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.

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