I’ve made several posts about “Millennium”, Chris Carter’s sophomore tv series after the X-Files that he sort of forgot about after the first season. Its no secret that this series had a tremendous influence on me at a very crucial time in my life and set me on the path to where I am today! Recently there’s been some resurgence of interest in The X-Files with Kamail Nanjiani’s excellent podcast series, The X-File Files, which I can’t recommend enough even if you are new to the X-Files! But this has inspired me to really delve back into Millennium for my blog!
I loved the X-Files but for a variety of reasons, Millennium spoke to me on a very deep level and re-awakened my love of horror at a time when I had sort of moved away from it. Hey Horror was in bad shape in the early to mid 90’s and it really didn’t take off again until a little movie called Scream came out. But Millennium’s look and ad campaign also really inspired me artistically and pushed me back into creating dark art and video again for the first time in years.
In the Summer of 1996 during the summer reruns on Fox, these very short and weird promo videos began airing. Fast cuts of horrible things, quickly ending with the image of character actor Lance Henriksen frantically clawing at the ground and then it goes to black and a voice says “You Can’t stop it” while the Millennium logo appears on the screen followed by a deep Bum, bump sound. I was blown away by these promos! I couldn’t believe how cool the imagery was and how dark and weird it seemed. “From the creator of The X-Files” was the only tagline and that was all needed to sell me.
Finally on October 25th 1996 Millennium finally aired and it was shocking!
With this series of reviews I will be going into spoiler territory so if you have never watched Millennium I recommend watching the episode then reading my review. You can find some of the series online on youtube or buy the box set following the link at the bottom of this article. At the time I’m writing this there is no legal streaming of the series on Netflix, hulu or anywhere else.
October 25th, 1996 Millennium aired for the first time on Fox at 9PM. I wasn’t really prepared for how dark and gruesome this episode would be and neither was the majority of TV Viewers. The episode opens during a heavy downpour in Seattle Washington where we follow a man into a rather sleazy looking strip club. White Zombie’s “More human than human” pounds on the soundtrack as the camera wanders the club giving us a voyeuristic view of some of the weird individuals that are enjoying the show. One of the girls is getting ready to go home for the night when the manager comes to tell her she has a “Private” dance request. She reluctantly agrees and we cut to the girl dancing in a private room. There’s a man sitting in the dark behind a glass booth watching. “I want to watch you dance” he says. He holds up a piece of paper against the glass written in French. We start to see the flashes of what the man is seeing as he watches the woman dance. The walls behind her oooze with blood. Flashes of knives and a struggle, then as she dances blood starts to drip down from her head all over her body. The man in the booth struggles and sounds frustrated, his voice breaking as he says “I want to see you dance on the blood dimmed tide..” He hangs his head and the titles come up.
For a cold open Millennium may have one of the best in TV series history. Its dark, its scary and its weirdly sexual. After the amazing title sequence with its equally amazing theme song by Mark Snow, we’re introduced to the Black Family. Frank Black is a retired FBI profiler who, as the show goes on, its revealed he had a nervous breakdown from having to deal with all the ugliness he saw on a daily basis. His wife Catherine and little girl Jordan have decided to move to Seattle, Franks Home town, and start a new life in a beautiful yellow house. They’re a loving family but you can feel there’s a tension between Frank and his wife, Catherine. Its something of a cautious optimism that “things will be better here but we’ve been through a lot”.
Frank is drawn to this work however and we soon learn he’s still working as a consultant for the “Millennium Group” which is loosely based on the real life “Academy Group”, made up of former FBI agents that does threat assessment and consulting with private and governmental organizations. Frank reads in the paper (remember those) about the stripper (the one from the cold open) who was found dead and see’s flashes of what may have happened. Its the first time we’re introduced to Franks “Gift” and you’d be excused if you thought he was psychic. The “Gift” often gets interpreted as supernatural but that was never the intent, at least not initially. Chris Carter has stated many times that Frank was not supposed to be Psychic but the flashes were meant to be his interpretation of putting things together based on the facts presented. However even from this first episode it sort of comes across as more than intuition. Carter was busy getting the X-Files movie going as well as the big move from Vancouver to LA for X-Files 6th season so his guidance over the continuity of Frank’s Gift slowly dissipated and its no wonder it became what it did in later seasons.
Frank visits his old friend Bob Bletcher (Bill Smitrovich) who is head of the homicide division of the Seattle PD and offers his help in finding the girls killer. Bob reluctantly agrees to let him in on the investigation. Frank looks over the body and offers that this is a killer that has killed before and will do it again. He also knows the killer kept her head, without actually opening the body bag to look. Another charred body turns up the next day and Bletcher asks Frank to take a look at it. Again Frank can see flashes of what happened, seeing the man run through the weeds on fire.
We’re given a first bit of introduction to what the Millennium Group is. A detective asks Frank if the Millennium group believes in all that “nostradamus, end of the world stuff”. Frank tells him the the group believes “we can’t just sit back and hope for a happy ending.” We’re also introduced rather cryptically to Peter Watts played by Lost’s Terry O’Quinn. He’s a member of the group and becomes a character of great importance as the series wore on. He and Frank discuss the case and Peter agree’s that this won’t stop and that the group thinks Frank is right for this investigation. Your typical Chris Carter conspiratorial boiler plate, but it does set up the group as this shadowy organization that we want to know more about.
