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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 – 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…

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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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Space: Above and Beyond – Eyes (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Eyes is perhaps the most ambitious that Space: Above and Beyond has been to this point in the season.

Eyes develops scraps hinted at in The Pilot and The Farthest Man From Home into a complex web of intrigue, with an assassination plot playing out against all sorts of institutionalised prejudice and suggesting sinister conspiracies at work behind the horrific war that drives the show. The last episode of Space: Above and Beyond credited to Glen Morgan and James Wong in 1996, the episode feels like it is solidifying the series. Six episodes in, enough foundations have been laid that development can begin.

An unstoppable killing machine.

An unstoppable killing machine.

Eyes is rather epic in scale, and massive in scope. It is a story about politics and scheming, unfolding quite far away from the front lines. In episodes like The Pilot, The Farthest Man From Home and even Ray Butts, it often felt like our lead characters were quite divorced from the big decisions. It seemed like the show was very much preoccupied with a day in the life of a space marine, rather with the larger forces at play seen only in glimpses and shadows.

Eyes is a show that does a lot to build the world of Space: Above and Beyond, doing a much better job than The Dark Side of the Sun or Mutiny at giving a sense of this dark future. While the script is perhaps a little too cluttered for its own good, it is a very well-constructed paranoid conspiracy thriller.

That's not at all fascist.

That’s not at all fascist.

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Eye See You: How Do We Watch Movies?

The Dynamic Images and Eye Movement (DIEM) Project conduct research into where our eyes focus while watching entertainment. They run an informative blog here which goes into their function in more depth and they also have a vimeo channel here. I happened to catch a recent upload from them, covering six minutes from There Will Be Blood. Various circles on the screen indicate where the viewers’ eyes were focused (and for how long). Most of it seems fairly obvious (generally on movement in the foreground, but occasionally the background), but there were one or two surprises (the focus on a light bulb, for example). Watch it below:

There’s also a rather interesting one covering the opening sequence of The Simpsons. This is perhaps more interesting, as you can literally feel the eyes racing to keep track with everything presented at such speed – there’s a lot of movement in it, rather than the relatively static shots from the above film clip.

Also worth a luck (because there’s quite a lot going on) is the trailer for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. this is another case where the viewer is bombarded with information in quick succession and they are asked to take in a lot in a short time.

I can’t really say that there’s too much here that surprises me, but’s still fascinating to see where the typical viewer’s eye may wander during a given film clip. I wonder if there are directors and cinematographers looking at these clips right now, trying to figure out how to better construct shots.

Either way, it’s a fascinating little look at how we watch those film clips.