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Millennium – The Time is Now (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.

The second season of Millennium holds together very well as a season of television.

It is arguably more cohesive in terms of plotting and theme than any individual season of The X-Files, with the possible exception of the eighth season. Ideas, characters and themes are all set up early in the season so that they might pay-off at the climax. Watching The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now, it is very hard to believe that the season could have ended any other way. That is a tremendous accomplishment on the part of Glen Morgan and James Wong, who steered the second season as Chris Carter brought his focus back to The X-Files.

Dicey proposition...

Dicey proposition…

The attention to detail is staggering. There are lots of little touches, from the way that the use of chickens in The Fourth Horseman calls back to the story that bookends Monster to the reference to the fate of Brian Roedecker to the quick shot of Frank placing the statue of the angel on his father’s grave. Glen Morgan has repeatedly stated that the character of Lara Means was introduced in Monster knowing her fate in The Time is Now, and that seems to be true of most of the character and plot arcs over the stretch of the second season.

However, what is truly touching about the second season of Millennium is the way that the show manages to remain deeply personal and emotional, despite the scale of what is unfolding.

Shattered mirror...

Shattered mirror…

The second season of Millennium is all about the apocalypse, but the apocalypse comes in a variety of forms. The spread of the Marburg Virus and the power play from the Millennium Group is just the biggest apocalypse of the season. However, it is not the central apocalypse of the season. That central apocalypse is the collapse of the Black family, as Frank Black learns that he is not capable of protecting his family from the horrors of a cruel and chaotic world. He might try, but he just ends up losing Catherine all over again.

The second season has repeatedly suggested that the apocalypse is a deeply personal experience. Death and entropy are universal forces that have been in operation for millennia before any of us were even born. In the grand scheme of the universe, at a large enough scale, the sum total of human experience is so miniscule as to  be statistically indistinguishable from the total experiences of one human life. Even a literal “end of the world” is nothing but a blip on the grand cosmic scale. However, from our own personal perspective, the “end of the world” is just another death.

Holy moley...

Holy moley…

Early in The Fourth Horseman, Frank receives word that his father has died. At the end of The Time is Now, Frank loses his wife. In his Reflections on War and Death, Freud noticed that those who lose people close them may go through their own sympathetic or spiritual death:

This conventional attitude of civilized people towards death is made still more striking by our complete collapse at the death of a person closely related to us, such as a parent, a wife or husband, a brother or sister, a child or a dear friend. We bury our hopes, our wishes, and our desires with the dead, we are inconsolable and refuse to replace our loss. We act in this case as if we belonged to the tribe of the Asra who also die when those whom they love perish.

Over the course of The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now, it seems like the end of the world is just background noise that fills the space between the death of Henry Black and the death of Catherine Black. Like all those dead black birds, the end of the world is almost a symbolic representation of Frank’s own volatile emotional state.

Sadly, Peter doesn't quite get to deny his faith three times...

Sadly, Peter doesn’t quite get to deny his faith three times…

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud speculated that the human “compulsion to repeat” was linked to a theoretical “death drive” within the human psyche. Of course, Freud himself concedes that this was all speculative, but his theories were interesting – he suggested that there is “an urge in organic life to restore an earlier state of things” and the “ego-instincts” exert a “pressure towards death.” This would seem to fit quite comfortably with the second season of Millennium, which is fascinated by the idea of repeating cycles and looming death.

After all, The Beginning and the End had Peter Watts telling Frank the story of the baby in the cooler; a story we get to see play out in flashback over the course of The Fourth Horseman. The second season begins and ends with the loss of Catherine Black. In The Beginning and the End, Frank races to rescue Catherine following her abduction in Paper Dove. In The Time is Now, Frank wakes up to discover that Catherine has wandered off alone in the wilderness so that she might die.

Quality family time...

Quality family time…

Interestingly, it was not Morgan and Wong who decided to kill off Catherine Black. The decision to write the character of the show originally came from conversations with Chris Carter. While this puts Millennium in the awkward position of losing both of its female leads at the same time, it does make a great deal of sense from a storytelling perspective. The loss of Catherine Black is the apocalypse that has haunted Frank across the second season; it was the break-up of his family that pushed him deeper and deeper into the Millennium Group.

The death of Catherine even adds some symmetry to the finalé itself. The Fourth Horseman sees Frank losing his father; The Time is Now features Jordan losing her mother. “Are you lonely without your mommy and daddy?” Jordan asks Frank as the family visits the grave. “I’m very lonely,” Frank answers, after Catherine and Jordan have wandered back to the car. It is ultimately that sense of loneliness and isolation that pushes Frank further into investigating the group – he immediately logs into the Millennium Group and tries to contact Lara, as a friend.

