Sometimes, a TV series decides to shift so slowly and subtly that its audience never knows the difference. The characters appear the same, the unwanted, ancillary issues on the fringe have all but disappeared, and everything feels exactly like it was before. And yet, when viewed in hindsight, the program you once loved for all the reasons it originally put forth is now merely a shadow of its former self. Perhaps its scope has broadened, or its comic palette has deepened, but it really isn't the entity you rooted for in the beginning.
During Season 1 of the landmark television program Millennium, creator Chris Carter and his team of terror technicians were bent on scaring the Hell out of the viewing public. Basing his bold, brave vision on the lessons he learned from his hit show, The X-Files, and importing a little old school spookiness from a favored cult classic – Dan Curtis's Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Carter obviously had a more epic idea in mind when the show first hit the airwaves. But he had to prove that there was an audience for this kind of intellectual and theological terror.
But instead of embracing this ethereal, esoteric show, the fan base appeared agitated by the 'serial killer of the week' premise. So in Season 2, Carter turned the series over to James Wong and Glen Morgan who linked directly into the Y2K hysteria sweeping the world. They fashioned our amiable anti-hero, the fallible Frank Black, as the center of a raging cosmic battle between good and evil. On the one side, was the secretive, sect-like Millennium Group, who claimed to be in control of the forces of right. And then there was the rest of the world, anointed in wickedness and ruled by sin. Season 2 hit the airwaves...and something else hit the fans (many of which never forgave the duo).
Thanks to DVD, we can now revisit Season 2 of Millennium to see just how flawed Morgan and Wong's thinking was. The answer, surprisingly, is that they were right on the money.
When last we left Frank and Catherine Black, they have returned to Seattle - Frank's hometown - to start a new life. Frank is an ex-FBI agent specializing in the profiling of serial killers and sex offenders. Forced into early retirement due to a mental breakdown, the Blacks, along with their young daughter Jordan, just want to put on a fresh face and begin again. During his recovery, Frank is contacted by Peter Watts, a member of the criminal consulting firm called The Millennium Group. We soon learn that Frank has a gift of "second sight" or "criminal cognizance" that allows him to see into a criminal's mind, deciphering the dementia within. The Group thinks this will be helpful in closing difficult and/or disturbing cases. Wanting to get back into the business of putting bad men behind bars, Frank starts working for the organization.
Season 2 sets us off in a startling, new direction. Not only is crime solving Frank's primary part in the Group's work, but he is seemingly being tested along the way, required to take journey's both spiritual and sinister in nature. By the end of the first few episodes, his life will be in a shambles, his family will be divided and this rift will cause Frank to question the very nature of his gift and who he is. The answer may hold the fate of the Millennium Group, and the world. In order to better understand the arc in this amazing exploration of Frank's personality and psyche, we need to view each episode individually, to understand its place in the Millennium mythology and what all the talk of omens and symbols actually means. We start with:
"The Beginning and the End": When Catherine is abducted by his old nemesis, the Polaroid Man, Frank confronts his worst, most personal fears. He also learns that there can be no justice without sacrifice, and that the price may be far too dear to pay.
Picking up where our Season 1 cliffhanger ended, "The Beginning and the End" starts Season 2 off in high style. Everything about the first season of Millennium is present again in big, broad strokes: the hinted-at mythology, the obtuse mysticism, the insane psychotics and the reliance on strong characters to carry the story. There are several potent scenes in this exceptional outing, especially between Lance Henriksen as Frank and Terry O' Quinn's as Peter Watts. They discuss family life and the concept of understanding sacrifice in a way that makes you wish they'd continue talking like this for hours. Because the acting is so special, the characterizations so clearly drawn, the simple art of conversation carries more weight and wonder than some of the more extreme serial killing situations. Part of the pleasure in Season 2 is O' Quinn's intermingling with Henriksen. They make a powerful, potent pair.
As for other changes coming right out of the box, throwing this kind of wrench in the relationship between Frank and Catherine may have seemed like a good way of shaking up a seemingly staid storyline, but the truth is far fuzzier. You sense either the networks, creator Chris Carter, new show runners James Wong and Glen Morgan or actress Meghan Gallagher (perhaps a little from all sides) wanting to move Catherine out of the understanding spouse routine and try to get her physically and emotionally involved in Frank's world. Frankly, Millennium needed the balance between a home life and the cruelty of the world, a place where Frank could escape the horrors around him and reconnect with reality. With this change, we get a far more frustrating facet of the series.
