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.