Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

The X-Files – Millennium (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

There are any number of ironies around the cancellation of Millennium.

The show was cancelled by Fox to make room for Harsh Realm, hoping that Chris Carter’s new show would perform better in the Friday night slot. Of course, that did not turn out to be the case; Harsh Realm was cancelled after only three episodes had been broadcast, all failing to even match the already low numbers of the third season of Millennium. A show in its third season was cancelled to make room for a hip new show that was pretty much dead on arrival. However, that is not the only irony.

Frank Black's return...

Frank Black’s return…

Millennium concluded with Goodbye to All That in May 1999. The show fell seven months shy of its own deadline. If Fox had commissioned only eight new episodes, the creative team would have been able to take the show right up to the turn of the millennium itself. (Well, in a way that would make sense to most viewers. “Nobody likes a maths geek, Scully.” Even one who is technically correct.) It seems like Frank Black would not get to see the arrival of the date that had defined his show. (It was the title, after all.)

If Christmas is the season of goodwill to all men, then it is a nice gesture that The X-Files invited Frank Black to ring in the new year (and the new millennium) with them. It might not be much more, but it is a nice gesture.

... is just one thing that fans remember about this episode.

… is just one thing that fans remember about this episode.

It should be conceded that Frank Black may not even the headline draw of Millennium. In terms of X-Files fandom, the guest appearance from Lance Henriksen is only the second most notable aspect of Millennium. Fans of The X-Files are more likely to remember Millennium as “the one where Mulder and Scully kissed” then as “the one where Frank Black showed up and helped Mulder kill some zombies.” Then again, there are probably some reasons why fans didn’t latch on to that second description.

The show has been actively teasing the idea of Mulder and Scully as a romantic couple for quite some time; Carter was fielding questions about the possibility from as early as the first season, while the show started actively playing with the idea in the third season and consciously building towards it in the fourth. As with virtually everything related to The X-Files, it felt like Chris Carter was a relentless tease who enjoyed keeping his audience on the edge of their seats; the relationship was more ambiguous and suspenseful than the mythology.

Opening the floodgates...

Opening the floodgates…

The X-Files: Fight the Future recognised that the Mulder/Scully relationship was one of the key selling points of The X-Files. As much as “noromos” might be uncomfortable with the idea, the production team recognised that the obvious chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson was a major part of what had made the series such a watercooler show; it was as much a part of the conversation about the series as government conspiracies or liver-eating mutants or flukemen. And so even the movie teased a kiss between the duo.

Building off the almost!kiss in the hallway from Fight the Future, the sixth season went all-in on the idea of Mulder and Scully as a couple. Mulder kissed an alternate version of Scully in Triangle, spent Christmas with her in How the Ghosts Stole Christmas, played matchmaker with her in The Rain King, played house with her in Arcadia. The two almost got it on in Dreamland I, albeit with Morris Fletcher driving Mulder’s body; they seemed awfully close in The Unnatural. However, even with all this teasing, the show was reluctant to actually commit.

Salting the earth...

Salting the earth…

It almost seems like the kiss is an item to be crossed off the show’s “bucket list”, just in case the seventh season really is the final season as everybody was suggesting in interviews and press. Explaining why the production team picked this moment, Carter states:

We thought after seven years that they deserved that kiss that never happened in the movie. And that the most natural time in the world to do it would be on New Year’s and on New Year’s of the Millennium for that matter. I was very happy with the way it came out. But, it’s still amazing to me that so much importance and anticipation could be locked up in an innocent smooch… when we see or almost see is pretty racy sex on almost every other TV show.

This was perhaps a warning to X-Files fans not to expect much more than a kiss… for a little while, at least. One of the great ironies of The X-Files is the the show was so good at teasing a relationship between Mulder and Scully, but so terrible at actually portraying that relationship on screen.

"Hey, Scully! That looks just like your tattoo--" "Shut up, Mulder."

“Hey, Scully! That looks just like your tatt–“
“Shut up, Mulder.”

The seventh season suggests a developing romantic (and sexual) relationship between Mulder and Scully, playing out through the background of episodes like all things and Requiem. The show is as reluctant as even to commit to the idea of Mulder and Scully as a couple; the seventh season never confirms that any of this is actually happening while David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are both regulars on the show together. The details are only confirmed once the pair have been separated by David Duchovny’s reluctance to continue working on the show.

There is probably a way to keep the relationship between Mulder and Scully in the background that is clever and cute; allowing for a “best of both worlds” approach whereby fans who want a relationship can know that it’s there while those who don’t are not bothered by its presence. Unfortunately, The X-Files doesn’t quite have the grace to pull off that hypothetical best case scenario; instead, it ends up with a “worst of both worlds” approach that manages to leave everybody completely unsatisfied.

Raising hell...