Still, "The Beginning and The End" has a nice sense of internal adventure to it, giving us a chance to learn more about our main players while setting the groundwork for some certified surreality to come. While not as completely dynamic as the initial "Pilot", this is still a very good episode in what we soon learn will be a sensational season. 4.5/5
"Beware of the Dog": In a small Montana town, an elderly couple is killed by a pack of vicious dogs. When the Millennium Group sends Frank to follow-up on the case, he learns that the entire village is operating under some sinister spell – and that this may not be about killer curs after all.
When Millennium was good, it was great. But when it wandered off into way out elements, where the focus moved away from evil on Earth, the show sure could get goofy. "Beware of the Dog" is a fairly good example of this idea. We begin with what seems to be a straightforward animal attack. Then the townspeople all offer this creepy, Stepford vibe. Then we meet an old coot in the woods who speaks in Zen-like riddles and seems afraid of and in control of the devil dogs dwelling in the surrounding woods. Unfortunately, all of these atmospheric elements do not quite add up to a cohesive whole, and the result is an episode that feels like the first half of a bad b-movie...or the set-up for something to pay off in the future. (it's actually the latter. Our cranky old coot becomes a stoic leader later on).
Still, the story suffers from too many ambiguous statements and unanswered questions. The citizenry speak in Twilight Zone like couplets, referring to circumstances that are never clarified and bowing to unseen forces we aren't privy to. This makes for a lackluster narrative, one heightened and helped only by the acting, and the antics, of Henricksen. Only Lance could make a pack of mangy mutts seem like the non-housebroken hounds of Hell and get us worried about the potential problem with these pups. But in the end, it turns out that there's not much to explain about these maybe minions of the man-goat. 3.5/5
"Sense and Antisense": A taxi driver picks up a man babbling about government experiments and mysterious diseases who appears to be crazy. Then he starts coughing up blood. But Frank and the Millennium Group believe there may be some truth behind his insane conspiracy theories.
Getting back on track, this enigmatic episode does a brilliant job of bait and switch, setting us up for one thing, only to completely controvert it the next. The result is a narrative that never quite stays the course, that keeps bumping into areas of intrigue and interest, staying just long enough, and then moving on before we get bored, or worse, begin questioning the motivating back story. Some could consider this convoluted, or purposefully oblique, and they would be partially correct. From the very beginning of Season 2, Wong and Morgan are intentionally messing with the mannerisms of their show – experimenting with rhythms, ignoring the basic tenants of television. A show like "Sense and Antisense" assumes a certain intelligence, an ability to buy into a concept steeped in genetics, camarillas and unexplained agents in sinister black cars.
The acting here is especially good, with Clarence Williams III doing a magnificent job of selling his strange, split personality ideal. We can also see the Millennium universe expanding and exploring. Frank is given a quirk – a love of Bobby Darin – that amazingly never feels forced or foolish. There is also a new technical advisor to the group, a computer geek named Roedecker whose love of pop culture trivia and obsession with sci-fi provides some humorous moments. With the addition of yet another important character in the next show, a truly viable ensemble is crafted, a group of characters essayed by an amazing cast of actors. We, as the audience will follow these folks anywhere. And we are about to learn that this is exactly what will happen. Score: 4/5
"Monster": While investigating a case of child abuse at a daycare center, Frank meets up with fellow Group candidate Lara Means. With the locals in full mob mentality mode, the duo stumbles upon a disturbing truth: there is indeed an evil presence in the town, and the source is very surprising.
"Monster" uses a typical hot button issue – the 80s/90s obsession with abuse and secret Satanism in America's day care center - to signal Millennium's new path, and to introduce one of its most amazing character creations. Lara Means is set up as the female familiar of Frank, a soul both similar and, at times, far more sensitive than our dark man. Lara's 'gift' is the seeing of angels - an ability that guides her through her investigations and haunts her personal life. Just as Frank finds it difficult to "see" the horrors he witnesses in his mind's eye, Lara is equally affected by her powers. Portrayed in replete perfection by Kristen Cloke, Lara is an amazing addition to the series, an emotional center that, somehow, Henriksen and all his sensational brooding seems to suppress.
