Thursday, July 21, 2022

Millennium Season 2: Episode 14: "The Pest House"

Directed by Allen Coulter

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong

Air Date: February 27, 1998

Guest Star: Melinda McGraw (Dr. Stoller)

"The Pest House" takes place mostly in a mental institution, taking the familiar horror movie premise of a mad killer on the loose in a hospital and attempts to turn it inside out. The show begins with a play on the lover's lane urban legend of a teenage couple getting murdered by an escaped mental patient. Frank and Peter suspect the crime was connected to a nearby asylum which holds a man who committed similar offenses. Their investigation predictably leads them towards a supernatural resolution. 

Episode director Allen Coulter skillfully used the hospital setting to create a creepy atmosphere with some moments of levity. The meta-horror quality of the episode was also much in vogue with the 1990s, especially Wes Craven's Scream released a few years before. At the same time the episode felt a bit labored and repetitive with an anti-climatic conclusion. Also, "The Pest House" is a stand alone episode existing outside the main arc of the season, somehow making the stakes seem lower. If the episode had leaned a little more into the comical direction of a previous episode like "Jose Chong's Doomsday Defense", the concept may have worked a little better.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Millennium Season 2: Episode 13: "The Mikado"

Directed by Roderick J. Pridy

Written by Michael R. Perry

Air Date: February 6, 1998

Guest Star: Allan Zinyk (Roedecker)

In 1998 the epochal shockwave of the internet was just starting to enter into television plot lines. People still tweet about Sandra Bullock ordering a pizza online in the 1995 thriller The Net as a landmark moment. "The Mikado" introduced the idea of murders being committed on the web as performance art for an audience of voyeurs to watch. On the DVD commentary track the episode's writer Michael R. Perry talked about wanting to explore the dark side of technology and what form it might take on the web. During the late '90s cultural pundits spoke in Utopian terms about the "information superhighway" ushering a new era of transparency and freedom. The prescience of the episode goes without saying.

"The Mikado" begins with three teenage boys looking for online pornography. They stumble upon a website and instead witness the murder of a young woman tied to a chair. With law enforcement overwhelmed with calls by online witnesses to the supposed murder, Frank Black and Peter Watts (Terry O'Quinn) are called into to lead the investigation. Frank believes the killings are not only real but possibly the work of the "Avatar" killer who once terrorized San Francisco (inspired by the Zodiac killer). Frank even worked on the case during his time with the FBI and is haunted by his failure to capture the killer.

A curious aspect of the episode is that Frank must work primarily from behind a screen. Frank and Peter go on 1998 style zoom calls with local law enforcement, Frank feels especially constrained by relying on screens and web searches. After many clues point to San Francisco, Frank travels there and comments upon the liberating feeling of back in the field where he can use his gifts. But the "Avatar" killer manages to evade Frank once again.

Henriksen and Quinn are at their methodical and stoical best, using their investigative skills to navigate a case involving technology and the past. Allan Zinyk as Rodecker proved to be an effective third member of the team. Unfortunately, "The Mikado" would be his final appearance. The actor brought a much needed comic relief to Millennium