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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.