Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Season 2: Episode 23: "The Time is Now"

Directed by Thomas J. Wright

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong

Air Date: May 15, 1998

Guest Star: Glenn Morshower (Richard Gilbert)

With the Marburg Virus spreading and Frank's suspicions about the Millennium Group at a breaking point, the final episode of Season 2 ends on a shocking and grim note.

Frank continues to waffle about staying in the group. His confusion increases after Peter accurately predicted an earthquake that struck the Seattle area. As Frank continues to consider joining The Trust, he learns his contact Richard Gilbert (Morshower) was murdered by the Millennium Group. Peter also reveals to Frank the Group has a vaccine for the virus it keeps only for members. 

In another memorable sequence, a psychedelic montage of end times imagery set to Patti Smith's Horses, Lara's newfound knowledge after joining the group has caused her to have a nervous breakdown. Later at a hospital, she and Frank share a final moment. He thanks Lara for being the only group member who understood him. 

Frank decides to flee to his late father's cabin in the woods with Catherine and Jordan to avoid the virus. Frank tells Catherine he's been vaccinated and has one dose left which Catherine tells him to administer to Jordan. Later in the night Catherine comes down with the virus and dies. Final images from the episode reveal Frank with grey hair and in a prolonged trance of grief. A collage of sounds of society coming apart set to "In the Year 2525" ends the episode.

It should be pointed out Glen Morgan and James Wong were under the impression the series was ending, but it was eventually renewed at the last minute for the 1998-99 Fox season. The stark finality of the ending is both dramatic and frustrating. There were many loose ends, but it was quite a ride.

The contrast between seasons 1 and 2 are also what makes Millennium compelling. Henriksen observed on the DVD retrospective, season 2 took on a more of a fairy tale and ethereal quality. There were many memorable episodes and Frank's character evolved through the season - the main line being his eventual estrangement from the group. 

As I said at the start of this blog, revisiting Millennium provides an incredible view into the mindset of  of the late 1990s - and the first part quarter of the 21st Century. All the issues Millennium dealt with including cultish mentalities, strange cultural obsessions, anxiety about technology, the evil and tension lurking below the surface of everything continue to stay relevant. The light and darkness from within the Frank Black make the character both prophetic and reassuring. 

Season 2: Episode 22: "The Fourth Horseman"

Directed by Dwight Little

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong

Air Date: May 8, 1998

The wildly engaging, occasionally uneven, but relentlessly compelling second season of Millennium concluded with "The Fourth Horseman" and "The Time Has Come." Apocalyptic in tone and imagery, there are some truly bonkers moments. These two episodes are a head trip above all else. 

Both revolve around the deadly Marburg Virus which poses a dangerous threat to humanity. A variation of the dreaded bird flu once contracted it can kill within minutes. The cold open is set in 1986 showing a farmer discovering all his chickens died of the novel virus. Then the virus disappeared, but it resurfaces in the Seattle area 12 years later.

The amount of plot wedged into these two episodes is impressive. As Frank is being recruited by a new group called "The Trust", Lara Means. has gone MIA after being initiated as a full member into the Millennium Group. Jordan is having terrifying dreams with diseased monkeys. Meanwhile, Peter and Frank investigate a strange death near a river and notice dead birds everywhere and are then placed in quarantine.

Peter takes on a more antagonistic role in these episodes. The tension between the secular and theological factions of the group have hit a critical mass, with Peter certain all the prophecy in the Book of Revelation is true and coming to pass - quoting from it frequently during the episode. An about face for the character that's been building up all season.

In another jarring scene a family in Georgia sits down for Mother's Day dinner and quickly begin to show symptoms of the virus and quickly expire (graphically). News reports of the virus appearing began to spread all over the world.

Meanwhile, Catherine and Frank have finally reconciled and return to the yellow house, but it proves to be a short respite before tragedy. 