The second aspect that is important about "Monster" is that we now see Millennium moving into a more "plot" driven dynamic. Thanks to Morgan and Wong, a complex, completely innovative mythology is being formulated, incorporating the cases from Season 1 (now viewed as "tests" of Frank's skills) along with a new set of confounding facets that seem to, on the surface, add up to very little. But as they unspool their deranged dogma out over the next few episodes, as the Millennium Group grows more and more impenetrable and dense, we come to realize that Frank is involved in more than just a quest of crime solving. There is a great deal at play here, as there was in the daycare under investigation. Score: 4.5/5
"A Single Blade of Grass": When a recently deceased Native American is found entombed in an old burial site, Frank discovers a disturbing fact. The man has been sacrificed as part of a prophecy. And it turns out, Frank is next in line to complete the world-ending ritual.
At its core, Millennium was always a show about the Apocalypse, and utilizing a cobbled together Native American version of said for the series works as well as the standard 'fire and brimstone' basis that will infuse many of the later shows with significance. Your reaction to "A Single Blade of Grass" will greatly depend on how susceptible you are to the ancient rites and mystic symbols of the various tribes depicted in this episode. It will also be predicated on how much of what you witness is merely happy coincidence, and what is indeed a portent of the coming end days.
The New York setting also works well for the series, since it allows the weirdness we usually see in rural areas and far off wooded locales to play out among the mean messy streets of Manhattan. There are a couple of rather unbelievable moments (Frank is forced to ingest snake venom, yet seems none the worse for wear right afterward), but the power in the writing and the carefully considered and crafted plot mean we get another great episode, even with some rather minor flaws. Score: 3.5/5
"The Curse of Frank Black": It's Halloween and Frank is surrounded by portents of evil: from his past and his present. He keeps seeing demons, and is haunted by a series of numbers. Eventually, Frank figures it all out – it's a message. And as it turns out, a rather stern warning from the Underworld.
If you ever needed proof that Wong and Morgan were in complete control of the show's tone and atmosphere by this point, this flashback filled clue-a-thon is indicative of the impact their partnership had on the series. In many ways, this moody, bamboozling episode plays like a warm up for their 2000 hit Final Destination, with all its hidden hints and secret connections. There are also some truly creepy moments here (Frank seeing the demons along the neighborhood street, his flashlight search of the "yellow house") and it's interesting the way the story brings several very different elements (the teenagers in Frank's basement telling ghost stories, the crazy veteran that a young Frank visits) back into sharp focus. The final confrontation with a messenger from the past (in this case, the depressed vet, played brilliantly by OZ's Dean Winters) may seem a tad pat, but it falls directly into the course the show is heading. It fuels our continued interest. Score: 4/5
"19:19": A school bus full of children has gone missing and the families in a small Oklahoma town fear the worst. But when the Millennium Group shows up, Frank senses forces far more sinister at work. This is no standard kidnapping. It's something much more apocryphal.
Here is an example, the opposite of "Monster", where the standard crime story and all the theological mumbo jumbo just never quite gel. It might be because the Revelation-basis for the crime is so poorly developed in the first act. Maybe it's the acting by our protagonist (who can best described as a zealous skate rat) that is so underwhelming. Perhaps it's because Frank and Lara do very little except apply basic psychological training to the case and "BOOM" the answer is discovered. With all its standard operating procedure precepts, the Deux Ex Machina finale becomes that much more far fetched. While there are several facets to this episode that are fascinating, including the interplay between Frank and Lara, the overall narrative is both elemental, and too ephemeral to comfortably coincide. Score: 3/5
"The Hand of Saint Sebastian": The well preserved body of a 1000 year old man turns up in a peat bog in Germany. To Peter Watts, it signals the answer to a question he has had in his mind for years. With Frank's help, he hopes to uncover the truth about the Millennium Group.
Throughout the course of Season 2, Millennium would get very good at these kinds of episodes – stories where mystical runes foretell of forbidden secrets and everyone speaks in morbid, cryptic sentences. Managing to work in a nice double agent plot to the story of the Millennium Group's founding and purpose, about the only aspect of this excellent show that doesn't work is the overtly odd link to online porn. In the early 90s, when this series was created, such an idea seemed cutting edge. Today, it rings rather false, and kind of foolish. With C.C.H. Pounder back as Cheryl Andrews (a great character from Season 1) and Phillip Baker Hall as an enigmatic Group Elder, there is a quality to the acting in this episode which far surpasses the thespianism found elsewhere. In many ways, this feels like a feature film warm-up, a stellar cast knocking about big ideas in far off locales. This is one of the better mythology installments in the entire run of the series. Score: 4.5/5
"Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense": A famous writer wants to do an exposé on a celebrated quasi-religion, while at the same time finalizing his manuscript on the millennium. Naturally, when a mysterious murder occurs, the scribe crosses paths with none other than Frank Black.
