Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Millennium – Antipas (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Antipas is the second of three scripts written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz over the third season of Millennium. It is also the first of Lucy Butler’s two appearances during the third season, although she has little more than a cameo in Saturn Dreaming of Mercury. This is actually the second time that Chris Carter has written for the character of Lucy Butler, having scripted her début back in Lamentation towards the end of the first season. Antipas feels like a conscious effort to connect back to that first appearance.

To be fair, Lucy Butler has been radically different in each appearance. It is difficult to get a read on the character or to suggest a “definitive” take. Finding the “real” Lucy Butler is as difficult as identifying the “real” Millennium Group or as arbitrary as naming the “real” version of Millennium. That said, there are thematic throughlines. Four of her five appearances are tied into children, for example; the show fairly consistently portrays Lucy as a demonic mother figure in contrast to Frank as a loving father.

Here's Lucy!

Here’s Lucy!

While the idea of Lucy as a creepy mother ties Antipas into A Room With No View just as much as Lamentation, the script seems to hark more firmly back to Lucy’s character motivation in Lamentation than to her scheming in A Room With No View. In Antipas, Lucy is once again obsessed with biological motherhood, trying desperately to conceive – and even to claim another child as her own. In Lamentation, she sought to mother a child with Doctor Ephraim Fabricant; in Antipas, she seems to aspire towards Frank Black.

Along the way, Antipas is packed with fevered dream imagery and uncanny visuals. As with a lot of the episodes around it, Antipas feels like a very odd piece of television. When Carter wrote Lamentation, this oddness was enough of a break from the norm to power an entire episode. Antipas lacks the sort of strong centre that a piece of television like this needs to ground it. The result is an intriguing and unsettling, if not quite compelling and engrossing, episode of television.

A-mazing nanny...

A-mazing nanny…

Watching Millennium and The X-Files, it is hard to overstate just how much of an influence seventies cinema was on the production teams running these shows. Many of those writers and directors would have spent their formative years watching Watergate unfold and tracking the long slow end of the Vietnam War. In many regards, Millennium and The X-Files were really built from that moment in time. A lot of the anxieties and paranoia underpinning the work of Chris Carter is grounded in the mood and aesthetic of the seventies.

This is reflected in many different facets of both shows. The mistrust of authority that can be traced back to seventies conspiracy thrillers like All the President’s Men or The Parallax View. However, the horror aesthetic of both shows also drew upon the imagery and iconography of the seventies. There are a number of rather overt references at certain points in the run. The ghostly form haunting Skinner in Avatar is very clearly inspired by Don’t Look Now, while Quagmire borrows liberally from Jaws.

Creepy little girl is creepy.

Creepy little girl is creepy.

However, it appears that the reproductive horrors of the seventies were a pretty heavy influence on the writers working on the show. Antipas feels like a collage of classic horror influences, as one might expect from a story where Lucy Butler becomes a demonic nanny to a wealthy couple who love at “Antipas Manor.” The resulting forty-five minutes of television borrows from a wealth of classic reproductive horror films like The Exorcist or The Omen or The Shining. The episode gets considerable mileage out of the hedge maze on the property.

This is not the first time that Millennium and The X-Files have looked to these sorts of classic horror films for inspiration. Antipas arguably has a clear forerunner in The Calusari from the second season of The X-Files, another horror story built around a child that drew upon the imagery and iconography of The Omen and The Exorcist. Earlier in the same season of television, Terms of Endearment had offered a very affectionate riff on Rosemary’s Baby as it told another story about a demonic entity desperately looking to have a child.

The Candidate.

The Candidate.

In an interview with Thomas Fahy for The Writing Dead, Frank Spotnitz acknowledged the influence of those sorts of films on his work:

As for film, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and the The Exorcist were all giant influences on me. While I was doing The X-Files, I thought a lot about what made those films so great. We had to do such a huge variety of stories on the show, and after a while, you want to figure out why some of these stories are working well and why others are such a struggle. Actually, this became one of Chris Carter’s maxims during that series: the more believable it seems, the scarier it is. I think Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist are models of that. They just seem so plausible. Even if you are a skeptic and an atheist, it is hard not to be freaked out.

So it makes sense that Millennium and The X-Files should return to those sources of inspiration with such frequency and enthusiasm.

You should always listen to the creepy - and ambiguously European - groundskeeper...

You should always listen to the creepy – and ambiguously European – groundskeeper…

To be fair, Millennium is fascinated with children. That is true of all three seasons. The first season was quite fond of putting children in danger in episodes like The Well-Worn Lock, Wide Open or Weeds. The second season was more interested in the idea of children as potential saviours or damnations in episodes like Monster, 19:19 or Anamnesis. The third season is fascinated with the idea of the children representing the future; a chance for immortality and self-perpetuation, hope for a more optimistic world ahead.