Raising hell…

To be fair, all the signs suggested that the kiss was unlikely to change the dynamic on the show immediately and irreversibly. Even in interviews around the original broadcast of Millennium, Carter was quick to suggest that the show would not be pushing Mulder and Scully too far:

“I’ve resisted any temptation (of romance) because I don’t think it’s right for the characters,” says Carter. “For me, the passion and the protectiveness of one towards the other is something that we all admire and envy because that kind of trust and caring happens so infrequently in life. When it does, it is transcendent.”

This idea of “pure” chaste love is a recurring Carter trope, to the point that it’s not surprising that the revival has broken up Mulder and Scully. It seemed like Carter was only comfortable with a romantic and sexual relationship between the two characters when one was (or both were) off screen for extended periods.

Grave trouble...

Grave trouble…

While the kiss is probably the headline attraction of Millennium for the vast majority of X-Files fans, it is not the only notable feature of the episode. It marks Lance Henriksen’s final televised appearance as Frank Black. (To date.) Frank Black was the protagonist of Millennium, which Chris Carter had launched during the fourth season of (and had run in parallel with the fifth and sixth seasons of) The X-Files. Although The Pilot had drawn record-breaking viewing figures, Millennium was never a breakout hit in the same way that The X-Files had been.

Millennium had a short and busy life. Running three seasons, it effectively rebooted itself twice. (Although this episode is certainly unique enough in flavour that it could count as a fourth reboot.) Very dark – and frequently very odd – Millennium was one of the most fascinating prime time dramas of the nineties; even if each of the show’s iterations has its own strengths and weaknesses. Even fans of the show will frequently disagree as to which iteration they prefer. After years of declining ratings, Fox finally cancelled the show to make room for Harsh Realm.

Black Christmas...

Black Christmas…

Chris Carter had largely eschewed the idea of a crossover between The X-Files and Millennium while the latter was on the air. In interviews during the development process, Carter ruled out the possibility of a ratings-boosting crossover between his two shows. “I want the show to succeed on its own terms, rather than on some kind of gimmick,” he explained. The closest that the shows came to crossing over during that first season was a fleeting glimpse of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s stand-ins during the sequences set at Quantico in Lamentation.

The attitude towards crossovers softened as the show went on. Carter turned over control of Millennium to Glen Morgan and James Wong during the second season, and the duo had a great deal of fun playing with the intertextuality of Millennium and The X-Files. Darin Morgan crossed over a guest character between Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” and Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense.” An investigation of the Millennium Group’s headquarters in The Time is Now suggested that the Cigarette-Smoking Man might be a patron of that clandestine organisation.

Looks like he's done a good job of destroying his own brain...

Looks like he’s done a good job of destroying his own brain…

Things got a little weird during the third season Millennium, where the production team moved Frank back to the FBI and paired the (now paranoid) loner with a young female agent just out of the Academy. In the early stretch of season three, it seemed like the show was trying to consciously ape The X-Files. That said, the episode Human Essence did feature characters watching Kill Switch on television, suggesting that the whole of the Carter-verse might as recursive as the reality of Harsh Realm.

Still, there was a sense that Carter was more open to the idea of a crossover between The X-Files and Millennium in the twilight years of both shows. Asked about the possibility of a crossover between the two shows in Millennium’s hypothetical fourth season, Carter seemed intrigued by the prospect. He conceded, “This would be the year to do it. I have a story in mind… that involves Scully and Emma and Frank Black.” It seems that Carter would never get to realise that idea for a crossover. Emma Hollis fades into history with Goodbye to All That.

Deputy do-right...

Deputy do-right…

Doing a crossover between Millennium and The X-Files fits quite comfortably with the “bucket list” feeling of the seventh season, the sense that the production team might not get a chance to work with these characters or this world again, so… why not? The seventh season is packed with episodes that are built around ideas more interesting than compelling, concepts that a younger show might have approached with caution, but to which the seventh season commits wholeheartedly. There was every possibility that this could be the last season, so there why fight it?

In theory, a crossover between Millennium and The X-Files sounds like fun. They are both Chris Carter shows, and so both cover a lot of the same thematic ground. Both Frank Black and Fox Mulder can trace a common ancestry to Will Graham, although there is undoubtedly some fun to be had in contrasting the two paranoid former forensic profilers. However, the actual logistics of such a crossover are daunting. However, what would the story be about? Who would drive the plot? Does it assume viewers are (or were) watching both shows?

Profiler...

Profiler…

The general consensus on Millennium, from inside and outside the production team, is that the story doesn’t quite work. Lance Henriksen has voiced his own disappointment with how the episode turned out, particularly in its treatment of Frank Black:

“I gotta tell you, man, the way I got pitched this by Chris Carter, the reason I went on The X-Files, he said to me, ‘This is gonna be closure for Millennium,’ and I went, ‘Oh God, great, Chris, I can’t wait to read the script.’ So the day I got to the set to do the show, I get the script and I’m facing zombies. Now what has that got to do with the closing of Millennium? Absolutely nothing! And I thought, ‘That’s closure for Millennium, all right. Yeah, right.’

