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.

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