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Millennium – A Room With No View (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.

“This is how it will all end,” Jose Chung idly speculated half-way through Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense.” He advised Frank that the end of the world will not begin “with floods, earthquakes, falling comets or gigantic crabs roaming the earth. No, doomsday will start simply out of indifference.” He may have been correct. It is one thing to kill a person; it is quite another to destroy their spirit, hollowing out the shell before slotting them comfortably back into a functioning society.

A Room With No View plays Chung’s observation and plays it straight. Well, mostly – there is something darkly comical about Landon’s reaction to discovering that he is being abducted into Oregon. Appropriately enough, Lucy Butler’s hideout in Hood County is relatively close to the town of Boring, Oregon. A Room With No View is a bleak and cynical piece of work, an existential apocalyptic horror story perfectly suited to Millennium. It is an episode that would seem strange or unusual in any circumstances, but fits quite comfortably here.

Here's Lucy!

Here’s Lucy!

On paper, A Room With No View could easily seem cynical or exploitative. It is the story about a sadistic kidnapper who abducts teenagers to torture and sexually abuse them in a dungeon. The basic plot elements of A Room With No View come from the pop culture serial killer playbook, to the point where it is not too hard to image the episode as a trashy instalment of CSI or Criminal Minds or – truth be told – the first season of this show. In basic structure, A Room With No View could seem as crude as Wide Open or Weeds or Loin Like a Hunting Flame.

However, it is the execution of A Room With No View that marks as a genuine classic. For all that the episode trades in the stock tropes of serial killer fiction, it is doing something unique and provocative with them. Writer Ken Horton and director Thomas J. Wright construct a potent allegory for abuse and under-achievement, a haunting horror story that is all the more unsettling for its refusal to conform to audience expectations for a story like this.

Blue is not always the warmest colour...

Blue is not always the warmest colour…

It is amazing to think that A Room With No View was the first script credited to producer Ken Horton. Horton had been a producer on The X-Files since the start of the fourth season, and a producer on Millennium since the start of the first season. Indeed, according to the documentary Order in Chaos, Horton had largely been the connection between Fox and Chris Carter during the development and production of Millennium. While Horton had been working in television since the late eighties, A Room With No View is the first teleplay he wrote.

Horton would remain a producer on The X-Files until the end of its fifth season, when the production moved from Vancouver to Los Angeles. However, he would remain on Millennium for one more year. Along with writer and producer Chip Johannessen, Horton would be responsible for setting the direction of the third season of Millennium. He would be credited with Johannessen on two third season episodes – the mythology episode Skull and Bones and the season (and series) finalé Goodbye to All That.

Down the rabbit hole...

Down the rabbit hole…

Along with Johannessen, Horton was one of the most prominent members of the production team who was largely frustrated with the direction in which Glen Morgan and James Wong had taken the show. It is no surprise, then, that A Room With No View connects rather firmly back to the first season. It represents the first appearance from Lucy Butler since Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions. It is also the only appearance of Lucy Butler in the second season; she appears twice in each of the first and third seasons.

A Room With No View also returns (albeit briefly) to the idea of Frank Black as a forensic profiler who can climb into the mind of evil. Outside the obvious first season throwback in The Mikado, Frank has actually done very little criminal profiling in the stretch of the season. When Frank is sitting in Landon’s room, Wayland wonders what the profiler is trying to do. “I’m just sitting here,” Frank explains. “Trying to get a feel for your son.” Wayland finishes the speculation for him, “Get into the mind of – a killer?”

Face-off...

Face-off…

Of course, A Room With No View takes a sharp turn pretty quickly, but it does very firmly set up what appears to be a conventional serial killer narrative. A teenager is abducted, beaten, gagged, thrown in the truck. The teenager is then dragged into a basement dungeon, where he is tortured and abused for an extended period of time. Up to a point, A Room With No View feels like a very traditional and old-fashioned serial killer story. The first twenty minutes or so feel like they are setting up another throwback in the style of The Mikado.

