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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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