[24 February 2005]
Chris Carter created Millennium in 1996, at the peak of the short-lived popularity he enjoyed from The X- Files. Though both series portray intelligent investigators confronting macabre cases, their narrative and visual structures are quite different. Leaving aside the first series’ paranormal phenomena, Millennium focused on earthbound violence. With visual and thematic connections with The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Se7en (1995), Millennium features serial killers and other sociopaths.
Fox’s recently released second season DVD set reveals why Millennium—typically overlooked or dismissed by critics as Carter’s lesser effort—deserves another chance. This despite the fact that the extras are scarce, to say the least: the set includes a short making-of documentary on the season, and dull audio commentaries for two of the most engaging episodes, “The Mikado” and “The Hand of San Sebastian.”
One of the boldest and intriguing horror series on recent TV, Millennium focuses on FBI criminal profiler Frank Black (Lance Henriksen), currently working as a consultant for the mysterious Millennium group, a congregation of former law enforcement officers committed to fight violent crime at the brink of the new century. A devoted husband and loving father, Frank lives in a suburban home that stands in contrast to the killers’ sinister dwellings and the neo-gothic abodes of the Millennium group.
And yet, of course, some of this creepiness still manages to leak into Frank’s personal life. In the second season opener, “The Beginning and the End,” he kills the deviant who kidnapped and tortured his wife Catherine (Megan Gallagher). Even though Millennium moralizes Frank’s action as a form of rightful vengeance and justice, Catherine withdraws and decides on a temporary separation.
Frank’s newly troubled family life was the first of many alterations made to the format of Millennium during its second season, a result of changes in its production team. During the first season, Carter enjoyed extensive creative control and was personally involved in the production and development. However, for its second season, he stepped down, leaving the show in the hands of X-Files vets James Wong and Glen Morgan. Even though murders continued to be the show’s cornerstones, the managerial modification softened it. Perhaps the most dramatic alteration is that some episodes embrace The X-Files’ fantastic premises, as if the new team were looking to increase ratings by blaming a variety of supernatural forces for humanity’s horrors.
In “Goodbye Charlie,” a doctor assisting terminally ill patients end their lives is exposed as a demon, or maybe an angel. And in “Siren,” a beautiful Chinese girl responsible for several deaths aboard a ship is revealed to be one of those legendary sea monsters. Even more bizarre, in “Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me,” four decrepit demons get together at a coffee shop to chat about their personal approaches to inflicting suffering on humans, and how their latest encounters with Frank have exposed the futility of their demonic lives.
With these entities in place, the series’ transgressions are no longer the product of mental disorders or complex social influences, but rather, larger-than-life paranormal beings. Unlike the first season, the second tends to trivialize the “human” evil. Moreover, as revealed in “A Single Blade of Grass,” Frank’s outstanding psychological profiling abilities are no longer the product of his acute instinct and logical thought, but part of his unnatural gift to see “the other side.”
Not all these changes are negative. Wong and Morgan build into Millennium a complex political-cum-religious conspiracy akin to that found in The X-Files, creating a compelling story arc that reveals the dark purpose of the Millennium group across the entire season. We learn in “The Fourth Horseman” and “The Time is Now” that the group is planning ahead for the survival of its members after the upcoming Biblical apocalypse, so they might resurface as masters of the world.
In spite of its grandiose plots, the most thought-provoking episodes from the second season are those few where malevolence is, in fact, human. For instance, “Monster” presents a child who manipulates an entire town when she kills a classmate and accuses her teacher of both the murder and pedophilia. Similarly, the abuse of prisoners is raised in “In Arcadia Ego,” and the invasive capacity of computer technology appears in “The Mikado,” where a serial killer reminiscent of the real-life “Zodiac Killer” uses the Internet to prey on victims.
“A Room With No View” elegantly combines an evil woman, who may or may not be “supernatural,” and current social problems. In a sequel of sorts to the first season’s episode, “Lamentation,” Lucy Butler (Sarah-Jane Redmond) returns as a sociopath who has been kidnapping those teenagers who are considered “the most likely to succeed” by their teachers and peers. Paradoxically acting as both a caring lover looking out for their well-being and a tough warden, Lucy wants to make them “ordinary.” One could argue that she is the metaphorical embodiment of a culture of pleasure and commercialism, which encourages young people to become complacent.
“A Room With No View” presents a terrible scenario, more frightful than a Biblical plague or alien invasion. Our commodity culture thwarts original thinking, cannibalizing itself daily. Considering that Frank uses the phrase “Soylent Green is People” as his password to the Millennium computers, the real horror is clear: people are their own worst enemies.