Welcome back to Episode 2 of the big Millennium Re-watch. This week I’m taking on “Gehenna” the second episode originally aired on Friday November 1st 1996 on the Fox Network. The episode was directed by David Nutter and Written by Chris Carter. David Nutter has probably had as much of an impact of the look and feel Millennium as creator Chris Carter. Having directed and Pilot as well this episode Nutter really sets the tone of show for the rest of the series.
The episode draws from the real life horrors of religious cults but most notably the Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks carried out by a cult called Aum Shinrikyo. The cold open has a group of men driving in a shiny BMW while listening to Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Membrane”. They give the young man in the back seat a dose of LSD and force him out of the car at an abandoned warehouse where they terrorize him then leave him there alone. The young man runs but is attacked by what he perceives to be a demon.
The following day cremated remains and a partial ear are found dumped in a flower garden at a public park. Frank and fellow group member Peter Watts (Terry O’Quinn) are brought in to investigate. They determine that there are cremated remains from multiple bodies in the same park. Frank theorizes that the killer feeds off the suffering of his victim when he burns them alive.
Once the identity of the victim is confirmed Frank and Peter pay a visit to the mans parents who present a letter that was sent to them by their son where he explains that he’s joined a new religion where basically capitalism is his God.
This cult is by far one of the strangest I’ve seen in a TV show. Its rare you hear of cults where making money is the path to enlightenment! We’re shown the cult members working in dull room where they’re telemarketing some stupid product to unsuspecting people. Its just tables of young men with phone cold calling people about a hair product. In the front of a room is a projector showing motivational messages, a la 1984, about hair products and making a sale. One man is singled out as the next victim.
Chemical traces in the cremated remains leads Frank and Peter to a abandoned factory. Hoping for a break in the case they steak out the factory when a car drops off the young man that was singled out in the telemarketing office before. Instead of running into a demon this time the young man runs into Frank where he’s taken into custody. In questioning the young man tells Frank that no one can escape the beast then actually wills himself to die. Frank realizes he’s never seen anything like this before!
Meanwhile back home in Seattle Catherine gets spooked when the new security light Frank installed goes off. Frank has his friend Bletcher go and check on Catherine to make sure she’s ok. Catherine thinks this is just Frank being overprotective but she doesn’t know that someone is stalking she and Jordan and that Frank was sent Polaroids of them in public places at the end of the last episode. Frank speaks with Mike Atkins, another group member, regarding the Polaroids but he assures Frank that the threat to his family is minimal at this point.
Frank does some investigating into a word that was associated with the cult, Gehenna, meaning hell or a place of suffering. He discovers a shipping company with a warehouse called Gehenna Industries. Frank calls Mike Atkins and tells him he should check it out, but then he has a bad feeling after he hangs up the phone with Mike. Concerned he calls the police with the address and they arrive just as Mike is trapped in an industrial Microwave and is partially immolated. They save his life but not before he is seriously injured by the microwaves. The leader is captured and Frank looks at him through an interrogation window and realizes that this is an evil that can’t be reasoned with or provide any explanation for why it exists.
Gehenna examines the need people have to label a horrible act as “evil” by not attempting to understand it. Clearly it can be very difficult to make sense of why something as horrible as a terrorist attack is carried out. Its easier to just label something as evil and here even Frank does this. Later he talks to Catherine who tells him that psychology and medicine has helped us understand why someone would do something “evil”. Yet Frank posits, whether its really something in us or a force or presence out there waiting. In the mythology of Millennium, Chris Carter is already laying the groundwork for implying that yes, there is something out there in the dark that might influence evil acts.
Millennium is very much a show that played on the pre-millennium tension of what the year 2000 meant and what it might bring. There was a sense that Americans had sort of abandoned religion and Carter uses that to create a series where evil events are happening because the people that can do something about it may have lost their way. Looking back at this series now its seems like it was the first Post 9/11 tv show even thought it aired in 1996, 5 years before 9/11. Its interesting how many of the themes this show deals with as it goes on really ties into what happened in America following the terrorist attacks in September of 2001. Evil as something that is external is a very intoxicating idea and its one that Millennium runs with during the first season. But we’ll explore that more next time on the Millennium Rewatch!
Next episode: “Dead Letters”