Saturday, October 06, 2012

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Land of the Lost: "Gravity Storm" (October 11, 1975)

This week on Land of the Lost, a gravity wave suddenly drops the Marshalls, the Paku, and even the dinosaurs like some kind of “giant invisible hand.”  The wave is so powerful, in fact, that it threatens to pull down colossal trees by bending and breaking their ancient trunks.

In “Gravity Storm,” this strange force recurs, and the Marshals join up with the worried Paku to find the source.  At the Weather Pylon, the allies discover the Matrix engaged in some critical but unexplained activity, and Will sees the Skylons -- Altrusia’s weather repair mechanism – hovering over the Mist Marsh.

After Holly injures her ankle and Ta is enlisted (actually bribed…) to help carry her back to High Bluff, Will and Marshall head to Marsh to find the cause of the gravity wave.  

There, the unemotional alien composed of Light, the Zarn, is attempting to activate his drive system and escape from Altrusia.  Marshall warns him that this kind of forced departure from the Land of the Lost is not possible, but Zarn stubbornly maintains his efforts to break out of the pocket universe.  

To keep the Marshalls occupied while he does so, the alien sends “Fred” after the two men.  Fred is a giant dinosaur robot….

After Fred is dispatched by a lucky lightning strike, Will and Rick bombard the Zarn with their human feelings, an act Will calls “emotional chickenpox.”  Before long, the Zarn is incapacitated and his ship is crushed by the failed drive system.  When the gravity disruptions cease, Will feels gratified to have won the day, but Rick reminds him that they didn’t win.

 On the contrary, the Land of the Lost did…

“Gravity Storm” is an all-together more intriguing episode of Land of the Lost’s second season than we’ve seen in a few weeks.  The episode not only features a good villain in the form of the unemotional and ruthless Zarn, but introduces that strange new minion: Fred.  

As it turns out, Fred is actually a stop-motion dinosaur model made for the series, only sans skin.  He’s just a metal dinosaur skeleton, in other words.  Fred’s not particularly menacing, however, since he possesses no arms, and squeaks like Dopey or Junior.  He’s actually kind of cute.  We never get to his like again in the series.

Like many episodes of Land of the Lost, “Gravity Storm” is encoded with an environmental message.  Here, the Marshalls, Paku and the Skylons team up to solve a problem, and that problem turns out to be a misbehaving individual who puts his own welfare ahead of the common good.  The very environment of Altrusia falls out of balance because of the Zarn, and threatens to destroy everyone, if an accommodation can’t be reached. 

The episode does a good job of exploring the Zarn’s stubborn behavior.  When Rick tells him he could break the land of the lost “in half” with his gravity drive, Zarn replies “I will break it half.”  He clearly doesn’t care how his behavior impacts others.

With no compromise possible, the Marshalls reluctantly resort to mental violence, blasting the Zarn with aggressive emotions, and his least favorite feeling of all: pity. 

The episode holds up well today not only because the series’ environmental theme is powerfully voiced, but because the Marshalls are shown to have some regret about their irreversible actions.  

They make the right choice to save the land of the lost, but Zarn’s beautiful ship of lights is crushed like a tin can.  It’s rewarding that the writers allow the Marshall’s to feel this emotion of regret, and make the point (for the kids in the audience) that destruction has a price..  Violence may sometimes be necessary, but that doesn’t mean you have to enjoy it.

Next week on Land of the Lost: “The Longest Day.”

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Top Five James Bond Pre-Title Sequences

The James Bond films are widely renowned for their spectacular pre-title action sequences.   Often, these elaborate sequences feature an independent narrative only loosely connected to the film proper, or even ones unconnected all-together (Octopussy [1983], for example). 

The express purpose of the pre-title sequence, in fact, sometimes seems to be to out-do and one-up the previous film’s climax.   Accordingly, these starting moments are often dominated by stunts and incredible action, sometimes even record-breakers.

The upshot of this approach is that James Bond fans know -- all too well -- that when the lights go down, the action starts…immediately.

So, how to rate a 007 pre-titles sequence?  I submit that the best ones tell a complete story, show us something we haven’t seen before, begin the movie with a tremendous jolt of adrenaline, and capture -- in some concise (yet dazzling) way -- the James Bond aesthetic, some canny mixture of action, sex, and humor.

5. Goldfinger (1964)

Although some modern viewers might consider this pre-titles sequence simple, basic, or even ordinary today, I believe it remains the prototype for all the ones that come later.  Set in an unnamed Latin-American country -- where Bond (Sean Connery) is on a mission to destroy a drug laboratory -- this Goldfinger opener reminds us and re-establishes for us every quality that we love about 007, and about the Bond film series.

The scene boasts a sense of humor, since Bond wears a hat that looks like a sea-gull as he emerges from the water in a wet suit.  It features a nod to his impeccable sense of style, since the agent wears a white dinner jacket and bow-tie under his scuba gear, and it even features a dynamic Ken Adam-designed villain headquarters.

The icing on the cake is the beautiful dancer Bond romances, and the knock-down, drag-out fight with a cold-blooded killer in her dressing room.  In one of the film’s many visually dazzling moments, Bond becomes aware of the assassin by seeing his approach reflected in his lover’s eye.  After Bond electrocutes the villain, he even lays a quip on us.  “Shocking…

Action, romance and humor combine perfectly in a scene less than five-minutes in duration.  Goldfinger hits every important note of the Bond film mystique, and is the standard for all the films that follow.

4. Octopussy (1983)

This pre-title sequence finds James Bond (Roger Moore) on a mission in Cuba to destroy an experimental air-craft tracking/weapons system.  The mission fails rather egregiously, but thanks to the help of a lovely agent, Bianca (Tina Hudson), he escapes from captivity, boards a mini-jet, and -- with the unintentional help of the Cuban air-force-- completes his task.  As the sequence ends, the mini-jet runs out of gas, and Bond conveniently locates a gas station…

This sequence features one of the all-time best Bond vehicles, a tiny jet known as an Acrostar Micro-jet.  It is so tiny, in fact, that it can fit comfortably inside a standard horse trailer, and roll into a lane at your average gas station.  And boy can it fly...  The stunts involving the plane are stunning, and final punch-line, “Fill her up please” is perfect, especially as delivered by the smiling Moore.

Again, we get the beautiful woman, the deadly crisis, and an explosion of an enemy headquarters (in this case an airplane hanger), but the addition of the distinctive Acrostar makes all the old standards feel new, and vibrant.

3.A View to A Kill (1985)

Roger Moore’s last Bond film features a lot of ups and downs.  One moment it feels grim and brooding, and the next it is reveling in campy humor.  Although this schizophrenia is also revealed in the pre-title sequence, the sequence is nonetheless one of the finest in the series in terms of the stunt work and musical scoring (by John Barry).

The scene opens in Siberia as Bond (Moore again) finds the corpse of 003, and recovers an important micro-chip.  In short order, however, he comes under attack from a team of Russian soldiers.  The soldiers come at 007 on skis, on jet-skis, and in a helicopter. 

Bond navigates his way through the icy terrain -- and over a body of water -- to reach a submarine disguised as an iceberg.  But he doesn’t leave the scene before serving as a one-man wrecking crew, killing his enemies, and taking down the helicopter with a flare gun.

Scored in lugubrious but memorable fashion, this pre-title sequence is veritable carnage candy, with Bond taking down scores of opponents, and resourceful “surfing” across the water to reach freedom. 

I know the purists hate these moments, but the sequence cuts briefly to the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” on the soundtrack when Bond surfs on one ski.  Sure it’s campy, but the audience I saw it with roared with laughter, and the stunts themselves are incredible.  Today, this would probably all be accomplished with CGI, but it’s important to remember that a stunt man actually accomplished these amazing feats, skiing down a sheer cliff face, and across a real river.

Lapses into (audience-approved) corn humor aside, View to a Kill opens with tremendous gravity and spectacular action.

2. The Living Daylights (1987)

This was the film that introduced Timothy Dalton as James Bond, after seven films with the getting long-in-the-tooth Roger Moore.  Accordingly, this pre-title sequence serves as our introduction to the younger, more serious, and much more athletic incarnation of 007.

The setting for that introduction is an M16 training exercise over Gibraltar involving the 00s. We watch -- without yet seeing Bond -- as these agents sky-dive out of the back of the plane, and come down the treacherous side of the mountain.  The camera-work during the jump creates a genuine sense of exhilaration.

Before long, an assassin is after the unsuspecting agents, executing a KGB plan called Smert Spionam (“Death to Spies.”) As the first double-o dies, we get our first look at the wolfish new James Bond, a reaction shot revealing the gravity and intensity with which he weighs this danger.  Before long, we’re getting jump scares (watch out for that a monkey!), and a destructive car chase on a winding road, and a fist-fight as Bond battles it out with his opponent.  All the while, we get to marvel at  something we haven't seen in a while: a young James Bond (in his thirties), running, leaping, jumping and fighting. Not since the early days of Sean Connery have we had such a physically aggressive, physically capable hero, and The Living Daylights establishes these "dangerous" qualities brilliantly in the pre-title sequence.

In fact, The Living Daylights even plays lightly with the idea of a "serious" Bond.  The agent lands on a yacht, grabs a phone, calls headquarters, and is absolutely all-business.   Only in the last second does a smile creep across his face as he decides to spend a little time with a bored (but appreciative…) lady.   Yep, new face, new vigor…but same Bond.   

1. The Spy Who Loved Me (1976)

This Bond pre-title sequence features one of the most jaw-dropping stunts ever to grace the silver screen, followed up by one of the best visual punch-lines of the entire Bond film series.

Here, Bond (Moore) is pursued by Soviet agents, when he is forced to ski, essentially, off a mountain.  He makes that jump (still wearing skis…) with no digital trickery or rear projection tomfoolery.  The camera follows the jump as he goes down, down and down -- in real life some 3,000 feet -- for an impossibly long time.  Finally, a parachute goes up; a parachute emblazoned with the Union Jack symbol. 

It’s a perfect movie moment, and a perfect opening to a James Bond film.  The jump was performed by stuntman Rick Sylvester at Mount Asgard in Canada, supervised by editor John Glen, and shot by cinematographer Alan Hume and a ledge camera man. 

This early moment in the film isn’t merely stunning, but literally jaw-dropping.  Movie history -- and James Bond  history -- was made.

Top Five James Bond Title Songs

Now,  I present my five selections for my favorite James Bond songs.  

And I should say it now: I don’t expect everyone to agree with my taste on this list. 

In fact, I suspect this list is largely a result of generational affection and a commentary on the decades in which I grew up, and when I first experienced Agent 007.  

Some of this is as much about nostalgia as it is about great music, in other words.

But here are my admittedly sentimental choices.  I don’t think I fully realized until I put my favorites together in one place how much the Roger Moore Era of Bond impacted me. 

5. “A View to a Kill” (1985) by John Barry and Duran Duran, and performed by Duran Duran.

I know this choice probably gets the purists howling.  A View to a Kill isn’t a great Bond film by any means, and boy does the opening credits sequence (with all the tacky neon…) reek of 1985.  The film’s score by Barry, however, is absolutely terrific and one of the best in the Bond canon since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969. 

As for the title song I was fifteen years old when this film came out, and, yes, a follower of Duran Duran.  This was the first time that I could recall in my personal experience that there was a fusion between a Bond film and popular music. 

Of course, that’s not the case historically (as we’ll see as we continue on up the list). 

Still, I can’t help but get a kick out of this song.  It feels like it is to the 1980s Bond what Live and Let Die was to the 1970s Bond series: a punch of exhilaration.  But perhaps I needn’t apologize at all, because A View To a Kill remains the only Bond song to hit number one on the Billboard charts, and it was nominated for a Golden Globe award too.

4. “Nobody Does it Better” for The Spy Who Loved Me (1976) composed by Marvin Hamlisch and Carol Sager. Performed by Carly Simon.

Again, I grew up in the Roger Moore era, and remember his films with enormous fondness.  The music in those films, in particular, reminds me of my childhood.  The Spy Who Loved Me was one of the best of Roger Moore’s outings as Bond, and this song is, rightly, synonymous with the film. 

In particular, the movie gets off to a fantastic start with the jaw-dropping parachute-jump-off-a-mountain/Union Jack sequence, and then leads right into Carly Simon’s romantic crooning.  There may be three or so better, but in general – okay -- not many songs do it better than this one.

Listeners seem to agree, since “Nobody Does it Better” was nominated as “Best Song” for the Academy Awards in 1976, and the tune remains Carly Simon’s longest lasting placement on the Billboard charts (even longer than “You’re So Vain.”)

3. “For Your Eyes Only” composed by Bill Conti and Michael Leeson. Performed by Sheena Easton.

For all its spectacular action sequences and outer space action, Moonraker (1979) was sort of a spin out of control for the James Bond.  It was one giant step too far, perhaps, though I enjoy aspects of it.  For Your Eyes Only has always felt like the re-grounding of Bond to me, and in a wholly appropriate sense.  It’s a great film, and one of the truly underrated entries in the franchise.  The final sequence with Bond (Moore) rock climbing to reach a mountain-top monastery boasts more suspense than just about any other Bond scene you can name, which is no small feat.

The title song was a phenomenal hit in 1981 when it premiered, and my Mom and Dad were huge Sheena Easton fans after seeing the movie.  The opening credits feature the singer -- nude -- seemingly swimming to the top of frame while she performs.  I was eleven, and this seemed like a BFD.  A naked woman is singing the movie theme song! 

If memory serves, Easton is the only Bond singer to actually appear in the title credits of the film (though Madonna cameos in Die Another Day).  Like Carly Simon’s contribution, “For Your Eyes Only” was nominated for a “Best Song” Oscar.

2. “Goldfinger” (1964) composed by Anthony Newley and John Barry, and performed by Shirley Bassey.

There can be no doubt that this is the archetype, the song that paved the way, certainly for the numbers three and four on this list. 

Goldfinger gave Shirley Bassey her only top forty hit, and the song has also been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  Bassey really knocks this one out of the park, and the song has the unusual distinction of being a Bond ballad about the villain, rather than 007.  This one is just a total knock-out.

Bassey returned to record two more title songs, Diamonds are Forever and Moonraker, though neither had the same (colossal) impact as the classic Goldfinger.

1. “Live and Let Die” composed by Paul and Linda McCartney, performed by Paul McCartney and Wings.

New decade. New Bond. New sound. 

Live and Let Die captures that aesthetic perfectly. 

It’s a harder-edged tune than some of those that came before, and McCartney’s blazing effort gave the James Bond film series its first nomination for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.  Live and Let Die also rocketed to number #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and in the early 1990s was memorably covered by Guns’N’Roses. 

My very first James Bond album was Live and Let Die, and boy did I play it out.  Again, you get a kind of punch of adrenaline listening to this one, and that’s exactly the right vibe to begin the 1970s and a new incarnation of 007.

Top Five James Bond Women

Here's my tally of the Top Five Women of Agent 007.  My list leans heavily towards early Bonds, I’ve noticed, and I’m not exactly certain why, except perhaps that I encountered these strong characters at a formative period of my life, and therefore they had a  more significant impact on me. 

Also, I have this creeping sense (especially after watching The Hunger Games) that the nature of casting has changed a lot in the last thirty years.  Today it doesn’t always seem like the best person is sought to inhabit a role, but rather the person with the biggest “brand identity” who can lure the most people into theaters.   I’m not saying that the Bond films have necessarily fallen prey to this trend, only that the early Bonds seem practically flawless in terms of casting.

5. Solitaire (Jane Seymour) in Live and Let Die (1973).

 Jane Seymour is a terrific actress, and I’ve enjoyed her performances in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) and Battlestar Galactica (1978) as well.  

But I always find Solitaire one of Seymour’s most intriguing characters.  She’s young and naive, to be certain, and yet Solitaire goes against the very tenets of her belief system, and indeed, jeopardizes her safety and well-being for Bond (Roger Moore).  She must possess no illusions that they are always going to be together -- he’s clearly not that kind of guy -- and yet Solitaire definitively chooses something “of the moment” instead of  something “of the future,” which is a powerful and counter-intuitive decision for someone in the fortune-telling business.  How it plays out in the film is that Bond "tricks" Solitaire with the Tarot cards.  So it seems, anyway.  But Solitaire's decision still feels like one that defies expectations, rather than playing into them.  I don’t consider Live and Let Die one of the very best Bond films, but I do hold it in high esteem, in part for the way the script navigates the Bond/Solitaire relationship.

4. Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) in Goldfinger (1964).

Let’s put aside that name for a moment, and consider that Pussy Galore is tough, independent, and also a leader.  She isn’t easily intimidated, and she doesn’t fall immediately for Bond’s amorous advances. 

In the film, Pussy may or may not be a lesbian, but the important thing is that she is characterized as capable and intelligent.  Honor Blackman at age 39, was the oldest of the cinematic Bond women, and as Pussy Galore she not only exudes raw sex appeal, but also a strong sense of self.  She knows who she is, and that confidence makes her incredibly attractive. 

There’s a difference, perhaps, between Bond Girl and a Bond Woman, and Pussy Galore is really a Bond Woman, a fully-dimensional character who doesn’t need Bond, or take her cues from Bond.  She is an equal, and that makes her a great ally.  I love the character’s strength, and her sharp sense of humor.  And the scene where Galore and Bond take a "roll in the hay" together is still awesome, almost fifty years later.

3. Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) in Dr. No (1962).

The first ever movie Bond Woman…and still one of the absolute greatest. Many critics and bloggers still remember and rave about Honey’s trademark entrance in the film emerging from the ocean in a white bikini.  To say that Ursula is statuesque is to understate the matter dramatically. 

And yet, we expect Bond women to be gorgeous, just as we expect Bond himself to be physically attractive.  What makes a Bond woman memorable, then, in my opinion, isn’t mere good looks. Instead, it’s a combination of the performance, the chemistry between leads, and the writing of the character.  In terms of Honey Ryder, she’s another independent woman who makes her own way (selling sea shells) and is fully capable of defending herself and fending off Bond’s advances.  She is also incredibly fiery and passionate.

2. Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) in From Russia with Love (1963).

Tatiana is a young Russian patriot manipulated into working for Rosa Klebb and SPECTRE. Not unlike Solitaire, however, Tatiania is able to discern -- separately from governing ideology or belief system --good from bad, and makes her choices accordingly. 

Tatiana is a personal favorite of mine, as is From Russia with Love 

I don’t want to make this list of favorite characters overtly crass in terms of who’s “the hottest” but in terms of personal preferences, let’s just say I happen to find Daniela Bianchi…exceptionally compelling.

The scene she shares with Sean Connery’s Bond in a hotel room (in which they are secretly being photographed…) is incredibly erotic, shockingly so, in fact, for 1963.  The Connery/Bianchi chemistry is just really, really powerful in this film.

1.Teresa di Vincenzo (Diana Rigg) in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Class, intelligence, wit, humor and devastating charisma.  These words describe Tracy perfectly. 

You’d think this fiery woman would be a spoiled brat because of her upbringing as the rich daughter of Draco, but as we learn in the film, Tracy’s “acting out” against her father’s wishes is more about personal independence than self-indulgence.  Also, she's a bit of an adrenaline junkie...

Like Pussy Galore, Tracy is eminently capable.  Like Honey Ryder, she is passionate and fiery.  Like Solitaire and Tatiana, Tracy makes her own decisions by her own rules.  I’ve always admired Diana Rigg-- ever since I first saw her in The Avengers as Emma Peel.  But Tracy is not just Bond’s perfect match in temperament and style, she is his soul mate, and, indeed, tragically so.  

The ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service never fails to leave me devastated, and in part that’s because Rigg does such an exquisite job of making Tracy a fully-developed individual, right down to a quirky sense of humor.  She’s amazing in the role, and Rigg's success is evident from all the brief but critically important “call backs” to Tracy in later Bond films (The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, and Licence to Kill).  Tracy is, in a word, unforgettable.

The Top Five: James Bond Double-Entendres

A double-entendre is a risqué or ironic comment, designed to be taken two ways, or to boast a double meaning.  And as we know from fifty years of Bond films, nobody excels at cheeky double-entendres more than Agent 007.

These double-entendres are a matter of subjective taste, no doubt, but below are my choices for the top five double-entendres in the Bond canon.  

You’ll notice that none come from the more serious-minded Dalton or Craig Bonds, or even the early Connery installments. 

5. “Just a slight stiffness coming on.” On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). 

Here, Bond (George Lazenby) masquerades as the effete, bookish Sir Hillary (or “Hilly”) at Blofeld’s mountaintop headquarters on Piz Gloria.  

In the Alpine Room, one of Blofeld’s luscious patients surreptitiously writes her room number in lipstick on Bond’s leg (beneath his kilt).  Bond is jolted, and Irma Bunt, Blofeld’s assistant, asks if anything is wrong.  His response concerns the altitude, I suppose you could say.

4. “I believe he’s attempting re-entry, sir.” Moonraker (1979).

This raunchy double-entendre is actually spoken by Q (Desmond Llewelyn), not Bond, and likely without knowledge of the raunchy double meaning.  

The joke appears at the end of the film, as Mission Control captures an image of Bond (Roger Moore) and Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) making love aboard a space shuttle in flight, returning to Earth.   The same year as Moonraker premiered, there was also a re-entry sex joke in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. 

3. “No sense going off half-cocked.” Live and Let Die (1973).

Roger Moore’s first Bond film featured this unforgettable and bawdy joke.  In the film, Bond has just made love to the virgin Solitaire (Jane Seymour) and instructed her in a series of “Lover’s Lessons.”  

Solitaire asks if there is time for a review of Lover’s Lesson Two -- *ahem* -- and Bond replies with this classic (if crude...) witticism.

2. “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.”  The World is Not Enough (1999).

This is The World is Not Enough’s closing line/joke, and as I remember it drew a tremendous and spontaneous roar of approval/laughter from the audience I saw the film with.   

Here, Bond beds Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) and makes a really bad joke about her name and the holiday season.  It’s kind of a cheap laugh, yet, but I can’t deny that it works perfectly as a capper for the film, or has the desired effect. 

1.”Named after your father, perhaps.” Diamonds are Forever (1971).

This double-entendre is Bond’s classic rejoinder when introduced to a lovely lass named Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood) in Sean Connery’s swan song, Diamonds are Forever (1971).   

This one always makes me laugh, and reminds me how the double-entendres that work best in the Bond series are crude and naughty, but colorfully and imaginatively crude and naughty.

Happy 50th Anniversary, 007

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the theatrical release of Dr. No, the first James Bond film, starring Sean Connery. 

I’ve been featuring James Bond -- 007 -- on the blog here quite a bit in the last few weeks, and will continue to do so leading up to my review of the new film, Skyfall, which premieres November 9th.

But today, to celebrate James Bond Day, I’ll be re-posting some of my recent pieces on the suave secret agent and his influence on international cinema.

But for now, happy anniversary Mr. Bond.   Let's all raise our martini glasses to another fifty years of gratuitous sex and violence at the movies...

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Underrated but Great #3: Millennium Season Three (1998 - 1999)

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.  You can read my full review of the episode here.

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 just released 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.

Don’t forget to order the new Back to Frank Black book from Fourth Horseman Press, which celebrates the wonderful world of Chris Carter’s Millennium.