“I thought, ‘They’re gonna give dignity to Millennium and here comes a show on The X-Files to give it dignity and it became zombies! I went, ‘Oh shit, I’m going down in flames!’” He bursts out laughing again. “I have to laugh about it, man. But you get sold the bill of goods. If somebody says to you, ‘This is a tribute to something’, you’re gonna want to believe it, and so you go, ‘Oh good, okay.’ And then when you get there and it’s in a taste and style that you’re not interested in, it’s pretty funny. Now it’s hysterical!” he chuckles again.

Henriksen’s arguments are perfectly understandable and valid. It seems like Millennium is entirely unsure about how it wants to connect with the cancelled show that shares its name.

Keep it handy...

Keep it handy…

After all, any continuity linking Frank Black’s appearance here to his final appearance on the show is tenuous at best. Goodbye to All That ended with Frank taking Jordan from school and driving far away; the implication was that Frank wanted a clean break with his daughter, far away from the machinations of the Millennium Group. However, Millennium begins at a point a few months later where Frank has checked himself into a psychiatric institution for evaluation, hoping to claim custody of Jordan.

The missing pieces are filled in via exposition. “You’re in a custody battle with the parents of your late wife,” Scully tells Frank. “I just spoke with your doctor. That’s why you’re here.” That would seem to violate doctor-patient confidentiality, but sure. It seems weird that Frank would run away and then turn himself in; if he was worried about the Millennium Group targeting himself or Jordan, surely it would make sense to remain off the radar? If the Millennium Group knows where he is, surely he is in some sort of danger?

Profiler. No, wait. Wrong show.

Profiler.
No, wait. Wrong show.

Again, exposition waves these concerns away; apparently the Millennium Group no longer exists in any organised fashion. “Apparently the group dissolved several months ago,” Skinner tells Mulder and Scully in their briefing at the start of the episode. “They left no paper trail, nothing.” That seems like a rather strange background detail, given that the third season of Millennium featured the organisation going from strength to strength, with a list of guiding principles to see in the new millennium.

More than that, Millennium is completely hazy about the relationship between Mark Johnson and the Millennium Group. The Millennium Group tended to recruit from law enforcement, as Skinner mentions. However, there are a few occasions in the series where the Millennium Group has shown interest in individuals from outside of such organisations; they kept tabs on Danielle Barbakow at the end of Monster and had been monitoring Lucy Butler in A Room With No View.

"I've got a pale horse outside."

“I’ve got a pale horse outside.”

At the same time, it is odd that the sum total of all that conspiring and planning should come down to a taxidermist in Florida. What is Johnson’s relationship to the Group? He claims to know Raymond Crouch, but there is no way to substantiate that. Was the Group always planning to have Johnson resurrect these four members, or did Johnson go freelance and decided to initiate the apocalypse even after the Group shut down? Did the Group really shut down, or is it simply biding its time while Johnson does his thing?

None of this makes any sense within the context of the original series. These details are difficult to reconcile with what we’ve seen of the Millennium Group and Frank Black. Still, they serve a very clear purpose in the context of this particular story; they exist to strip away a lot of the cumbersome clutter that might make the episode confusing to fans of The X-Files who had never watched an episode of Millennium in their lives. The exposition serves to give the episode clear stakes and to explain that the show won’t be cluttered with cameos or continuity.

The brush off...

The brush off…

According to The Official Guide, this was a conscious decision on the part of the production team to downplay the “millenniumistic” elements of the script:

“Our first responsibility was to The X-Files’ audience,” remembers Spotnitz of the story sessions that produced Millennium.  “We couldn’t bring anything over from Millennium that would confuse them. On the other hand, we didn’t want to short people who were into Millennium and loved Frank Black.”

It makes sense. After all, The X-Files was (at least at the start of its seventh season) still one of the biggest shows on television. Millennium was not.

Unearthing secrets...

Unearthing secrets…

Still, there are some interesting creative choices that serve to limit how satisfying Millennium can be as the conclusion of Frank Black’s three-year character arc. Most notably, it is the writing team assigned to script the episode. Frank Spotnitz, John Shiban and Vince Gilligan are a very reliable team of X-Files writers. As a team, they are responsible for Leonard Betts and Field Trip; they know their X-Files. They are, along with Carter, the four veteran X-Files staffers at this point in the show’s run.

However, they are hardly Millennium veterans. Vince Gilligan might be an avowed fan of the show, but he spent most of Millennium‘s first season writing serial killer stories for The X-Files. John Shiban had written for Harsh Realm, but never for Millennium. Frank Spotnitz was the only one of the trio with direct experience of writing for Millennium, providing scripts for the first and third seasons of the show. However, Millennium had always been a secondary concern for Spotnitz; he declined the invitation to run the show’s second season to continue on The X-Files.

Salt of the earth...

