Friday, October 8, 2021

Millennium Season 2: Episode 5: "A Single Blade of Grass"

Directed by Rodman Flender

Written by Kay Reindi and Erin Maher

Airdate: October 24, 1997

Guest Stars: Amy Steel, Michael Greyeyes. 

"A Single Blade of Grass" is set in New York City, featuring Frank being sent to investigate strange happenings around a Native American archeological dig. The episode begins with a young native man being given snake venom to conjure visions, but he's later found dead at the site beside a mummified body. Working with archeologist Dr. Michael (Steel) Frank traces the ritual to hotel basement.

Further investigation reveals the ritual was tied to native traditions of reviving the dead. Frank interprets symbols discovered at the ritual site as referencing a coming apocalypse on the scale of what happened to the indigenous population of North America with the arrival of Europeans. Later Frank is abducted by the Native Americans who believe his visions will foretell the future. As Frank is being forced to induce venom, the police (cavalry?) arrive and save him.

One of the more uneven, even bordering on incoherent, entry in the Millennium canon, "A Single Blade of Grass" explores compelling themes of history with little in the way of payoff. Part of the problem was Frank going solo, there's no Peter Watts, Catherine, or Jordan. Representation of Native culture, while good intentioned, comes off as superficial. The episode was reminiscent of the 1981 film Wolfen, a far more nuanced thriller which explored supernatural phenomena and indigenous culture in a modern urban setting.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Millennium Season 2: Episode 4: "Monster"

Directed by Perry Lang

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong

Airdate: October 17, 1997

Guest Stars: Kristen Cloke (Lara Means); Mary Gillis (Penny Plott)

Opening Quote: "The first thing we do, kill all the lawyers." from King Henry VI Part II

"Monster" cleverly plays upon Satanic Panic phenomenon of the 1980s which often revolved around allegations of abuse at Day Care Centers. In the episode Frank is sent by The Millennium Group to Arkansas to investigate an alleged case of abuse. The music of Bobby Darin is also features, a recurring motif throughout the second season.

Lara Means is also introduced (Cloke), another consultant the group sent to Arkansas. Like Frank, Lara also has visions, but they are more of a spiritual nature. As they investigate more kids start to experience strange maladies, one boy stops breathing and dies suddenly (later ruled to be an asthma attack.) Meanwhile, back in Seattle, Catherine is unnerved after finding an unexplained mark on Jordan's mouth.

The local District Attorney suspects the manager of the Day Care Center (Penny Plott) may be abusing the children, his suspicions are seemingly confirmed when some kids confess they were abused by her. Yet with no history of abuse on Platt's record, Frank and Lara believe something else is responsible. A hysteria begins to grip the community as angry locals vandalize the day care center.

Frank and Lara's attention turns to a little girl named Danielle Barkabow since they sense a demonic presence surrounding her. I like that Lara asks if she's a Damien because of the obvious parallels to The Omen. She and Frank speculate on how a five-year-old child could be capable of committing acts of evil like murder. Is it a genetic mutation? Frank believes new forces of evil are on the horizon and their investigations are proving it.

Frank and Lara pay a visit to Danielle, as she gleefully watches the end of The Fly! Frank questions Danielle and she screams at him to get out and emerges with cuts on her face. Now accused of abuse, given more credibility by Jordan's unexplained injuries, Frank is taken into custody. Lara returns to the Barkabow household and determines Danielle inflicted the wound on herself, revealing the child as the true "monster."

In a fine display of acting, Henriksen's speaks with a quiet passion to the Barkabows about being forever changed by the birth of Jordan, pleading with them he would never harm her or any child. Frank's emotional appeal moves Danielle's Mom to admit she heard Danielle hit herself, thus clearing Frank of any charges. Catherine and Jordan also arrive in a show of support. The epilogue to the episode reveals Danielle has been adopted by members of the group.

"Monster" is a strong entry in that it allows the entire cast have standout moments that further their characters. Frank ends with a new sense of mission by having found a new ally in Lara Means and at least the possibility his family can be repaired. Lara gives a haunting soliloquy about seeing angels and the connections to The Old Testament. Further questions are also raised about the motives of "the group." 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Millennium: Season 2: Episode 3: "Sense and Anti-Sense"

Directed by Thomas J. Wright

Written by Chip Johannessen

Airdate: October 3, 1997

Guest Stars: Ricky Harris (Gerome Knox); Clarence Williams III (Zero/Kramer)

Opening Quote: "Control of third world populations designated secret national policy" National Security Memo 200 (1971)

It was unfortunate to read "Sense and Anti-Sense" was a compromised episode. Writer Chip Johannessen talked about his script going through many rewrites, watering down the racially themed storyline, a subject Millennium rarely covered. But "Sense and Anti-Sense" does raise many pertinent questions relating to history and institutional racism in America.

In the cold open a screaming man suffering convulsions "Zero" hails a taxi, Gerome Knox (Harris) picks him up and rushes him to the hospital but gets suspicious of how the hospital will treat "Zero" when two government officials show up, so he helps "Zero" escape. Frank is called in to help with the search for "Zero" who may be a carrier for a dangerous virus - or so he's told. After Frank is exposed to Zero's blood, it tests negative for any virus. Meanwhile, homeless men are shown having strong reactions to something they were exposed to, leading Frank to believe a rogue organization could be targeting homeless men.