Written by Glen Morgan and James Wong, their pulpy, visionary, and apocalyptical script made for compelling, even transgressive, television. The world building of season two truly comes to head in these final two episodes. The Millennium Group is revealed to be nefarious. They conceal information and demand a cultish loyalty. 

Perhaps character development gets lost in all the plotting, but you forget with Morgan and Wong's inventive narrative strategy of never letting the audience breathe.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Season 2: Episode 21: "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me"

Written and Directed by Darin Morgan

Air Date: May 1, 1998

Guest Stars: Bill Macy (Blurk); Dick Bakalyan (Abum); Alex Diakun (Greb); Wally Dalton (Toby)

A sharp turn into satire for Millennium, Darin Morgan's "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me" features four demons in a donut shop contemplating humanity and the banality of evil. Full of '90s social commentary aimed at pop culture, the topical references are very 1998. The makeup staff went above and beyond. 

As agents of chaos and pain for centuries the demons have become bored with humanity. Blurk relates a darkly comic tale of converting a disturbed young man who's obsessed with true crime books and serial killer memorabilia to start acting out his fantasies. In the podcast age true crime has gone mainstream in a big way as a popular entertainment, so maybe we have grown sicker . . .

The second tale related by Abum contends life in the late 20th century has become so joyless and predictable, people have become numb to the pleasures of sin. Perhaps the satire could've been amped up here, but it's in line Millennial unease about contemporary life everywhere in pop culture then and now.

Then Gren relates a more meta story that's a send up of Fox TV shows, specifically the network censors. Morgan drew on his own experiences writing for The X-Files. Mulder and Scully appear, Alien Autopsy and - remember the dancing baby (demon here) are among the many topical references. Are network censors a thing of the past?

The final section with Toby attempted to achieve a pathos, as he relates his attempt to fall in love and the sad failure that followed. Frank makes occasional appearances throughout as one of the few humans aware of their presence and asks them at the end, "Aren't you lonely."

In the 25 years since Millennium has aired one can only speculate how it would handle many of the themes it raised in the context of mass shooting and social media. What would Frank Black make of 2023? 

Season 2: Episode 20: "A Room with No View"

Directed by Thomas J. Wright

Written by Ken Horton

Air Date: April 24, 1998

Guest Stars: Christopher Kennedy Masterson (Landon Bryce); Sarah Jane Redmond (Lucy Butler); Mariangela Pino (Teresa Poe)

An example of Millennium firing on all cylinders, "A Room with No View" is suspenseful and original in theme. Notable for the return of possibly Frank's most terrifying nemesis Lucy Butler (plus Frank throws on shades for part of the episode).

Part of the teleplay's brilliance is how the disjointed elements of the first 15 minutes come together in such a satisfying way. It begins with a harrowing escape from a farm that's quickly quashed by a mysterious figure. Then we meet two High School seniors (Bryce and Howard) meeting their guidance counselor Teresa Poe who dissuades them from applying to college because of low test scores. Bryce encourages Howard to pursue his goals in spite of what adults tell him. We next learn Howard died of a heart attack caused by a fright, while Bryce was kidnapped.

The case gets the attention of the Millennium Group. Frank has visions of Lucy Butler, the woman who murdered Detective "Bletch" in Frank's basement from the "Lamentations" first season episode. Peter reveals to Frank the group's had Lucy under surveillance and have observed no suspicious behavior (later revealed she tortured the agent to death). Lucy's been kidnapping High School kids and putting through a sort of brainwashing to convince them they are mediocre and should be subservient. Meanwhile, Peter and Frank discover a pattern in the kidnappings All the victims were ordinary and considered mediocre by the system, and Roe had worked at all the schools.

Peter observes that many great figures from the past were considered unremarkable during their youths, only did it become apparent years later their innate ability to inspire others to be better. Meanwhile at Lucy's compound she's attempting to brainwash the teens into believing they're worthless. It's an interesting dynamic of a beautiful, charismatic woman attempting to break young men, using a variety of psychological methods, acting as mother, lover, and destroyer. As Nick Lowe wrote, "you got to be cruel to be kind, in the right measure."

