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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 – Covenant (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.

Apparently, the original cut of Covenant ran over an hour and twenty minutes. This is not unusual in network television. Glen Morgan and James Wong faced similar problems when producing The Field Where I Died. However, while cutting The Field Where I Died down to forty-five minutes left something of a jumble, Covenant feels much stronger for the rather ruthless editing done to fit the episode into the broadcast slot. In many ways, Covenant feels quite minimalist – an episode that says the bare minimum, but conveys everything that needs to be conveyed.

Covenant is an episode that could easily seem exploitative. After all, there are points where Millennium feels like it is wallowing in human anguish and suffering. A story concerning the brutal murder of a nuclear family (including three children and a pregnant wife) is something that needs to be approached with care and delicacy. The original script for Covenant is perhaps overwritten, trying to draw too many parallels to Frank’s own family; these associations are best left unsaid.

Bloody handiwork...

Bloody handiwork…

In many ways, Millennium could be described as a “horror” show, and Covenant hones on some of the same fears that the first season has targeted repeatedly. Millennium is a show that is keen to assure viewers that their family members are not safe in their own homes and communities. However, there is a deftness and a tactfulness on display here that elevates Covenant above many of the similar stories in this début season. Covenant is all the more unsettling for its restraint and its control.

Covenant continues a strong late-season streak for Millennium, demonstrating the versatility and the nuance possible within the framework that the show has established. Covenant is a triumph for all involved.

Solid as a rock...

Solid as a rock…

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The X-Files – Paper Hearts (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.

Paper Hearts is one of the best scripts that Vince Gilligan would write for The X-Files, and one of the best episodes of the fourth season. This is enough to put it in the frontrunners of any possible “best episode ever” ranking.

The episode is spectacular. It works on just about every conceivable level. It has a great script from a great young staff writer. It has a great guest star in Tom Noonan. It features a great performance from David Duchovny. Rob Bowman does a spectacular job directing. Mark Snow is one of the most consistent composers working in nineties television, and his score for Paper Hearts manages to be simple, effective and memorable. It is thoughtful, atmospheric, emotional and compelling. It is the perfect storm.

The truth is buried...

The truth is buried…

However, the real cherry on Paper Hearts is just how easy it would be to mess up an episode like this. On paper, Paper Hearts seems like a disaster waiting to happen. It is an episode that teases the audience with a potentially massive reversal of one of the show’s core truths. It posits an alternative theory for the abduction of Samantha Mulder that would shake the show to its very core. If Paper Hearts followed through on that basic premise, everything would change. Much like Never Again, this is an episode with the potential to poison the show.

Which makes it inevitable that Paper Hearts will back away from its potentially game-changing premise, which brings its own challenges. It is one thing to up-end the apple cart; it is another to pretend to up-end the apple cart only to restore the status quo at the end of the hour. On paper, and from any synopsis, Paper Hearts seems like the biggest cheat imaginable. “Everything is different!” it seems to yell. “And then it’s not!” The real beauty of Paper Hearts is the way that the episode works almost perfectly even with these huge hurdles to clear.

The heart of the matter...

The heart of the matter…

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Millennium – 5-2-2-6-6-6 (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.

It is interesting to compare and contrast the scripts that Morgan and Wong wrote for the fourth season of The X-Files with the scripts that they wrote for the first season of Millennium. The duo were writing for both shows at the same time – with episodes frequently airing within a week of each other. Morgan tended to focus more on the four X-Files scripts, while Wong worked primarily on the three Millennium episodes. While the seven scripts are all fascinating in their own way, there is a marked difference in how the duo approach the two shows.

Their four episodes of The X-Files are very bold and experimental – they look and feel utterly unlike anything that the show has done; before or after. These four scripts seem to needle at the show, pushing it further. Home seems designed to see how much unpleasantness the writers can get on to Fox prime time in the nineties. The Field Where I Died is a thoughtful and melancholy romance with no companion in the X-Files canon. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man parodies the show’s central conspiracy. Never Again makes the Mulder/Scully dynamic toxic.

Having a blast...

Having a blast…

That makes a great deal of sense. After all, The X-Files was in its fourth season. It was approaching that impressive “one hundredth episode” landmark, the number of episodes necessary before the show would be secure in syndication. (At least in the television landscape of the nineties.) Although less than half-way through its eventual nine-season run, The X-Files was an old dog by this stage of its life cycle. As such, it made a great deal of sense for Morgan and Wong – two writers who had been there at the beginning – to shake things up.

In contrast, the three scripts that Morgan and Wong wrote for the first season of Millennium are a bit more conservative in scope and tone. They are fascinating pieces of television that help to establish the mood of the show, but they are not as experimental of the work that Morgan and Wong were doing on The X-Files. Again, this makes a great deal of sense. Millennium was still a very young show. It was still defining its own identity, figuring out what it wanted and needed to be. Morgan and Wong’s three scripts are essential in that development.

Taking a page from the Group...

Taking a page from the Group…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Embrace the Wolf (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry. This is actually supplementary to the episode Elementary, Dear Data.

