wherein Morgan and Wong (with Cloke and Wright) attempt to convey the apocalypse through an act that almost plays as a music video for Patti Smith’s Horses.

A bolt from the blue...

A bolt from the blue…

This is not what mainstream television looked like in 1998. Millennium is often overlooked in explorations of nineties television. When it is examined, it is often in the context of “the other Chris Carter show.” The influence of Millennium is generally confined to the genre procedural boom that followed shortly – the implication that Millennium might have foreshadowed the arrival of CSI and Criminal Minds and other such (more successful) shows. These arguments are all valid and interesting, but they also ignore the more adventurous side of Millennium.

The legacy of Millennium is arguably in building off Twin Peaks, building a mainstream prime-time network genre procedural that is openly loaded with symbolism and imagery beyond a simple plot formula. Bryan Fuller made a point to cast Lance Henriksen in the first season of Hannibal, even acknowledging Henriksen’s work as Frank Black. It felt like a nice tipping of the hat to Millennium. Similarly, the influence of Millennium can be felt on True Detective, with its occult-murders-as-commentary-on-existential-apocalyptic-horror motif.

It's a jungle out there...

It’s a jungle out there…

Owls and Roosters ultimately underscore one of the bigger themes at the heart of the second season of Millennium. For all that the season dwells on the workings and schemes of the Millennium Group, those are ultimately incidental. The second season of Millennium is a story about a family dissolving under pressure, cracking under the strain. As much as the Millennium Group might claim to be a secret order protecting the world, they are really just a family as dysfunctional as Frank Black’s nuclear family unit.

Roosters underscores this point repeatedly. The episode cleverly cuts across several sets of conversations at the same time, tying the breakdown of the marriage between Frank and Catherine Black into the discord within the Millennium Group. Frank and Catherine argue at the same time that Peter and the Elder go head-to-head. Frank and Catherine reconcile at the same point that the Old Man finds some peace with Lara. This cross-cutting is a great way to give the story a sense of scale, but it also to cement the idea that this is really just a family dispute on a large scale.

Seeds of change...

Seeds of change…

Peter and the Elder are essentially having the same argument as Frank and Catherine. While the particular context is different, Peter’s answers could easily have been delivered by Frank. “It’s very difficult to know the truth, even to recognize the truth,” Peter insists. “But I don’t believe it’s a lie to reserve information that could create catastrophic consequences, until I understand it for myself.” In another room, Catherine responds. “The problem is you are not the only one it affects.”

The focus of Owls and Roosters is on family. Peter is only able to get his back in the game once he accepts that he can trust Frank and Lara as family. “I’ve allowed this crisis, this division with the group to create a disunion within myself that became directed at the only two people that I can trust, now that the Old Man is gone.” ODESSA is so successful because it divides the Millennium Group, turning it into a broken family. As noted in Beware of the Dog, the Old Man does not seem to hold a position in the group, only playing the role of family patriarch.

Murder and mayhem...

Murder and mayhem…

As with Monster, there is a sense that the Millennium Group is ultimately a surrogate family unit. Peter seems to treat Frank and Lara as siblings, deferring to the Old Man as a father figure. During a heated argument in Owls, Peter reminds Frank, “You left your family. But you didn’t leave us.” When Aerotech attempts to recruit Frank through Catherine, it makes a similar pitch. Clear Knight promises Frank and Catherine, “We’re so pleased to have both of you in our family.”

In a way, this underscores another subtle (but key) point of difference between The X-Files and the second season of Millennium. The two shows share considerable thematic overlap, but there are subtle differences and nuances in how Morgan and Wong plot the larger arc of the second season of Millennium as compared to how Chris Carter plotted the grand mythology of The X-Files. Both shows deal with the idea of family discord reflected in grand conspiracies, but the details are slightly different.

Bandaged wounds...

Bandaged wounds…

In The X-Files, the family trauma is a reflection of a larger social issue. The strained relationship between Mulder and his father figures (whether William Mulder, Deep Throat or the Cigarette-Smoking Man) reflects the anxiety of a generation growing up in the shadow of Watergate of Vietnam. The X-Files is the story about the sins of the father being visited upon the son. However, the “father” and “son” in the story serve as allegories for a larger generational gap. Mulder embodies an entire generation disillusioned by the actions of their forebearers.

In contrast, the second season of Millennium treats the larger plot as a reflection of the more intimate family trauma. Catherine Black is marginalised throughout the second season, but the breakdown of that marriage is instead reflected throughout the season. The Millennium Group itself is a surrogate family unit. Frank confronts mirrors of himself in episodes like Monster or 19:19. Frank Black eventually decides to abandon the Millennium Group to retreat with his family; as The X-Files demonstrates, Mulder could never give up the conspiracy for his own family.

The sleep of the just...

The sleep of the just…

It is a very interesting contrast between the two shows, particularly given the way that the central mythologies intertwine the epic and the personal. The X-Files treats the personal as secondary to the epic; Millennium treats the epic as secondary to the personal. Two Fathers and One Son would tie the epic mythology of The X-Files into a more personal family drama, but it would suffer because the show had arguably already moved beyond that, and because it had not developed all of the key players as much as that transition would demand.