Salt of the earth…

Millennium brings in two guest actors and a guest director from the cancelled television show, but it is very much the result of work by a triumvirate of X-Files writers. That explains a lot of the choices made in the direction and tone of the story, which feels more like a really odd guest-star centric episode of The X-Files than anything associated with the larger Millennium brand. The crossover is included on the third season box set of Millennium, but it seems far more jarring there than it does in the context of the seventh season of The X-Files.

The script might have been more appropriate for the script to come from Carter himself, given his experience running the show in its first year and his passion for the characters and their world. That said, his commitments to Harsh Realm and other factors at this point in the season undoubtedly limited his availability. Carter would draft Millennium‘s third season showrunner Chip Johannessen to write Orison later in the year; it might have made more sense to attach Johannessen to this script, given his status as a three-year staff writer (and final season showrunner).

Dead to the world...

Dead to the world…

On any number of fundamental levels, Millennium does not work as a Frank Black story. The discontinuity is jarring, but it’s not really the issue; after all, the three seasons of the show were frequently contradictory and conflicting. The problem is that Frank Black really doesn’t belong in an episode of The X-Files. As Spotnitz readily concedes in his assessment of the finished product, Millennium is very much an episode of The X-Files. It is quite candid and unapologetic about that fact, to the point that the case attracts Mulder and Scully before tying into the other show.

There is no need for Millennium to belong so firmly to The X-Files. There is a considerable Venn diagram that charts the overlap of concepts shared between Millennium and The X-Files; Jose Chung, conspiracies, serial killers, apocalypse, biological weapons. The X-Files has produced a rake of episodes that tackle objects within that overlap that could easily have guest starred Frank Black: Aubrey, Irresistible, F. Emasculata, Grotesque, Unruhe, Paper Hearts. The biggest problem with Millennium is that zombies are not in that “shared concepts” bracket.

"... removing the head, or destroying the brain..."

“… removing the head, or destroying the brain…”

Mulder and Scully have demonstrated that they can investigate cases involving serial killers, even when there is only the most minimal of supernatural elements. In contrast, Frank Black will always seem awkward dealing with literal monsters. Frank Black could tackle Gerry Schnauz, John Lee Roche or even the Peacocks; he would seem completely out of his depth dealing with Eugene Victor Tooms or Leonard Betts. Millennium comes off the tracks when it offers a story that boils down to “Frank Black versus zombies.”

Pitting Frank Black against the walking dead is like asking Will Graham to hunt vampires or Gil Grissom to track down the wolfman; there is some fun to be had in the concept, but you can’t do it while treating the character as a guest star in somebody else’s story. Millennium might have worked better if Frank Black found himself drawn gradually into the world of The X-Files. Instead, Mulder and Scully are doing their thing and decide to involve a lead character from another Chris Carter show for some reason.

He is the resurrection and the life...

He is the resurrection and the life…

This problem is compounded by the fact that the focus of Millennium is the millennium itself. The millennium is a very significant date for Frank Black, given that he starred in a show called Millennium. In some ways, the entire three seasons of the show could be seen as a clock counting down to… something. The threat posed by the millennium was frequently expressed in abstract terms. It was not a hard deadline like the looming threat of colonisation, but instead the implied threat of social collapse and moral decay in an uncertain future.

The significance of the millennium seemed to change with each passing season. The first season of Millennium suggested that there was a biblical reckoning that might occur, as mankind pulled itself deeper and deeper into depravity; the second season was comprised of a series of apocalypses, both intimate and epic; the third season positioned the millennium as a time of dramatic (and unpredictable) change for mankind, a transition the could be good or evil depending on the choices that mankind made.

Wait, who is he talking to...?

Wait, who is he talking to…?

Bringing Frank Black back for an episode titled Millennium right before the turn of the millennium promised answers to questions that had been bubbling away in the background throughout the show’s three seasons. What would happen at the end of the millennium? To what did the title of the show allude? The problem is that Millennium offers an answer much more in keeping with The X-Files than with anything suggested by the show itself; it turns out that the millennium means “zombies.” It seems unlikely any Millennium fans anticipated that.

This would be bad enough on its own, but it is compounded by the episode’s suggestion that this rather lame low budget zombie apocalypse really was the grand unifying theory that tied together three seasons of the show. Why was the Millennium Group so interested in Frank? Why did it manipulate him and stalk him? The answer, it seems, is “zombies.” When he meets Frank, Mark Johnson explains, “You were meant to be the fourth. I always knew that.” Wait… really? This is towards what the seventy-nine episodes on Millennium were building?

... So, Frank Black's powers no include the ability to identify the guest stars by name?

… So, Frank Black’s powers no include the ability to identify the guest stars by name? (Maybe just the Oscar-winning ones.)

It fills like the plot of the episode was just grafted in after the production team thought it might be nice to do an episode with Frank Black on the eve of the millennium. Indeed, the actual apocalyptic elements seem rather generic; there is no Millennium Group here, just a single obsessive necromancer. Then again, this makes a certain amount of sense. In a way, the zombie serves as the mascot of the seventh season of The X-Files; the creatures appears in a couple of episodes across the year, but if linked to a couple of other stories in development as well.

In a way, Frank Black is just as much a necromancer as Mark Johnson. Instead of resurrecting four former FBI agents, Frank Black is resurrecting a dead television show inside another television show that may (or may not) be dead itself. The zombies work as a metaphor for both Millennium and The X-Files. Like Raymond Crouch and the other three deceased FBI agents, it seems like Millennium came back wrong. The episode might resemble the cancelled television show in some ways, but it is not the same.

Jeepers, creepers...

Jeepers, creepers…

Of course, the production team had wanted to do a “zombie” episode for quite some time, even if stitching it to the Millennium crossover seemed like a strange choice in hindsight. George A. Romero revealed that Stephen King had approached him about updating Night of the Living Dead as an episode of the show, an idea which intrigued the veteran horror director:

How do these people find this out? Steve King called out of the blue and asked me about it. And I got all excited and talked to Chris Carter, and then Steve had to bail out for other obligations, so we are hoping to get it up for next season. I had no idea anyone knew about that.

That episode never happened, and it seems quite possible that “zombie episode” was back on the table if Romero and King weren’t going to get to the story in what many of the staff assumed would be the show’s final season. The episode even includes a number of Romero shoutouts, with zombies laying siege to a domicile and Mulder offering his own version of “… removing the head or destroying the brain.”

Resting easy...

Resting easy…

The X-Files had done “zombie” stories before. Fresh Bones was a voodoo story that inevitably featured some voodoo zombies. Folie à Deux featured an evil insect thing that was transforming office workers into zombies. However, there is something quite striking about the frequency with which conventional zombies appear in the seventh season. They appear quite central to the plot in Millennium and Hollywood A.D. Vince Gilligan had originally considered making Rob a zombie (ha! Rob Zombie!) in Hungry. Not to mention the possible King/Romero collaboration.

The seventh season’s fascination with zombies arguable pre-dates the boom in zombie horror during the year years of the twenty-first century. These episodes aired long before Robert Kirkman first published The Walking Dead, before Zack Snyder remade Dawn of the Dead, before Danny Boyle released 28 Days Later, before George Romero returned to the genre with Land of the Dead, before Edgar Wright spoofed it with Shawn of the Dead and before Max Brooks wrote World War Z.

A horror staple...

A horror staple…

Those zombie stories were arguably rooted in a larger cultural context that helped to define the zombie as the perfect monster for the War on Terror. Contagious, deadly, unstoppable, overwhelming; these are all attributes that helped to cement the zombie as a fixture of the post-9/11 landscape. Hordes of the undead seemed more appropriate to that particular moment than legions of vampires or herds of wolfmen. The zombie’s next cultural moment was still a few years away, although featuring them in Millennium is a wonderfully coincidental piece of foreshadowing.

There were undoubtedly popular zombie films in the nineties – Ted Savani remade Night of the Living Dead with Tony Todd in 1990, and Peter Jackson helped to cement his reputation with Braindead in 1992. Nevertheless, it seems like the show’s sudden interest in zombies was not a result of surrounding media; it was something particular to the show at this moment in time. Whether a conscious choice on the part of the writers, or simply an expression of thoughts behind the scenes, the zombies feel like an appropriate mascot for the seventh season.

"What's in your head, in your head, zombie, zombie, zombie-ee-ee-ee..."

“What’s in your head, in your head, zombie, zombie, zombie-ee-ee-ee…”

There was still confusion about whether The X-Files would be retired or renewed at the end of the seventh season had left the show in an ambiguous state between life and death; it was arguably “undead.” While the sixth season was ambivalent about the show’s immortality, the seventh season feels decidedly uncomfortable with the idea that the show might not be allowed to move on. If time was a major recurring theme of the sixth season, then death (and “undeath”) becomes a focus of the seventh.

Zombies embody the worst of all possible fates for the show; a lifeless mindless husk shuffling through the darkness because it simply cannot die. Carter had originally planned to let The X-Files run for five years before retiring the show and transitioning to feature films; Fox had convinced the creative team to sign on for an additional two years in Los Angeles. It felt like Fox was unwilling to let The X-Files die, to allow it (and its production team) to move on. Carter was keenly aware that, if he didn’t continue running the show, Fox would find somebody who would.

Bodies of work...

Bodies of work…

While the twenty-first century has arguably redefined zombies as a monster for the War on Terror, the seventies and eighties turned the zombie into a ghoulish representation of unchecked capitalism and consumption; perhaps there are elements of that in play here as well, with Mulder and Frank Black teaming up to fight the forces conspiring to zombify the work of the Ten Thirteen production team. Given his ongoing lawsuit about the distribution of profits from the syndication of The X-Files to FX, David Duchovny probably appreciated the imagery.

