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Millennium – Nostalgia (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.

Nostalgia is the last “serial killer of the week” story produced by Millennium.

Sure, there is a serial killer in Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That, but the last two episodes of Millennium are much more interested in the show’s mythology than in a nuts-and-bolts “Frank catches a serial killer” story. Appropriately enough, given its title, Nostalgia feels like a throwback to a simpler version of Millennium. In a way, it does more to capture the mood and feel of the first season of the show than anything like Matryoshka or Seven and One. It helps that Nostalgia is a great episode, judged by it own merits.

Frank sees all. All.

Frank sees all. All.

It makes sense that Nostalgia should come from Michael R. Perry. With his debut script for The Mikado in the second season, Perry had demonstrated quite a knack for traditional Millennium storytelling. The Mikado was arguably something of a throwback itself, the most old-school “serial killer of the week” story in the show’s delightfully off-kilter second season. If the show wanted to do one last “serial killer of the week” story, there was no writer better suited to crafting it than Michael R. Perry.

In a way, Nostalgia feels like belated vindication for the “back to basics” aesthetic running through the third season – proof that perhaps it might be possible for the show to recapture some of the stronger aspects of the first season even this late in the game. Nostalgia is a much better version of the stories that Closure and Through a Glass Darkly had tried to resurrect earlier in the year. It might be enough to entirely redeem the season’s stubborn fixation on a past fading into history, but it does demonstrate that there were interesting stories to be told using that technique.

Parks and recreation...

Parks and recreation…

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Millennium – Closure (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.

Closure is the first time that Emma Hollis has come into focus.

The character has been featured in the opening credits since The Innocents, but has mostly existed in the background. The Innocents and Exegesis made it clear that Hollis was a young agent who could act under her own initiative, but she was very much a secondary figure in a narrative largely about Frank trying to work through the loss of his wife. She played a significant role in TEOTWAWKI simply by virtue of being able to work with both Frank Black and Agent Barry Baldwin. It was hard to get a read on her character beyond the very basic elements.

"Closure" in one word.

“Closure” in one word.

The opening scene of Closure makes it quite clear that his will be a Hollis-centric episode. While a senseless murder in a cheap hotel provides the sting leading into the credits, the teaser opens with Emma Hollis wandering through a graveyard and narrating to an unseen character. “I spend my days looking for reasons,” Hollis narrates. “The reasons people do what they do. It’s my job, it’s my way. I want to know why. Why it’s like this. Why good people die.” So it is quite clear where Closure is going from the outset.

Closure works reasonably well. It is much more modest episode than something like The Innocents, Exegesis, TEOTWAWKI, … Thirteen Years Later or Skull and Bones. It is an episode that feels like a conscious attempt to pull the show back towards the first season, hinting at an efficient serial killer procedural. Closure feels like a first season episode, and not just because of the procedural element. The decision to give Hollis a childhood trauma as motivation feels like a rather lazy way to flesh out her character. It is efficient, but it does feel a little too easy.

Smile!

Smile!

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Millennium – The Mikado (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.

Glen Morgan and James Wong famously pulled Millennium away from its “serial killer of the week” format in its second season. While the label might be a little harsh (and perhaps a little exaggerated), it did hint at a recurring formula in the first season. Frank Black would be called in to catch a serial killer with a unique and distinctive modus operandi. The first season was littered with episodes built around that core format, wildly varying in quality. For every Blood Relatives or Paper Dove, there was a Loin Like a Hunting Flame or Kingdom Come.

The second season largely moved away from all that. Although Morgan and Wong occasionally made nods towards the classic format in episodes like Beware of the Dog, 19:19 or Goodbye Charlie, the second season of the show was a lot less formulaic and familiar. This is was a show that could transition from The Hand of St. Sebastian to Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” to Midnight of the Century to Goodbye Charlie to Luminary. It seemed quite reasonable to suggest that the second season of Millennium was not as firmly attached to the concept of serial killers as the first season had been.

This is Avatar calling...

This is Avatar calling…

This makes The Mikado a rather unique instalment, arriving a little past half-way through the season. Written by Michael R. Perry, The Mikado is very much an archetypal serial killer story. There is a case from Frank Black’s past, lots of victims, some occult imagery, and even a ticking plot. In fact, The Mikado is probably the only episode of the second season that would arguably fit more comfortably in either the first or third seasons of the show. All you’d have to do is write out the character of Roedecker.

However, there is something decidedly big and bold about The Mikado. It is perhaps the most archetypal (and maybe the most successful) straight-down-the-middle “serial killer of the week” story that Millennium ever produced. After all, if you are only going to do produce one truly traditional “serial killer of the week” story in a season, you may as well go big. And you can’t go much bigger than the Zodiac.

It's all about the execution...

It’s all about the execution…

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Millennium – Season 1 (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Millennium is a strange television show.

It is quite clear that Chris Carter and Fox both had a very different understanding about how best to follow on from the success of The X-Files. Fox clearly wanted another popular hit, a television show that it could plug comfortably into its 9pm Friday slot and grow into a multimedia franchise. The network spent a phenomenal amount of money promoting Millennium, with advertising and screenings and other publicity attempts. This approach paid off; The Pilot broke all sorts of records for Fox.

millennium-lamentation11

However, Millennium could not sustain those viewing figures. Over the first season, it haemorrhaged viewers. Chris Carter was not trying to present an accessible and popular pop hit; instead, Carter was taking advantage of the success of The X-Files to construct something decidedly more esoteric. Millennium is a tough show to watch. It is grim, unrelenting and oppressive. It is a show about darkness in the world that tends to roll up its sleeves and jump right in. Millennium has a clear idea of what it wants to be, but what it wants to be is alienating and uncomfortable.

On just about any level, the first season of Millennium is more accomplished than the first season of The X-Files. The production is more confident, the ideas are much bolder, the themes are much clearer. In fact, the first season of Millennium even holds up well when stacked against the fourth season of The X-Files on an episode-by-episode basis. But that’s not the problem. By definition, “Lance Henriksen fights serial killers and the concept of evil in America” will never be as popular as “David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson fight aliens and monsters and weird stuff!”

millennium-pilot11

The first season of Millennium is a show that offers a distinctive and uncompromising auteur vision which cares little for what the audience might want or expect. For better or worse, that approach would prevent Millennium from ever approaching the critical or popular support that The X-Files had already begun to accrue at the end of its own first season. The result is a television show that was never going to rival The X-Files as a pop culture phenomenon , but which serves as a bold philosophical statement from its creator.

“This is who we are,” the opening credits state, unapologetically. They seem to be speaking for the show as much for society.

millennium-bloodrelatives13 Continue reading

Millennium – Paper Dove (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Millennium is an odd show in a number of ways.

The most obvious of these oddities is the sense that each of the three seasons feels like a different television show. The first season is markedly distinct from the second, the second is clearly delineated from the third. It is a very strange structure, one explained by the fact that the three seasons were overseen by three different creative teams with three very different visions of the show. One of the results of this approach is that each season finalé becomes a de facto series finalé, an episode bidding farewell to a particular vision of the show.

This is what it feels like... when doves cry...

This is what it feels like… when doves cry…

Paper Dove bids farewell to the “serial-killer-of-the-week” mechanics of the first season. Of course, there would be later episodes that would feature serial killers. In fact, The Mikado is possibly the best serial killer the show ever did. The Beginning and the End seems explicitly about killing off the “serial-killer-of-the-week” so that the show can invest its time and energy in other pursuits. However, stripped down to its core, Paper Dove takes the show’s approach to serial killers to its logic conclusion.

Although the show has featured serial killers with motivations that might be easily understood and perhaps even pitiable, Henry Dion is the show’s first serial killer to becomes almost sympathetic; it is one of the rare times that the show manages to capture the banality of evil, as opposed to the show’s traditional approach – one that brushes up against (and occasionally crosses over into) a sensationalist or gratuitous approach to serial killer pathology.

Picture this...

Picture this…

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Millennium – Broken World (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

On paper, there is a lot to like about Broken World.

In theory, it is Robert Moresco building off the success of Covenant, developing another story that works within the framework of Millennium without adhering to the formulaic “serial-killer-of-the-week” approach. As in Covenant, Frank Black is wandering the country to do good, a stranger who comes to town to fight evil. In this case, the evil takes the form of a budding young serial killer – a fiend who has not yet claimed a human life, but seems to be building towards it.

"I think he's trying to tell us something..."

“I think he’s trying to tell us something…”

In reality, Broken World is a number of great ideas suffering from terrible execution. While the story is technically quite distinct from the stock “serial-killer-of-the-week” stories that haunted the series in the middle of the series, the practical difference is minimal. Broken World is another story of sadism and brutality that inevitably feels sleazy and exploitative. While the episode could be an interesting twist on a tired structure, Willi Borgsen is just another generic psychopath like Edward Petey or Art Nesbitt.

Still, the title feels somewhat appropriate. Broken World does a lot to demonstrate how far Millennium has come in this stretch of episodes. Broken World would have felt quite comfortable sandwiched between Weeds and Loin Like a Hunting Flame. Sitting between Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions and Maranatha, it feels almost like a relic.

Who's gonna ride your wild horses?

Who’s gonna ride your wild horses?

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Millennium – The Judge (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

The Judge feels very much like an episode that might have worked better later in the first season of Millennium. It deals with pretty big ideas and themes at the heart of the show, but in ways that feel almost clumsy and haphazard. Millennium is still a show that is finding its way, and The Judge pokes and prods at ideas close to the heart of the series as a whole. The episode feels rather clumsy, as though the show hasn’t reached a point where it really has a handle on itself, let alone the sorts of hefty existential questions suggested by The Judge.

At its core, The Judge is fascinated with issues of moral authority and justice – in particular, it asks questions about whether such authority can exist outside (or even inside) the mechanism of the state. Given that Millennium is the story about a man working with a private group to the potential collapse of civil order on the eve of the millennium, The Judge feels like it would be the perfect opportunity to broach questions about the Millennium Group and the work that they do. After all, the Millennium Group and the supporting cast have been haunting the narrative since The Pilot.

Judge not...

Judge not…

While these tough questions hover at the very edge of the episode, it never seems like The Judge addresses them. Then again, The Judge is the fourth episode of the first season of a new show. Millennium is still young. The Judge is written by Ted Mann; it is the first episode of Millennium that is not written by a veteran of The X-Files, by somebody who isn’t Chris Carter or hasn’t experience working within Chris Carter’s world. It is, perhaps, too much to expect it to have a handle on all of that. And The Judge deserves a great deal of credit for marking out areas that the show may want to explore as it grows and develops.

At the same time, while it has some interesting big ideas and a great cast, The Judge feels little clumsy and awkward in its execution. It avoids a lot of the interesting implications of what it says, and it features a rather convenient and contrived final act that seems to exist solely so Frank Black can move on to doing other stuff in the next installment. The Judge is a misfire, but it is an intriguing and interesting misfire. It is precisely the sort of episode that you might expect at this stage in the season.

You've got male (body parts)!

You’ve got male (body parts)!

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