Working with Peter Watts, Frank connects the recent incidents with the homeless to the Human Genome Project, the ambitious 1990s scientific effort to map human DNA. Frank wonders if the project is also developing biological weapons for behavior modification. Then Knox is found dead who Frank came to trust as an ally in the investigation, he expresses anger when the coroner calls him a John Doe, stealing away his humanity. Led to the source laboratory, "Zero" is revealed to be Dr. William Kramer one of the scientists working on the project. Did his outburst earlier mean he accidentally exposed himself? Inside Dr. Kramer's office Frank notices photographs of him in Rwanda prior to the 1994 genocide.

"Sense and Anti-Sense" is a fascinating but ultimately frustrating episode because so much is suggested with little payoff, despite excellent guest performances from Williams and Harris. The opening quote from a government report about pacification and Third World, hinting nefarious motives of elites. The Tuskegee Experiments done on African Americans without their knowledge is the most infamous example, medical apartheid is a part of American history which is all too apparent during the Pandemic. Could the drug being used in the episode be a means of keeping minorities pacified? While the episode never deals directly with the issues of science and racism, it does cast shade on the Millennium Group for its unclear motives and secrecy. 

The episode ends with Frank and Peter talking about Rwanda, Frank wondering what could suddenly cause people to turn on each other without warning? Peter simply says we all have the switch within us, and it can be switched at any time. Living in a culture now overloaded with conspiracy theories, the questions raised in the episode about science could be the makings of an agent of misinformation on social media, spreading paranoia like a virus. 

I'm not arguing Millennium or The X-Files were simple fodder for the tin foil hat crowd or tools of misinformation, both shows were designed for entertainment and tackling questions of the particular historical moment. Being suspicious of "Big Pharma" doesn't mean refusing vaccines or an anti-biotic that will cure a dangerous infection. It does mean demanding trust between citizens and institutions. When there's a lack of trust and transparency with historical precedents to boot, it leads to dysfunction cascading across generations. 

NPR Article on Medical Apartheid -

Vox Article on Public Perceptions of Big Pharma in 2021 -

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Millennium Season Two: Episode 2: "Beware of the Dog"

Directed by Allen Coulter

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong

Airdate: September 26, 1997

Guest Stars: Randy Stone (Michael Beebe); R.G. Armstrong (The Old Man)

"Beware of the Dog" serves a few functions that suit the template of season two: a comedown episode after the heavy going premiere ending with Frank and Catherine separating yet at the same time includes quirky humor to counter the "end times" motifs the episode explores.

The cold open is especially idiosyncratic. A retired couple are attacked by a pack of dogs in their camper as "Close To You" by The Carpenters plays on the non-diegetic soundtrack. A brief scene with Frank and Catherine pondering their future and that of their house, which Frank refuses to live in because they are separated (Catherine plans to temporarily live with friends with Jordan). Peter Watts calls Frank and insists he go investigate the string of dog attacks.

The town is prototypical 90s television in the vein of Northern Exposure and Picket Fences with the diner serving as town center. Eccentric locals believe Frank is the Sheriff because he looks the part (I can see shades of Gary Cooper there). We're also treated to a scene with Frank listening Bobby Darin, his favorite singer perform "As Long As I'm Singing". Frank also meets Mike Beebe (Stone) who moved to the town to escape the chaos of L.A.

In a menacing sequence Frank is pursued by a pack of dogs. Bitten in the leg and rendered unconscious, Frank overhears the townspeople discuss the reign of terror being enforced by the dogs. Discovering the millennium group symbol while exploring the woods Frank encounters "the old man." Portrayed by R.G. Armstrong, the old man is revealed to be a member of the millennium group, Armstrong's archetypal performance as the mystical old man is cut from American mythology: the frontier philosopher. 

The old man informs Frank the dogs are a manifestation of the evil taking root on the planet. He speaks of good and evil and the importance of balancing the two concepts. The location of Michael's house is revealed to have a strange energy that attracts the dogs. Blind to the threat, the people of the town lack the insight to understand the threat facing them. They hope it will just go away (sound familiar). 

Frank believes he's lost his gift, but the old man predicts it will come back stronger than before. The episode climaxes with Frank impelling Michael to move out just as the dogs surround the house. The old man shows up and burns down the log cabin. They leave the house as it burns with the dogs staring them down reminiscent of The Birds. In the final scene Frank appears to have achieved a renewed hope in reuniting his fractured family.

John Kenneth Muir's essay in Back to Frank Black, a collection of excellent essays on Millennium, explores the animal symbolism in season two. Muir connects the focus on animals in season two:

In Western societies of the Middle Ages, in particular, animals represented specific traits and could therefore be utilized as symbols to convey moral and religious lessons in works of art. Animals can represent victims of technology, industrialization, or war (196).

"Beware of the Dog" inverts the idea of canines being man's best friend - they can also pose a dangerous threat. There's also the comical irony in Michael's failed attempt to find peace in rural America and discovers the small towns carry their own horrors. With strong performances from R.G. Armstrong and Randy Stone, "Beware of Dog" stands as a solid entry for Millennium's second season. 