However, there is none of the trashy excess that is frequently associated with these sorts of stories. Lucy Butler is not a simply sadist torturing innocent children as a way to provoke a reaction from the audience. There is a larger plan at work here, an idea that extends beyond the creepy voyeurism that is a staple of the genre. Lucy is not torturing these children for her own perverse amusement. She is not going to murder them in some memorable and over-the-top fashion. Lucy is not going to murder them at all; at least not literally.

Room and board...

Room and board…

There is death in A Room With No View, and not just the death of poor nerdy Howard Gordon. The death in A Room With No View is the death of the soul and the spirit. Lucy is trying to break the will of her captives, to murder what makes them unique and special. It is repeatedly suggested that she will then release them back into the wild. “I’ve heard she’s let people go before,” Landon’s cellmate assures him. “I think once you’ve proven that you will live the rest of your life in the ways that she has taught you – the beauty and the need of being ordinary.”

This is a very personal apocalypse, a very intimate end of the world. It is an apocalypse that does not end in fire and brimstone, but with the extinguishing of a spark. It is no wonder that Landon finds his cellmate engraving a familiar mantra on the wall of their room. “Time is near, time is h–“ Not only does it allude to the apocalypse waiting at the end of the season, but it also serves to tie the season’s apocalyptic themes back to the quieter existential catastrophes that face characters like Landon and Jose Chung; both characters face the prospect that they are no longer special.

Shady character...

Shady character…

A Room With No View manages to rather effortlessly tie its own themes and ideas back into the larger themes of the season. Death and rebirth have been reiterated over the course of the season, particularly at the end of episodes like Roosters and In Arcadia Ego, to say nothing of the recurring image of the ouroboros weaved through the series. Even the title of the season premiere (The Beginning and the End) suggested that the two opposing concepts could be linked, much like Clare’s quotations from The Thunder, Perfect Mind in Anamnesis.

Lucy Butler seems to have endured her own spiritual death and rebirth – at least twice. When Peter remarks that Lucy has been well-behaved and receiving bibles in the mail, Frank observes, “She’s selling the idea that the devil is born again.” It is no coincidence that the Millennium Group’s intense supervision was maintained for a period of “nine months.” However, this is not Lucy’s first rebirth. At the end of the episode, Frank and Peter discover evidence that Lucy herself was taken (under the name Annie Martin) and presumably changed.

The time is near...

The time is near…

Lucy Butler is presented as a force in diametric opposition to Frank Black. As Alexander Zelenyj argued in Seeing Evil, the premise of A Room With No View presents Lucy’s farmhouse as a perversion of Frank’s idea of home:

Whereas Black is firmly rooted in a belief of home as haven, Butler is entirely nomadic in the way that she perennially migrates from one location to another, resurfacing unexpectedly from time to time as a suspect in some new heinous crime. An example of her vision of “home” can be seen in the second season episode A Room With No View, which depicts her overseeing a farmhouse which serves as a prison colony for a group of troubled youths whom she herself has abducted, a perverse inversion of the warm and loving Black family household.

It is an interesting and rather pointed contrast. The second season has seen Frank struggling with the idea of “home” following his separation from his family; in contrast, Lucy is able to define her own grotesque home quite easily.

It can be a real drag sometimes...

It can be a real drag sometimes…

There are other interesting contrasts at play. The basement of Frank’s yellow house is associated with death as well; it is where he keeps his files, and where Lucy murdered Bob Bletcher in Lamentation and Helmut Gunsche murdered the Old Man in Roosters. Frank explicitly mentions the former murder (and its location) in A Room With No View. In contrast, Lucy’s basement is a place of spiritual rebirth; there is an obvious birth metaphor in Landon’s attempts to escape via the tunnel into the garden.

This isn’t the only interesting opposition at play in A Room With No View. The title of the episode is a very clever reference to the classic British novel from 1908, A Room With A View by E.M. Forster. It seems unlikely that the title is a coincidence; both A Room With No View and A Room With a View are stories built around central characters named “Lucy.” However, Horton’s script for A Room With No View is radically opposed to Forster’s iconic story about a young woman struggling against the repressive culture of Edwardian Britain.