Generally, the cast and crew seem to accept that Millennium not necessarily the most satisfying conclusion to the arc of Frank Black, despite the best intentions of those involved. “We’re going to wrap him up in a way we weren’t able to do with the series,” Carter promised before the show aired. Whatever the writing staff might have planned, it certainly doesn’t feel like the episode “wraps him up” in a way unique or essential to the character. There is little here to mark the episode as essential to fans of Frank Black.

Death and taxidermists...

Death and taxidermists…

More to the point, Millennium ends with Frank and Jordan walking away from everything, much like they did at the end of Goodbye to All That. Far from wrapping up Frank’s arc in a way that was not possible within the context of the series, Millennium ends up wrapping up Frank’s arc in the exact same way as the series did. This is particularly frustrating, because the episode puts contrived new hurdles in from of Frank so that his return to the status quo at the end of Goodbye to All That might feel like progression.

Carter conceded that the episode’s internal logic may not have been a top priority, “That story came about as a result of wanting to put Lance and Frank Black on the show. But I still think there are places to go with that idea.” After Millennium aired, it was repeatedly suggested that Frank Black could return to The X-Files; maybe Millennium was not the perfect closing chapter for his arc. “Anyway, I hope to bring Frank Black back,” Carter promised at the end of the seventh season. “It’s really Lance’s availability. There’s some Millennium fans out there.”

Speaking Frankly...

Speaking Frankly…

In an interview with Back to Frank Black, writer Frank Spotnitz seemed ultimately disappointed with how the episode turned out:

“It was much harder than we expected to make it an X-Files with Mulder and Scully driving it and yet tie into Frank Black and his story and Jordan. It ended up, to me, not being really a great Millennium story or a great X-Files story and I was frustrated. We had the best of intentions but it wasn’t the ending that Millennium needed. I didn’t think it was bad but I didn’t think it was great either, and it should have been. It should have been great. We would probably have been better if we’d just said, ‘Okay, we’re going to have a Millennium episode this week. We’re just going to give Mulder and Scully the week off.’ That probably would have been the better way to tackle it.”

It is not too hard to disagree, particularly when it seems that the sum total of human history to this point has been building to Fox Mulder and Frank Black shooting zombies in some basement somewhere.

Because it's just not Millennium without a creepy silhouette moving through a door and down some steps into the basement...

Because it’s just not Millennium without a creepy silhouette moving through a door and down some steps into the basement…

And yet, despite all these very fundamental flaws, there is a sense that the production team had their heart in the right place. Millennium makes absolutely no sense in terms of continuity or history; it seems like none of the three writers working on the script had watched a full season end-to-end. However, there are moments that make Millennium feel like some sort of weird madlib based upon the show of the same name; the writers might not have know the show’s own conflicted internal mythology inside out, but they understand the basics.

After all, the biggest problem with trying to create a satisfying ending to Frank Black’s journey is the simple fact that Frank black doesn’t really have a single defining journey; the show itself changed dramatically between (and even within) seasons. Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That struggled to reconciling three years of continuity into a two-part story; it would be impossible for an episode of The X-Files to do the same in the background of a story about Mulder and Scully.

Dead certain in his beliefs...

Dead certain in his beliefs…

The result is a weird mix of out-of-context references and allusions that don’t fit together and seldom add up to anything more than the sum of their parts. A lot of the messiness of Millennium comes from a sense that the writers picked the most ridiculously incompatible aspects of the show and then threw them all in on top of an episode of The X-Files that was about zombies. It doesn’t work. It could never have worked. And, yet… there is something almost admirable in the fact that the writers tried to make it work.

The episode is packed full of weird moments where the episode of The X-Files about zombies is seemingly paused for snippets of a random episode of Millennium. Mulder and Scully might be hunting a guy who can literally raise the dead, but there’s still time for an awesome profiling monologue. Never mind that the kind of person who can literally raise the dead is likely to be so alien as to be unrecognisable to conventional law enforcement profiling, it is still an excuse to see Frank work that old magic.

Frank still has a flare for his old work...

Frank still has a flare for his old work…

“He’s a white male, forty-five to fifty,” Frank explains. “He’s a religious man, no police record, no fulfilling relationship. You would pass him without giving him a glance. He needs privacy for this. He’ll live alone, possibly in the house he grew up in. Most likely it’s a large rural property away from prying eyes. He’ll own a truck or a van. He needs it to transport the bodies. There’ll be high fences, ‘No Trespassing’ signs. It’s a solitary existence. He’s worked around death all his life in some capacity – a funeral parlour or a cemetery. Death comforts him.”

