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Millennium – Via Dolorosa (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.

And so, Millennium ends.

That is not entirely accurate. Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That are really the third ending to Millennium. Chris Carter’s oft-overlooked series famously reinvented itself in each of its three seasons. Every season finalé was a series finalé, bidding farewell to one version of the show before another arrives. In the first season, it was a serial killer procedural with ominous spiritual undertones. In its second season, it was the story of a family breakup that drew in all manner of religious conspiracy theories and eschatology. In its third season, it was…

"Did I tell you that I REALLY like The Silence of the Lambs?"

“Did I tell you that I REALLY like The Silence of the Lambs?”

Well, it is hard to tell what the third season was – or even what it wanted to be.

Nevertheless, Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That feel like an attempt to grant the series some sense of closure. In a way, these episodes typify the third season. They are messy and confused, awkwardly paced and drawn in broad strokes. At the same time, there are enough interesting ideas and clever concepts that one can see how they might have come together with a bit more craft. There is an outline of a great episode here, with Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That making a valiant effort to pull together messy strands of continuity from across the show’s run.

"Yep, it feels a little bit like that."

“Yep, it feels a little bit like that.”

The third season of Millennium was hampered by terrible decisions made out of the gate, but the final stretch of the season has no shortage of ambition and drive. It is no secret that the third season suffered from a number of serious problems at the start of the year. Maybe if those had been avoided, Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That would have an easier time drawing down the blinds. Still, it is impossible to know what might have been, and the truth is that Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That are a flawed conclusion to a flawed year.

Perhaps appropriately, Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That offer a rather disjointed conclusion to a rather disjointed year. Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That are written by two different teams of writers and directed by two different directors. Although the plot carries across both episodes, there are points where the transition seems rather inelegant or incongruous. Then again, this is about wrapping up the show’s troubled third season, so it is certainly representative.

"Take a picture. It'll last longer."

“Take a picture. It’ll last longer.”

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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 – 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 – Collateral Damage (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.

Collateral Damage continues the weird healing process at work in the third season.

After spending so much time pretending that the second season never actually happened, the third season has finally accepted that there were story developments flowing from that season that the show needs to deal with. In some respects, Collateral Damage can be seen as a process of healing and integration for the third season of Millennium, constructing a story that manages to tie together all three seasons of Millennium together into something resembling a cohesive whole.

"A bloody fine mess you've gotten me into!"

“A bloody fine mess you’ve gotten me into!”

From the first season, Collateral Damage takes its introduction and basic premise. Collateral Damage begins in a manner similar to many early Millennium episodes. A sinister attacker stalks their victim and brutally strikes. We are then treated to a few extended suspense-filled sequences as the attacker’s designs become increasingly uncomfortable and nefarious. It is not too hard to imagine Collateral Damage as the kind of “serial killer of the week” episode that populated the early first season.

For the second season, Collateral Damage inherits its fascination with the Millennium Group and its depiction of Peter Watts. Collateral Damage marks the first point in the third season where Peter Watts feels like the character that we watched grow and evolve over the second season. This is a version of Peter who has so repressed his doubts and uncertainties that they threaten to explode if they are even acknowledged. It is a much more compelling character than the knock-off conspirator featured in episodes like Exegesis and Skull and Bones.

"Don't be afraid."

“Don’t be afraid.”

From the third season, Collateral Damage takes its fixation on the link between the Millennium Group and conspiracies involving the American government. Collateral Damage suggests that the Millennium Group is responsible for Gulf War Syndrome. It feels like a plot point from an episode of The X-Files – and arguably makes it an ideal third season element. The result is perhaps the most all-encompassing episode of the show ever produced. Collateral Damage is not the best episode of Millennium ever produced, but it is perhaps the broadest representation of the show itself.

If you were to pull back and examine Millennium from a distance, it might look a lot like Collateral Damage.

"Surgical strike."

“Surgical strike.”

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Millennium – Season 2 (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.

The second season of Millennium is understandably polarising.

It is returned from its summer hiatus as what was, on the surface, a radically different television show. The Millennium Group was no longer simply a forensic consultancy firm, but had transformed into a secret society dating back millennia; it had become, as Frank would concede in The Fourth Horseman, “a cult.” More than that, the show had changed around the Millennium Group. Serial killers had been the show’s bread and butter in its first season, prompting some critics to describe it as a “serial killer of the week” procedural; now they were a rare occurrence.

millennium-thebeginningandtheend2

More than that, Frank Black had also changed. In interviews around the first season, Lance Henriksen had been very proud to play a hero who solved problems with his mind rather than with a gun. In contrast, the second season opened with Frank Black brutally murdering the man who kidnapped his wife. The yellow house had been a symbol of everything pure and good in the world of Frank Black, of the family he worked hard to protect. The second season had exiled Frank Black from this family and had him move deeper and deeper into the Millennium Group itself.

However, there were other changes that were less profound, but just as striking. Frank Black was suddenly a fan of the music of Bobby Darin. He suddenly had a sense of humour that led him to crack more than two jokes in a season. at the same time, he was also more short-tempered and grouchy. The first season had presented Frank Black as a rock in the middle of otherwise chaotic seas; in the second season, it was clear that Frank himself was feeling the strain and the stress. In short, Frank Black felt a lot more human.

millennium-aroomwithnoview9

The entire mood of the show changed around Frank. Millennium was suddenly a lot weirder. Though the first season had largely moved away from the classic “Frank hunts a serial killer” formula by the end of the year, the second season abandoned any sense of formula altogether. Watching the second season of Millennium on a week-to-week basis, it was almost impossible to predict what the next show would be like. Although there was a very strong thematic continuity between episodes, there was less of a rigid structure to their construction.

The second season of Millennium was a radical departure from what had come before. It was also the best season of television ever produced by Ten Thirteen.

millennium-luminary28

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Millennium – The Hand of St. Sebastian (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.

The Hand of St. Sebastian closes out the first third of the second season of Millennium. It also marks the half-way point in the episodes credited to Morgan and Wong as writers over the course of the season – it is the sixth of a phenomenal twelve scripts credited to the showrunners, even outside their responsibilities as executive producers. In many ways, The Hand of St. Sebastian represents the point at which the stage has been completely set. It establishes the last of the basic ideas that the team will play with across the rest of the season.

The Curse of Frank Black and 19:19 had affirmed that Christian eschatology would be a driving force for the show, as if that had ever been in doubt. After all, the first season’s big two-part epic had been Lamentation and Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions, an epic story about demons and angels. More than that, Morgan and Wong had revised the opening credits sequence of the show so that it ended with the promise that “the time is near”, an obvious textual reference to Revelation.

Circle of trust...

Circle of trust…

The Hand of St. Sebastian confirms what was inferred in Beware of the Dog when Frank pointed out that the ouroboros was “used as a secret symbol on early Christian graves.” Here, the Millennium Group itself is identified as an ancient Christian organisation, one interested in ancient Christian relics for their spiritual and magical uses. There is a decidedly pulpy feel to the second season; one that is particularly evident in The Hand of St. Sebastian, as Frank and Peter go abroad to do a modern day Raiders of the Lost Ark on a nineties television budget. Ambition is not the worst vice.

However, The Hand of St. Sebastian is perhaps most notable for putting the focuse squarely on the character of Peter Watts. Naturally, Frank plays a pretty vital role in The Hand of St. Sebastian, but the episode does a lot to develop Peter as a character. It builds off his powerful speech in The Beginning and the End to portray a man of faith searching for validation and meaning in the world. The second season really capitalised on the presence of Terry O’Quinn, recognising the actor’s immense talent and helping to establish him as a televisual talent to watch.

This is who we were...

This is who we were…

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Millennium – Beware of the Dog (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.

Beware of the Dog opens with the shot of the same comet discussed at the start of The Beginning and the End, just in case viewers thought that The Beginning and the End was somehow a fluke or a deviation. The Beginning and the End was not a freak occurrence, it was not some random divergence from the rest of Millennium. It was very much a new beginning for the series, harking in a bold new direction utterly unlike that marked out by The Pilot. The second season of Millennium was a new breed of animal.

And so a lot of Beware of the Dog is devoted to reinforcing this new direction – convincing the viewers at home that Millennium had reinvented itself from the ground up. Part of what is interesting about Beware of the Dog is the way that the basic structure and beats of the episode hark back to the formula and themes of the first season, but in a way that makes it quite clear that things have changed. Beware of the Dog embraces the pulpy absurdity of a show about millennial fears and anxieties, about the nature of good and evil in the world.

Call of the wild...

Call of the wild…

Beware of the Dog is a very weird piece of television. It is resoundingly and unapologetically odd. It is nowhere near as quirky and eccentric as the second season would become in episodes like The Curse of Frank Black or Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” or The Time is Now, but decidedly more surreal than the first season had allowed itself to be – even in episodes like Force Majeure or Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions. This is an episode which takes the first season’s “serial killer of the week” format, and substitutes in packs of wild dog.

The result is a piece of television that is quite difficult to classify and quantify, but which feels fresh and exciting. As with The Beginning and the End, there is a playfulness and fun to Beware the Dog that was sorely lacking from extended stretches of the first season. Indeed, it seemed unlikely during the first season that Millennium would ever be classed as “playful” or “fun.” That sense of energy and vibrance imbues the second season with life, helping to carry the show across some admittedly rough episodes later in the year.

Circle of trust...

Circle of trust…

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