Looking out for his family...

Looking out for his family…

The second season of Millennium ultimately comes down to the issue of family. The Millennium Group effectively tries to convert its members into a family by inoculating them against the Marburg Virus. In a way, the inoculation is just another variation on the secret initiation ceremony that Peter went through – a symbolic union of blood to create a new family. Peter even refers to himself as “a made member”, evoking imagines of another loose “family” bonded by blood if not by genetics.

As he retreats into the woods with Catherine and Jordan, The Time is Now offers another nice piece of symmetry with The Beginning and the End. Handing Catherine a pistol, Frank explains that they will likely have to kill in order to protect their family. “In the Middle Ages, during the Black Plague, people used to gather their families – take them to the mountains – or the forest. They’d post guards encircling their camps, and they would kill anybody that appeared. The ones that practiced this behavior, they survived the outbreak.”

Crash course...

Crash course…

It is grim, and it is cynical, but it is necessary to protect the family. As the Old Man advised Frank in Beware of the Dog, there is no good and evil in these situations; there is only the circle. The Black family are on the inside of the circle, and the rest of the world is on the outside. Frank Black is protecting his family in the same way that the Millennium Group tries to protect its members. It is perhaps telling, if a little heartbreaking, that Frank does not also try to protect Peter’s family once Peter disappears in The Time is Now. The end of the world does provide focus.

It all comes down to family in the end. The Time is Now suggests that family is ultimately what prevents Frank (and maybe even Peter) from succumbing to the insanity that grips Lara. Both Frank and Lara talk about “responsibility”, but Frank and Peter are able to break free from the Millennium Group once it becomes clear that their families are lost. Lara is lost and lonely, her fragile sanity shattered by the enormity of what happened. Without Catherine and Jordan to guide him home, would Frank have suffered the same fate?

A smoking cigarette stub...

A smoking cigarette stub…

That said, Lara’s decision to give her vaccine to Frank is quite affecting. It suggests that Lara is not entirely lost, despite the apocalyptic visions she witnesses. Again, this is a nice piece of character development and continuity. In Goodbye Charlie, Frank and Lara debated the relative merits of suicide when facing a debilitating condition. Lara asked Frank what decision he would make, prompting him to reply, “You’d have to be there before you can answer that question, Lara.” By handing over the vaccine to Frank, Lara effectively makes that choice.

Interestingly, all the religious imagery across the second season of Millennium comes to a rather bleak conclusion in The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now. Episodes like The Curse of Frank Black, Midnight of the Century and Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me made it clear that greater powers were at work. Lara has been haunted by visions of angels from her first appearance in Monster. However, The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now suggests that mankind is really on their own when it comes to the end of the world. The apocalypse is man-made.

God does not play dice with the universe; the Millennium Group does.

God does not play dice with the universe; the Millennium Group does.

The second season has suggested quite frequently that God is rather disengaged and disinterested in what mankind chooses to do on Earth. In 19:19, God was perfectly willing to let a tornado kill the saviour of mankind. In The Curse of Frank Black, no divine messenger appears to assure Frank that he is doing the right thing. In Midnight of the Century, an angel does encourage Frank to reconnect with his father; but there is no stay of execution, no divine reprieve granted. It seems that mankind have been left in charge of the world.

Early on in The Fourth Horseman, Jordan Black finds herself confronted by death. When she asks why people die, her mother explains, “Well, a lot of people think that they know the answer to that, but no-one really knows but God.” Jordan responds, quite logically, “If God is so great, couldn’t he make it so nobody ever dies?” It is a big question, one that every child (and no small number of adults) have asked themselves from time to time. It is no coincidence that Jordan asks these questions at this particular point in the season.

God is dead... Or, at the very least, contagious.

God is dead…
Or, at the very least, contagious.

“Honey, there must be a reason that all things have to die – there must be,” Frank offers, which feels like a rather half-hearted answer. Catherine tries to be more assertive. “We’ll all know the reason someday. Sometime.” It seems like The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now offer their own answers. The end of the world is brought about by the arrogance of man playing God. The Marburg Virus is created by the Soviet Union, and the Millennium Group gets to decide who lives and who dies.

Facing that sort of death drive, the divine forces at work in the world seem rather small fry. In Anamnesis, Lara had an existential crisis because her angel would not follow her into an investigation concerning the Holy Grail. In The Time is Now, Lara is relieved to see the image of an angel in her motel room – at least until blood begins to seep through the angel’s robes in a manner that suggests the Marburg Virus. It appears that mankind’s death drive is so strong that man-made plagues can even kill God.

Getting an angle on this...