Patterns recur and repeat. Frank pushed Catherine away by presuming to keep secrets from her. Peter pushes both Frank and Lara away by keeping secrets from them. “I never lied to you,” Peter insists to Frank, in the same way that Frank might insist to Catherine. Frank counters, “You knew the identity of the man that stalked my wife. For years. You never told me. That’s a lie.” Indeed, Catherine objects to Frank’s behaviour on similar grounds. “Not revealing the truth is the equivalent of a lie. Why do you continue to lie to me?”

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

Owls and Roosters stresses that these problems are not new. They are not unique. It is implied that this is not the first time that the “Roosters” have claimed that the sky is falling. “How many times can you cry wolf?” one member of the Group asks Peter as tensions build. After all, this isn’t even the first millennium that the Millennium Group has witnessed. “Only twice in two thousand years has the Millennium Group been so divided,” one member of the “Roosters” confesses in their secret meeting. For all the import attached to it, this is not a singular occurrence.

Indeed, for a show built around doomsday, Owls and Roosters is rather consciously cyclical. When the Old Man dies, it is not necessarily the end. The Elder ascends to fill that role, so that the Millennium Group might continue. The Old Man is buried in a fetal position, uniting birth and death into a single image. The Elder eulogises, “The position in which life begins, is that in which it ends. And that in which it will return.” Like the ouroboros, it seems that patterns recur. The circle is not broken.

Blood work...

Blood work…

Despite everything that Frank has endured, Owls and Roosters suggests that he is still repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Even after his secrets nearly destroyed his marriage, Frank insists on keeping secrets from Catherine so as to protect her from the horrors of the world. After a threat is made against him, Frank calls in a favour from the Seattle Police Department. “Giebs, it’s Frank. Yeah. I wonder if you could do me a favor. Would you position that patrol car outside of Catherine’s apartment? Yeah. Just don’t let her know it’s there.”

This sense of cyclic history plays itself out even within the confines of the yellow house. Roosters brings the show back to the yellow house for the first time since The Curse of Frank Black. In that episode, teens traded stories about the events of Lamentation – the murder of Frank’s dear friend Bob Bletcher in the basement of the yellow house.  Again, a loyal friend is murdered in the basement of the yellow house. The shot of Gunsche entering the basement is even a visual echo of a similar shot of Lucy Butler in Lamentation or Richard Green’s father in Sacrament.

Painting a pretty picture...

Painting a pretty picture…

The drama at the heart of the second season of Millennium is the slow and painful destruction of the family. While the Marberg Virus might claim a higher death toll, the death of a family plays out repeatedly and heartbreakingly across the second season of the show. That represents a very particular and very affecting end of the world, an intimate and personal apocalypse. As Catherine and Jordan slip away from him, Frank is going through his own slow-motion end of days, one which he is powerless to prevent.

The second season has repeatedly suggested that the end of the world must be a personal event – that worlds are constantly ending, whether in spectacular explosions or near-silent whimpers. In a way, the grand schemes of the “Roosters” and the “Owls” account for nothing. The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now will ultimately suggest that neither side is entirely correct and that neither side is entirely wrong; both have simply lost perspective as they argue over the academic details of the apocalypse.

Candles in the wind...

Candles in the wind…

Towards the end of Roosters, Lara asks the Old Man which side is correct. The Old Man responds by suggesting that both sides are wrong; having lost his family, the Old Man has lived through his own personal apocalypse. “My family were wealthy Poles. I was smuggled out of Europe and sent here. My mother and father came to me at the moment Rudolph Axmann had then gassed at Auschwitz. I’ve seen the end of the world.” The Old Man’s last conversation serves to foreshadow Frank Black’s experience at the end of The Time is Now.

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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2 Responses

  1. Owls and Roosters do really cement your analysis that season 2 is rooted in family. The scene between Frank and Peter in Owls is good but the intercut scene here between Frank and Catherine and Peter and the Elder are great.They aren’t perfect mirrors and work better that way as no one is clearly right or wrong.

    These episodes also set up the group as a clear challenge for Frank. They seem to be doing what is right but they don’t fit with his black and white view of the world. There is moral ambiguity here, a concept that seasons 1 and 3 do not handle well at all. It’s a concept that Frank Black as a character doesn’t do well with either. He almost uses good and evil as a coping mechanism. He, like Lara, does does not seem ready to handle the “responsibility.” This is a word used heavily in The Time Is Now but it’s mentioned, almost in passing here. The Old Man says to Frank and Lara, “And in that moment, the belief I’d feel,that we had another soldier in the fight. And the sadness, too, that anyone even had to live with such a responsibility.”

    The foreshadowing here is pretty clear with Lara. She’s even told in Owls she’s about to “go completely insane.” It’s nearly as obvious with Frank too. He actually quits the group here for a moment just as he will in the Fourth Horseman. But here he has the Old Man to calm him. Then Peter confessed a temporary “disunion within myself.” He’s renewed following the Old Man’s death but this “disunion” is also foreshadowing of Peter’s role in the finale.

    • That’s all very good, actually.

      One of the things I like about the second season of Millennium is that the continuity is more rooted in character than in plot. In that the biggest dangling threads and consequences from Owls/Roosters have little to do with Nazis or civil war, but it has lasting implications for the series’ major players. It’s a great approach to continuity that I think works a lot better than a more rigid “that, then this” approach to multi-episode storytelling.

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