Monday, September 16, 2019

Millennium: Episode 1: Season 1: "Pilot"

Written by Chris Carter

Directed by David Nutter

Guest Stars: Terry O'Quinn, Bill Smitrovich, Brittany Tiplady, Paul Dillon

Air Date: October 25, 1996

The first episode of Millennium proved to be one of the most disturbing hours in prime-time television up to that point in time. Millennium, the brainchild of X-Files creator Chris Carter, would be a game changer for the crime show genre, introducing supernatural themes with a fin di siecle sense of dread. Headlines during the 1990s were filled with grisly details about serial killers. From apocalyptic movies and fears of Y2K, a sense of anxiety and excitement were ubiquitous in pop culture. An ominous feeling the world was shifting into a new era with new rules, new threats, new villains, filters through each episode of Millennium.

"It is my gift, it is my curse."

Millennium's protagonist Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) has just moved to Seattle with his wife Catherine (Megan Gallagher) and young daughter Jordan (Brittany Tiplady). The "yellow house" would become a symbol of Frank's attempt to find hope and refuge from his calling in life. We learn he once worked as a criminal profiler for the FBI and possesses an uncanny ability to get inside the mind of a killer. Now a consultant working for the secretive Millennium Group, in the debut episode Frank finds himself on the trail of a disturbed killer terrorizing Seattle.

A provocative opening sequence at a strip club opens the show. We see an underworld of peep shows from the killer's point of view. He has visions of blood dripping everywhere as he quotes French poetry. After one of the young women turns up murdered, Frank takes an interest in the case. The odd nature of the murders indicates a psychotic mind who Frank believes is being influenced by prophecy. We're introduced to Frank's contact in the Seattle P.D. Bob Bletcher (Bill Smitrovich) and liaison with the Millennium Group Peter Watts (Terry O'Quinn) who would both be recurring characters in the first season.

Frank's visions allow him to compile a profile of the killer even though the Seattle police are skeptical of his unorthodox methods. The killer is known as "the Frenchman" who believes the Book of Revelation and the 16th Century French astrologer Nostradamus are speaking directly to him. His sexual guilt also fuels a psychotic rage. The William Butler Yeats poem "The Second Coming" is referenced throughout the episode with its emphasis on the world spinning towards a catastrophe of biblical proportions. Are serial killers a symptom of the end times. 

"They believe we can't just sit back and hope for a happy ending."

After a terrifying discovery of victims who were buried alive, Frank discovers a connection to the local pathology lab where the killer may work. He visits the lab and confronts the killer, who is then shot by Detective Bletcher, muttering "you can't stop it," suggesting the killer's part of something far more sinister. Frank returns home and gives Jordan a puppy after she's returned from the hospital after experiencing a mysterious illness. In his mailbox Frank opens an envelope with Polaroids of his wife and daughter, and Frank's brief joy is upended.

Light and darkness would be in continual conflict throughout the run of the series. The yellow house would represent Frank's dream of providing a safe and happy life for him and his family. The photos pose a direct threat to that dream.

The dramatic scenes in the episode take place either at night or in the rain. Frank is a creature of the night, knowing he must make friends with it to do his job. The show's director talked of how David Fincher's visual style in Se7en informed the episode, but also reveals a film noir influence, even a German expressionism that recalls the 1931 film M

A spinoff of The X-Files, Millennium would also draw heavily upon the horror and Sci-Fi genres. Lance Henriksen would create one of television's most memorable protagonists in Frank Black: heroic, brooding, always on the edge. In time he would evolve into a new kind of spiritual hero, neither a prophet nor proselytizer, but a seeker in daily conflict with the darkness. Identifiable in 1996 and remains so in the 2020s.  

The mythology of the show would prove to be just as compelling as its storylines. The pilot plants all these seeds, portending a wild, existential ride, through three seasons. 

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