Getting an angle on this…

The final two episodes produced by Glen Morgan and James Wong, The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now arguably provide closure to this version of Millennium. A viewer could stop watching Millennium at this point and be relatively satisfied with their experience. Morgan and Wong have a habit of adventurously closing out television shows. Space: Above and Beyond wrapped up by killing off half the primary cast. The Others would see Kristen Cloke murdering a significant portion of her co-stars.

There is an incredibly adventurous tone and style to The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now that demonstrates just how experimental Morgan and Wong could be. The second season of Millennium is often hard to properly summarise or quantify – it is hard to convey what makes the show so endlessly fascinating. The series had an incredibly energy and drive to it. It is certainly one of the most daringly ambitious prime-time dramas to air since the end of Twin Peaks.

The Group is under lockdown...

The Group is under lockdown…

Whether it is the incorporation of music into Owls and Roosters, the opening of Anamnesis, or even the short story anthology style of Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me, the second season of Millennium was never afraid to take chances. That reaches a peak with The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now. It seems like knowing that they would not be coming back for the third season gave Morgan and Wong a great deal of creative freedom to play with the series before handing it back to Chris Carter for its final go-round.

Both The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now are acutely aware of their nature as pieces of television. They draw attention to their artifice repeatedly. Most notably, the two sequences where the virus attacks in The Fourth Horseman play almost as commercials portraying idealised American scenes. The farm sequence might have been funded by the Egg Council, while the family sequence is written and performed as an unbearably wholesome get together set to I’ll Never Fall in Love Again. (“It’s Mother’s Day – no sports!” “Oh, you know I don’t mind!”)

"Jordan, just think of this as practice grieving. By the way, where's Benny?

“Jordan, just think of this as practice grieving. By the way, where’s Benny?

Indeed, over the course of The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now, Frank is repeatedly assaulted by visions of static. It is a very clever way of portraying the apocalypse on television; the viewer would see something similar in the unlikely event that society came to an end during the airing of Millennium. As Morgan explained in Back to Frank Black, this was something of a dig at Fox over their treatment of the show:

Then Darin and I were coming back from a Chargers game, and we were upset that Fox had not given us any promo in the championship game or Super Bowl or something. We were so made, thinking, ‘Couldn’t we get a thirty second promo in the Super Bowl?’ We said, ‘Okay, for every second that we believed we should have had a promo on the Super Bowl we are going to show static.’ So that’s how that came about.

In a way, this is the perfect representation of the end of the world to Frank Black, imagining all the promotion that Fox weren’t giving to the show. After all, Millennium‘s declining ratings were pushing it closer and closer to the threat of cancellation. All that static dancing across the screen is the perfect embodiment the end of all things; an apocalypse so profound that it has actually interrupted the broadcast of Millennium.

I think we've learned that LSD and coffee do not mix.

I think we’ve learned that LSD and coffee do not mix.

That said, these self-aware metafictional touches are often overlooked in discussions of The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now. Although they would be an eye-catching part of any other broadcast, they are upstaged by a key sequence from The Time is Now. Over the course of a single act. Lara Means effectively witnesses the collapse of civilisation through a series of haunting dreams set to the sound of Patti Smith’s Horses. It is an unsettling and uncanny sequence, perhaps the most distinctive sequence Millennium ever produced.

Ever since their work on Space: Above and Beyond, Morgan and Wong have become more and more adventurous about including music into their storytelling. The inclusion of Wonderful, Wonderful in Home is perhaps the most popular example, but there is also A Horse With No Name in Owls and Parsifal in Roosters. The decision to portray the apocalypse in such an abstract manner probably made sense from a budgetary perspective, but that sequence is still striking and memorable.

Oh, Peter. Nothing ever comes from walking down stairs into a dimly lit room on this show...

Oh, Peter. Nothing good ever comes from walking down stairs into a dimly lit room on this show…

Morgan himself compared to trying to make a music video, only with a lot less time and money:

“Editing was really difficult. Doing this was rather naive on my part,” Morgan admitted. “Music videos probably have a budget close to what one of our entire episodes costs, and we had only three days to put it together. I don’t think we competed very well with the kind of imagery you see on MTV. But I felt that this hasn’t been done on a primetime, network drama. I’m glad we did it, but it was really, really hard.”

However difficult it might have been, the result is unforgettable.

The world goes down the drain...

The world goes down the drain…

Credit is due to Thomas J. Wright, Kristen Cloke and George Potter. Wright is something of an unsung hero, helming a significant proportion of Millennium episodes across its three seasons. He is as much a unifying factor in millennium as Lance Henriksen or Terry O’Quinn. Having worked with Hitchcock, Wright knows how to frame a shot; he is also very good at making Millennium look cinematic – despite the time and budget constraints imposed upon him. It is a shame that Carter did not recruit Wright as a regular X-Files director after Millennium wrapped.