The first out and out stab at comedy by an episode of Millennium, and the results are ridiculous, not rib-tickling. No matter how good Charles Nelson Reilly is as Jose Chung (a favorite character from Carter's X-Files), he can't save a script that never once acknowledges the series' consistently somber and solemn tone. By cramming the story with so much broad parody (Selfology vs. Scientology, the wild and crazy "literary" profiler played by Henriksen) and never taking the many murders occurring as anything less than a lark, we almost completely loose our sense of steadiness in this episode. If there is a truly bad installment of the show, the visit from author Chung is it. Score: 2/5
"Midnight of the Century": It's Christmas, and Frank is haunted by the painful memories of his mother's death over 50 years before. As he tries to work through the grief, he begins to see visions, omens pointing him in the direction of something he hasn't dealt with in a long time – the father he's purposefully shunned.
Leave it to Millennium to find a way to make a holiday-based special into something far more serious and sentimental...with just a taste of the sinister on the side. This is truly an acting tour de force for all the performers involved. Terry O'Quinn, Kristen Cloke, even Meghan Gallagher get their mesmerizing moments when just hearing them speak the well-crafted dialogue is dramatic payoff enough. But the true highlight comes when Frank's father – played by Carl Kolchak himself, Darren McGavin – arrives. McGavin has an amazing monologue about the death of Frank's mother, and in combination with the ongoing family issues in his life (and the possible flirtation with Lara Means) this emotion tangle threatens to undo Frank's fragile mind. That we sense both hope and a kind of closure at the end of this episode means that, once again, this series has managed to find a way to thwart convention while providing the key to successful television – total entertainment value. Score: 4.5/5
"Goodbye Charlie": A rash of assisted suicides leads Frank and Lara to an ex-doctor turned mercy killer. Aside from the obvious illegal acts, this well-meaning medico makes the potential Millennium candidates confront their own personal beliefs in an effort to discover just who this individual really is.
There is a key line in this episode, something that signals the direction being taken throughout Season 2. Lara and Frank are staking out a funeral when he makes some crack comment about all the cases the two have worked. Lara argues that they haven't been cases, but tests, ways for the Millennium Group to measure their respective gifts. This interesting installment in the show plays directly into that dichotomy. No matter how you feel about assisted suicide, the police treat it as a crime, a case that needs to be solved. But the solution comes early on – and is rather obvious from the fact pattern. The more interesting aspect comes when Frank and Lara question the suspect and begin to learn just what the Millennium Group is all about. Their suspect seems to be super-human, without a murderous motivation or immoral fiber in his being. There are even hints he's been SENT to do this work by some higher power. It is up to Frank and Lara to determined his Heavenly, or damning purpose. This gives this episode a real resonance that a straightforward hot button issue exercise would have missed. Score: 4/5
"Luminary": A young man has disappeared in the Alaskan wilderness. The Millennium Group is having second thoughts about Frank's potential candidacy. And now our hero himself seems to be having a crisis of conscious. It will take a journey deep into the wilderness to straighten out all the spiritual chaos.
Frankly, this is one of the best episodes EVER of Millennium, a true benchmark in the series. Pitting Frank against the Group, Peter against Frank and drawing Catherine back in to battle for her man are just some of the amazing elements surrounding what is a very powerful and moving mission. This is really more the story of Frank's personal quest for balance and answers than the case of a missing teenager. From the incredibly well written script to the heartbreaking ending, it's a shame that the series didn't follow this pattern more often. "Luminary" proved that the mythology and the methodology of crime solving could go hand in hand, and combine into something truly transcendent. Score: 5/5
"The Mikado": A killer is using a website to stage his brutal acts for the entire world to witness. Frank indicates that this new fiend marks the return of an old nemesis, the serial murderer known as Avatar. Frank must find the Internet maniac before he fulfills his fiendish purpose.
Though it tends to fall back on the 'gee whiz, what a cool killer' concept of Season 1 (which was never a bad thing, mind you) there is also something strangely dated about all the computer geek lingo being tossed around in this episode (when individuals react in awe of re-routed IP addresses, you can't help but giggle). Still, the story is very compelling, recalling Se7en, 8mm, and other snuff-style scare shows. Also, it's novel to see yet another "unresolved" case in the ever growing files of one Frank Black. He is so often portrayed as an omniscient being of unlimited skills that to bring him back down to Earth once in a while is just fine. Some may feel this episode is a tad talky, but it does prove that, when they wanted to put on the fear factors, Millennium did it better than anyone. Score: 4/5
"The Pest House": When a teenager dies in a manner similar to the old "man with a hook" urban legend, Frank begins to suspect the patients at a local asylum. After another crime is committed, the profile seems complete. But with the inmates unable to leave their lockup, suspicions turn...to the staff.
