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.