Work Cited

Back to Frank Black: A Return to Chris Carter's Millennium. Ed. Adam Chamberlain and Brian A. Dixon. Monee: Fourth Horseman Press, 2012.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Millennium: Season Two: Episode 1: "The Beginning and the End"

Directed by Thomas J. Wright

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong

Airdate: September 19, 1997

Guest Stars: Doug Hutchinson (Polaroid Man)

Millennium's lead off episode for its second season "The Beginning and the End" serves as a frenetic overture for an unforgettable season of television. 

Picking up immediately where the first season finale "Paper Doves" left off with Catherine being abducted at the airport, it's revealed the Polaroid Man approached her posing as a religious fanatic handing out literature and got close enough to drug Catherine with a chemical agent. Frank realizes time is short as he searches for Catherine at the airport, only managing to get a description of her abductor. The Seattle police set up roadblocks (to no avail). Members of the Millennium Group show up, the first time so many members have intervened, indicating the larger role the group will play in season two. 

Peter Watts also arrives to help with the investigation and acts as a confidante to Frank - in a heartfelt conversation they have on sacrifice. New software gets installed into Frank's computer that allows him deeper access to the Millennium Group's files, Watts leaves Frank alone to do his work. Meanwhile, the Polaroid Man torments Catherine at his house, deceiving her to believe Jordan was also kidnapped.

Frank's psychic visions lead him to the first house he and Catherine lived at in Minneapolis that's since been abandoned. A police raid finds nothing, but Frank finds more polaroid pictures leading him to the correct house. He goes in alone and finds Catherine tied up, in a fit of rage Frank stabs the suspect to death after a struggle. Back at the Yellow House, Catherine informs Frank they must separate to sort things out. Frank leaves the house all alone driving into the darkness.

Despite some leaps of logic and plot contrivances, such as Frank's visions allowing him to locate Catherine in record time, Henriksen's performance evokes a character at their darkest hour. It's also suggested the Millennium Group and the Polaroid Man are connected in some way, Watts reveals the man's been targeting Frank's family because of the group's interest in him. Little is revealed of the Polaroid Man except that he's highly educated and eludes most profilers. What else does the Millennium Group know? 

The cosmic prologue featuring animation of an asteroid heading towards Earth also sets a great tone for the apocalyptic themes of the new season, given further impetus by the use of "Life During Wartime" by The Talking Heads. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Millennium Season One: Episode 22: "Paper Dove"

Directed by Thomas J. Wright

Written by Ted Mann, Walon Green

Airdate: May 16, 1997

Guest Stars: Mike Starr (Henry Dion); Ken Pogue (Tom Miller); Maxine Miller (Justine Miller)

"Paper Dove" brought together the familiar tropes of Millennium's first season in a rather busy finale with a cliffhanger ending to boot.

Frank is vacationing in Virginia visiting Catherine's family, but gets ensnared into two investigations. One involves a family friend of his father-in-law and the other a serial killer terrorizing the region. Meanwhile, the individual sending Frank the polaroid pictures throughout the season makes an appearance, credited here as "the figure."

The subplot involving the falsely convicted man is more of a red herring for the larger threat facing Frank. The killer played by Mike Starr has been described as Lynchian with his domineering mother and his over the top performance which has Blue Velvet/Twin Peaks vibe. Working with the FBI (his former employer), Frank manages to lure Dion into being captured. Unbeknownst to Frank, Dion is a sort of Renfield, doing the bidding of his master, "the figure."

Preparing to depart for Seattle, the figure is still tracking the Black family at the airport and in the final reveal Frank notices Catherine is missing (an eerie echo of what happened to Frank's sister-in-law in "Sacrament"). 

A well constructed finale with some offbeat elements, serving as a gateway into the even more adventurous (and tumultuous) second season. 

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Millennium Season 1: Episode 21: "Maranatha"

Directed by Peter Markle

Written by Chip Johannessen

Airdate: May 9, 1997

Guest Stars: Bill Nunn (Lt. McCormick); Boris Krutonog (Yuri Surov); Levani Outchaneichvili (Yaponchik)

Although "Sympathy for the Devil" does not appear on the soundtrack for "Maranatha", the cold open could be an extra verse in the legendary Rolling Stones song about an evil entity influencing the course of history. For the episode begins on April 26, 1986, the night of the Chernobyl explosion and suggests the antagonist of the episode Yaponchik may've been behind the nuclear disaster.

The Christian Orthodox music used throughout the episode; however, suited it better than rock and roll, (which Millennium would pivot towards in the second season) achieving atmosphere and evoking mystery. Set within the Russian community at Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, the Millennium Group is called in to assist the NYPD after a series of violent shootings.

Yaponchik, a Russian with ties to the mob, becomes a person of interest. Working with a private investigator (Surov) who's familiar with Yaponchik, Frank witnesses another shooting at a nightclub. Peter Watts informs Frank the Russians believe Yaponchik is an evil figure from folklore, later suggested to be the actual anti-Christ. 

A "V" symbol (looking like it belongs in a Thomas Pynchon novel) are also found on street graffiti throughout Brighton Beach, Watts links the symbol to early Christianity. Further investigation links to Yaponchik to the Chernobyl disaster, which Watts theorizes could be connected to references in the Book of Revelation, the New Testament book dealing with the apocalypse. 

Frank believes Yaponchik is a terrorist angling to become a kingpin in the underworld. But the elusive Russian is revealed to be a high level official at the consulate with diplomatic immunity, taunting Frank by revealing he knows things about him like his stint in a mental hospital. 

After another murder spree at a bathhouse, Surov shoots Yaponchik in the head but fails to kill him. Yaponchik's survival could be in line with a prophecy that says the anti-Christ will survive a head wound. At the hospital Surov decides not to kill Yaponchik and instead helps him escape to a helicopter leading to a dramatic ending and another ominous clue.

"Maranatha" continued to push the possibilities of what Millennium could be as a series by venturing into international intrigue and ancient prophecy. The look and feel of the episode are cinematic with Frank often in the background of the action. Although some of the coincidences in the teleplay felt a contrived and on the nose, they created suspense. 

There's also flashes of The Omen and the James Gray mob film Little Odessa that also took place at Brighton Beach. "Matanatha' also captures a specific 1990s moment in relations between America and Russia, Watts worries about the chaos in post-Soviet Russia could lead to a dangerous new leader to emerge from the power vacuum. The late, great Bill Nunn guest stars as a NYPD detective, but unfortunately has little to do. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Millennium Season 1: Episode 20: "Broken World"

Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Written by Robert Moresco, Patrick Harbinson

Airdate: May 2, 1997

Guest Stars: John Dennis Johnston (Sheriff Balkner); Ingrid Kavelaars (Sally Dumont); Donnely Rhodes (Peter Dumont); Jo Anderson (Claudia Vaughn) Van Quattro (Will Borgsen)

After a sequence of stellar episodes with evil forces literally arriving at Frank Black's front door, "Broken World" is a return to the standard format of the first season, tracking a potential serial killer. The Millennium Group sends Frank to North Dakota to investigate a string of horse killings that have the community on edge.

In the cold open, a female stable hand is also attacked, leading Frank to believe the killer may also be targeting people. Evidence at the scene indicates the suspect also experiences sexual satisfaction after the attacks. When human victims begin to turn up, Frank works with Peter Watts and local veterinarian Claudia Vaughn, who provides insight on the killer's background, to stop the killings. Scenes with Frank interacting with the skeptical provincial police force are amusing, but he persuades them his investigative methods work.

The suspect (local man Will Borgsen) begins to taunt Frank with phone calls, promising to strike again. Knowing Borgsen must be apprehend or the murders will continue, Frank realizes time is of the essence. Eventually the authorities surround Borgsen at a slaughterhouse where he's taken Claudia hostage. With Frank being held at gunpoint, Borgsen gets trampled by horses - call it poetic justice.

There's a prairie noir vibe to the episode with its rural setting in an otherwise routine affair. Originally titled Equus in an allusion to the 1973 play by Peter Shaffer about a troubled young man obsessed with horses, the episode does tap into the psychology of the play. Other than the echoes of Equus and the rural setting, "Broken World" is an unremarkable episode at that point in the first season. The deux ex machina ending with Frank getting saved at the last minute felt uncharacteristically melodramatic for Millennium


Monday, August 2, 2021

Millennium Season One Episode 19: "Powers, Principalities, Thrones, and Dominions"

Directed by Thomas J. Wright

Written by Ted Mann, Harold Rosenthal

Airdate: April 25, 1997

Guest Stars: Richard Cox (Pepper); Robin Gammell (Mike Atkins); Rodney Eastman (Sammael); Sarah Jane Redmond (Lucy Butler)

Traumatized in the days following the murder of Detective Bletcher, Frank is reluctant to take on another case. In many ways the episode is a direct follow up to "Lamentations" with evil forces continuing to close in on Frank. The series has entered into a new realm, into the mystical and theological. 

A bloody episode with an unsettling motif of throats being cut including an innocent bystander, an accused murderer, and a member of the Millennium Group. Very bleak. 

The elliptical structure of the script adds to the sense of disorientation. It begins with Frank witnessing the shooting of nefarious lawyer Alistair Pepper followed by a flash of white light. Then a rewind to four days earlier with Watts informing Frank of a murder scene rife with occult symbolism. Watts also spotted the young man we saw earlier in the cold open, who will become known as Sammael. 

After a young woman is murdered at a park in broad daylight, the suspect is apprehended, a disturbed young man named Martin is apprehended. But Frank questions whether Martin actually committed the crime. Later Martin is shown cutting his own throat in his cell, but the forensic evidence suggests he died of an aneurism. To further complicate things Martin confessed to the murder of Detective Bletcher.

Martin's lawyer Alistair Pepper takes an interest in Frank, even offering him a job. Suspicious of Pepper, especially after he visited Catherine and Jordan, Frank suspects his motives. Meanwhile someone's been imitating Frank's voice on the telephone leading to the death of Mike Atkins (appeared in Gehanna) who was also stabbed. Chasing a suspect to a grocery store Frank sees Pepper and also Lucy Mercer who appeared in the previous episode. Shape shifting appears to be at play.