"Pest House" appears to be the anomaly in this season of Millennium, an episode that pays lip service to the Group's interest in this case to merely go back to the same old "killer of the week" conceit. While the acting is wonderful, and the actual story very moody and atmospheric, the show has spent so much time getting us into the mythology and the cosmic issues of good and evil that we want to wallow around in that spiritual pool for a little while longer. Being tossed back into Frank's world of profiling and predicting seems less substantiative now that we sense they're just exercises to entertain the powers that be in the series. Score: 3.5/5
"Owls (Part 1)" & "Roosters (Part 2)": A schism develops in the Millennium Group. On the one side are the Owls, who believe in a secular, scientific Apocalypse sometime in the future. On the other are the Roosters, who use theological theory to predict impending doom. When a rare religious relic is stolen, it is faction against faction in a battle for the fate of the world. And stuck in between are Frank Black and Lara Means.
In many ways, this two-part installment of the show is where Millennium Season 2 has been heading since Frank first faced the old man in the woods from episode 2, "Beware of the Dog". This is a dense, deceptive set of shows, pitting character against character, philosophies against dogma and the secular vs. the scientific, to create a kind of civil war amongst the members of the Group. Naturally, this conflict is not fought on battlefields or in some nameless no man's land. No, it is waged in private, in secret enclaves and private moments. This lends both shows a tremendous amount of intrigue and complexity. It is very easy to get lost in this divergence between the Owls (who know it's still 'night') and the Roosters (who crow, sometimes too soon, about the impending 'dawn'). If you merely remember that the Group is trying to stave off the end of the world, and that each side believes they have the tools to do that very thing, then this 90 minute mindf*ck plays out very well.
"Owls" gets us onto the playing field perfectly. It hints at individuals we've seen before, poses amazing questions while precisely and purposefully offering up the answers. Involving Catherine, Lara and various ancillary members of the Millennium Group that we have seen at certain points throughout the run of the series, it feels as monumental as the actual break between the Group factions. "Roosters" does a devastating job of reconciling and reclaiming the territory trod upon by unseen forces, rebuilding our faith in the narrative strength of Morgan, Wong's vision. The result is a deeply moving, incredibly satisfying foray into the upper realms of secret society, where even the most earth ending events have a basis in the prototypical power play. Score: 5/5
"Siren": When the INS raids a docked Asian freighter, they find a woman shackled in chains in one of the cargo holds. The captain says he rescued her from the sea. A shipmate swears she just "appeared" one day. Whatever the case, she may be responsible for the death of four men. It is up to Frank to find out.
For all its invocation of Eastern mysticism and classic Western mythology (the siren, luring individuals to their doom with her inescapable song), there is something that is not quite right about this episode. The reason may be that it is a totally spiritual story wrapped up in a standard death under suspicious circumstances plotline. Still, "Siren" does signify a new test for Frank, one coming from outside the Group or his own home life. If we are to believe in the supernatural, paranormal or otherworldly elements of the show, then this is the Devil tempting him, as our mysterious Asian lady offers Frank a fear free life, an existence with every need fulfilled and ever desire drenched in satisfaction. As a result, we want more of this (especially the surreal dream sequence where Frank actually "lives" his new found happiness) and less of the routine cops and robbers. The ending is also less than satisfying, promising something cosmic, but actually just giving us what we more or less expected. "Siren" signals a derailment of sorts for Millennium Season 2, a jump that won't correct itself for a couple of episodes. Score: 3/5
"In Arcadia Ego": A lesbian couple break out of prison and kill a guard – not really your typical Millennium Group case. But when Frank takes an abrupt, startling concern for the fate of these women, and the unborn child one of them carries, the stakes suddenly take on an "immaculate" dynamic.
