Thursday, October 27, 2016

Millennium: Five Favorite Frank Black Moments

There can be little doubt that Lance Henriksen's Frank Black is our sturdy anchor in the great Chris Carter series, Millennium (1996 - 1999). 

Over a span of three seasons and more than sixty-five episodes, this remarkable dramatic program accommodated many different brands and styles of storytelling -- including some unexpected lunges into comedy -- and the face who always held it all together belongs to Lance Henriksen.

Selecting just five favorite Frank Black moments is not an easy task because Henriksen and the series writers/producers/directors gave us so damn many of 'em in those three wondrous seasons. 

Anyway, these five "great Frank Black moments" come in no particular order, and from all three seasons of the series.

1. "Pilot" Frank introduces his family to their perfect yellow house. 

As the series opens, Frank Black and his family relocate to rainy Seattle, but -- caring spouse and supporting father that he is -- Frank has made certain that their lives have at least a ray of sunshine in them. 

Here, he shows them their gorgeous new home, a shining yellow house far away from the repellent darkness of Frank's work. 

In a beautiful, spontaneous moment, little Jordan (Brittany Tiplady) is so excited to see the new family home, she licks her Daddy's nose.  It's an innocent, childish gesture (caught in perfect close-up) that really cements the Black family bond, and reveals the closeness between father and daughter.  

2. "Lamentations"  Frank is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Far away from the yellow house in Seattle, Frank Black deciphers a clue that suggests Evil Itself (in the form of Sarah Jane-Redmond's Lucy Butler), is on the way to "visit" his imperiled family.  And this time, Frank is too far away to help them. 

The expressions that cross Frank's face as he attempts to figure out what is happening, and if his family is safe, probably represent the closest thing to panic we ever see on the guy. 

If something can drive the solid, even-tempered, brave Frank Black to that unprecedented level of 

And sure enough, when Frank's friend Bletch enters the yellow house during a storm -- now a yellow house of horrors -- be afraid.  Be very afraid...

3. "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense:" Don't Be Dark, Frank.

In this caustic satire of Scientology (called Self-osophy in Millennium), Frank attempts to ferret out the identity of a killer by using a copyrighted Self-osophy self-help technique. 

With a tape titled "How Not to Be Dark" and a gimmicky head set, Frank engages in "Easy Visualization Therapy," and is asked by the taped voice to "picture something that disturbed him."

At that exact moment, the episode cuts ironically to a blood-curdling montage of every grisly vision from Millennium's first season and-a-half.

Horrified, Black rips off the head-set and nurses the mother of all headaches. But the point is that Frank doesn't run from the darkness or try to deny it.  He faces it.  He isn't about "self" (or Self-osophy) and sometimes we all genuinely need to "be dark."

4. "Luminary:" Frank Black to the rescue.

An exhausted, freezing Frank Black carries an injured young man named Alex through the hostile, wooded terrain of wild Alaska in the uplifting "Luminary." 

When the young man's stretcher tilts and dumps the boy in the river rapids far below, Frank -- without batting an eye or hesitating a second -- jumps in after the boy. 

This courageous and self-less act represents Frank's ethos in a nutshell.  It's that father instinct.  It's that tenacious unwillingness to give up on someone he has sworn to protect. He will literally do anything to help another human being, even at great risk to himself.

5. "The Sound of Snow:"  "Every day, I want to be with you."

Alone in the wild again, Frank is badly injured and experiences a vision that, in some small way, forces him to face his greatest loss. 

This moment reveals to us Frank at his most vulnerable and emotional, and does so with the one person that he can be so vulnerable with, his beloved Catherine (Megan Gallagher). 

It's a haunting, affecting moment, because we see beneath Frank's strong facade and see -- truly see -- his sense of pain and loss.  This moment always moves me, every time I watch "The Sound of Snow."  Frank faces guilt, loss, sadness and a future that isn't what he hoped it would be.  But finally, he gets to say goodbye...

Millennium: A Retrospective of Season 3

While generally acknowledged as a brilliant and forward-thinking TV series, Chris Carter’s Millennium (1996 – 1999) suffers from the same malady as the original Star Trek.  There is a wide disagreement among fans about the quality and direction of the series’ third and final season.

The first season and second season of Millennium are each widely (and rightly) championed, though they feature vastly different visions of Frank Black’s world.

But the third season fails to win much love, even though it attempts a fusion of the two earlier formats.  I have never fully understood this lack of appreciation for the final batch of episodes, especially since the producers were faced with the difficult task of bringing the series back from the precipice of apocalypse after the second season cliffhanger. 

Essentially, they had to re-boot the world of criminal profiler Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) to accommodate for the  many world-shattering changes of “The Fourth Horseman,”/”The Time is Now.” 

These changes included the death of Frank’s wife Catherine (Megan Gallagher), and the knowledge that the Millennium Group had unloosed a plague upon America, or more specifically, the Pacific-Northwest.

In crafting the third season, producers and writers returned Frank Black to the FBI in Virginia, thus moving away from the series’ familiar Seattle setting and yellow house (now Paradise Lost). 

There, on the East Coast, the producers and writers gave Frank a young partner whom Frank could mentor, agent Emma Hollis (Klea Scott).  I have always believed that Emma worked remarkably well as a central character because she clarified and reinforced the “Frank Black as Father figure” aspect of the series.  

Emma was someone Frank could teach and care for, and that paradigm worked well, since it gave Frank room and space to explain his beliefs and philosophies without his monologues seeming like dull exposition. 

When Emma’s biological father came into the mix, and she had to choose which “father” to honor, the series reached an emotional apotheosis of sorts.  That moral crucible -- in which Emma had to make an unenviable selection -- also demonstrated beautifully the cunning of The Millennium Group.  It would always attack where a prospective member or enemy was weakest. 

The season-long idea of Frank as Father Figure also tied into the final episode’s discussion that “we are all shepherds.”  A father of course, is very much a shepherd, and in Millennium we see that Frank actually has two daughters to shepherd to the light.  One -- Jordan -- looks like she’ll make it.  Emma, however is, in the end, consumed by darkness.  (Though I always believed and hoped that once Frank got Jordan safe, he would return for Emma and help her…)

The other big shift in approach during Millennium’s third season involved the shadowy Millennium Group.  I have seen how some fans quibble with the idea that the Group is out-and-out villainous.  But as I often point out, there was plainly no other way to play the third season, given the specifics of the second season finale. 

Furthermore, the decision to feature the Group as the villain makes sense in terms of a series story arc.

The overall arc of the series sees Frank learning more and more about the Group, from first season to third.  The first season is about a romance of sort between the Group and Frank, as he considers membership.  He thus sees only the “good things” the Group wishes him to see.

In the second season, as Frank’s orbit brings him closer to membership, he starts questioning motives and means, and begins to feel that the Group is manipulative and hiding important information. By the end of the second season, Frank sees the Group as a dark force trying to “force the end” for its own agenda.

So let’s face facts: if an organization engineers and releases a plague on American citizens, it’s tough to walk that action back. 

The third season follows that arc or through-line, with Frank acting accordingly on the information he possesses about the Group.

Some aficionados have viewed this shift to villainy as an insult to the Millennium Group’s real life inspiration: the Academy Group. But again, it is pretty clear that by the second season, the fictional Millennium Group of the TV series had taken off on its own path, and no longer owed its identity to any real life group or agency.  

I mean, are we to assume the Academy Group was run by an “Old Man” and populated by doomsday scholars – “Roosters” and “Owls” – who differed on the exact date of “The End?”

Again, it is crucially important to note that the shift in the portrayal of the Millennium Group started some time in Season Two.  So to curse Season three for legitimately following up on that storyline seems silly and downright inaccurate.

And since Frank’s wife, Catherine (Meghan Gallagher) died because of the Millennium Group’s release of the deadly plague I can’t honestly see how the series would have worked in any other way but to feature the Millennium Group as the primary villain.

How else could Frank have reacted, but to launch a crusade against the Group?  Any other response, especially forgiveness, would have certainly been untrue to Frank’s character at that juncture, and dishonored his relationship with Catherine.  The Millennium Group cost him his family, and cost his child her mother.  There was no way he was going to make nice with it, or return to the fold.

In terms of specific stories, the third season catalog blends season one and season two style stories, with a mix of naturalistic real-life-style serial killer/crime stories (“Closure,” “Through a Glass Darkly,” “Darwin’s Eye,” and  “Nostalgia,”) and the more horror/fantasy-oriented fare like “Borrowed Time,” “Antipas” and the creepy-as-hell “Saturn Dreaming of Mercury.”  Those latter titles feel more like second season offerings to me, on the order of something like “Beware of Dog” or “Monster.”

In considering the catalog, it seems plain that Season Three of Millennium attempts to assimilate what was best about both Season One and Season Two, and fit those approaches together.  In my estimation, more often than not, the alchemy worked.

Some folks have also complained about Millennium Season Three that it ages Frank Black, side-lines him, and at times even makes him look insane.  On the surface, this argument is no doubt true, but if the new dynamic was to be Frank Black vs. The Millennium Group, then the villain had be strong, and represent a serious threat to Frank, his family, and his professional standing.  The Group was trying to knock Frank further from his stride, and sometimes it succeeded.

Again, it’s difficult to argue what Millennium Season Three could have done much differently here, besides sending Frank on a sometimes frustrating, sometimes maddening crusade to bring his wife’s killers to justice.  The problem, structurally speaking, was that the series would end once he got the Group so that meant there could never be any definitive “wins” for Frank. 

And yet, that idea of an ongoing, multi-faceted fight reflects reality and shades of gray.  Victories are few and far between, and life has a way of undercutting them with new problems and conflicts.

When I judge Millennium’s third season positively, I think first and foremost of the following five episodes:

1.“Teotwawki” by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz and directed by Thomas J. Wright. 

Millennium was always at its very best when tapping into the roiling Zeitgeist of the 1990s.  The (then) upcoming Y2K or “Millennium Bug” problem provided the series with a perfect, real-life doomsday scenario to explore. 

“Teotwawki” (or The End of the World as We Know It) seemed to tie the 1990s school shooting epidemic (pre-Columbine) with the Y2K Bug, and then postulate a youth generation that had lost hope for a better future. 

Today, we know that the Millennium Bug was a dud, but in October of 1998 when the episode initially aired “Teotwawki” benefited from a sense of creepy inevitability and realism.  In other words, we were on a countdown already to this “Doomsday Scenario” -- and knew when it would occur -- but we didn’t know how it would turn out.  “Teotwawki” asks what might happen to kids living in that scenario of “advanced knowledge of the end,” when disaster is speeding at them -- and our modern technological society too -- like a runaway freight train. It’s a powerful hour.

2. “Skull and Bones” by Chip Johannessen and Ken Horton, and directed by Paul Shapiro.  

This third season episode offers two absolutely irresistible mysteries.  The first involves a Millennium Group “killing fields,” in case you ever wondered where all the bodies are buried.  The second involves a seer named Ed (played by Arye Gross) who has, over the years, accumulated notebooks filled with detailed notes about the Millennium Group’s every move. 

I fully realize the world of Millennium is fictional, and yet this episode adds much to the series mythology, and makes it all feel frighteningly real. When I first watched this episode, I wanted more than anything to pour through Ed’s journals.   The promise of discovering “secret history” is alluring. But beyond that notion, this episode is powerful because it makes us wonder if Frank is destined, like Ed, to lose his mind and spend his days alone, isolated, and broken…while the Millennium Group continues to bury its enemies in unmarked mass graves.

I admire “Skull and Bones” because it suggests that the Group has had an unofficial chronicler, one who has seen and understood everything.  And in many ways, the third season of the series very much concerns this notion (and curse) of seers, from the remote visionaries of “The Innocents”/”Exegesis” to the creepy (supernatural) severed eyes of “Saturn Dreaming of Mercury,” to the insanity of the percipient in “Darwin’s Eye.”  Do we put Frank in this category of “seer?”  And if we do, what does that mean for his future?

3. “Seven in One” by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, and directed by Peter Markle. 

This episode came near the end of the series and we finally get some clues about the Millennium Group’s end game: its effort to drive Frank irretrievably to the brink of sanity.  This episode is rife with symbolic imagery but offers no clear answers in the text itself. The episode is electric with anticipatory anxiety and a mood of looming paranoia.  If the episode is to be understood successfully, one must literally dissect the assort images, from birthday cakes, butcher knives and a flower in bloom, to the climactic flood which “washes over” Frank and bring him new knowledge. 

2. “Bardo Thodol.”  Written by Virginia Stock and Chip Johannessen, and directed by Thomas J. Wright. 

This multi-layered tale, I believe, visually and thematically encodes an important way of interpreting or “seeing” Millennium.  You can read more about my specific theory regarding this episode and its importance to the overall canon by purchasing the Back to Frank Black book.  

I spell it all out there, but suffice it to say that this episode -- for all its delicious opacity -- is a critical one in analyzing the series’ big picture.  On the surface, the episode concerns strange science, but beneath that narrative there is a thematic obsession with the Tibetan Book of the Dead that reveals something critical about Frank’s journey and how, as viewers, can experience it.

1.”The Sound of Snow” by Patrick Harbinson and directed by Paul Shapiro. 

This installment is another opaque, hard-to-interpret installment, but one that proves highly-rewarding.  A mysterious sender is delivering static-filled audio tapes to victims.  These unusual tapes induce hallucinations in listeners and ultimately lead to death.  Frank receives one such tape and finds himself reliving the outbreak near Seattle, and having a last encounter with his wife Catherine.

Again, this is a pivotal episode of Millennium because it represents the point in season three wherein Frank can purge his feelings of guilt, and finally put the past behind him.  It’s a haunting, deeply-affecting hour, and my personal favorite from the third year.

Other episodes in the catalog deserve an “honorable mention too, from the post-modern “Thirteen Years Later” to “Matryoshka.” 

If the former episode is a meta-analysis of slasher films and celebration of all-things horror, then the latter is certainly an expression of deep fear and anxiety over the Human Genome Project, which the episode specifically compares to atom bomb testing in 1945.  Nuclear science and genetic science are both parsed as Pandora’s Box, here, and both involve the idea of playing God.

So far as I can see, the only genuinely sub-par episode of Millennium’s final season, is “Human Essence,” a story about drugs and human/animal chimeras that fails to gel, and which places Millennium and The X-Files in separate worlds, since The X-Files is seen playing on television during one scene.

When I re-watch Millennium’s third season, I  reflect that the final batch of episodes, from “The Sound of Snow” to “Goodbye to All That…” descends into a creepy ambiguity that, while confounding for lack of answers, significantly deepens the story-line, and rewards multiple viewings.  There is so much imagination and artistry in these shows it’s a shame that more fans don’t try to engage with them on their own terms. 

Some viewers may dismiss these episodes as falling into baffling, David Lynchian, Twin Peaks territory, but, I would assert that Millennium in its final chapter lives up to its potential as described perfectly by X-Pose Magazine in June of 1999:

Millennium has at least become a clear artistic success, making sense out of an often chaotic, disturbing world with consummate intelligence and powerful emotions.”

Yep. That about says it all.

Millennium: "The Curse of Frank Black" (October 31, 1997)

On Halloween night, Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) takes Jordan (dressed as Marge Simpson) trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. A fleeting glimpse of a ghost spurs Frank’s memory of a Halloween night from his own childhood.

A freak breakdown of Frank’s car and cellphone then lands him back at his yellow house. Now, it is a strangely vacant (and ominous….) place filled with ghosts too. 

One such ghost belongs to a tortured World War II veteran who knew Frank as a child, and who has returned, on this night, with a grave warning about the afterlife.

My favorite Halloween TV episode has to be Millennium’s “The Curse of Frank Black,” the second season entry by Glen Morgan and James Wong.  I admire this story for its human dimension and its importance to the larger series continuity, but mainly as an exploration of Halloween, and the idea that Frank Black has become --thanks to teenagers in the neighborhood -- the stuff of urban legends and local fears.

If we didn’t know Frank as we do, if we only had gossip and news stories to go on, what would we think of him?  This episode of Millennium allows us to adopt a dual perspective of the character.

The episode features a perfect symmetry in my opinion.  There are the flashback scenes of Frank as a child, trick-or-treating in the early 1950s and visiting the home of a troubled veteran (Dean Winters).  Frank and his buddies think that the “old man” is weird and scary, and tip-toe around his place.  They fear what they don’t understand.  And they most certainly don’t understand him.

Meanwhile, in the present, Frank finds himself in the familiar position of that long-dead veteran.  Now he is the one who is being whispered about by the young. Now he is the creepy adult; the one with secrets and mysterious.

I have always felt this is a great commentary on how quickly life seems to pass one by.  One minute, you’re the kid afraid of that strange, inscrutable grown-up who lives down the street.  Then before you know it, you’re the grown-up the kids are talking about so suspiciously. 

Life goes by in a flash.

“The Curse of Frank Black” features a lot of iconic (and quite welcome) Halloween symbolism, from Frank’s fearsome jack-o-lantern and the black cat perched outside his bungalow, to the trick-or-treating ritual with his child, Jordan (Brittany Tiplady), who is dressed-up as Marge Simpson.

But I particularly enjoy how the episode suggests that every day in Frank's life is, essentially, Halloween.  Or at least it could be, if he allows it to happen.  

After all, Frank sees monsters and demons lurking in the corner of his periphery and must, by sheer force of will, force himself not to notice them.  He must constantly avert his gaze.  At least if we are to believe he is gifted not just with insight, but with psychic abilities.

There’s something incredibly lonely and sad about this element of Black’s life, and it reminds us that Frank’s gift of insight is indeed the character’s curse.  He sees evil’s presence even when he wants to be blind to it; even at the moments we all take for granted (like trick or treating with our kids.)

I also get a kick out of the way “The Curse of Frank Black” uses legends about Halloween.  The episode remembers that this is a night in which the spirits of the dead can return to visit the living.  Accordingly, a ghost issues Frank a dire warning about how dangerously anti-social he risks becoming if he doesn't change his ways. Other series have also utilized this premise (“Hellowe’en” on Friday the 13th: The Series, for instance), but none have done so better than Millennium's holiday themed show.  Basically, in this case, a ghost tells Frank to lighten up.

I also often return to this episode of Millennium because it’s nearly a one man show, with Lance Henriksen holding the screen alone for the better part of an hour and proving absolutely riveting.  I can think of a lot worse ways to spend Halloween than with his Frank Black character, or in the care of this particular actor.  I find the character tragic, and a little sad in this hour of the drama. Frank manages to finds moment of delight and bemusement when he is alone, but overall, seems very sad and lonely.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Millennium: "The Beginning and The End" (September 9, 1997)

After Catherine (Megan Gallagher) is abducted from the airport by the Polaroid Killer (Doug Hutchison), Frank (Lance Henriksen) loses all sense of restraint and goes in search of him, with the help of Peter Watts (Terry O’Quinn) and the Millennium Group.

Perhaps because his closeness to the “victim” in this case, Frank finds his gift of insight virtually useless. The Polaroid Killer escapes all attempts at profiling.  Instead, he is “so far beyond,” the usual serial killer that profiling him is useless.

Unbeknownst to Frank, the killer has timed his abduction of Catherine to the arrival of a comet in the night sky; one that possesses two tails and has not been seen by human eyes in a thousand years. He considers the comet an omen, one that will decide his fate, and that of all mankind.

Frank acts alone to save Catherine. Over the objections of the Millennium Group, he tracks down and and murders the Polaroid Killer.

But Frank’s brutal actions upset Catherine, who decides it is time for a marital separation. “I feel like you lost something,” she tells her husband, concerned that Frank has lost his moral rudder.

“The Beginning and the End” marks the start of Millennium’s (1996-1999) second season, a span which eschews the more realistic/grounded tales of season one, and explores more fantastic concepts. Similarly, the second season explores, more, fully “end of the world” or doomsday theology and philosophy.

The second season journey of Frank Black also begins with loss. Frank loses Catherine to the serial killer who stalked him throughout season one. And then, after saving her, Frank sees that his actions lose her again, this time on a more permanent basis. Catherine leaves Frank, and in the episodes ahead, we see the yellow house -- the sanctuary -- put up for sale. Frank’s season long quest might be described as one of redemption or recovery.

He must recover his lost insight, recover his wife and daughter, and redeem himself so that he is once more fit to live in the yellow house with his family.  Of course, if you’ve watched the series, you know that the quest does not end well for Frank, or for his family.

But in this episode, the yellow house goes from being a symbol of paradise, to one of paradise lost. It's haunting, and Frank is faced with difficult choices here.  He alone must choose what to do, gazing at the night sky, and wondering which destiny will be his.  Will his acts bring everything to an end? Or will they bring about a new beginning?

The sacred nature of Frank’s quest is telegraphed in the episode by a Polaroid photograph of the yellow house that is labeled “The Beginning and the End.” That yellow house is indeed Frank’s alpha and omega. It is the place, or perhaps symbol (for family), from which he draws his power and strength.  

Yet, as the Polaroid Killer discovers, it is also the source of his weakness, his vulnerability. Fearing for the loss of his family (again, represented by the yellow house), Frank acts brutally, vengefully, and outside the law.  He violates who he is, as a human being, to get the answer he desires and needs.

The yellow house is Frank’s beginning, and it brings about, in a way, the end. His need to protect his family and preserve the sanctuary is the thing that causes him to lose it. Catherine feels that Frank has sacrificed “one thing for another.” He has, she fears, sacrificed his moral compass, his goodness, to preserve it.

Uniquely, “The Beginning and the End,” by James Wong and Glen Morgan feels like a twisted mirror for their earlier tale, “Dead Letters.” 

As you will recall, I hope, from my review, “Dead Letters” is the story of a detective and father, Jim Horn, who has just recently become separated from his wife.  Filled with rage, he can no longer see the cases he investigates in a rational fashion. Instead, he keeps putting himself -- his rage, his feelings of insecurity -- onto the killers he hunts. When he profiles them, he is actually profiling himself.  

Frank recommends restraint, “stepping back,” but Jim Horn just can’t do it, and the results are quite disastrous.

In “The Beginning and the End,” it is Frank who can’t step back. 

In this case, Peter Watts comes to him -- in very much the role Frank occupied for Jim Horn -- and tells him a story about how he got too close to one case he was investigating. That case involves a cooler that was discovered with the body of a 4 month old boy inside. Peter soon came to believe that the dead boy was his own son.  He couldn’t step back. Everything became personal. He lost his perspective.

Just like Horn in “Dead Letters,” Frank is unable to step back, especially with so much of value (his family) on the line. He is not willing to trust the Group, or even Peter. The fate of his family must be in his hands, and so Frank commits violence to achieve his goal. He sacrifices too much, one could argue, to resolve the case quickly.

After this episode, Frank is cast out from the yellow house for his trespasses, and into the wilderness.  That sounds like a metaphorical term, and it is, but it is also literal. The second season sees Frank encountering a variety of stories involving wild animals (“Beware of the Dog,” “A Single Blade of Grass,”) and even reckoning with nature as an opponent, itself (“Luminary.”) 

In many of these stories, Frank is not only confronting other belief systems, but trying to find his way home.  He wanders a wild path, on the way. Again, we can see that in tales such as “Beware the Dog,” wherein a city slicker has to abandon his home in Bucksnort because he doesn’t belong there. Or in “Luminary,” in which a young man finds that his home is not in materialistic western society, but in the woods.

In terms of the series formula, “The Beginning and the End” is a new start, in some ways. The Black family is now estranged, and Frank has no support system.  Beyond that fact, the Millennium Group seems shadier than ever before, and therefore also less of a support system. Watts has some moments here in which he seems to react to the Group as if it is a cult, and he is a true believer.  

That’s why the Millennium Group is here,” he tells Frank after the abduction. “That’s why it’s always been here.”

Also, the rapidity with which the Millennium Group shows up at the airport following the abduction leads one to the inescapable conclusion that the Group is somehow connected to the Polaroid Killer. That he is acting according to some plan the Group helped to engineer, perhaps to de-stabilize Frank, or more significantly earn his loyalty.  

We will hold a special place for you at the Millennium” is a comment, in any circumstance, which is grandiose and a little alarming. There’s a messianic quality to it, for certain.

Certainly, the fact that the Millennium Group has information on the Polaroid Killer and is keeping it secret from Frank is cause enough to be concerned about the organization.  At the very least, one can establish that the Group is playing games when there are lives at stake.

On a much less serious front, this episode introduce Allan Zinyk as Brian Rodecker, the IT guy for the Millennium Group. He provides Frank his sign-in phrase to the server this week: “Soylent Green is people.” Clearly designed to lighten the mood, Rodecker re-appears in four more episodes throughout the season. I never had a problem with him, or his sense of humor, but I understand that some fans apparently saw him as a quasi-Lone Gunmen knockoff.

Doug Hutchison, who was Tooms on The X-Files (1993-2002) guest stars here as the Polaroid Killer, and he is creepily effective both in his scenes tormenting and Catherine and those discussing the comet. 

In the latter case, the comet is on a “thousand year orbit” and is returning “just in time for the year 2000.”  With its two tails, it offers two possibilities for our millennial experience.  Either we survive it, or we don’t.

The comet reflects Frank’s choice too. Either he acts and retrieves Catherine now…and ultimately loses them and the yellow house, or he could act with restraint, and follow the leadership of the Group.  

The second course has uncertain ramifications.

“The Beginning and the End” is sort of a test run for the second season format of Millennium, and as such it is very successful.  The opening sections of the episode, which involves Frank’s (failed attempts) to stop the serial killer with a road block, are immersive, and terrifying.  And the episode’ moral dilemma, while so damaging to Frank, makes for exciting and affecting drama.

Millennium 20th Anniversary: "Powers, Principalities, Throne and Dominions" (April 25, 1997)

What comes after someone survives a terrible and terrifying event? What truths or new perspectives follow in the wake of pure, blood-pumping terror?

These are the pertinent questions raised and answered at least obliquely by “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions,” the Millennium first season segment that directly follows “Lamentation,” the unforgettable introduction of Sarah Jane Redmond’s demonic villain, Lucy Butler.

The battlefield or thematic terrain of the episode is well-enunciated in the week’s opening quotation from Charles Manson, which reads: “Paranoia is just a kind of awareness, and awareness is just a form of love.”

In other words, “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions” concerns awareness in general, and specifically Frank’s dawning awareness of a Cosmic Order outside the ken of mankind. This awareness comes to him only after an extended and painful period of self-doubt and grief.

But ironically, awareness would also not be possible without that self-same period of self-doubt and grief.

Penned by Ted Mann and Howard Rosenthal, and superbly directed by Thomas J. Wright, “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions” thus finds the series’ lead protagonist, Frank Black at his lowest and most world-weary ebb and then -- surprisingly -- opens his eyes to an unseen world; the world of angels, demons and cosmic hierarchies.

The title of the episode itself indicates the nature of those cosmic schemes or hierarchies. According to some Biblical scholars, “Thrones” are living symbols of God’s justice and authority, “Dominions” are beings who regulate the lower angels, “Powers” are the bearers of conscience and keepers of history and “Principalities” are the educators and guardians of the realm of Earth.

Or contrarily, “Thrones,” “Dominions,” “Powers” and “Principalities” may be the categories of evil Minions existing on Earth; the twelve principalities of Satan, for instance (death, anti-christ, covetousness, witchcraft, idolatry, sedition, hypocrisy, disobedience, rejection, hypocrisy, etc.).

Similarly, in Ephesians 6:12 the apostle Paul wrote: “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

This was the author’s manner of suggesting that anti-God, malevolent forces existed in places of state, in places of Empire, in places of government.

Thus, in pondering this episode of Millennium, we (along with Frank) find ourselves plunged into a war involving supernatural beings on Earth. On one hand are angel-like agents of God such as Sammael, who seems a “guardian of the realm of Earth.” On the other hand is Alesteir Pepper, a man of worldly wealth and power and perhaps, actually, a demon. Even Aleister’s name suggests evil, as he jokes with Frank, making an almost-cryptic allusion to the notorious poet and Satanist mystic, Aleister Crowley (1875-1947).

In terms of Millennium history, “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions” plays tonally almost like the epilogue or coda of “Lamentation,” and represents one of the earliest instances in the Carter series of direct supernatural involvement in human affairs. To recap, in “Lamentation,” Frank’s family is threatened by Lucy Butler, and his best friend, Bob Bletcher (Bill Smitrovich) is murdered in Frank’s own sanctuary, the yellow house where Frank tries in vain to “paint away” the darkness in life, per the words of series creator Chris Carter.

As “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions” opens, Frank grapples heavily with the death of “Bletch” and the invasion of his yellow sanctuary. Accordingly, the episode’s dialogue continuously maps Frank’s sense of world-weariness, confusion, and diffidence. “I’m not ready to come back to work yet,” he tells Peter Watts (Terry O'Quinn) with resignation during one phone conversation.

When Frank does become involved in a new case for the Millennium Group -- a seemingly-Satanic ritual-turned-homicide -- Frank admits that his “clarity is not what” he “had hoped it would be.” At home, Catherine worries what will happen to Frank if he cannot right his ship; if he cannot return to his true nature as a crusader against the darkness. “You can’t deny who you are Frank…if you let things go on this way, it’s only a matter of time…”

The unspoken ending to Catherine’s last sentence is no doubt an allusion to Frank’s nervous breakdown; the last time he lost his grip on his identity and his true, best self. Catherine clearly fears the same thing could occur again if Frank doesn’t find his emotional footing.

Interestingly, when Frank is confronted by Pepper, a man who may be a demon, he notes -- in maddeningly ambiguous tones -- that “you’ve come to me before.”

This seems an implicit suggestion that Frank’s previous mental breakdown arose as a result of the works of a demon, even, perhaps, the Devil himself. Only now – upon recognizing the demon again (although perhaps in a different form) - does Frank understand what he is really battling.

Admirably, director Thomas J. Wright’s selection of compositions during the early portions of “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominion’s” echo Frank’s crisis; his sense of uncertainty about himself, his gifts, and the nature of the world around him. Thanks in large part to these shot choices, death itself seems to oppress Frank in this episode, like an anchor pulling him down farther and farther.

To augment this perception of a man overwhelmed and oppressed by death, Wright stages shots of Lance Henriksen visually entrapped between support beams in Frank’s basements (the site of Bletch’s murder). This mise-en-scene limits Frank’s space in the frame and creates, in essence, a visual “cage” around the character.

Director Wright – a veteran of such programs as Beauty and the Beast, Otherworld, Dark Skies, and Nowhere Man -- also frequently positions Frank underneath heavy stone archways or obscured behind objects in the frame. These choices by Wright in general reinforce the lugubrious or heavy nature of the story, of Frank “denying who he is,” in the words of his wife, Catherine, and feeling defeated and overwhelmed by recent, tragic events.

At about the ten minute point of the episode, for instance, in the scene that finds Frank and Peter Watts discussing Sammael, Wright even positions Frank behind two coffins in the foreground, a visual indicator that death is foremost on his mind, and occluding, again, his space or freedom in the frame.

Another moment, early in the episode, also expresses Frank’s conflict. He gazes at his reflection in a bathroom mirror, and the idea, expressed by the director’s selection of angles, is that he is battling himself, (his reflection); battling his sense of doubt and uncertainty.

As the episode continues and Frank is drawn further into the seemingly unconnected case of a murderer named Martin, the profiler continues to flash on mental images of Bletch’s murder. But instead of denying the connection to the event that consumes his mind, Frank begins to explore it more fully. This is Frank’s perennial strength, his ability to face the darkness head on. Soon, he is listening to his visions instead of trying to dismiss them as symptoms of trauma or stress.

Again, Thomas J. Wright cannily finds exactly the right visuals to suggest Frank’s restored confidence. When, during the climax of the episode, Frank witnesses a parking lot confrontation between a diabolical attorney named Aleister and a stranger -- really the “angel of death” Sammael, for instance, Wright presents two competing visions of the conflict in fast succession.

In the consensus view of reality, Sammael is armed with a gun and fires it at Pepper at point blank range. But in Frank’s personalized, insightful view of the event, a kind of supernatural energy beam is emitted from Sammael’s palm and strikes the demonic lawyer. These rapidly alternating views of the same event make the audience aware that Frank again has confidence in his insights. He sees the event for what it is: a supernatural assassination; one of God’s agents (Sammael, who in literature is sometimes good and sometimes evil) “binding” and defeating an agent of Satan, Aleister Pepper.

Likewise, when Frank disarms Sammael after the confrontation, Wright’s camera adopts a low angle perspective, one that in cinema history traditionally represents power or strength. Frank and Sammael – again, an angel or supernatural creature of some variety – share a tight two shot, as Frank puzzles over the gun.

Both the perspective and the staging reveal Frank’s intrinsic strength. Visually, he is on equal footing with the angel in this case. The shot selection thus makes one wonder if Frank is actually a critical part of God’s hierarchy as well. Like a “Throne” is a symbol of “justice” and like a “Power” is a force of conscience, so thus is Frank himself, discerning truthfully that which other humans cannot see. The two-shot reinforces this notion, as it suggests a comparison, a kinship between the two objects or people sharing space in the shot.

When Frank declares that whatever force killed the man named Martin was “anything but natural” in “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions,” he is evidencing his sense of “awareness” (after the paranoia and doubt) as referenced in the episode’s opening quote. Frank has begun to detect that something bigger than man is involved in man’s affairs, and that he is, in fact, a crucial player in that supernatural war.

This idea represents a huge opening up of Millennium’s mythology, an embrace of religious mythology or “faith” in very literal, concrete terms. But what remains so remarkable about this episode is that Frank’s journey from awkward self-doubt to awakened awareness is charted not just in terms of dialogue or narrative details, but in the director’s artistic and meaningful selection of angles and viewpoints.

I often write on my blog that film and TV work best when form follows or reflects content, and this axiom is also true in spades of Thomas J. Wright’s work on Millennium, and this episode in particular.

Another way to put it: The teleplay for “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions” makes Frank aware that there is more on Earth than is dreamed of in man’s philosophy; but Wright’s clever, crisp and expressionist visualization of the teleplay makes the audience actually feel that another world exists side-by-side our own.

More than that, Wright’s steady direction shows us Frank’s place within the larger battlefield, and allows us to take the measure of the man. The Devil wants more than anything to co-opt Frank, to turn him to darkness, but the message of “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions” is that if Frank can maintain confidence in his “gift,” he will see through the Devil every single time.

Millennium: "Lamentation" (April 18, 1997)

“Every man, before he dies, shall see the Devil”

-Old English Proverb.

Dr. Ephraim Fabricant (Alex Diakun) is the most diabolical serial killer that Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) has ever encountered. Fabricant is well-known for having killed five nurses (slitting their throats…), but is abducted from his hospital room after donating a kidney to his sister.

The F.B.I. Behavioral Sciences Unit calls in Frank to investigate Dr. Fabricant’s kidnapping. The trail leads back to a mysterious woman named Lucy Butler (Sarah-Jane Redmond), who seems to be an expert manipulator…and a sadist.

While Frank tangles with Lucy Butler, and attempts to find out the truth about her, she strikes him where he lives, literally. 

She invades the Black’s yellow house -- in the form of a strange man, and a demon -- and terrorizes Catherine and Jordan.

Bob Bletcher (Bill Smitrovich) intervenes, and learns, fatally, just how dangerous Lucy Butler can be.

“Lamentation” is one of the most significant and unforgettable episodes in Millennium’s catalog. 

The (superb) teleplay from Chris Carter is a major turning in point in the series and from here on out, nothing stays the same. 

In the first season up until this point, Millennium is a largely-grounded series, contending in few fantasy elements. Frank’s visions are not psychic powers…they are a form of insight that he cultivates, which we witness. 

And the serial killers may sometimes appear to possess alternate, monstrous forms (see: “Gehenna,”) but those forms are usually explained away in some fashion that restores the audience’s sense of reality.  We understand that the serial killers are metaphorical monsters, but not literal ones.

All that goes out the window with “Lamentation,” a balls-to-the-wall horror tale that introduces a character with clear supernatural (and sinister) overtones: Lucy Butler.  Seductive, sadistic, tricky, and taunting, Lucy appears sometimes as a long-haired man, sometimes as a woman, and sometimes as a monstrous demon.  And she is the most dangerous, powerful foe that Frank Black ever faces.

Clearly, there is more to Lucy than what we understand in a realistic setting or world. The next Millennium episode -- “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions” -- goes even further in charting a kind of cosmic hierarchy, and positioning Lucy, Frank and others within it. 

The supernatural, in other words, has arrived, full-force, on the series.

“Lamentation” involves Dr. Fabricant, and I love his given name. First, it refers to a real life serial killer, apparently. But beyond that common point, Fabricant means “manufacturer.” Or, one who manufactures.

Let’s explore that idea for a moment. One who manufactures, for lack of a better word, is God. 

And Fabricant is a killer in the vein of Dr. Hannibal Lecter or Jack the Ripper. He is a fiendishly intelligent man, with surgical knowledge and a total lack of conscious.  Fabricant, in other words, is the God of serial killers.

And along comes lovely Lucy Butler in “Lamentation,” to take down that God, and totally, utterly destroy him.  Accordingly, Lucy proves that there are some horrors that go beyond the human realm, or human understanding.  She teaches a sociopath and psychopath the meaning of evil. She makes a man who traffics in pain and suffering beg her for mercy.

“Lamentation” operates by a very clever artistic conceit, then. Through Frank’s detailed dialogue and FBI meetings, Fabricant is built up as the ultimate serial killer, the ultimate monster, a real bad MF. 

But then, in a narrative u-turn, he isn’t the real threat at all.  Lucy, instead, is the real threat.  The carpet has been pulled out from under us.  We come to see the devil, and it isn't Fabricant.

Another possible reading: If the name fabricant means manufacturer, what does he (the serial killer?) manufacture? 

Is it possible that, somehow, he gave rise to Lucy? Caused her to come into this world?  Is his presence in the world the “manufacturer” of Lucy Butler in this particular iteration?  Was she sent to destroy him, and demonstrate for him the true nature of evil?

Why is “Lamentation” so perpetually terrifying?  I would say that, primarily, it is frightening because the episode establishes that there is an evil beyond Fabricant’s type in Lucy Butler.  And then, after pointing out that fact, the episode launches Lucy Butler -- like a guided missile -- straight at the yellow house, and Catherine and Jordan.  The danger feels palpable as Frank realizes that his family is danger.

And the danger isn’t given short-shrift. The series loses a major character this week. Bill Smitrovich’s Bob Bletcher, a Seattle detective, gets murdered in cold blood by Lucy in Frank’s house.  Not only is the sanctuary of the yellow house violated by evil and death, but a major character is lost.  

If you become entangled with the devil, or a demon, “Lamentation” warns, there are going to be grave consequences. 

And “Lamentation” doesn’t shy away from those consequences.

What makes the tale even creepier is that Lucy now has her eye on Frank.  Evil has seen him, and recognized him. 

What’s scarier than Dr. Fabricant? The words that Evil “knows you.”

“Lamentation” is also buttressed by a clever book-end structure set in the Cascade Mountains. As the episode opens, Frank and Bletch hike there, and discuss the unchanging nature of the mountains from one particular summit.

People are born, grow up and die, and the mountains still stand.

Then, the episode ends -- after Bletcher’s death -- with Frank and Jordan hiking the same mountains. They see the same peaks, but Frank has changed, and Bletcher is dead and gone. 

We are all mortal and impermanent, and the return to the mountains, after all the horror and death, reinforces that truth of the human condition.  

Love your family. 

Love your life.  Because it ends, and the universe continues anyway, unblinking, in your absence.

And what, finally, can be said of Sarah Jane Redmond as Lucy Butler, who steals the show? Well, this actor - in one just one hour, proves an evil opposite equal to Frank in stature. She is beautiful and slight, and yet she exudes power, and menace. 

When Lucy gives voice to a line of dialogue like “the soul expresses itself in so many amazing ways” in “Lamentation,” it takes on new life, and multiple layers of meaning. It might mean something beautiful, or something horrible. 

Or that something horrible might be considered beautiful by a monster like Lucy.

Lucy returns in two other episodes of Millennium, “A Room with No View,” and “Antipas,” and each time proves a dynamic challenge for Frank Black. But in this episode, she proves absolutely terrifying. The set-piece which involves Catherine discovering a kidney in the refrigerator, and Lucy’s invasion of the house, is one of the most terrifying sequences in cult-TV history.

The scene combines so many visceral elements. You have a powerful menace (beyond all serial killers), a sanctuary invaded, loved ones imperiled, the death of a major character, and the inescapable feeling that our protagonist, Frank Black, is absolutely helpless to stop any of it.  Worse, the universe (represented by the Cascade Mountains) -- in its permanence -- doesn’t seem to care about our suffering.

A “lamentation” is the act of expressing grief. One can see how that definition fits in with the details of this particular episode. Lucy grieves over the death of her child (whom she poisoned). Frank mourns the death of Bletch. And Frank and Catherine mourn the loss of their sanctuary and their “innocence” there, thanks to the home invasion.

But for an episode so powerful, so scary, we don’t need to lament at all. 

Instead, we can praise this installments for its shocking twists in the Millennium format, and for the path it leads us down in future episodes, and future seasons.