"It's probably better this way. If Howard Gordon had lived, he might have ended up in Spotnitz Sanitorium."

“It’s probably better this way. If Howard Gordon had lived, he might have ended up in Spotnitz Sanitorium.”

In A Room With A View, Forster had Lucy Honeychurch positively transformed by a trip to Italy. After such an enlightening experience, she was empowered and invigorated. The idea of Italy as a transformative experience for otherwise sheltered individuals was reflected in Where Angels Fear to Tread. As Lisa Colletta observed in her introduction to the novel:

However, in Forster’s novel, Italy allows for wholeness and a range of human emotion and experience that Sawston does not; human experience is complex and messy, but it is “the kind of mess that comes of life, not of desolation.” With Italy as the catalyst, events unfold unexpectedly, and Philip Herriton, the novel’s protagonist, begins to understand that really living life requires more than intellectual observation and aesthetic appreciation; it requires passionate human connection and engagement.

In A Room With No View, it seems that Lucy Butler’s farmhouse in Oregon serves the opposite purpose. It is a place where people go to understand that living life is much easier without the trouble associated with human connection and engagement. It is a school that carefully instils a single lesson in its pupils: conformity is something to which one should aspire.

Sleeping on it...

Sleeping on it…

As is entirely appropriate for an episode featuring Lucy Butler, A Room With No View suggests that evil is infectious and contagious. It spreads. It seems like Horton is quite in tune with Chris Carter’s conceptions and views of evil – to pick a minor example, Lucy binds Landon in a manner that covers his eyes and his mouth, a recurring image of which Carter is rather fond; it conjures up images of the victims from The Pilot and the rebels from Patient X and The Red and the Black.

A Room With No View suggests that the evil inflicted by Lucy Butler upon these children tends to pay itself forward; that the damage she has done to them will echo and reverberate. A Room With No View suggests that Lucy herself might have been the victim of one such abduction. It also suggests that Theresa Roe – Landon’s half-hearted career guidance teacher and all-round “pretty ordinary person” – may have been a previous victim of Lucy Butler who decided to help perpetuate this cycle of abuse and violence.

In the forest of the night...

In the forest of the night…

After all, Frank’s research seems to suggest that Roe was once passionate and engaged. “You wanted a life in behavioral research, so you could find therapies for abused children,” he observes. “You have an inherent understanding of people. Especially youth. So what happened? Instead of fighting through the numbers, you surrendered. And in answer to that system, you made a deal with the devil.” Roe seems almost hurt by the accusation. “There’s so much more to it than that.” It is not as simple as a “deal.”

That is, of course, the truly insidious nature of what Lucy is doing. She is setting in place a structure whereby people will eagerly and viciously abuse one another. The episode seems to suggest that Roe selected Landon for abuse, after Landon stood up to her over her attempts to browbeat and belittle Howard for daring to aspire. When Landon tries to escape with his cellmate, he discovers that his cellmate eagerly sold him out to make life a little easier. “You will be rewarded with a more comfortable room. Disloyalty is a wonderful trait of the ordinary.”

She loves you.

She loves you.

Perhaps it is too much to suggest that A Room With No View is about the infectious nature of evil in the same way that stories like Grotesque or Aubrey might be. After all, The Pest House made it quite clear that Glen Morgan and James Wong had a slightly different understanding of evil than Chris Carter. Instead, A Room With No View is a story about creeping ordinariness, the way that apathy and indifference seem become viral and infectious – passed from one person to another.

The second season of Millennium is particularly interested in the idea of apathy and disengagement of an evil unto itself. It is a marked contrast between the first and second seasons. In first season episodes like The Judge and Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions, it seemed that the forces of darkness were trying to actively recruit Frank Black. However, by the second season, it seems they just want him to stop fighting the good fight; that is the deal offered in The Curse of Frank Black. Similarly, Jose Chung speculates that apathy will be the end of the world.