In Season 1, one of the worst episodes was a self-indulgent bit of claptrap revolving around a teenage mother writing her child a letter while she and her boyfriend went on a multi-state crime spree. Entitled "The Wild and the Innocent", it feels completely out of place today when viewed within the Millennium universe in total. While it may seem easy to add "In Arcadia Ego" to the tiny list of failed installments of this show, at least this narrative had the good graces to keep the storyline linked to the theological, not the sentimental. There are some very good things about the episode (the acting is fine, some of the information we learn is disturbing), but everything boils down to the miracle of birth and the purity of children. For a show that has spent relatively little time focused on such foundations, it requires a lot from the audience to buy into the entire 'Immaculate Conception' resolution. "In Arcadia Ego" is not Millennium at its most memorable, but it does represent a decent attempt at keeping the wee ones in the apocalyptic picture. Score: 3/5
"Anamnesis": A young girl and a group of her friends claim to be witnesses to a vision of the Virgin Mary. As a favor for a friend, Catherine Black arrives in town to see if she can find some answers and prevent a tragedy. Little does Catherine know that the Group has sent Lara Means for the exact same reason.
As compelling as Catherine and Lara are as compliments to Frank's flawed center, they really can't hold a narrative together as a solo act, or as in this case, a duo. Lara always appears hampered when dealing with individuals outside the group, and Catherine has never really been developed enough as an entity exclusive of Frank for us to get a handle on her headstrong motivations. No matter how compelling the circumstances are (we are in the whole Da Vinci Code, Merovingian territory here) or how open ended the plot, we are still stuck with freaked out Lara and stuck up Catherine as our guides. There is also a rushed feeling to this story, as if we stumbled in at the last 15 minutes or so of a much longer exposition. As a result, the events that happen to the young girl Claire, the link to the entire Gnostic Bibles and Family issues get rather short shrift. Lara says it best when she admits that all this talk about Mary Magdalene, Jesus and the possibility of a Christ-based bloodline may be too "amazing" to believe. At the time it was. Now, with an audience way ahead of the game, "Anamnesis seems out of step, both with the series and the times. Score: 3/5
"A Room with No View": When a teenage boy is found dead and his friend missing, opinions vary as to what actually happened. Some think there is a connection between the disappearance and the death. But Frank knows better. He can sense it. Old nemesis Lucy Butler is up to her old tricks again.
"A Room with No View" marks the return of that charismatic killer from Season 1, Lucy Butler. As played by Sarah-Jane Redmond, Butler is an enigma wrapped inside pure, unfettered evil, and her plan this time around is so ambiguous and odd that it makes for a really compelling installment of the series. Trapping exceptional teenagers (with the help of a handy accomplice) and forcing them to "conform to normalcy", there are hints of her previous, demonic parameters here, but with just a smidgen of crazy cult mentality tossed in just to be safe. With Paul Mauriat's "Love is Blue" constantly playing in the background (a genius choice by whomever picked that oddball 60s song) and the strange semi-coherent dialogue with all its doom, gloom and foreshadowing peppering the proceedings, this is a great episode of the series, even if in retrospect it doesn't appear to have very much to do with the mythology, or monsters being explored. Score: 4.5/5
"Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me": Four demons sit around a donut shop and talk about their latest damnations. From a network executive driven mad to an aging stripper romanced and dumped, all the cases seem to have one thing in common – the eventual presence of profiler Frank Black.
In an actual case where offbeat, quirky comedy and Millennium seamlessly mesh together, "Somehow Satan Got Behind Me" is an interesting attempt to give the evil ever present in Frank's life a form and a face. Certainly, there are elements here meant as outright jabs at Fox, the show's network (the story regarding the insane standards and practices man) and the first season's plethora of mass murder (the guy attempting to break the serial killer record). But the truth is, the main theme of the show is how the horrible finds its place in the world, even in the most minor or mundane of circumstances. The dialogue between the demons is great and even the jokes work, since they seem part of the minion's impish personalities. And while, once again, this episode really doesn't forward anything about the upcoming apocalypse or the continued battle against crime (sure, you could argue that the demons are the goal that every one of Frank's "trials" are built upon), this is still a very fun, very irreverent respite for the series. Score: 3.5/5
"The Four Horsemen" and "The Time Is Now": A strange virus is making an appearance around the country. It causes its victims to hemorrhage severely, forcing them to literally "sweat" blood. Frank and Peter must trace the cause of this deadly disease before it turns into an outbreak of Biblical proportions.
Going out with a one-two punch that many dramatic series would die for, let alone ever imagine they could pull off, Millennium dives deep into the apocalyptic tone hinted at throughout the entire season when an Ebola-like plague erupts. This modern day Black Death pits the Group against its members as family takes a backseat to loyalty. Secrets remain solid, even as the end of the world appears eminent. In order to make all this work, in order to get us directly into the frame of fear of both the virus and the various obtuse Group attributes, we need a strong leader, and Henriksen is indeed that amazing man. Unlike previous episodes where he played a quasi-insider looking out, he is completely alone here (a sentiment he makes very clear near the beginning of "The Four Horsemen") and we, as the audience, take his scared, scarred side immediately.
