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.