Digging up...

Digging up…

A Room With No View is a pretty harrowing analogy for abuse. Lucy treats her prisoners in a way that very clearly evokes abusive relationships. She assures the victims that she loves them, even as she brutally tortures them. Whatever horrific acts are inflicted upon them, Lucy can readily blame them. In the teaser, she assures one unlikely object of her attention, “The pain you feel in your ankle, in your soul, you made this. You are a prisoner to yourself. Not me. You don’t love yourself. I love you.”

After Landon is beaten and brutalised on the way to his cell, Lucy is quick to project the blame for what happened unto him. “It upsets me, when you make him have to do that. I love you. So, please, be good.” Lucy so repeatedly and so thoroughly stresses this sense of blame that her victims begin to internalise it themselves. When Landon sees the bruises on his cellmate, he asks, “They do that to you?” His cellmate hesitates before replying. “No,” he explains. “I did it to myself.” He seems to believe it.

Ain't nobody wants to go to Oregon...

Ain’t nobody wants to go to Oregon…

Even within the fantastical framework of a show about shape-shifting immortal demons running prison colonies out of abandoned farmhouses, there is a ring of truth to Lucy’s behaviour. Her approach is stereotypical abusive behaviour, victim-blaming that is all the more horrific for how easily it becomes internalised. As Sharon Lamb contends in The Trouble with Blame:

A number of writers have commented on the tendency of individuals to blame themselves for interpersonal misfortunes versus catastrophes of fate. Victimisations perpetrated by humans lead to more negative assumptions about the self than other kinds of victimisations. For example, we do not blame ourselves as severely when we are victims of a flood as when we are victims of an act of human aggression. In the latter case, someone has actually decided to harm us, singled us out. But it is as if we so want to believe in the goodness and righteousness of the other that we would rather sacrifice our belief in ourselves than our belief in them.

A Room With No View is a potent allegory and metaphor for that sort of sustained abuse. For all that the setting might seem unreal or exaggerated, the psychology is very convincing. Chris Carter described Millennium as a show about evil in the world, and A Room With No View very skilfully manages to blend a supernatural and powerful evil with a more mundane and human horror.

"You know, we really should put a buddy system in place for agents in the field..."

“You know, we really should put a buddy system in place for agents in the field…”

There is also no small amount of social commentary to A Room With No View. Lucy is not targeting students with high grades. It is noted that none of the victims have particularly or notably high test scores. Indeed, Roe seems to suggests that Lucy is trying to whittle down exceptionalism found outside those standardised test scores; that Lucy is trying to murder genius and creativity that exists outside of what can be measured on an SAT exam. Lucy is trying to stamp out non-standardised exceptionalism.

“There’s a system in place, gentlemen, one that constantly evaluates our youths and our lives with no application of relativity,” Roe advises Frank and Peter during her interrogation. “A four-point-oh will succeed, a two-point-five will not. Below seven-hundred-and-fifty on the SATs and certain doors close. A quality of person, sense of humor, heart, these are not on any applications. It’s all about your numbers.” Roe is imagining a world where a person’s worth can be objectively measured in cold and hard numbers.

The vanishing...

The vanishing…

However, Roe is not imagining some future dystopia. She is imaging the current education system in place within the United States. “Landon Bryce had ‘it’ – that intangibility of soul that kept him in school, that could allow him to affect the quality of our lives for the better, that could lead people where they wished to go, Landon Bryce couldn’t pass through the numbers. Numbers which tell a young person at eighteen they’re through. And unless there’s some miracle of timing or events and greatness is thrust upon you, your life is over.”

These were not new criticisms of standardised test, even when A Room With No View aired in 1998. The clue is in the title – “standardised.” The issues was a major political and social football in the nineties. In August 1997, Bill Clinton would propose nationwide standardised testing for fourth grade reading and eighth grade math. Earlier that year, it had been discovered that teachers in Kentucky had effectively been “gaming” attempts to introduce standardised testing by allowing students to look up answers in books and by polishing essays.

