Monday, April 1, 2024

Season 3: Episode 4: "Closure"

Directed by Daniel Sackheim

Written by Larry Andries

Air Date: October 23, 1998

Guest Stars: Garrett Dillahunt (Rick Van Horne); Michael Sunczyk (Peter); Shelley Owens (Joni)

"Closure" is a bruising episode of Millennium, as Emma and Frank pursue a group of thrill killers wreaking havoc across the Northwest. In fact, "Closure" may be the most violent entry in the series in terms of carnage. The climatic shootout is like something in a Michael Mann movie and was inspired by the 1997 North Hollywood shootout

The episode also reveals some of Emma's backstory and that she witnessed her sister getting shot by a criminal when she was a child. Frank takes on more of a mentor role. Perplexed by Emma's interest in a group of petty criminals, he discovers her drive towards law enforcement goes back to childhood.

Larry Andries script also focuses on the criminals, who's crime spree resembles Bonnie and Clyde or the Starkweather killings. Rick Van Horne is a former military man who has snapped, while partner Michael is simply along for the ride, there's also a homoerotic undertone to their relationship. When they pick up bartender Joni, the sexual charge is more explicit. When they terrorize a hiker, it recalls Natural Born Killers. To the script's credit, it does manage to humanize the perpetrators despite their repugnant actions.

A memorable standalone episode that allowed Klea Scott to take the lead, "Closure" beckoned new possibilities for the third season.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Season 3: Episode 3: "TEOTWAWKI"

Directed by Thomas J. Wright

Written by Chris Carter & Adam Spotnitz

Air Date: October 16, 1998

Guest Stars: Peter Outerbridge (Agent Baldwin); Jeremy Guilbaut (Brant Carmody); Stephen James Lang (Det. Giebelhouse)

An acronym for "The End of the World as We Know It", 'TEOTWAWKI" is an especially unnerving episode to watch in the 2020s. While the episode hinges on the Y2K anxiety of the late 90s, the cold open depicts a school shooting (doubtful it would air today), while the plot is about suburban paranoia.

At a High School pep rally a shooter opens fire and kills four students. The FBI is called in to investigate with Agents Hollis and Baldwin taking the lead. When Detective Geibelhouse observes in the aftermath of the shooting, "What do we even call this?' One cannot fail to think of the Columbine Massacre, which was less than a year away, and like in the episode, both would happen at an affluent white suburban school. 

The gun is traced to Brant Carmody, a troubled student with a history of violence. When the FBI comes to question his wealthy parents, they hear gunshots and discover Brant was shot dead. Frank is called in at the request of Geibelhouse, who suspects Carmody was murdered. Meanwhile, a subplot follows a tech company preparing for Y2K, whose employees are convinced the world will descend into anarchy when everything shuts down.

Frank and Emma discover connections between the shooting and the company. A group of men are stockpiling supplies and convincing their families and terrifying their families about Y2K. As a result, Brant descended into nihilism, which was the motive for the shooting, and the reason his father killed him. A student with knowledge of the underground survivalists leads Emma and Frank to the Y2K compound and Frank convinces Brant's father to surrender.

J.G. Ballard wrote that the suburbs "dream of violence." The sentiment is an ongoing thread running through Millennium. Guns are also a recurring motif in the episode. It's one of the few instances when we see Frank firing a gun, at target practice because the bureau requires it. While the episode is by no means a public service statement for gun control, it can be read as a warning about the consequences of a heavily armed populace. Fathers are obsessed consumed being protectors, the anxiety is passed on to everyone around them, leading to violence.

The sense of catastrophism in the script also strikes a prophetic tone. While the year 2000 passed without incident, 9/11/01 and its aftermath supercharged the paranoia already set in place by Y2K. Frank observes to Emma that in the event of a technological failure, humanity and not ammunition will save us.

A standout episode for its insight on the American psyche by the late 1990s, and it eerie sense of where things were going: mass shootings becoming common, people living in false realities, and institutions serving the wealthy. Perhaps the episode said more than the creators ever knew or foresaw.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Season 3: Episode 2: "Exegesis"

Directed by Ralph Hemecker

Written by Chip Johannessen

Air Date: October 9, 1998

Guest Stars: Terry O'Quinn (Peter Watts) Doris Chicott (Elderly Woman)

"Exegesis" was the second part of Millennium's two-part premiere, offering an increasing number of plot twists and retcons to clear up lingering questions from the previous season. In saying that, "Exegesis" establishes the Millennium Group as the new villains, reintroducing Peter Watts, a former mentor, and confidante to Frank Black who's know his nemesis.

The plot machinations continue with the women who are indeed being targeted by the Group. Frank and Emma discover a connection linking the women to a "remote viewing" program from the 1970s, the government believing these women had the ability to project their consciousness to locations thousands of miles away. There is a history of the U.S. Government exploring such phenomena. Frank and Emma manage to track the "Elderly Woman" they observed remote viewing on an old tape to an abandoned silo, where they get into a shootout with group members and Frank almost gets crushed by an elevator. The woman reveals the end of the Cold War has led to an existential crisis, no longer having the power of the button has made the powers that be restless, hungry for more power. Frank decides to cover up the involvement of the Group in connection to the plane crash and the murders in his final report to protect himself.  

If anything, "Exegesis" induces a reevaluation of Peter Watts who was actually grooming Frank all along: providing emotional support, earning Frank's trust, preparing him to join the group. Frank is now in the position of having been deceived by a friend and colleague and will face consequences for going against the group. 

In a rarity, the episode ends with Frank's narration after he's purchased a birthday present for Jordan, "We can see the future in tantalizing glimpses that vanish as quickly as they appear . . Not that the future is, but that it is. Waiting for us. A reassuring thought."

Frank's notion reminds us why Millennium remains one of the great shows focused on existential and spiritual crisis, resonating even more this deep into the 21st Century.

Season 3: Episode 1: "The Innocents"

Directed by Thomas J. Wright

Written by Michael Duggan

Air Date: October 2, 1998

New Cast Member Debit: Klea Scott (Special Agent Emma Hollis)

Guest Stars: Ken Pogue (Tom Miller); Peter Outerbridge (Special Agent Barry Baldwin); Stephen E. Miller (Assistant Director Andy McClaren)

The second season of Millennium ended on the grimmest note imaginable. As a deadly virus appeared to be spreading everywhere, Frank Black took refuge with his family in the mountains, only to see his wife Catherine succumb to the disease. Faced with a tragic dilemma, Frank gave the vaccine to his daughter Jordan, saving her life. 

But with the series unexpectedly renewed for a third season, the two-part premiere had a lot of explaining to do.  

For the most part, "The Innocents" and "Exegesis" succeeded in telling an ambitious story tying up some lose ends from the previous season and setting the stage for the new season with the Millennium Group set up as the antagonists - and Frank determined to stop them.

The episode begins in a house as an old woman utters, "it has begun." Then we move to a commercial jet and follow a young woman into the bathroom where she finds a gun, shoots the ceiling, causing a fatal crash that kills over 100 passengers. 

Meanwhile, the scene shifts to the DC Metro area where Frank has relocated with Jordan. Catherine's parents are helping out, but her father Tom blames Frank for her death.  For it's revealed the Marburg Virus was contained to the Pacific Northwest, so it was not the apocalyptic event everyone feared. Life has returned to business as usual. Frank is back working with the FBI where he's something of a legend, but he's lost in grief and his therapist advises him to take things slowly.

At the crash site, the FBI is investigating the event as a crime. We're introduced to Special Agent Emma Hollis, who will become Frank's partner. The ambitious lead investigator, Special Agent Baldwin, believes it was a simple case of sabotage by a disgruntled employee. Frank begins experiencing visions of the crash and offers his assistance, where he and Hollis discover evidence linking the crash to mothers and daughters who all look similar - and the Marburg Virus.

If it all sounds a bit convoluted, you're not alone. Frank's superior, Assistant Director McClaren, finds it hard to believe to believe as well. A string of further incidents, a gas explosion in Salt Lake City, where the victim are also a blonde mother and daughter, the mother confesses at the hospital they are being targeted by the Millennium group for unspecified reasons, and provides information about the next target.  Frank and Emma pursue the lead, only to witness a fatal car accident with another mother and daughter. 

There's almost a Final Destination vibe to the episode with all the freak accidents being orchestrated. The machinations of the plot do force some mental gymnastics, but the steadiness of the direction and sheer assurance of seeing Frank and Jordan (and the addition of Klea Scott) provides a strong foundation for a new season.