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 premier episode of Millennium proved to be one of the most disturbing hours in prime time television up to that point in time. Millennium, the brain child 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. A feeling the world was shifting into a new era with new rules, new threats, new villains within a new normal 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 also possesses an uncanny ability to get inside the mind of a killer. Now a consultant working for the secretive Millennium Group, in the "Pilot" 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 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 P.D. are skeptical of his unorthodox methods - not unlike the Netflix series Mindhunters. 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" gets referenced throughout the episode with its emphasis on the world spinning towards a catastrophe of biblical proportions. Are serial killers are 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 being buried alive, Frank discovers a connection to the local pathology lab where the killer may work. Frank visits the lab and confronts the killer, but is shot by 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 a mysterious illness. In his mailbox Frank opens an envelope with Polaroids of his wife and daughter, as usual Frank's 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 are especially disturbing because they invade his safe haven, making him question whether he can protect his family from the darkness he must face everyday.
The dramatic scenes in the episode take place either at night or in the rain. Clearly Frank is a creature of the night, knowing he must make friends with it to do his job. The shows'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 M directed by Fritz Lange.
A spinoff of The X-Files, Millennium would also draw heavily upon the horror and sci-fi genres that would bring a compelling dimension to the series. 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 or proselytizer, but a seeker in daily conflict with the darkness. Identifiable in 1996 and and sure as hell identifiable now.
The first episode would prove to be highly influential to crime shows not nearly as cerebral as Millennium. The mythology the show would gradually build in the first season surrounding "The Group" and the meaning of world events. The pilot plants all these seeds, portending a wild, existential ride through three seasons.