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The X-Files – Orison (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.

The X-Files has generally avoided sequels.

There are exceptions, of course. Eugene Victor Tooms appeared twice in the first season, bookending the show’s first year in Squeeze and Tooms. The character of Robert Patrick Modell resurfaced in Kitsunegari, two years after his debut in Pusher. In a way, the mythology could be read as a series of sequels and inter-related plots, with the show lacking the sort of truly overarching design that would identify it as a single story that had been serialised. Still, The X-Files has been reluctant to resurrect old monsters, perhaps acknowledging the law of diminishing returns.

Here's Donnie!

Here’s Donnie!

So Orison is something of an oddity. It marks the second and final appearance of Donnie Pfaster, the demonic Ted Bundy type who made such an impression in Irresistible. Much like Robert Patick Modell or Eugene Victor Tooms, Donnie Pfaster was popular enough the bringing him back made a certain amount of sense; if the show had to do a “sequel” episode, Donnie was as good a candidate as any. Meanwhile, Flukeman waits by the phone. However, the question remains: why?

What is the point of bringing back Donnie? What didn’t the show do last time that it would do this time? It’s a very basic, very fundamental question. Unfortunately, Orison does not have much of an answer.

Finger food...

Finger food…

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Millennium – Season 3 (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.

Three seasons is a good run.

It’s not a great run, but it is worth noting that Millennium ran longer than any of Chris Carter’s creations other than The X-Files. Given you grim and esoteric Millennium turned out to be, that is quite impressive. Notably, even the third season of Millennium performed better in the ratings than the first season of Harsh Realm. In many respects, Millennium is a very odd television show; it seems surprising that it lasted for three seasons. While fans (and many who worked on it) might have wanted more, Millennium is not a failure.

millennium-thesoundofsnow28

That said, the third season of Millennium is a disaster. There are a lot of reasons for this. The show was renewed by Fox quite late in the process, meaning the production team had little time to prepare. Glen Morgan and James Wong had no interest in returning to run the show, even if the rest of the staff would have them. Either due to time constraints or frustration, nobody asked Morgan and Wong about resolving the ending of The Time is Now. Michael Duggan was hired as showrunner, only to depart eight episodes into the season.

With all of this going on, the problems with the third season are entirely understandable. The season feels like a disjointed mess because there was chaos behind the scenes. The season was confused about its own continuity because the production team had no idea what to make of the second season. With ratings plunging, the show sought comfort in the familiar; there is an extended stretch near the start of the third season where it feels like the production team were trying to turn the show into a copy of The X-Files.

millennium-teotwawki22

The third season of Millennium has fairly terrible reputation among fans. This is not entirely undeserved; the early stretch of the third season contains a string of the worst episodes that Millennium ever produced. As sympathetic as the surrounding circumstances might make an audience to the show, that goodwill evaporates when confronted with episodes like The Innocents, Exegesis, TEOTWAWKI, Skull and Bones, Through a Glass Darkly, Human Essence and Omertà. The series improves dramatically in its middle section; but it is never consistent.

The third season contains a number of underrated episodes that do count among the best that the show ever produced, and a whole host of more interesting failures around those episodes. Perhaps the best thing that might be said about the third season is that it is interesting at least as often as it is bad. That might not sound like a ringing endorsement. It isn’t. The third season of Millennium doesn’t work. The reasons for this are entirely understandable, but that does not make it any easier to watch.

millennium-sevenandone24

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Millennium – Goodbye to All That (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.

Goodbye to All That is not a bad place to leave Millennium, truth be told.

Sure, the episode has its problems, but that is true of pretty much every third season episode. However, showrunners Chip Johannessen and Ken Horton do try to offer the show some sort of closure. While Emma betraying Frank before he rides off into the sunset might have been a nice set up for a new fourth season status quo, it also feels like a nice place to leave the show as well. Director Thomas J. Wright frames that closing shot beautifully, to the point where anything that follows does feel like a coda to the three-season show.

Don't be dark, Frank Black...

Don’t be dark, Frank Black…

More than that, there’s a curious magnanimity to Goodbye to All That. The episode seems to suggest that perhaps Millennium has finally resolved all its internal conflicts about its own history. As with Borrowed Time, The Sound of Snow or Collateral Damage, there is a sense that Goodbye to All That is trying to create a cohesive theory of Millennium – suturing together three very different seasons into something approaching a singular entity. The task is impossible, but Goodbye to All That makes a valiant effort.

Yes, the actual plotting is ridiculous and Goodbye to All That tries to do too much in a single forty-five minute episode, but these are far from the worst vices of the third season. It is too much to suggest that Goodbye to All That wraps up Millennium on a high, but it does allow the show to bow out with its head held high.

"You know, for a secret organisation, we sure do a lot of branding..."

“You know, for a secret organisation, we sure do a lot of branding…”

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Millennium – Bardo Thodol (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.