"So where do we start to look for her?" "What, am I psychic, Peter?" "You know, I'm not actually sure."

“So where do we start to look for her?”
“What, am I psychic, Peter?”
“You know, I’m still not actually sure.”

Within any suitably large system, there has to be some measure of quality that can claim to be reasonably objective; there must be a way of identifying schools and students that are in desperate need of assistance. At the same time, there is something decidedly uncomfortable about so neatly standardising a child’s education – about reducing children to mere numbers gauged in reference to a set of exam questions that can never be all-encompassing or completely rounded. Intelligence is more than understanding of the technical qualities of language or mathematics.

This wave of standardised testing had a very obvious appeal to managing a school system that could occasionally seem unruly or chaotic, but it also runs largely counter to the weight that American culture puts of self-determination and individuality. Declaring that a person can advance no further because they do not conform to a particular metric would seem to run counter to the notions of individualism and diversity that are frequently associated with the “American Dream.”

"Still beats Marlin Academy..."

“Still beats Marlin Academy…”

The X-Files and Millennium were shows that tended to engage with fears and anxieties in the nineties. In particular, Carter had created Millennium to hone in on personal and family fears. The first season of the show is populated with victimised and abused children. Episodes like Weeds could seem downright cynical in how the show portrayed violence towards children. In contrast, A Room With No View hits on an altogether less sensationalist and more grounded fear, one that resonates with both parents and children.

What if society really just wants people to be normal? What if – for all that society claims to celebrate diversity – the system is designed to smooth away all of the rough edges that make a person an individual instead of a simple automaton? What if we don’t have to worry about outside oppression, what if we have gotten quite good at it on our own terms? A Room With No View is a very powerful piece of Millennium, and one that really delivers on the show’s promise to explore facets of evil without feeling sensationalist or exploitative.

Music, sweet music...

Music, sweet music…

A Room With No View is also notable for its inclusion of the song Love is Blue. Although Lucy trumpets it as a triumph of mediocrity, Love is Blue is something of an oddity. It was Luxumberg’s 1967 entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, but it was also covered by artist Paul Mauriat for the United States market. Mauriat’s instrumental version remained at the top of the Billboard 100 for five weeks in 1968. At the end of the year, it was the second highest-selling single – behind only Hey Jude.

Although history has not been particularly kind to Love is Blue, it is worth noting that Mauriat himself is not particularly fond of the song. Asked about it in a 1996 interview with Billboard Magazine, Mauriat confessed, “To be honest, I wasn’t very fond of the song.” He also admitted that the song’s success had come as something of a surprise. “I was astounded, because it illustrates quite well the saying that you’re never a prophet in your own country, as it had sold less than 30,000 units in France. In the U.S., we sold 2 million singles and 800,000 LPs.”

If you go down to the woods today...

If you go down to the woods today…

A Room With No View is an impressive début script from Ken Horton, taking a fascinating premise and executing it very well. There are a few minor problems, but nothing that undercuts the effectiveness of the script too heavily. There are some clunky lines of dialogue, for example – “I got the grades but you got the heart” – but nothing too on-the-nose. The episode’s climax also fizzles slightly, with Frank seemingly convincing Roe to give up the location of the farmhouse simply because the episode is running out of time.

It is a testament to the rest of the script that these are not bigger problems. The fact that episode ends in something of an anti-climax feels almost appropriate. The show avoids giving viewers an obvious climax between Frank and Lucy, but that would seem to be the point. Sometimes the story is not about big unwieldy evil. Sometimes it is simply about mundane horrors. Not all stories end with shocking climaxes; sometimes life is ordinary and grounded. The low-key ending to A Room With No View helps reinforce the idea that maybe Lucy was in control all along.

I love Lucy...

I love Lucy…

A Room With No View is an absolute triumph, as the second season rushes towards doomsday. However, A Room With No View suggests that doomsday might be a bit more ordinary than we would expect.

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

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