TV - Millennium

Frank Black

Susan Omand looks at the way the world could have ended with Chris Carter’s series, the darker, apocalyptic Millennium...

Ah, the Millennium. Remember it? Where were you as the bells rang in the year 2000? I was in a high profile crime lab computer room, making sure that the years of hard work put in by IT specialists around the world, who changed hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code and databases to deal with the date rollover, ensured that the media scare-mongering of the dreaded Y2K bug, threatening computer chaos, a mass shut down of utilities, rioting in the streets and the end of civilisation as we know it, ended up as the “damp squib” that we all remember, as all the hard work behind the scenes paid off and the calendar ticked over harmlessly. But that is a story for another time.

The TV series Millennium was a three season show, starting in 1996, that has been called both a “spin off” and “follow up” of The X-Files, although it was, in fact, neither. The overall premise came from an idea in a season 2 episode of The X-Files, Irresistible, where Dana Scully has hallucinations about the case, and was the first in which Chris Carter worked with director David Nutter, who steered the first two episodes of Millennium. In Millennium, however, this idea of hallucination is taken a step further as ex FBI Profiler Frank Black, played by the wonderful Lance Henriksen, moves to Seattle with his wife and daughter after a mental breakdown to start working with the shadowy Millennium Group, under the eye of Peter Watts, played by the equally wonderful Terry O’Quinn before his stints in Lost and Hawaii Five-0. The initial twist on the usual police procedural, though, is that Black has the ability, whether learned or natural, to see into the minds of serial killers, to understand their motivations and actions. Add into this edgy writing, directors who were not afraid to go for the darker, messier aspects of serial killing long before the Dexter era, an underlying thread of Nostradamus like prophecies, doom laden literary and poetic quotes to open each episode after the pilot and the growing fear and paranoia of an audience being petrified by the real life media into hoarding tinned food and supplies for the oncoming apocalypse of Y2K and you have the ideal dark show at the ideal dark time.

The first season was very much a “crime of the week” set up, with Carter himself at the production helm, and Black pursuing various serial killers and other murderers, with only occasional references to the Group's true purpose. This, though, allowed for a lot of development for the main characters of Frank, his wife Catherine, daughter Jordan and Peter Watts of the Millennium Group, in preparation for the long story arc of season 2, at which point Carter handed of the control of the show to Glen Morgan and James Wong while he concentrated on season 5 of the X-Files. And season 2 of Millennium, in my opinion anyway, is probably one of the best seasons of anything on TV. Ever. Why? The level of gore for the sake of shock value, so evident in season 1, was cut down drastically and the writing of Morgan and Wong made sure that the mind games and paranoia hit a new high. The interaction between Black, his wife and the Group becomes pivotal as we find out a lot more about the motives of Millennium Group, their prophecies and conspiracy theories and their end goal, part of which plays out in the Season 2 double episode finale to stunning, and tragic, effect. If you’ve not seen it, I’ll not give anything more away than “madness, murder and the end of the world... maybe” ... but, WOW. Season 3 saw Carter back in charge production-wise and a return to stories more like the initial season as he tried to pick up the pieces and pull back some story from the utterly surreal and seemingly final season 2 finale, with the action back in Washington and the FBI rather than Seattle. Unfortunately, in their bid to make the shows “a little more accessible” again, they lost the viewer following that Season 2 had built up and Millennium was never picked up for a fourth season, being quietly cancelled without comment. In order to try and tie up some loose ends, though, Carter allowed a crossover “finale of a sort” episode for Frank Black and the Millennium Group as they appeared in a season 7 X-Files episode but this was more of a damp-squib denouement than the fireworks finale we had all hoped and feared for.

Much like the Millennium itself then really... and someone, somewhere breathed a sigh of relief.

Image - 20th Century Fox