Once Peter and Frank make the connections, they locate the compound and free all the captives (with a SWAT team). Of course, Lucy Butler is nowhere to be found. When asked where she could, Frank replies, "Everywhere" as if speaking about Michael Myers or Hannibal Lector. They've won a victory against evil, but the battle continues.

"A Room with No View" presents a nuanced view of evil. Over 20 years later we might be a little more sophisticated on how systems and institutions can alienate and turn out a generation of cynics. So many have an untapped potential that's never realized through no fault of their own. I don't mean this in the Ayn Rand or Nietzschean sense of radical individualism. It's more in the Maslow sense of becoming a fully realized individual that places compassion first and foremost. Our society's need to quantify everything through standardized testing (alluded to in the episode) serves to stifle above all else.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Season 2: Episode 19: "Anamnesis"

Directed by John Peter Kousakis

Written by Kay Reindi & Erin Maher

Air Date: April 17, 1998

A notable episode on many levels, "Anamnesis" is a Catherine centered story (Frank does not appear) that deals with belief and religion. The story centers around a teenage girl who exhibits mystical abilities. Catherine and Lara investigate the case together, modeled on Mulder and Scully.

Five girls at a High School claim to have visions of the Virgin Mary, led by the mischievous Clare (Genele Templeton). Lara eventually concludes Clare may be a direct descendent of Christ, while Catherine is skeptical. Catherine is further taken aback when Clare seems to know everything about her, including her kidnapping and Jordan's own burgeoning abilities. Later it's revealed the group has taken an interest in the girls and has placed guardians to insure their safety. The end of the story suggests divine intervention and sacrifice after a shooting.

Gender and theological history are a major theme in the episode. Lara recalls how women's roles in early Christianity were excised by men, Mary Magdalene be the most egregious case, many believe she was the wisest and most trusted disciple. Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" is played twice in the episode, the lyrics perfectly encapsulate the theme of the episode:

I'm dancing barefoot

Heading for a spin

Some strange music draws me in

Makes me come on like some heroine

An ambitious episode in its engagement with religion, gender, and American culture - enough material for a feature film. I wish the story had gone a bit further in examining youth and religion during the late 1990s. Now over 20 years since the turn of the century, religious and secular society have only drifted further apart. "Anamnesis" offers something of a middle course between the extremes of belief and skepticism, handling these issues with a degree of wonder and maturity. 

Millennium Season 2: Episode 18 "In Arcadia Ego"

Directed by Thomas J. Wright

Written by Chip Johannessen

Air Date: April 3, 1998

Guest Stars: Ed Lauter (Warden Kellard); Missy Crider (Janette); Mary-Pat Green (Sonny)

"In Arcadia Ego" is more in the style of season one of Millennium in terms of theme and tone. The story begins with an escape at a female prison, following fugitive lovers Janette and Sonny as they go on the run. There are shades of Thelma and Louise as the episode follows a similar trajectory. A supernatural element is introduced when it's revealed Missy may be pregnant without a father. 

Green and Crider both bring a humanity to the story. Both women had experienced injustice at the hands of a society rigged against them (also revealed Jeanette was assaulted by a guard), both victims of domestic abuse who acted out and were punished for it. Eventually Frank and Peter track them to a railyard where a violent confrontation takes place. Missy dies after giving birth, while Sonny is killed by the police shortly after. Frank insured the survival of the child and locates adoptive parents.

Frank stoically observes at the end, "this should've ended better." The downbeat ending did not allow Janette and Sonny to be absolved, although the suggestion of a "virgin birth" lingers. A competent episode that follows the logic of a procedural, but it does throw off the rhythm of the season which was heavily focused on the history of the Millennium Group.