As with Saturn Dreaming of Mercury and (to a lesser extent) Darwin’s Eye, Bardo Thodol continues to boldly push Millennium towards abstraction.

The plot of Bardo Thodol is actually fairly basic, in the same way that the plot to Darwin’s Eye is fairly basic. Mister Takahashi has done terrible things. Fleeing the Millennium Group assassin known only as Mabius, the mysterious scientist seeks refuge in a Buddhist Temple. As his body turns against him, Takahashi seeks to atone for his crimes. At the same time, an FBI raid on a cargo ship turns up an ice box packed with severed hands. Inevitably the two threads turn out to be intertwined.

Give the man a hand...

Give the man a hand…

However, as with a lot of Millennium scripts, the details of this fairly simple plot are delightfully askew. Bardo Thodol feels almost like a game of Millennium word association. There are cloning experiments, assassination attempts, meditations on reincarnation, actual meditation, discussions of forgiveness, ominous messages delivered by computer virus, lots of atmosphere, an oppressive sense of paranoia. Adjectives like “cluttered” and “stuffed” come to mind, to the point that it feels like a lot of Bardo Thodol ended up on the cutting room floor.

As with Darwin’s Eye, it feels like Bardo Thodol works better as a mood piece than as an example of storytelling television. It is not a hugely satisfying forty-five minutes, but it is always interesting.

Yes. Yes the show is.

Yes. Yes the show is.

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Millennium – Saturn Dreaming of Mercury (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.

That’s an intense little girl you’ve got there.

Intensity’s fine.

– Emma and Frank discuss how Jordan takes after her father

"Quiet. I'm trying to figure out the title."

“Quiet. I’m trying to figure out the title.”

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Millennium – Borrowed Time (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.

The third season of Millennium is all over the map.

Due to a variety of factors, the show veers wildly in just about every direction. The transition from the second season to the third season was tough on everybody involved, but even the third season itself went through considerable issues. Michael Duggan was brought in to steady the ship, but his approach didn’t really work out. He departed the show a third of the way through the season. As a result of all of this, the third season can often seem disjointed and uneven. It is hard to tie it all together.

Angel of mercy?

Angel of mercy?

At the same time, there are certain recurring motifs and ideas that recur through the twenty-two episode season. A lot of these can be traced back to writer Chip Johannessen (with a great deal of help from Ken Horton). Johannessen was the consistent voice across all three seasons of Millennium, and an executive producer for the entirety of the third season. Although given a seemingly impossible task, Johannessen did work really hard to impose something resembling order upon the chaotic third season.

Borrowed Time hits on a lot of the ideas running through the third season. It is a story that suggests Millennium is about the fragile balance between life and death, and that death is not as much of an absolute as earlier seasons might have suggested. Borrowed Time is a little uneven and messy in places, but it is underscored by a host of bold and interesting ideas. It finds Johannessen engaging with the religious and mystical themes that informed early scripts like Force Majeure and Maranatha.

Countdown...

Countdown…

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Millennium – Skull and Bones (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.

Skull and Bones brings a lot of the problems with the third season of Millennium to the fore.

Most obviously, the third season of Millennium is making a conscious effort to return to the aesthetic and style of the first season, with an emphasis on horrific crimes and abhorrent psychologies. In interviews around the launch of the third season, Chris Carter repeatedly suggested that something had been lost in the second season. TEOTWAWKI was an issue-driven episode about school shootings and Y2K. Closure was a story about how spree killers can engage in random patterns of violence and there is no way to reliably discern a pattern of logic in truly evil behaviour.

The hole in things...

The hole in things…

At the same time, the third season is struggling to deal with the legacy and impact of the second season. The Innocents and Exegesis rather clumsily attempted to write their way out of The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now by downplaying the impact of the end of the world at the end of the second season. However, the third cannot completely erase what happened. The absence of Catherine Black and the presence of Peter Watts are constant reminders. The Millennium Group itself cannot revert back to its first season self.

Skull and Bones plays out this conflict, creating an impression of a show trapped at a crossroads with a problem it cannot resolve. Skull and Bones is an episode that attempts to both minimise the impact of the second season of Millennium while still acknowledging and building upon it. It is not an approach that lends itself to satisfactory or fulfilling storytelling. However, it does articulate just how confused the show must be at this point in its life cycle.

There are going to be a lot of Yorrick captions this time...

There are going to be a lot of Yorrick captions this time…

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Millennium – Exegesis (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.

It is odd to think of The Innocents and Exegesis as a two parter, despite the explicit “to be continued” that bridges the two episodes.

The Innocents is very much a straightforward procedural episode, with Frank rejoining the FBI and investigating a string of mysterious occurrences that are all connected. As Frank tries to pull himself back together after the death of his wife, various parties insist that he is more lost than ever before. There is a sense that Frank needs to work though what happened to him, regardless of the doubts expressed by his embittered father-in-law or his friendly supervisor at the FBI. Of course others doubt him, and of course he works through those doubts.

"I can see it all clearly..."

“I can see it all clearly…”

It is very much a standard “lead character gets his life back together” story, complete with obligatory sequence where Frank demonstrates he has made his peace with the loss of Catherine by using his story as emotional leverage to ply a confession (or, at least, an explanation) from a person of interest in the on-going investigation. The Innocents is a very banal and paint-by-numbers episode of television. Underneath all those biohazard warnings and eerie blue-eyed siblings, there is a strong procedural element to The Innocents. It feels trite and coy.

At the very least, Exegesis is more unique. It feels like an episode of Millennium, rather than some generic dime-a-dozen procedural. This is likely down to the fact that The Innocents was written by Michael Duggan and Exegesis was written by Chip Johannessen. Michael Duggan was a writer who had a lot of experience on procedurals (Law & Order and C-16: FBI), but who had no prior experience writing Millennium. Hired to run the show in its third year, he would only write two scripts for the show before departing seven episodes into the season.

Go fly a kite...

Go fly a kite…

In contrast, Chip Johannessen had helped to define Millennium’s identity in its first year. In fact, with a group of nearly identical female sisters working towards a mysterious goal (based on vague prophecy), Exegesis owes a great deal to Johannessen’s earlier script Force Majeure. While it does illustrate how Exegesis feels like a more traditional Millennium episode than The Innocents, it is not a comparison that does Exegesis any favours. Force Majeure was one of the best episodes the show ever produced; Exegesis is… not.

As with The Innocents, Exegesis is handicapped by a lot of the clumsy production decisions made at the start of the third season. It feels curiously disconnected from what came before; it plays a little too much like a reheated leftover from The X-Files; a lot of the nuance and development given to Peter Watts and the Millennium Group over the second season is washed away. Nevertheless, it does have a clearer sense of purpose and energy than The Innocents. It feels like Johannessen knows what he wants to say, even if the show is still tripping over itself.

Welcome back, Frank.

Welcome back, Frank.

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Millennium – The Innocents (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.

So, how do you write your way out of the end of the world?

To be fair, it is not an easy assignment. The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now are two spectacular pieces of television, but they arguably work better as a series finalé than a season finalé. Once Fox decided to renew Millennium for a third season, the biggest problem facing the staff was the challenge of writing around the apocalypse that had arrived at the end of the second season. It is a problem that hobbled the third season of Millennium coming out of the gate. However, it was not the only such problem.

Guess who's Black?

Guess who’s Black?

Millennium is a show that feels particularly disjointed from year-to-year. It has been argued – quite convincingly – that Millennium was really three different shows, and that no two seasons of Millennium convincingly resemble one another. The third season of Millennium would be a different beast than the second. The Innocents and Exegesis demonstrate that clearly and quite articulately. The two-part season premiere made it quite obvious that Millennium was no longer a show particularly interested in ideas of apocalypse – whether global or personal.

Unfortunately, it seemed like the show had no real idea of what it wanted to be.

"Yep, this is what Chris Carter found when he took the show back."

“Yep, this is what Chris Carter found when he took the show back.”

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Millennium – In Arcadio Ego (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.

A relatively recent study of teenage pregnancies accounted for forty-five virgin births in the United States, based on data from 1995, 2008 and 2009. Extrapolating from this data, the researchers estimate that almost 1% of births in the United States could be considered virgin births.

Of course, the researchers suggest a notable correlation between these self-described virgin births and other interesting social factors – virgin mothers are statistically quite likely to have low levels of sex education and are quite likely to have taken chastity vows. The myth of a virgin birth is powerful, and it is easy to understand in the context of contemporary attitudes about sex and sexuality that almost one in every hundred pregnant teenagers would rather claim a virgin birth than admit that they had sexual intercourse.

And Frank's left holding the baby...

And Frank’s left holding the baby…

In Arcadia Ego is not a particularly subtle script. Writer Chip Johannessen is quite candid about how he feels about all of this, telling a story about a modern-day immaculate conception featuring two escaped prisoners just looking for a reprieve from all the abuse and violence that they have encountered. In Arcadia Ego is a very socially-conscious piece of work, a rather pointed episode that pokes and prods at some the hypocrisies and inconsistencies in how we talk about sex and women in contemporary society. It is never too hard to tell how Johannessen feels on the matter.

At the same time, In Arcadia Ego is also a thoughtful and moving story about love, hope and faith. After a stretch of episodes that have seen Frank becoming more and more uncertain, In Arcadia Ego casts Frank as a pillar of moral certitude. While it might be a little clumsy in places, In Arcadia Ego is never less than well-intentioned.

Bloody murder...

Bloody murder…

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