It is worth noting just how consciously Millennium alludes to Irresistible. Sure, it might focus on a guy who can literally raise the dead rather than a necrophiliac, but the episode is constructed so as to evoke that second season episode. There is a creepy opening scene at a funeral home in which a stranger to the family gets inappropriately close to the dead body. Mark Johnson might not be a “death fetishist”, but the little details of making him a taxidermist and having him swap clothes with the dead body create a connection to Donnie Pfaster.

The descent...

The descent…

It makes sense to tie Millennium to Irresistible. After all, Carter himself credits Irresistible as the episode that led to the development of Frank Black’s television series. Bringing Frank Black into The X-Files as part of an episode that consciously borrows cues from Irresitible feels entirely appropriate. It is perhaps telling that Millennium showrunner Chip Johannessen was brought in to script Donnie Pfaster’s return in Orison later in the seventh season, strengthening the connections between Irresistible and Millennium.

There is also some nice character work buried beneath the muddled plotting and character arcs. Millennium reinforces the idea that Frank’s gift is based on empathy. He refuses to look at the case file. “I can’t get involved in this,” he tells Mulder. “We’re not asking you to get involved,” Mulder replies. “I’m just asking you to take a look at the case file.” Frank Black is a heroic figure to a fault; the voluntary committal in Millennium represents the third time that his job has challenged his sanity, and yet he cannot look away when confronted with horror.

"I'm going to be resurr-wrecked after all this."

“I’m going to be resurr-wrecked after all this.”

Shrewdly, the set-up of Millennium rather consciously mirrors the opening chapters of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon. Frank Black is cast in the role of Will Graham, the once-brilliant forensic profiler whose work has pushed him towards a nervous breakdown. Although he no longer works for the FBI, he is unable to stay detached and removed when a representative of the Bureau shows up with a case file documenting some fresh atrocity. The hero is stirred back to action, no matter what toll his decision might take.

Of course, Millennium offers Frank Black a much happier ending than Red Dragon gave Will Graham. Still, the use of Red Dragon as a reference makes a certain amount of sense. Both Fox Mulder and Frank Black are literary descendents of Will Graham, much as Scully can trace her roots back to Clarice Starling. If this is to be Frank Black’s last appearance, it feels appropriate to draw heavily from the work of Thomas Harris. Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That were also loaded with Harris imagery and iconography.

Well, at least it had a happy ending. Even if it's the same happy ending.

Well, at least it had a happy ending. Even if it’s the same happy ending.

That said, these little touches feel all the more jarring when incorporated into an episode about a necromancer. It feels strange to remind viewers that Frank Black typically confronted a more grounded and banal form of evil than Mulder and Scully, only to build towards a climax involving creepy zombies. The tone and mood of Millennium are all over the place, as the script hops anxiously from one idea to the next, never bothering to figure out how exactly these elements are supposed to work in communion.

Similarly, Millennium makes a halfhearted effort to connect Mark Johnson to the eschatology of the second season, even alluding towards the schisms in the Millennium Group exposed by Owls and Roosters. Frank explains, “These four represent a schism in the group. They believe that for the end time to come, as it must that man must take an active hand in bringing that about.” In short, they are Roosters. However, this is really the only point at which Millennium brings up the internal politics of the Millennium Group.

Of course, this all feels tangential to the story. The Millennium Group has been disbanded; making the zombies the four horsemen does little more than nod towards the biblical insanity of the show’s divisive second season. (Indeed, Scully seems to land a potshot at the Morgan and Wong era, reflecting, “Mulder, those people, even when they were alive mangled biblical prophecy to the extent that it’s unrecognizable.”) If these zombies are the four horsemen, then they are a particularly pathetic and ineffective iteration of said concept.

That said, there is something quite appropriate about the way that Millennium is structured around getting Frank Black to journey into a basement to save Fox Mulder. The basement is major recurring motif across the first two seasons of the show. In the first season, Frank tried to keep his grim work quarantined in the basement away from his family. The basement became a metaphor for the evil and darkness hiding just beneath the nice middle-class suburbia with which the first season was obsessed.

Despite Frank’s best efforts, evil could not be contained. Darkness seeped into the Black household through the basement; Thomas Black steals the gun from there in Sacrament, while Bob Bletcher is disemboweled and hung there in Lamentation and history repeats for the Old Man in Roosters. When Frank Black returns to haunt the old yellow house in The Curse of Frank Black, he spends most of his time in the basement; scaring kids who have snuck in to tell scary stories and hoping to visit with the ghost of his deceased best friend.

Even in terms of visual storytelling, the basement is an important image for Millennium. Stories like Sacrament, Lamentation and Roosters all make great use of shot of a sinister silhouette standing at the top of the basement stairs. While the decision to populate the basement with killer zombies who may be the embodiment of the fourth horsemen is questionable at best, it seems entirely appropriate that Millennium should afford Frank Black the chance to play hero by charging into the basement to vanquish the monsters waiting in the shadows.

Millennium is incredibly frustrating. The episode takes surprisingly little pleasure in allowing Frank Black to interact with Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. They are distant relatives that can trace a common lineage, so allowing them to share the screen should be fun and exciting. In particular, there must be some worth in comparing and contrasting Frank Black with Fox Mulder; they are both built from the same template, but with a different emphasis in each case. They are two very different characters who share a lot of common ground.

How would Frank respond to Mulder’s irreverence? What would Mulder make of Frank’s somberness? There is a lot of fun to be had by placing two of the FBI’s most gifted (and most eccentric) forensic profilers in the same story. While there is a giddy pulpy thrill to watching Frank Black and Fox Mulder kill zombies in the basement, it feels like something of a wasted opportunity. Perhaps if Millennium had been pushed until later in the season, the creative team would have been able to come up with a better story, rather than just leaning on the idea of a crossover.

All of this is compounded by the fact that Millennium might well be the last time that Frank Black appears on screen. This could be very well be it for the character. While the guest cast announcements have generated no shortage of buzz, Lance Henriksen remains unlikely to make an appearance in the forthcoming X-Files reboot, although even a cameo from the world’s favourite “roving, freelance forensic profiler” would be welcomed. It would be great to see Netflix pick up the show, but it does seem unlikely.

Nevertheless, the character lives on outside television; fan campaigns like Back to Frank Black have kept his spirit alive, as have projects like the fan-run “season four.” Frank Black even made a guest appearance in IDW’s X-Files on-going and got his own six-issue Millennium miniseries off the back of that project. Although it would be interesting to see the monthly adventures of Frank Black, it does not seem like IDW are in the process of transitioning the character to a monthly comic book.

Even with all of these (fairly major) issues, it is nice to see that Frank and Jordan ring in the new millennium happy and together. Ultimately, Millennium ends with the father-daughter team in the same place they were at the end of Goodbye to All That, but it is a nice place to leave them. Although he had arguably been a part of larger X-Files continuity since at least Lamentation or Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense”, it is reassuring to know that Frank Black’s world did not explode on the turn of the millennium; as long as Mulder and Scully live on, he is at peace.

Perhaps, on that level, Millennium can be seen as something of a Christmas gift. It is an excuse to bring Frank Black in out of the cold, because Christmas and New Year’s are times to be spent with family. Regardless of the fate of his show, and the production hurdles encountered along the way, Frank Black certainly is family. Peace on earth, and good will to all men. There are certainly worse reasons to produce an episode, even considering the many problems with the resulting piece of television.

Advertisements

6 Responses

  1. + zombie African aide and zombie Dr Barnes in The Sixth Extinction!

  2. I don’t know if you intended to imply it or not but there is a fairly obvious solution in retrospect to many of the problems with this episode: they should have put Frank Black in Orison. For all the obvious reasons, it’s a story more fitting to the Millennium palate and would have bookended the show’s origin nicely. Admittedly it would have been very difficult to tack on the happy family holiday sense of closure at the end of Millennium to the grim climax in Orison.

    I was not aware there were thoughts of bringing Frank Black back again perhaps in season 8. I suppose he could have been put to good use in Skinner’s role in Via Negativa and would have fit in neatly in Empedocles.

    • It would have been cool to fold Frank Black into the ensemble cast on The X-Files, much like the leads on The Lone Gunmen pulled double-duty in season eight of The X-Files. I’m not sure Lance Henriksen would have been down for that, but it would have broadened out the world of The X-Files a great deal and – as you point out – there are episodes down the line that would fit rather comfortably with his line of work. (Plus I feel like Lance Henriksen would play very well with Robert Patrick.)

  3. while it’s certainly true they could have conceived a much stronger ending for millennium than this sort of trifling zombie thing, I have to say that at the same time, the episode is no more nonsensical than a lot of what they were throwing up in the air on the millennium show anyway. there were ALWAYS rampant inconsistencies about the Group, their plans, their structure, their membership, etc. etc. in the plotlines.
    These inconsistencies and wild fluctuations in plot/motivation happened not just season to season, and not just episode to episode. Sometimes these elements were not consistent even within the space of an individual episode.
    Their big plans for frank were always nebulous and muddled, and seemingly in flux. I didn’t interpret this episode as meaning they wanted him to be a zombie all along. I interepreted this as just yet one more of so many weird plans the Group’s incomprehensibly varied and unruly factions were prone to conceiving throughout the course of the show. None of it really made any damn sense. so why should we hold this episode to a higher standard?
    In the end, that is my single greatest frustration with both x-files and millennium. the writers never seemed to grasp the idea that it might be good to have some notion of where you’re going before you set out to get there.

    • I would argue – perhaps controversially – that the eighth season of The X-Files is one of the show’s strongest seasons, in a large part because many of the season’s plot beats (Mulder gone for first half, back for second half, Scully pregnant) effectively imposed a clear beginning, middle and end on the season. It’s a shame that it is largely and aberration. (Although the second season of Millennium is also brilliant and also has a very clear structure to it.)

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: