Wednesday, October 26, 2016

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.

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