The concept behind Embrace the Wolf is quite ingenious. The execution is slightly less so. Recognising that Star Trek: The Next Generation had a recurring interest in Victorian London, in Data’s interest in Sherlock Holmes, it seemed quite logical to drop Redjac into that scenario. Redjac was the non-corporeal serial killing entity introduced in Wolf in the Fold, one of Robert Bloch’s contributions to the second season of the classic Star Trek. As part of Wolf in the Fold, and playing into Bloch’s fascination with the notorious serial killer, Redjac was explicitly identified as the spirit of Jack the Ripper. As you do

So, pairing up Data’s Sherlock Holmes with Redjac’s Jack the Ripper should make for a decidedly pulpy adventure. Unfortunately, the end result is a little generic and unsatisfying.

Wolf in the holodeck...

Wolf in the holodeck…

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Non-Review Review: Prisoners

Prisoners is very much a game of two halves. Feeling like two separate films grafted together, Prisoners feels at once like a psychological exploration of American masculinity and also a far more conventional serial killer film. Indeed, had director Denis Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski decided to cut suddenly to black two-thirds of the way through Prisoners, we’d have a frustrating but much more cohesive atmospheric drama.

Instead, it seems like the duo conspired to surgically attach the last act from a far more conventional thriller on to their robust framework. The result is intriguing, but disappointing – the conventional paint-by-numbers final third diminishing a lot of the richness to be found in the first section of the film.

Somebody is about to get Jack(man)ed...

Somebody is about to get Jack(man)ed…

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Non-Review Review: The Call

The Call is one-half knock-off of the underseen and underrated Cellular, a delightfully pulpy high-concept thriller which perhaps felt a little bit too similar to Phone Booth. The Call is also one-half knock-off of Silence of the Lambs, with the second half of the film in particular feeling like one of those psycho killer thrillers that were oh-so-popular in the mid- to late-nineties, but which became less popular in the post-CSI era. The Call has a delightfully ropey central premise, a high-concept for the mobile age, straining all manner of credibility and suspension of disbelief.

However, the problem lies in the execution. The Call wallows in heightened melodrama, struggling to sustain its central premise by trying to make us “feel” for the central characters in the most coy and manipulative of manners. Director Brad Anderson’s intrusive style doesn’t help matters too, seemingly unsure whether he’s making an action movie, a psychological horror or a high-concept thriller, and so instead tries to mash the three genres together with limited success.

Holding the line...

Holding the line…

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Hannibal – Savoureux (Review)

That was one impressive first season. Hannibal has developed from something that seemed like an idle curiosity – a police procedural based around the over-used cannibalistic serial killer? – into one of the best new American dramas of the past season. I suspect a lot of that is down to the decision to structure the season across thirteen episodes, instead of a larger (more traditional) network structure of twenty-or-more. To be fair, there were a few missteps early in the first season as Hannibal tried to balance the expectations of a procedural drama with the demands of an intimate character study, but it found its feet almost half-way through the season and it has never looked back.

Hannibal has been tightly plotted and cleverly constructed from around about Coquilles, and it’s remarkably how the show has found a way to weave its “serial killers of the week” into the over-arching plot. For example, Georgia from Buffet Froid winds up being a vital piece of Hannibal’s plot to incriminate Will. The clock that the sinister psychiatrist asked Will to draw in that episode is used to generate some exquisite tension here. Everything seems to have been building towards this point, and Bryan Fuller has done a simply tremendous job constructing a thirteen-episode Rube Goldberg machine that pays off beautifully.

Portrait of the killer?

Portrait of the killer?

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Hannibal – Relevés (Review)

For a show about a serial killer and the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit, Hannibal is often surprisingly deep. That’s not much of a surprise, given the quality of the staff working on it, but the show is absolutely stunning meditation on identity and personality. In a way, that’s one of the smartest things about Fuller’s first thirteen episode season, building on the foundations set by Thomas Harris to construct something that fits quite elegantly while remaining its own distinct entity.

Relevés is the penultimate episode of the first season, and the point where – having used Roti to clear away some of the clutter – the show starts tying up a lot of those loose ends. Perhaps one of the most impressive things about the episode is the amount of suspense that Bryan Fuller and his staff can wring from the set-up – despite the fact that we know how this story ends, Hannibal manages to engage us so completely in the telling that what we already know seems almost irrelevant.

Things are heating up...

Things are heating up…

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Hannibal – Roti (Review)

Roti is the point where Hannibal really starts to gear up for its finalé. The decision to thematically name each of the first season’s episodes after a part of a meal seems oddly appropriate, as the whole season can be seen as a banquet, each of the courses painstakingly prepared to ensure a rich bouquet of flavour and a pleasing array of tastes. Each course is individual, and yet it remains part of the whole. It’s all one gigantic and enjoyable experience, just broken down into sweet digestible chunks. Each serves a clear purpose, like a chapter in a book, or a course in a meal.

Roti features the return of Abel Gideon, the show’s obvious homage to Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Doctor Hannibal Lecter. It also positions Will precisely where he needs to be for the first season’s rapidly-approaching climax.

A piece of the action...

A piece of the action…

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