Antipas is primarily focused on Lucy Butler, but it devotes considerable attention to the child Divina Saxum. Divina Saxum is one of those great Chris Carter names, one that conveys a lot of thematic information about a character in a relatively short space. After all, the family at the heart of Antipas could be described as “White Anglo-Saxum Protestant” archetypes, a wealthy family unit living in a massive mansion with aspirations towards political power. The use of the name “Divina” for their child suggests the word “divine.”

She's behind you!

She’s behind you!

The teaser quickly establishes that Divina is not especially healthy. “She has four new cavities since her last check–up,” Una reports to John. “The dentist says there’s nothing to be done. She was just born with bad teeth.” Una continues, “She’s below the acceptable percentile on every chart.” Una seems particularly concerned about the possibility that Divina might get sick again, suggesting that she is a very sickly child. As Antipas unfolds, the script suggests that Divina’s ill-health might be symptomatic of fundamental problems with the Saxum family.

To be fair, Antipas never really develops any of its characters or its world enough to give its treatment of the Saxum family a recurring sense of theme and continuity. There are a few nods towards issues of class and race in Antipas, but they are never expanded or explored. The last name of the family at the heart of Antipas sounds quite similar to “Saxon”, while Lucy Butler’s lawyer shows up to make all sorts of unpleasant racially-charged innuendos about Emma Hollis. However, it is hard to really connect it all into a cohesive story.

"You know, it's really lucky that the exact doppelgänger of my dead child was born into a wealthy family. This'd be a lot less creepy in inner-city Baltimore."

“You know, it’s really lucky that the exact doppelgänger of my dead child was born into a wealthy family with a creepy estate. This’d be a lot less menacing in inner-city Baltimore.”

Instead, Antipas is pretty much a collection of genre staples and tropes. In keeping with the obvious inspirations for the episode, Antipas is built around ideas of reproductive horror. As Paul Wells argues in The Horror Genre, this was very much a staple of late sixties and seventies horror:

The horror film in the post-Psycho era has also seen the symptomatic collapse of assurance in, and promotion of, the family and conservative family values. Children, once the epitome of innocence, become configured as the monster, partly to illustrate the proliferation of evil as a natural phenomenon.

Although Lucy Butler is very much the antagonist of Antipas, the episode presents Divina Saxum as a creepy child. The teaser has Lucy symbolically devour Divina while in the form of a snake, and both John and Una suggest that the experience fundamentally altered Divina.

A wild goose chase...

A wild goose chase…

After that point she is healthier, but she also a more willing accomplice to Lucy’s evil schemes to destroy the Saxum family. Divina lures Una out of bed so that Lucy can creep into the marital bed beside John. When John seems to finally realise what Lucy is doing, Divina screams and shouts to prevent him from taking her away from Lucy. Lucy is consciously trying to divide and conquer John and Una, so that she can claim Divina as her daughter. There is something deeply unsettling about how effectively Lucy is able to get Divina on her side.

At the heart of Antipas is the story of a brutal family dissolution. The Saxum family might be comprised of stock archetypes – political patriarch, concerned mother, creepy child, demonic nanny, vaguely European groundskeeper – but there is something very effective about watching Lucy Butler destroy this unit that had probably been very strong. The dissolution and erosion of family is one of the biggest themes of Millennium (and it also pops up quite frequently in The X-Files), so it seems like a rather effective use of Lucy Butler in this particular episode.

Don't leave him hanging!

Don’t leave him hanging!

There is a reason that this sort of domestic horror has proven so popular and enduring over the decades. As Gina Wisker argues, the genre taps into some very real and very powerful anxieties:

Domestic horror exposes the contradictions and potential/real unpleasantness of domestic settings and relationships, of nuclear and extended families, of romance, marriage and parenting. It focuses in particular on the unsafe neighbourhood, the ostensibly loving but actually non-nurturing home as sites for horror. It re-represents parents, partners and children as variously deceptive, destructive, invasive, life-denying.

Millennium repeatedly positions Lucy Butler as a force diametrically opposed to Frank Black, a force that perverts and corrupts the bonds and institutions that Frank holds so dear.

"I hate Lucy."

“I hate Lucy.”

In a way, Lucy Butler is the biggest problem with Antipas. She distorts the episode’s narrative around her. It is often quite difficult to figure what Antipas is actually about, because so many of its big questions are answered with “because Lucy Butler.” To be fair, it is possible for an episode of Millennium to work without necessarily spelling out or articulating every step of internal logic. Episodes like Force Majeure and The Sound of Snow demonstrated that ambiguity and mystery could be storytelling assets.