Frank does some detective work and puts together that the latest victim may have been targeted for being gay. This leads him to visit a area of the city that gay men frequent for anonymous sex in the woods under a bridge. Yeah I know that sounds weird but this is apparently based on a real location in Vancouver BC that creator Chris Carter could see from the window of his apartment building.
Frank walks down a wooded path passing men but as he does he keeps getting glimpses of them with their mouth and eyes sewn shut in his mind. Some very creepy imagery. Then frank actually makes eye contact with the killer as he continues down the path. Somehow the killer knows that frank is there for him and takes off running in a sequence that seems like it was written just to have a chase scene in the middle of the episode but as far as TV show chase scenes go this one is pretty great! The killer gets away of course but Frank knows he’s on the right track.
The next day Frank comes home to find his front door wide open and Catherine and daughter, Jordan missing. The kindly neighbor comes running over to tell him that his daughter collapsed and was taken to the hospital. Once Frank is finally reunited with his wife at the hospital its suggested that Jordan may have the same “Gift” he has which again goes totally against his ability just being intuition. This subplot comes back again and again throughout the series.
As Frank watches his little girl hooked up to an IV he realizes that the killer is actually testing the blood of the victims in order to determine if they are carriers of the AIDS virus. He sits staring at the IV and Catherine can tell he’s becoming completely wrapped up in this case. He tells her his theory and she tells him to just go and stop him. Again this is a scene between Frank and Catherine where there’s so much subtext going on just under the surface. You can tell by how she looks at him and what she says that she knows he has to go do this but she’s worried for his health and their relationship.
Frank mobilizes the Seattle PD with Bob Bletchers help and leads them back out along the river to find the killers victim, which he thinks may still be alive. This is the scene that was promoted heavily during the commercials for the series and in all the artwork and ads. Watching this group of police and search dogs all out in the woods with flashlights became a pretty iconic image for the series. One that I recreated in one of my promo videos a couple years ago.
They start to hear muffled screams and find a shallow grave. Frank starts frantically digging with his hands until he reaches a makeshift wooden coffin with the words “Peste” (French for Plague) scratched on the lid. Bletcher and Frank pull the lid off to find a man trying to scream through a mouth that’s been sewn shut! His eyes wrists are also sewn up. The image is just nightmarish! Buried with the man they find the strippers head from the opening of the episode.
Back at the Police HQ Bob Bletcher tells Frank that they found several more coffins but they were all empty. They’re both relived but still no closer to finding the killer. Bob leaves Frank alone in his office and the phone rings. Frank answers and a lab technician tells him that Bob wanted him to follow up on some blood tests that had been requested. The requests had come from the coroners office at the Seattle PD. Frank Runs down to the coroners lab and finds the man he chased in the woods working there. He’s been there under their noses the whole time. The man immediately realizes the jig is up and tries to attack Frank with a scalpel. He tells Frank that this is just the beginning “The thousand years is over…” but before he can stab Frank, Bob shows up just in time to shoot him. As the man lies dying he stares blankly up at nothing and whispers “You can’t stop it.”
While I won’t defend the convenience of how the resolution is more or less handed to our heroes, I will say this is still one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen for any show. It had me hooked in the first 3 minutes and the concept of a shadowy organization that seems to know something mystical about an uptick in violent crime before the Millennium spoke to me. Clearly Chris Carter had been very inspired by David Fincher’s Seven and the tone of the show certainly followed that formula. However, Millennium seemed to really expand on that style, helped in no small part by the natural gloominess of Vancouver BC.
Frank Black was a man that was trying hard to fight the monsters so he could have his safe yellow house with his family. He’s a man that has been to the edge of the abyss and looked deep within it and he’s trying very hard to keep that dark abyss at bay. Its fitting that he returns home the next morning to his bright yellow house with a new puppy for Jordan. Throughout the series it always seemed like Frank was trying to play the part of a normal family man. He wanted and needed that yellow house with the happy wife and daughter but his work was always seeping in making it increasingly difficult for him to control that home life. He tells Bob that one of the reasons he had his breakdown and quit the FBI was because he had received Polaroids in the mail one day of his wife and daughter out shopping. Someone wanted him to know they could get to them. He realized he couldn’t keep his family safe and he had to quit and focus on getting them as far away as he could.
The episode ends with Frank walking with Catherine to the door to see her off to her first day at a new job. He grabs the mail from the porch and sees a envelope that concerns him. After Catherine drives off he opens it and finds Polaroids of Catherine and Jordan in different public places. He sees that there’s a Seattle Newspaper sign in one of the photos and he realizes that he can’t run away from this darkness or keep his family safe from it.
It ends on a powerful shot of Frank just staring off out the door his his house. His perfect new life is showing its first cracks and soon it will change in big ways.
Next Episode: Gehenna
Be sure to share this article if you liked it! I’ll be trying to get one of these done each week but that may not always be possible so bear with me.