This is a dense presentation, 90 minutes of mythology, murder, misunderstandings, death, disease and disgusting, depressing imagery. The 'bleed out' cases are especially gruesome, giving these episodes a weight and new sense of urgency. Also aiding in the atmosphere of dread are Terry O'Quinn, making Peter Watts the most sympathetic – and suspect – that he's been all season, and Kristen Cloke, who gets a tour-de-force mental montage set to the Patti Smith song "Horses", that is just amazing. This is what Millennium did best, not only in individual swatches, but overall. These shows pay off in ways we have wondered about all series long, bringing in elements cast off from other shows and involving ancillary issues we thought unimportant at the time. With the stunning finale and the ambiguous nature of its symbolism, it is hard to see where the series would go in Season 3. Fans would argue that the creators had the same feeling. Score: 5/5
When viewed like this, in full season sets, without the interruption of commercials, constant preempting, time slot changes and rerun ennui, Millennium transmogrifies into a masterpiece, perhaps one of the best one-hour dramas American television has ever produced. Rivaling Twin Peaks in invention and evocativeness, but never once letting itself get lost in its own odd balderdash, it is impossible to imagine a better realized piece of entertainment. At the core, of course, is Lance. Giving one amazing performance after another, turning Frank Black into a kind of reality Rosetta Stone for all the mystical material to play off of and mold, the actor is an absolute joy to watch. Never ONCE making a wrong move, inspiring pain and pathos, humor and hardness in his ever-expressive face, it's a privilege to watch this man work through all the high minded ideas and occasionally convoluted concepts.
Also, it is perfectly safe to say that Millennium was truly ahead of its time. It predates and predicts such fashionable fads as The Da Vinci Code, the omens of terrorist evil and the slow erosion of the citizenry's faith in the Federal Government. It routinely circumvents the traditional ideas to give the series a true overall vision and vibrancy. There are some who argue that, by taking the focus away from the crimes, and putting it on the cabals lying in wait for Frank, Peter and Lara, Millennium somehow lost its way. Yet, one does have to credit Morgan and Wong for steering the current away from the standard profiler falderal that threatened to grow stale somewhere around the fourth episode of Season 2. You can already feel it when we move back to the more "basic" shows (even if they are done exceptionally well). With the Group's insidiousness floating around them, installments like "The Mikado" or "19:19" take on a new resonance, one that keep the series fresh and flexible. Had Frank spent all his time cracking criminal minds instead of Biblical codes, the show would definitely be stagnant by the time Season 3 arrived.
It is easy to see why the show couldn't or wouldn't last. With Carter, Wong and Morgan unsure of Fox's position on the series, every show was created with a definite end game in mind – all of which lead up to Season 2's remarkable 2-part cliffhanger. This gives Millennium much more gravitas, narratively and artistically – more so than shows who see their future in a single 45-minute script once a week. Combined with Season 1, sitting through Millennium in this manner, straight through, is like watching the greatest, grandest 36-hour film ever conceived. Subplots and overriding philosophical underpinnings keep everything linked together, even if the connections seem suspect, at first. Very few series play better in retrospect. Their virtues as usually lauded the first time around, acknowledged when they first arrive. Millennium took the opposite approach. It wanted to make something timeless and complete. And they succeeded royally.
Dark, foreboding and using a muted palette of earth and autumnal tones, Millennium is a very evocative show. And thanks to the terrific transfer offered by Fox, the eerie atmospherics are captured in complete clarity. This is the best the series ever looked, from its original broadcast on the then fledgling fourth network to its later, limited cable exposure. New to Season 2 is a stunning 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image (why now, and not for Season 1 as well remains a mystery only the Group could decipher) that really brings a sense of the cinematic to the show. The picture is gritty, moody, and buried in the darkest of shadows, almost always an issue for a DVD release. But thankfully, Millennium avoids the usual compression pitfalls to offer up a fantastic visual presentation of the gloomy Pacific Northwest (even if it really is Canada) as an oasis of awfulness.
Equally important to the tenor of the show is the ambient angst projected by the aural attributes in the soundtrack. Heard here in Dolby Digital Stereo that has a few true immersive moments and a great overall audio vibrancy, the sinister and the shocking are greatly served by the sonic situations on this DVD. Millennium enjoys messing with the mind of its audience by adding odd undercurrents of unusual noises and obscure sound effects into the mix. All of it is captured here in near pristine clarity.