However, Antipas is not just ambiguous. It is muddled. As with Carter and Spotnitz’s script for TEOTWAWKI, there is a sense that there are actually multiple episode embedded within the finished script. One episode is the story of a demonic nanny who demolishes a wealthy and powerful family from the inside; another episode is the story of a sexy demon lady who desperately wants to make demon babies with Frank Black. It is easy enough to see why Lucy Butler is a good fit for both stories. It is less of a good idea to make her the throughline connecting them.

She's a demon in the sack.

She’s a demon in the sack.

The plot logic seems questionable at best. Apparently Lucy Butler has been on a crime spree, murdering random people and staging crime scenes so as to point Frank Black towards “Antipas Manor”, where she is working as the nanny for the Saxum family. Lucy plans to lure Frank into her world, so that she can sexually assault him and impregnate herself. It is a pretty ropey premise to start with. Why is Lucy so coy about the murders? Why does Lucy want a child with Frank Black in particular? Why wait for him to come to her, if she wants a baby so badly?

Things get even messier when the episode tries to develop a story around the Saxum family. If Lucy really wants a child, it makes sense for her to try to steal Divina Saxum. The detail that Divina Saxum is an exact duplicate of the child that Lucy murdered four years before Lamentation is a suitably haunting detail. Lucy works hard to set up a situation where she can manipulate the Saxum family to where she wants them. Why is this the ideal time to start running a concurrent evil scheme against Frank Black?

A great big mist-ery...

A great big mist-ery…

Sure… if both schemes work out, Lucy finds herself as mother to two different children. However, it seems quite likely that drawing Frank Black into the case is going to complicate matters. It increases the risk of discovery, and of interference. Given that Lucy Butler is frequently portrayed as a character in complete control of most situations, it invites a lot of variables that she cannot possible control. Indeed, it is possible to argue that Antipas is really the only time that Frank actually “beats” Lucy, with the episode ending with Lucy in custody, having lost everything.

As a result of this weird hybridisation experiment, Antipas doesn’t really have time to develop either idea as well as it might. The episode is somewhat ambiguous as to the fate of Divina Saxum. When Lucy demands to see the child, Frank replies, “She’s far away. She’s safe from you.” He warns her, “You can corrupt men, but you cannot corrupt innocence.” It feels like a rather trite resolution, if only because it seemed like Lucy had already done a pretty good job of corrupting innocence. Is Divina just back to normal now? What happens to her?

"Only the good stay dead."

“Only the good stay dead.”

Similarly, the whole subplot with Lucy’s sexual assault of Frank feels a little underdeveloped. She claims to be pregnant with his child. However, the collision between Lucy and the car resolves that issue. “We lost the baby, Frank,” Lucy confesses. Frank replies, “It wasn’t ours. It wasn’t mine.” The episode leaves it rather unclear as to whether Frank is speaking literally or metaphorically. After all, what happens to Lucy’s allegations of rape? It seems hard to believe that Frank and Emma can prove anything that happened on the Antipas estate.

Still, there are a lot of interesting images and ideas running through Antipas, even if it feels like the script might have done with another draft to help bring them to the fore. Even if the plot itself doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, Antipas is an intriguing piece of television. It is a celebration of the weird pseudo-religious themes that seemed to get largely brushed aside with The Innocents and Exegesis. The teaser is certainly memorable and atmospheric, while Sarah Redmond manages to make Lucy Butler both alluring and unsettling.

Shedding some light on the show's themes...

Shedding some light on the show’s themes…

Lucy’s fixation on children is interesting. It makes a clear return to her characterisation in Lamentation, where she seemed to hope to create a child with the serial murderer Ephriam Fabricant. While it is not impossible to reconcile this with her portrayal in A Room With No View, it is telling that Frank is more interested in the child that Lucy murdered four years before Lamentation than in the secret history of Lucy Butler suggested by the newspaper clipping from A Room With No View.

More in line with Lamentation than A Room With No View, the script to Antipas suggests that Lucy wants to create children, not just corrupt them. It is suggested that Lucy fixated on Divina Saxum because of the similarities to the child that Lucy lost. This emphasis on the version of Lucy presented in Lamentation feels quite appropriate. After all, Chris Carter created the character of Lucy Butler. It makes sense that Carter should want to return to and develop themes from his original script over those suggested by a subsequent episode.

"This is why you never visit a spooky mansion with a creepy name after dark."

“This is why you never visit a spooky mansion with a creepy name after dark.”

To be fair, this isn’t the only way that Antipas seems to hark back towards the first season of the show. One of the recurring themes in the first season of Millennium was the sense that evil tended to creep into the secure spaces that middle- and upper-class families had built to protect themselves. It was something that was reiterated across the season, but that the second season largely brushed aside. The first season suggested that the walls and gates built to keep evil at bay were ineffective; evil tended to infiltrate and corrupt those safe spaces.

The first season of Millennium was packed with threats that came from inside locked spaces. The Well-Worn Lock saw Joe Bangs using a lock to keep the outside world from intruding as he abused his daughters. Wide Open featured a serial killer who would sneak inside open houses and slaughter the families later that night, all without tripping the alarm. Weeds was set within the walls of a gated house estate that found itself under siege from a trusted and respected member of the community.

Nanny knows best...

Nanny knows best…

The Saxum family are wealthy and powerful. They seem to live a life of luxury, secure from just about any external threat to their happiness. There is no suggestion of economic pressure; John Saxum is even considering running for political office. The biggest threats to the family come from within the unit itself. There is John Saxum’s blindness to his wife and daughter; Una Saxum’s insecurity and paranoia. On top of that, John and Una Saxum just hired Lucy Butler for a position where she will spend more time with their daughter than either of them.

Antipas seems to hark back that earlier storytelling style. Lucy corrupts and destroys the Saxum family from the inside, reflecting the anxieties and uncertainties underpinning a considerable stretch of the first season. Along with the emphasis on Lucy’s portrayal from Lamentation, there is a sense that Carter and Spotnitz are trying to write Antipas as an episode that should have aired in the late first season. There is a sense that the episode is just a little outdated at this point in the show’s run.

Don't look now...

Don’t look now…

Still, Lucy’s fixation on having a child suggests that she is a counterpoint to Frank Black. Frank protects Jordan, even through the end of the world. Frank works hard to keep Jordan safe from the evils at work outside their home. Frank tried to keep Catherine and Jordan safe from the violence that he encounters on a daily basis. Lucy seeks to corrupt her children, make them complicit in the horrors that she commits. In a way, Frank and Lucy represent the twin futures that the third season suggests might be heralded by mankind’s decisions: hope and despair; good and evil.

Even more than The X-Files, it seemed like Millennium was fascinated with children. This could occasionally lead to manipulative or exploitative sequences, where the show put children in danger as an easy way to get the audience to care about the threat of the week. However, it also suggested something about the fundamental essence of the show. Much has been made of the obvious thematic similarities between The X-Files and Millennium as shows deeply rooted in the nineties zeitgeist, but Millennium‘s fixation on children suggests a crucial difference.

"You won this one, Frank. But just wait until you see what I've got lined up for the fourth season!"

“You won this one, Frank. But just wait until you see what I’ve got lined up for the fourth season!”

In many ways, The X-Files was a show about the consequences of past decisions. The series tended to trade in imagery drawn from history. The conspiracy was rooted in the end of the Second World War and the start of the Cold War. There was a lot of exploration about the arrival of the European settlers in North America. Even the character arcs tended to focus more on parents than on children. Mulder was always discovering secrets about his family, and the question of Mulder’s parentage percolated throughout the show’s run.

In contrast, Millennium was a show confronting anxiety for the future. The very title of the show suggested a clock counting down, ticking away precious seconds as mankind rushes forward into an unknown and uncertain future. Henry Black was never as crucial to the mythology of Millennium as Bill Mulder had been to the mythology of The X-Files. Instead, Millennium tended to focus on children. The use of children as victims and targets over the three-year run of the show could be seen as largely symbolic.

Bedtime stories...

Bedtime stories…

Forget about the environment or nuclear war; parents were terrified of something a lot closer to home. The idea that the modern generation of children might grow up to become remorseless “superpredators” gained a lot of attention in the mid nineties, particularly from Philadelphia’s district attorney, Lynne Abraham:

We’re not just talking about teenagers, she stressed. We’re talking about boys whose voices have yet to change. We’re talking about elementary school youngsters who pack guns instead of lunches. We’re talking about kids who have absolutely no respect for human life and no sense of the future. In short, we’re talking big trouble that hasn’t yet begun to crest.

It makes sense that Lucy Butler would be tied into these core themes of anxieties around children. After all, the nineties was a decade where the news media was constantly feeding in stories about school shootings or murderous gang initiations.

Putting her neck on the line...

Putting her neck on the line…

Then again, this is a common enough generational conflict. There is a reason that Carter and Spotnitz can build Antipas from a horror movie template that dates back to the seventies, at the latest. Every generation of parents has felt anxious about their children. Every generation of parents has worried about the world that they have begotten. That is one of the big central themes of Millennium. For all its storytelling flaws and for all its lack of development, Antipas hits on those themes remarkably well.

Antipas is not a great episode of Millennium, but it is an effective and interesting one. It is muddled and disjointed, but it does play on some of the show’s core themes and ideas. The sense that the third season might be finding its footing continues. While Antipas is nowhere near as strong as the trinity of Borrowed Time, Collateral Damage or The Sound of Snow, it does feel more confident and more comfortable than many of the surrounding episodes. It’s not a complete success, but it works well enough.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: