Saturday, June 18, 2022

Millennium Season 2: Episode 11: "Goodbye Charlie"

Directed by Ken Fink

Written by Richard Whitley

Air Date: January 9, 1998

Guest Star: Tucker Smallwood (Steven Kiley)

Opening Quote: Let us go in; the fog is rising. - Purported last words of Emily Dickinson

"Goodbye Charlie" is an outlier Millennium episode in that it takes a sympathetic approach towards the story's antagonist. Frank and Lara are sent to investigation recent "murders" of people who have one thing in common: they are all terminally ill. 

"Steven Kiley" is well played by Tucker Smallwood, a veteran TV and film actor. We are introduced to him on the prologue. Set in a motel room he's singing "Seasons in the Sun," the unlikely 1974 hit by Terry Jacks about the death of a friend. It's clear he's administering a lethal injection to a man on the bed. Later it's revealed he's helping people end their lives, even creating a peaceful scene, perhaps taking inspiration from the death room in Soylent Green. We later see him working at a crisis hotline and as a hospital nurse. 

The episode is asking, how American society handles death. Steven feels he's doing humane work by providing mercy to those who are suffering. He's also violating many laws. When Frank and Lara finally get him in for questioning, he and Frank engage in a perplexing debate. Tim argues end of life care in America is nothing more than a cash grab for doctors. Frank replies:

What if everything you're saying could be proved, absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt. There is still the law. Without the law, there's chaos. The end of order is the end of the world.

Steven replies:

Obeying immoral laws is the end of the world.

While the episode never makes an issue of Steven being a Black man, his response to Frank speaks to how white and Black people view America's system differently. History has shown immoral laws aimed at African Americans continue to plague America from its inception to the present. 

The episode ends with Steven evading any capture, Lara and Frank are left wondering why the group sent them on this case. Frank concludes it was not a question of right and wrong, but whether Steven was from heaven or hell.

Perhaps a trite observation, but it's clear Steven views himself as doing good in defiance of an unjust system. In this case the health care system in America, a political debate of the 1990s that continues to rage today as medical costs continue to skyrocket. There will always be individuals acutely aware of injustice that remains hidden to many, and some will take action. "Goodbye Charlie" asks how far should one go?

As an addendum Bobby Darin is referenced once again. Frank and Steven are both fans of his music, Steven spoke of Darin being ill from a heart condition his entire life and after a series of operations failed to help, he decided to refuse treatment and keep going until it gave out, living a dignified life. 

Anyway, as Frank observed, "Goodbye Charlie is a cool song."

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