Lucy Butler looms large in the mythology of Millennium, she seems to symbolize the ultimate force of evil (equivalent to Stephen King's Man in Black). It's suggested she's behind all the evil machinations of the episode - and possibly the entire series.

The episode's title refers to dense Christian theology on the hierarchy of angels, leading Frank to conclude there's a larger fate at hand that he doesn't fully understand. 

So much is packed into the episode, many of the most important moments happen offscreen. Loaded clues and red herrings, the series had moved from a procedural but into the realm of supernatural mystery in the vein of The X-Files, Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Lost. Millennium drew upon Jungian archetypes, history, theology, and mythology to separate itself from other network TV of the era - which it would build upon in the second season. 

Friday, July 30, 2021

Millennium Season One: Episode 18: "Lamentation"

Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Written by Chris Carter

Airdate: April 18, 1997

Guest Stars: Bill Smitrovich (Detective Bletcher); Alex Diakun (Dr. Ephraim Fabricant); Sarah-Jane Redmond (Lucy Butler)

"Lamentation" was a crucial episode in the mythology of Millennium, reshaping the trajectory of the series. Written by Chris Carter, the episode is fast paced and delivers a gut punch with the terrifying death of a favorite character. "Lamentation" also suggests the supernatural in a pivot away from true crime focus of the first season.

The placid opening belies the dark narrative of the teleplay with Frank and Bletch on a mountain hike until Frank is contacted by the FBI. A serial killer (Dr. Ephraim Fabricant) Frank had once profiled had escaped from a hospital after a kidney transplant. It's revealed Frank had argued against the death penalty for Fabricant so criminologists could study his mind. Frank and Peter Watts pursue a lead to the killer's wife Lucy Butler, a woman he married over the internet. When questioned Lucy denies knowledge of the escape, but Frank finds a reference to his home address on her email. Alarmed, Frank calls Catherine to make sure everything is ok.

Upon further investigation, it's revealed Lucy was acquitted of poisoning of her son, but the judge who tried her case was also poisoned. Later we see Fabricant's kidney being removed by a nurse and he subsequently dies at a hospital. Fabricant warns Frank "the sum of all evils" did it to him and that same evil is targeting Frank and his family, even more ominous is Frank's phone number on Fabricant's hospital bracelet.

Meanwhile back at the Black household the power goes out and Catherine finds a human kidney in the refrigerator. With the phone lines cut, Frank calls Bletch and dispatches him to the house. Catherine finds a man standing at the top of her staircase, terrified for Jordan's safety she finds Bletch outside with Jordan. Aware there's an assailant inside the house, Bletch investigates and finds Lucy Mercer in the house as she transforms into a demon. In a shocking reveal, Bletch is found murdered in the basement, hanging with his throat cut.

Not only have Frank and Catherine lost a trusted friend and ally in Bletch, but the home invasion has also driven a wedge into their marriage. The sanctity of the yellow house, a beacon of hope and comfort throughout the first season, has been violated. Butler is questioned, but there's no evidence to link her to the murder. The episode ends on a bittersweet note with Frank and Jordan hiking together up the same mountain, suggesting a continuity in the face of loss and terror.

The Pilot episode suggested all acts of evil may not be random, and the structure of "Lamentation" moves toward such a conclusion. Not only is it all connected, but Frank Black appears to be a central figure in a drama that's been going on for ages. If the bogeymen of the 90s were serial killers who might live in your neighborhood, today there's a sense your neighbors are armed to the teeth and ready to get violent. The mass psychosis fueled by nationalism and xenophobia brings out the worst in humanity in the past and present.

It would be easy to conclude serial killers and terrorism were a symptom of a much deeper ill in society at the millennium, but it's metastasized. Millennium continually suggests civilization is edging closer to a cataclysm and those with the knowledge may have their own interests. Such a conspiratorial way of thinking is attractive, but ultimately hollow. Frank continuing Bletch's tradition of climbing the mountain and passing it on to Jordan, is a brave act and a defiant method of living in a corrupt world. We live the best we can with the specter of terror always hovering. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Millennium Season One: Episode 17: "Walkabout"

Directed by Cliff Bole

Written by Chip Johannessen, Tim Tankosic

Airdate: March 28, 1997

Guest Stars: Zeljko Ivanek (Dr. Miller) Gregory Itzin (Dr. Hans Ingram)

Opening Quote: "I remember the very things I do not wish to; I cannot forget the things I wish to forget."

"Walkabout" flipped the script for Millennium, creating a mystery around the unexplained actions of series protagonist Frank Black. In the prologue, a John Carpenter style tracking shot goes into a medical building and pans down the hall and into a room with various people losing their minds under the influence of a drug - including Frank. 

Peter Watts appears unexpectedly at the Black household to inform Catherine that Frank's gone missing. Watts hacks into Frank's email and discovers he's been using an alias "David Marx", a name Catherine recognizes from a period when Frank was undergoing mental turmoil and would disappear for days. Frank is found at a bus depot in a dazed state with bleeding hands. Like the others at the drug trial, Frank had an awful reaction to the drug, but he cannot recall why or what he was doing there in the first place.

Frank returns to the site of the drug trial he recalls being there by sense memory - and even more disturbingly recalls witnessing a death. Later Frank is led to Dr. Miller who had knowledge of the test drug and its purpose from firsthand experience - to cure his own disturbing visions. Upon further investigation Frank learns of a Dr. Hans Ingram developed the dangerous hallucinogen to wake up all the "zombies" zoned out on anti-depressants. Ingram spiked the sugar at a city building resulting in disturbances among the employees.

We learn Frank was interested in the drug because he suspected Jordan was showing signs of inheriting his gift. Realizing he made a mistake, Frank realizes he must guide Jordan as her abilities manifest themselves.

'Walkabout" experimented with some of the conventions of Millennium and helped develop the Frank Black character with Henricksen fantastic as usual, bringing out a new vulnerability to his character. As a story the plot was opaque and somewhat contrived. Dr. Miller was a disposable character who deserved more. The same goes for Dr. Ingram who apparently had a master plot to drug people,  but his motives are never fleshed out. But those are minor quibbles, like all exceptional episodes of the series compelling questions are raised about the role of drugs in society then and now. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Season One: Episode 16: "Covenant"

Directed by Roderick K. Pridy

Written by Robert Moresco

Airdate: March 21, 1997

Guest Stars: John Finn (William Garry); Michael O'Neill (Calvin Smith); Sarah Koskoff (Didi Higgens)

"Covenant" finds Frank Black in Ogden, Utah investigating a brutal multiple homicide. The ominous prologue is a flashback to the night of the murders, a depressed father William Garry greets his family as they come home for dinner, later that evening the father was arrested for murdering them in what appeared to be an open and shut case. 

A parent turning on their spouse and children remains one of the ultimate taboos, even creating a sense of shame from within communities. With Calvin about to receive a death penalty sentence, Frank is called in to take a closer look at the case. Evidence leads Frank to suspect Calvin did not commit the crimes, despite his many public confessions. Facing pushback from local authorities, especially from the County Prosecutor portrayed by Michael O'Neill.  A familiar face to television, O'Neill was known for playing characters in law enforcement, he likes to quote scripture and speaks of the "good people" in his community who want to put the crimes behind them. 

Eventually Frank determines Mr. Garry was not responsible after a forensic investigation which included exhuming the victims from their graves. Once the evidence suggests it was the mother who was responsible for the murders, Frank persuades a police officer who covered up evidence implicating the mother to finally confess the truth to prevent the death penalty sentence.

Henricksen was the only series principal to appear in this procedural episode, "Covenant" is firmly based in the true crime genre. Like many season one episodes, the tone is grim yet engaging. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Season One: Episode 15 "Sacrament"

Written by Frank Spotnitz

Directed by Michael W. Watkins

Air Date: February 21, 1997

Guest Star: Philip Anglim as Tom Black

"Sacrament" from season one of Millennium brings the horror to Frank Black's family in an unnerving episode on multiple levels. 

The episode begins with the festive occasion of Frank Black sponsoring the baptism of his nephew. For the first and only episode Frank's brother Tom is introduced. Shortly after the ceremony Frank's sister-in-law Helen goes missing. Meanwhile, Jordan is found sobbing and screaming inside the church. Throughout "Sacrament" Jordan appears to show signs of inheriting Frank's unique abilities, but it's not the central focus of the episode.

Surveillance footage from the airport reveals Tom and Liz were being stalked at the airport by a convicted felon with a violent history. While Bletch orders Frank to stay clear of the investigation, the Millennium Group gets involved with Peter Watts getting involved. The Seattle PD begins to keep watch on the person of interest Richard Green (Dylan Hagerty). A menacing figure with a shaved head and built like a offensive lineman in a scene walking a tightrope between terror and comedy he buys power drills at the local hardware store. 

Further evidence leads to a cabin in the woods where blood samples where more incriminating evidence is found to arrest Green. More bodies are discovered at the Green household, but Helen is nowhere to be found. Seeing the tools, Frank discovers a still alive Liz was being held captive behind a wall recently built in the house. Even more distressing, Green's father is revealed as the actual serial killer, the son served as his Renfield. While Frank has managed to reunite his brother's family - they've endured awful trauma.

"Sacrament" is well paced, subversive, and ultimately redemptive in an unconventional sense. The teleplay was structured with uncanny realism from the brief moment of joy at the start to the tempered solace at the end. The murder dynamic within the Green family unit also presents an acidic take on the parent/child bond. There are also moments of true gloom and dread when the investigation takes unsettling turns. The muted drama forces the viewer to encounter Frank's world and ponder the courage it takes to understand and confront the most depraved behavior in our society. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Season One: Episode 14 "The Thin White Line"

Written by Glen Morgan & James Wong

Directed by Thomas J. Wright

Airdate: February 14, 1997

Guest Star: Jeremy Roberts (Richard Alan Hance)

Opening Quote:

A man's past is not simply a dead history . . . it is still a quivering part of himself, bringing shudders and bitter flavours and the tinglings of a merited shame.

- George Eliot

Another strong episode, "The Thin White Line" sheds light on a key moment in Frank Black's past and has him facing off Silence of the Lambs style with a terrifying serial killer. 

The ominous prologue opens with two murders of seemingly random people. At the hospital Frank notices a slash across one of the palms of the victims, matching an identical scar on his hand. In a flashback Frank returns to his time with the FBI 20 years before when he led the pursuit of a killer targeting random people. While pursuing the suspect Frank gets his hand slashed and nearly gets himself killed. Leading the FBI into an ambush orchestrated by the killer that left three agents dead at the hands of Richard Alan Hance has continued to haunt Frank over the years through nightmares.

Veteran actor Jeremy Roberts, a familiar presence on TV in the 80s and 90s, gave a compelling and disturbing performance as Hance. As a child he moved around from foster homes and endured abuse and then served two tours in Vietnam. Based on the nature of the new spree of murders, Frank determines a copycat is behind them, probably someone inspired by Hance. 

Now incarcerated in solitary confinement in where the lights never go off, he terrifies the guards. Knowing Hance could provide information on the murders, Frank visits him to get information. These scenes resemble The Silence of the Lambs. Frank is warned prison security cannot guarantee his safety when left alone with Hance. The psychological standoff Frank and Hance is a highlight of the season, even verging into the comic with the killer demanding Gary Busey play him in his life story. Eventually, Hance informs Frank the suspect is probably his former cellmate who he molded in his own image.

The episode ends with a replay of the flashback, Frank leading a pursuit into an abandoned building where he almost gets himself killed again. Luckily, Lt. Bletcher (Bill Smitrovich) provides backup and neutralizes the killer. 

"The Thin White Line" ends in a suspenseful but predictable matter, but the story provides some shading to the Frank Black character. "Bletch" has been reduced to Watson type character to assist Frank, not necessarily the equal relationship established in the Pilot episode, but he does provide a steadiness to counter Frank's brooding presence. The haunting note of the ending goes back to Hance in his cell with the lights going off (a gift for his assistance in the investigation) as he grunts like a bear. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Season One: Episode 13 "Force Majeure"

Written by Chip Johannessen

Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Air Date: February 7, 1997

Guest Stars: Brad Dourif (Dennis Hoffman); CCH Pounder (Cheryl Andrews) Morgan Woodward (Iron Lung Man)

"Force Majeure" marked a departure for Millennium away from the "psychopath of the week formula" and into the realm of science fiction. The plot incorporates elements from The Boys From Brazil which explored cloning done with nefarious purposes with an additional dose of modern day biblical based prophecy. 

The prologue sequence begins with a hailstorm frightening students at Washington St. University and ends with a girl self immolating herself. Unsurprisingly the bizarre nature of the event gets the Millennium Group involved. Frank speaks with a student who knew the victim who attested to her intelligence and interest in planetary astronomy, leading Frank to Dennis Hoffman (Dourif) a self-appointed expert on prophecy with a special interest in earth changes. 

Dourif is compelling as usual, one of the all time great character actors. Hoffman is obsessed with the date May 5, 2000, a day he believes that a rare planetary alignment will lead to an apocalyptic flood.* After another girl self immolates herself, the forensic work makes some strange discoveries including matching astrological symbols on the bodies and that have similar genes like identical twins. It's determined they are clones, suggesting a connection to the prophecy.

This leads the story to Pocatello, Idaho because of its high sea level and long distance from any coastline, the perfect place to be in case of a cataclysmic flood. Frank and Peter Watts discover a commune with cloned girls and the leader who lives in an iron lung. He reveals himself to be the mastermind behind the cloning and that he's creating a "pure" group of humans. Frank calls him irresponsible and holds him responsible for the suicides. With the girls about to be taken into custody the bus driver is also part of the cult who espapes with all the cloned children. 

Frank concludes they'll have to wait until May 5, 2000 to see what happens. He returns home with a gift for Jordan, a model of the solar system. Catherine is happy Jordan was accepted into a good school and her education is covered until she graduates in 2010, creating an uneasiness with Frank. 

"Force Majeure" impressively packs in quite of plot into a 45 minute episode. Of all the shows up to that point it captures millennial anxiety with fears of civilizational altering weather. A maestro of pseudoscience like Hoffman looks to prophecy and biblical texts to explain everything. Thankfully the episodes comes down on the side of science which also models extreme weather events related to global warming. Frank seems more unnerved that people believe actually prophecy and that it leads them to extreme actions. At the same time the Millennium Group appears to also believe in the idea of end times, as Watts suggests in a conversation with Frank.

It's also notable all the cloned children are blue eyed and blonde. Iron Lung Man's obsession with purity adds a white supremacist undercurrent to the story. Of course the grand old white men views such children as pure and wants to genetically engineer them! The episode never explores the connections between a messianic complexes and racism, but it's in the subtext. The teleplay also forecasted the Heaven's Gate mass suicide that left 39 dead a month after the episode aired, acts inspired by biblical prophecy (and a whole cocktail of pseudoscience).

A compelling episode, "Force Majeure" has the ambition of a two hour motion picture. 

* Link to NASA website on groundless fears that surrounded May 5, 2000:

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Season One: Episode 12 "Loin Like a Hunting Flame"

Written by Ted Man

Directed by David Nutter

Air Date: January 31, 1997

Guest stars: William Lucking (Detective Thomas); Harriet Sansom Harris (Maureen Murphy) Hrothgar Matthews (Art Nesbitt)

Opening Quote: "Two Souls, alas, are housed within my breast"

 - Faust

With an awkward title for a TV episode taken from a Dylan Thomas poem, "Loin Like a Hunting Flame" returns to the trope of sexual dysfunction leading to criminal activity. The story centers around a man frequenting a rave and offering drugs to young couples to indulge his voyeuristic fantasies. Like many Millenium episodes, the antagonist is a deeply troubled white man living what appears to be a conventional middle class life. There's a string of empathy running through the episode. At the same there's a puritanical attitude on changing sexual mores that may rub modern viewers the wrong way.

You know it's the late 90s with the opening featuring a rave with full on lens flares and the dated style of inserting MTV style video tape shots. After offering drugs to the young couple he murders them and drops their bodies off at Natural History Museum in an Adam and Eve pose. Frank, along with Millennium group member Maureen Murphy,  are sent to investigate. 

Set in Boulder, Frank and Maureen work with Detective Thomas who is uncomfortable with the case. Thomas is played by William Lucking and gives a strong performance as a former sex crimes detective in Los Angeles. The stresses of the investigations led to a nervous breakdown and divorce. Thomas is also seems to be skeptical about working with a female detective, which in a Woke moment (for the 90s) Frank chastises his sexist attitude. 

Another plot point involves a swingers party Nesbitt spies on and later stalks two women who leave the party, posing as a cop before he drugs and murders them. Following the lead of the drugs being used, Frank concludes the suspect is a pharmacist, leading him to the culprit Art Nesbitt. It's revealed his marriage was never consummated, leading to his voyeuristic and murderous desires. Critics of the episode have pointed out the poor depiction of women. With exception of Murphy, she makes most of the major breakthroughs on the investigation, the female characters lack agency,  portrayed as either objects of desire or helpless victims.

An intriguing thread running through Millennium is that it was one of the first shows to deal with the social implications of the internet. While "the net" plays a minor role in the episode, a member of the swingers club mentions an online forum where parties are planned, it will be something to keep an eye on in future episodes. 

The episode ends with Detective Thomas musing on a society going out of control, "normal folks experimenting with drugs and acting nuts." He's also implicitly referring to changing sexual mores, to which Frank muses on the connection between the sex and death instinct leading people to extremes. While never judgemental, Frank seems to concur that an "anything goes" culture could prove problematic. Granted, the discussion is vague, but it does reveal a reactionary ethos. A mediocre episode overall, not helped by the now familiar ending of Frank catching the bad guy just in the nick of time. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Season One: Episode 11 "Weeds"

Written by Frank Spotnitz

Directed by Michael Pattinson

Air Date: January 24, 1997

Guest stars: Ryan Cutrona (Sheriff Geriach); CCH Pounder (Cheryl Andrews)

Opening Quote: "But know ye for certain . . .  Ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city.

 - Jeremiah 26:13

A rash of old testament justice going down in a gated community requires the assistance of Frank Black. In "Weeds." a sort of John Updike story on acid, portrays suburbia as a place where people people flee (white flight) dangerous cities only to create stranger nightmares of their own. The episode is reminiscent of the Fritz Lang masterpiece M and arcane Gothic Americana of The Town That Dreaded Sundown. 

In the Vista Verde neighborhood, a place surrounded by walls, teenage boys are being abducted from their homes by someone who living amongst them. Sheriff Geriach relates to Frank how he can't understand how such awful things can happen when "mostly professional people" are the residents. A boy is abducted on his motorcycle and taken away only to have another murdered boy placed in his bed. 

With no leads, Frank hopes to "weed" the killer out at a community meeting (very M in its presentation). Frank states he believes the suspect has not motive except evil. But the ritualistic nature of the murders, forcing victims to drink blood, convinces Frank there's underlying cause driving the killer. Frank's ploy successfully draws out the killer who wants to show there is a moral purpose behind the kidnappings and murders.

It's discovered all the kidnapped boys have fathers hiding a secret (having affairs and financial malfeasance). It's old testament idea of invoking the sins of the father upon the sons. A skillful whodunnit, the sketchy swim coach is a prime suspect, but his connection to the crimes is peripheral. When the real culprit (we never learn much about him) is found out we discover he's appointed himself as a bizarro vigilante. 

The concept of cultish religious practices going down in suburbia was a staple of the Paperbacks from Hell era of books. The premise of old testament justice taking hold among white men in these communities is not too hard to imagine considering what online conspiracy communities do to people's psyche these days. Even those not involved form "community patrol" groups like they are law enforcement experts. "Weeds" does a great job making the rows of houses on boulevards strange and ominous. Like many of the first season episodes, the pacing feels a bit off at times and the humorless tone tends to draw out the story. But the sociological approach to the material singles out Millennium from other shows of its type.