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Millennium – Forcing the End (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.

In its own odd way, Forcing the End is reassuring.

Not in any way that makes Forcing the End a good piece of television. In fact, Forcing the End is a terrible piece of television. It is poorly written, awkwardly staged, horribly muddled and needlessly convoluted. It wastes two potentially interesting guest stars in Julie Landau and Andreas Katsulas, and doesn’t give our characters anything interesting to do. The best that can be said bout Forcing the End is that it has some interesting ideas and striking imagery, but never seems to be able to fashion them into a functioning story.

"Wait. What."

“Wait. What.”

However, Forcing the End is reassuring because it stands as a monument to the second season of Millennium. The second season of Millennium was a gloriously odd and ambitious piece of television, one that floated ideas and concepts that often seemed insane or ridiculous. It was unlike anything else on television, and holds up rather well. However, the second season of Millennium is interesting because it invites the viewer to wonder whether to is fueled and sustained by its high concepts and big ideas, rather than its scripting and plotting.

Forcing the End answers that question rather clearly. It confirms that the second season works as well as it did because it was well written and beautifully constructed; carefully put together and meticulously crafted. It is not enough to just throw crazy apocalyptic concepts and imagery at the screen and see what sticks. The fact that Forcing the End is so packed with weird eschatological imagery and themes, and yet so stubbornly refuses to work, demonstrates that it is not enough for television to be odd. It has to be good.

Veiled threats...

Veiled threats…

Forcing the End looks like a second season episode of Millennium if you removed everything that made the second season work so well. There are dozens of crazy ideas about the end of the world, and a plan to herald the apocalypse, but none of this is underscored by character work or nuance. Instead, there is a whole host of padding and ambiguity, but nothing of substance. Moses Gourevitch lacks the sense of tragedy or character that made Joe Reynard much more compelling in A Single Blade of Grass.

Gourevitch never seems like a real character. He seems like a generic super villain – his ceremonial robes might as well be his costume, as it seems that Goruevitch never changes out of them. He wears that white costume while organising Rachel’s stoning in the grimy woods late at night, and he wears the costume while trying to smuggle the baby on to a helicopter. Those white robes never seem to get dirty, and never seem particularly ceremonial to Gourevitch. It seems like he would wear them even while kicking back and watching the game.

"The faith militant!"

“The faith militant!”

It doesn’t help matters that Gourevitch really feels like a two-dimensional b-movie villain. He apparently has the time (and resources) to reconfigure “an old Russian bath house” so that it might “mimic the layout of the temple as much as he could” and to organise a helicopter escape just in case things go horribly wrong. However, despite all of this careful planning, it never occurs to Gourevitch that it will be impossible to land a helicopter on top of the building to make his escape. It is terrible plotting. Gourevitch seems like he should be fighting Roger Moore’s Bond.

Indeed, the entire climax is a complete muddle. The confrontation on the rooftop reinforces the sense that Gourevitch is a third-tier supervillain rather than a credible antagonist in his own right. The sequence seems to mirror the end of Batman, as the Joker desperately tries to escape to a helicopter that will not land. Both Gourevitch and the Joker ultimately fall to their death, conveniently keeping any blood off the hands of our heroes. It is a terrible waste of performer Andreas Katsulas, who really deserved better material.

The script can't land the ending...

The script can’t land the ending…

While on the subject of the episode’s closing scene, it should also be noted that the climax of the episode features truly terrible special effects work. The sequence feels like it belongs in a seventies or eighties television show, the green screen work feeling like something taken from a classic Doctor Who episode. It is quite clear that Klea Scott and Andreas Katsulas are acting in a studio against a green screen backdrop. It recalls the rather questionable special effects employed during the train crash in Borrowed Time.

It seems the plane crash from The Innocents really ate into the show’s special effects budget. More than that, it seems to suggest that Millennium is a show struggling to find support from the studio and the network. It seems like Millennium might be racing towards an apocalypse of its own making soon enough. To be fair, Borrowed Time was no less an effective or powerful episode for its somewhat questionable special effects, but there is an increasing sense that Millennium is not getting the love or attention it deserves – from scripting to post-production.

Holey plot, Frank!

Holey plot, Frank!

The decision to reduce Gourevitch to a two-dimensional caricature is unfortunate on a number of levels. The most obvious is that the plot of Forcing the End is not as absurd as it might appear; it is actually quite terrifying. Gourevitch is essentially the leader of a small militant cult, not unlike the character apprehended at the end of Gehenna. Gourevitch’s ability to project his own will on to his followers is unsettling, but it is not unrealistic. Gourevitch is just another cult leader who has enough power over his followers to convince them to do great and terrible things.

Gourevitch is able to inspire his loyal soldiers to kidnap a pregnant woman and force her to give birth to summon the apocalypse. There are dozens of example of real-life figures who held that sort of power over their devout followers. Jim Jones inspired the Peoples Temple to commit mass suicide, including women and children. Shoko Asahara directed Aum Shinrikyo to commit acts of terrorism involving biological attacks. Charles Manson convinced his own cult to commit mass murder to bring about “helter skelter” – his own end time prophecy.

"They really Dru this out, huh?"

“They really Dru this out, huh?”

There is a sense that Gourevitch might be more effective if portrayed in the same manner as Vernon Ephesian in The Field Where I Died, given a bit more space to develop his personality or his beliefs. It seems like Gourevitch really does believe that the birth of the child will bring about the end of the world, but the episode never gives a sense of why Gourevitch might want this. Is he unhappy? Is he a nihilist? Does he want to claim his place in heaven? Is it tied into his political beliefs?

Gourevitch is really just a blank slate who exists to provide the episode with an antagonist. This is a shame, because there are actually a lot of interesting ideas tied into the apocalypse that sits at the centre of Forcing the End. The idea that the apocalypse is something that can be summoned or prompted through manipulation of prophecy is intriguing. It almost seems like a cheat code for life – press the right buttons in the right combination and everything will work itself out.

Gourevitch's finger prints would be all over this... If he had fingerprints.

Gourevitch’s finger prints would be all over this…
If he had fingerprints.

It seems quite likely that Forcing the End was inspired by an article that Lawrence Wright wrote for The New Yorker in July 1998, a few months before the third season of Millennium went into production. The philosophy espoused by Peter Watts is a belief actually held by some people:

After the war, the Israeli Minister for Religious Affairs, Zerah Wahrhaftig, said that the Temple Mount had been the property of Israel ever since King David purchased the site from Araunah the Jebusite in 1000 B.C., but that Jews should not take any steps to reclaim it, because only the Messiah could build the Third Temple. This position was endorsed by many Jews, particularly the ultra-Orthodox, many of whom even opposed the establishment of the State of Israel. In their theology, the rebuilding of the nation, the ingathering of Jews from exile, and the re-establishment of the Temple were all matters for the Messiah to handle. For mankind to undertake such things amounted to “forcing the End.” That was the work of Satan.

It is an interesting idea, and one that speaks to recurring themes of the third season. In Matryoshka, Lily Unser observed that the people who developed the atomic bomb “took the apocalypse out of God’s hands and put it in their own.” That is what Gourevitch is attempting.

Crossover potential...

Crossover potential…

The idea of control and power have been recurring motifs across the three seasons of Millennium, particularly in the second and third seasons. In the second season, the Millennium Group repeatedly tried to consolidate its own power and to collect relics and resources that might help it when the time came. As episodes like Luminary demonstrated, the Millennium Group was desperate to control and to manipulate its members. The third season has suggested that the Millennium Group is ultimately trying to control the apocalypse.

In his script for Exegesis, Chip Johannessen suggested that the key struggle of the third season was the fight to control the future. It was possible for mankind to decide what kind of future they might want – that the new millennium brought a choice between light and darkness. Forcing the End plays into these themes and ideas. Gourevitch wants to control the terms of the apocalypse, just like the Millennium Group. “If the end comes, the Group wants to be in control of it,” Frank suggests. “The individual in this case doesn’t matter.”

His charm (im)paled in comparison to his evil...

His charm (im)paled in comparison to his evil…

As with a lot of third season Millennium episodes, the show hints at a better story than the one actually unfolding on screen. There is an interesting story to be told about competing visions of the future, and how perhaps the only measure of control that a person like Gourevitch has over the world concerns the decision to end it. It might be fun to see two different visions of the apocalypse playing out, or to witness the Millennium Group manipulating and undermining other cults so as to advance their own sense of prophecy or purpose.

Unfortunately, none of that really comes into play here. Indeed, the subplot with the Millennium Group feels more like an effort to pad the episode out to forty-five minutes. Peter Watts skirts around the edge of the episode without actually contributing anything to the plot. It feels like the same sort of lazy writing that drew the suggestion of the Millennium Group into the plot against Emma Hollis in Human Essence. It makes it feel like the show has become burdened by the Millennium Group, treating them as an obligation rather than an interesting element.

"But at least by the standards of Chris Carter conspiracies, mine makes a little sense, right?"

“But at least by the standards of Chris Carter conspiracies, mine makes a little sense, right?”

This is a shame, as one of the more interesting aspects of Lawrence Wright’s article on Forcing the End is the implication that other groups are actively enabling and encouraging Jewish extremists as they attempt to conjure up their own apocalypse. These groups are working to their own interests:

According to Clyde Lott, the intent of many Evangelical Christians who are helping Israel today is to speed along the time when they will be raptured into Heaven, leaving behind a world in chaos and flames. “It’s very sad, but I would say the interest in the Christian world is to see the Temple rebuilt from the Anti-christ perspective, for the rapture of the Church, and that’s a very selfish point of view,” Lott says. “The very people that are advocating this are the ones that are very anti-Semitic in their feelings.” Although Evangelical theology forecasts the destruction of the Jews in the Last Days, Lott believes that Jews are God’s Chosen People and that the Bible clearly states that God favors those who help Israel.

That is an interesting and paradoxical suggestion, and it suggests that there is perhaps a much better story nestled somewhere inside Forcing the End – a story about power, pragmatism, and the strange bedfellows encountered in exercise of both.

"I'm going to be honest, I can see why the ritualistic veil is not particularly comforting in this situation...

“I’m going to be honest, I can see why the ritualistic veil is not particularly comforting in this situation…

Forcing the End also seems like a waste of guest actress Juliet Landau. Landau is actually the daughter of two prior Ten Thirteen guest stars. Martin Landau had appeared in The X-Files: Fight the Future, the movie bridging the fifth and sixth seasons of The X-Files; Barbara Bain had appeared as Lily Unser in Matryoshka, the previous episode of Millennium. As with James Marsters, Juliet Landau was a recurring guest star on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer at the same time, doing great work as Drucilla.

However, while the show capitalised on Marster’s guest appearance to provide one of the most sympathetic and striking guest characters of the third season, Landau is given little to do beyond freak out about her baby. It is a very generic guest appearance, and one that feels like an unsatisfying use of Landau. It is a guest part that could easily have been played by any other actress, and is only really notable because it is such a striking misuse of a pretty notable guest star. As with Katsulas, there is a sense that Landau deserved a better script.

A second generation Ten Thirteen guest star.

A second generation Ten Thirteen guest star.

However, despite all this, there are elements of Forcing the End that are interesting and effective, even if the major problems prevent any of them from adding up to anything worthwhile. Some of the imagery is quite striking – from that shot of Gourevitch’s impaled corpse to the sequences where Rachel draws blood from Jeannie in full ceremonial costume. There is something quite ethereal about a woman in a full white veil tending to a pregnant captive, and Forcing the End certainly has some memorable images.

Similarly, the decision to stone Rachel to death is quite striking. Stoning is an absolutely barbaric and horrific punishment, and it is hard to think of another network show that would have depicted something like this in the nineties. Rachel’s death is an unsettling and disturbing sequence, even if Gourevitch looks ridiculous standing in the middle of a forest in his clean vestments. However, while the sequence on the rooftop looks absurd because of those vestments, the stoning sequence is all the more uncomfortable for Gourevitch’s attire.

"You know, these vestments are just really comfy..."

“You know, these vestments are just really comfy…”

It is also worth noting that Forcing the End returns to the eye motif that recurs through the third season. The third season is very much focused on the idea of vision and perception, putting its own unique slant on Frank’s gift. This makes sense, given the show’s emphasis on a myriad of possible futures. The future can be anything we imagine it to be. The future can be whatever we see in it. The third season of Millennium seems to suggest that the very act of seeing can change the world itself. (Or our understanding of the world, which may be the same thing.)

Forcing the End continues the recurring theme of Peter’s initiation of Emma into the Millennium Group that runs through a large stretch of the season. Its inclusion in Forcing the End feels inelegant, like an element that was grafted in to the detriment of the episode’s own plotting. Nevertheless, Peter offers Emma some advice on how to understand people like Gourevitch – and, by extension, the Millennium Group. “If you want to prevent these people from causing total chaos, you have to think like they do. See the signs they see.”

Spiked...

Spiked…

Rather more explicitly, Forcing the End includes an image of two interlocked ouroboros patterns that are drawn to resemble eyes. It is perhaps the most explicit indication of just how import eye-related imagery is to the third season this side of Saturn Dreaming of Mercury. The ouroboros is a flexible metaphor. In the second season, it was the circle that served to separate those on the inside of a group from those on the outside. In the third season, it becomes the circle of an eye, always watching.

Forcing the End is a disappointing piece of television, because there is a wealth of interesting material here that never quite coalesces into an effective episode. However, it serves as an effective reminder of just how much care and craft went into the second season, to make episodes like this work so much better.

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