The Time is Now features Kristen Cloke’s last appearance as Lara Means. Cloke has done truly fantastic work across the second season; Lara Means is a fascinating character in her own right, and a compelling mirror to Frank Black. The character and the actress were likely too firmly associated with Morgan and Wong’s second season to ever appear in the third season of Millennium, so The Time is Now works well as a swan song. It concludes a character arc that was building all season, in a way that most viewers will remember for quite a while.

American beauty, eat your heart out...

American beauty, eat your heart out…

George Potter was a veteran editor with experience dating back to the mid-seventies. Potter had only worked sporadically in the nineties, but Morgan and Wong had snatched him up for Space: Above and Beyond. He followed the pair over to Millennium, although The Time is Now marks his final credit on the series. He would move over to the rival show Profiler after finishing up on Millennium. Potter does fantastic work stitching the sequence together, particularly with all the external constraints that must have been in place.

The sequence is constructed beautifully. It is rich and atmospheric and unsettling, but it is also very good at conveying the necessary information. Most obviously, Lara has a vision of the four horses of the apocalypse, with each tied to their respective cause: war, famine, pestilence, plague. There is an ethereal quality to it, as Lara alternately imagines herself dead on a bed of roses and drowning in a pool of blood. There is a lot to take in, as Patti Smith’s Horses blares across the soundtrack.

Blood bath... er, shower....

Blood bath… er, shower….

It is a great example of the sort of rich and layered visual storytelling that Millennium did so well. The end of the world could easily be delivered through awkward exposition and extended radio and television sequences, but Lara’s breakdown works beautifully while anchoring the end of the world in the core themes of the show; this is as much about Lara’s apocalyptic breakdown as it is about the end of civilisation. The end of the world must be a personal event, even if that personal event is simply an individual processing unimaginable horror.

Even the choice of music for the sequence feels appropriate – Smith herself has described Horses as Land, described by Smith as “the dream, life, death, resurrection, and soap opera of Johnny in the hallway.” It is an apocalyptic event for Johnny; his own experience of death followed by a swift rebirth. The end of the world is just the personal existential crisis wrought large; the personal experience of death projected on to a tapestry of almost infinite dimensions.

Going grey...

Going grey…

The Beginning and the End opened with Frank staring at the stars, contemplating the death of all things; it would appear that little has changed. Leaving a long a rambling – and breathless – voice mail on Frank’s machine, Lara finds herself confronting the same questions that trouble Jordan Black. “But we’ll be all right. We… we can’t be born just to die?” It seems almost like Lara is about to be gobbled up by bleak nihilism and cynicism, a soulless darkness without any light or purpose.

In many ways, the second season is a the fairy tale story of Frank Black. It is the story about how Frank got lost in the woods and tried desperately to find his way back to the yellow house and to the family he loved. Perhaps he wandered too wide and too far; perhaps he allowed himself to lose sight of what was important. Whatever the reason, when he did return to the yellow house, he discovered a problem. “There’s cracks around back. The foundation’s cracked.”

Quite the mess...

Quite the mess…

The Time is Now plays that fairytale to its bitter end, as Frank takes his family into a cabin in a very literal forest where they hope to wait out the end of the world. As is typical of Frank, he hopes to keep the darkness outside; he hands Catherine a gun so they may protect their new home together. However, evil is insidious. It keeps into the cabin and it infects Catherine. Frank is so focused on the idea of an external threat that he doesn’t wake up in time to see his dying wife exile herself from the cabin so as to preserve some sanctity and innocence for Jordan.

The second season of Millennium is a fairytale. But not all fairytales have happy endings.

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

4 Responses

  1. Sad and dark, the finale shatters faith and that’s kind of the point. But only in the story we thought we were watching. Frank has thought he was in a struggle between good and evil. Season 2 re-framed evil as apathy and The Curse of Frank Black made all this explicit. For most of the season, Frank wanted desperately to get back to his family and to get away from the Millennium Group. He stayed with the Group repeatedly because he felt compelled, that it would make some difference in the grand scheme. This is re-affirmed late in the season in Roosters and Siren.

    But at some point the Old Man became more divorced from the Group and it became a struggle to fill that power vacuum. I think the event that actually triggered this was Frank acting on his own to kill the polaroid stalker, as the Group elder tells Peter in the premiere, “He’s only doing what we should have done.” The Old Man seemed to prefer a more restrained approach. Owls and Roosters plays this all out mirroring Frank’s own family’s struggles. There, even with the Odessa threat looming, the Old Man is reluctant to get involved until he sees the divisions in the Group are causing it to fall apart. The Old Man gave the Group direction but without the patriarch it struggles to to find its “responsibility.”

    So Frank was right to question the Group, which was preying on the faith of its members to manipulate them. But many of these events occurred outside Frank’s knowledge so when without evidence, the questioning turns into paranoia. Brian Dixon tries to explain to Frank that death is never convenient. He fails to talk any sense into him and Frank keeps combing over Richard’s car. He refuses to betray his (season 1) view of good and evil. Bad things happen, therefore evil. He feels a responsibility to Richard. Lott’s voice-over during Richard’s crash is deliberately misleading. Lott is talking about Frank and Lara and questioning whether they can truly handle the responsibility. Frank also uses this word, telling Catherine why he thinks he should stay with the Group. “It’s a responsibility, that for the sake of you and Jordan, I can’t walk away from.”

    But then Peter finally succumbs to Frank’s paranoia. And just as the Group strugles without the Old Man giving direction, Frank struggles without Peter’s steadfast faith.

    Now where are we in terms of plot at this point in the story? As shown in The Fourth Horseman, a man in Seattle and a family in San Diego have died from a mysterious virus. The Time is Now only offers news reports of the virus appearing somewhere in South America and in a village in China. Peter, now overwhelmed with Frank’s paranoia, breaks into the Group’s database to read over some information about the virus in secret. He tells no one of any of this.

    There is a reasonable basis to some of this. The Group did give Frank and Peter vaccines without their knowledge. But what else could it do? So Peter buys into Frank’s paranoia, already pointed out by Dixon.
    Frank feels that he, personally, was entitled to know, because he thinks he has a responsibility to do something about it. But he gives it away in his line to Catherine. He is only concerned with his family. The Old Man warned him about this in Beware the Dog: “Fear shrinks the world to the size of nothing but their own lives. It blinds them to anything beyond their own houses. All they think is, ‘Why me? Please just leave me alone.’ All they hope is that it’ll go away. But it won’t go away.”

    When Frank demands to know whether the Group has enough vaccines for their families, Peter is unresponsive just as he was in the Fourth Horseman while reliving the horror of finding the cooler. He finally mutters, “it was always about control” and without hesitation or questioning Frank isolates himself and his family, only to find what the Old Man to be true and it doesn’t just go away.

    All this, I believe, is a deconstruction of an archetypal masculine hero. Frank is portrayed for most of season 1 as a cowboy making the world safe for his family. But there is grace to be found. The sacrifices of two women, Lara and Catherine, manage to save Frank’s daughter. The final lines are “I love you.” cut to “Where’s mommy?”

    • Yep, I think you’re right that there’s a definite subversion of that macho hero arc to the finale. And, indeed, to the entire season. After all, Frank begins the season banished from the house for doing the stereotypical macho thing of murdering the man who tried to kill his family. Indeed, a large part of the second season is a deconstruction of Carter’s ideas, most obviously picking away at the suggestion that evil is an invading external force as opposed to something internal. (You made a good point a few days ago about the second season’s strong feminist bona fides, which do also play as a subversion of Carter’s more stereotypical patriarchal conservatism.)

      • Good point about the premiere. Those dominant themes are embedded in nearly every episode of the season and it isn’t just connected, it builds to a crescendo. I watched Anamnesis right before Fourth Horseman and it plays nicely there.

        From one of your reviews I remember a Glen Morgan quote about certain escape hatches for season 3. As I tried to point out, in The Time Is Now, the only death is Catherine and Peter and Frank both talk about how the virus just “fades away.” The evidence absolved the Group from any involvement in Richard’s death. It would have been much easier for season 3 to get back to “business as usual’ than, for example The X-Files would after “My Struggle II” (if that opportunity ever arises). Frank became more and more insulated as this episode goes on and so the writers would have had a lot of freedom to write around that in describing events outside his presence (and it could have been done in a more eloquent way without ignoring season 2 altogether). It would be much harder to ascribe the very public pandemic in MS2 as a product of Mulder and/or Scully’s paranoia or grief over William.

        The other Glen Morgan quote I remember reading on here somewhere was about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. That’s interesting because after watching this, without my mentioning it, my wife actually brought that up as basically a continuation of the story here. It fits really well actually.

      • Yeah, I would have loved to have seen Morgan and Wong’s “The Road”, although I wonder if network television in the nineties would have supported such a strong narrative swerve between seasons. And it’s reassuring to know that neither Morgan nor myself are entirely crazy in seeing the connections between the two stories.

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