Aside from the ability to see a favored old show again for the first time in a long while, the other major benefit of the Millennium DVD package is the interesting bonus materials offered. While not as plentiful, or pleasing, as those the first time around, we still get treated to a couple of commentaries, a behind the scenes documentary and a victimology breakdown by the Academy Group of FBI profilers. Individually, here is a run down of what you get:
Disc 2: Commentary on "The Hand of Saint Sebastian" by director Tom Wright:
Tom Wright makes an interesting initial commentary for this set. He openly complains about the direction Season 2 took, kvetching that, while Wong and Morgan had a definitive take on the series, they tended to allow shows to violate that idea and go out on a limb. As a result, he feels the mythos was underdeveloped and occasionally just plain confusing. He describes Roedecker as the character closest to Wong and Morgan's heart and highlights the different way in which he had to approach each actor (he has special accolades for Lance Henriksen and Meghan Gallagher). This is a dry, decent narrative which does expose a few chinks in the show's happy family armor.
Disc 4: Commentary on "The Mikado" by writer Michael Perry
Our only other commentary comes from Perry who penned the excellent "Mikado" Internet episode. Going into excessive detail over the technological aspects of the show, he admits to being a little concerned with Wong and Morgan as well. Still, he claims that this episode was his chance to hobble Frank Black a little, to take him out of his element and lock him behind a computer screen. He discusses what happened to Roedecker's character after this installment, and how much of this episode relied on visual vs. verbal storytelling. Far more matter of fact than Wright's occasionally sullen stories, Perry's perceptions are very incisive during his discussion. Too bad there aren't more alternative narrative tracks like his on this DVD set.
The Turn of the Tide: The Making of Season Two Documentary:
Produced without a single salient thought from James Wong or Glen Morgan (maybe they thought they were going to be badmouthed throughout) and opening with a near apologizing Chris Carter (who seems to be washing his hands of what happened here during the second season) Turn of the Tide is a strange behind the scenes retrospective. You get the impression here that everyone is hedging their bets, hiding their true feelings as if to avoid hurting anyone or stepping on individual toes. There is praise o' plenty, but not in the overwhelmingly monumental amounts we heard on the Season 1 making-of. Also, we never see Kristen Cloke as she is today, or Terry O'Quinn. Lance makes a cursory appearance, relying on an interview he gave at the time of Season 2 to do most of the talking for him. If you listen closely, you can hear people laying blame and casting doubts. Unfortunately, they are probably responding to the critical reaction/drubbing when it first aired. Season 2 works remarkably well now. Too bad everyone involved can't see that.
The Academy Group: Victimology:
It's time for more horror stories from the FBI/Academy vaults as each active member of this "Group" tells us about how they use victims to determine profiles. It's a hard-hitting featurette, with several very brutal crimes described. Though none of these ex-agents will win an award for their storytelling, they do create a compelling companion piece to the show, providing insight into men like Frank Black.
For the fan who followed the show from its inception up and through its last, limp timeframe on the air (hopefully the DVD release of the 3rd Season will wipe away the bitter taste most devotees recall when remembering what happened to Frank and his family), the end of Season 2 is a very melancholy experience. It signals the end of Version 1.0, Millennium at its best and bravest. It represents the final fantastic moments of an enormous achievement in both intellectual and atmospheric storytelling. The series had walked us through Hell, allowed us to glimpse Heaven, confused us when it needed to and tried to come clean when it had the opportunity. The combination of cleverness, creepiness, creativity and compunction added up to a lost masterwork of beyond the mainstream magnificence. Hopefully, now that the series is available on DVD, individuals with an interest in television at its most challenging and satisfying will give this intense, enthralling experience a chance. They will not be disappointed, something true aficionados know all too well. While barely missing the DVD Talk Collector's Series moniker because of a few faulty bumps in the otherwise knotted narrative road, this six-disc set is highly, highly recommended.
The year 2000 has come and gone. We also waved goodbye to the possible problems of 2001. We are four years down the road, and the world still seems as depraved and dour as when Frank first took on the Millennium Group and its glorified, enigmatic quests. Truth be told, we could really use Frank Black right about now. If anyone could guide us, or at least warn us, of impending Armageddon, it would be him. Here's hoping he's on the job right now. For our sake. Frank understands it. For this is who he is. And this is who we are.
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