Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Millennium: "Walkabout" (March 28, 1997)

“I remember the very things I do not wish to; I cannot forget the things I wish to forget.”
 – Cicero

Peter Watts (Terry O’Quinn) appears at the Black house out-of-the-blue to inform Catherine (Megan Gallagher) that Frank has gone missing. 

He disappeared while working under the alias “David Marx,” and while being involved with a drug trial for a new SSRI drug called Proloft. The experimental drug is meant to treat “temporal lobe anomalies” and hallucinations.

Frank (Lance Henriksen) is soon discovered in an alley, after being robbed and beaten. Unfortunately, he experiences amnesia about his whereabouts in the previous days.

As Frank attempts to recreate his missing time, he learns that he was involved with an illicit study for a substance called anti-Proloft.  This drug created violent reactions in those who inadvertently imbibed it (in water). 

It drove them to bouts of homicidal and suicidal madness.

Now Frank fears that the same person behind the illicit trial is going to attempt to poison another group of unwitting and innocent victims. 

Worse, he finds out that a sample of “Smooth Time” tea has been contaminated with the dangerous drug…

“Walkabout” commences with a total descent into (graphic) madness, and it’s a shocking note to start on. The camera moves into a building we have never seen before, and very soon lands on utter madness and chaos.

We see a man grind out his own eyeballs, for instance. But the real kicker is the teaser finale.  The prowling camera moves to a door, and we see Frank Black among the insane.  He is mad too, demented and pounding on the door glass for release.

He has lost himself.

Given Frank’s history (with nervous breakdowns), this opener is more than a little alarming.  At this stage of Millennium, we are already used to seeing Frank as a calming force in the world. He is a man of reason and rationality, who controls his impulses. Suddenly, he is someone else in these shots.  A different self has been unloosed. The id is released.

The last person we expect to see among the criminally insane is Frank Black.  Like the events of the story proper in “Walkabout,” the opening imagery makes us reconsider how we have categorized and understood our protagonist.

It is a shock to the system.

When Catherine confronts Frank about his missing days, she is understandably worried about him, and fearful of a relapse.  And once again, Frank has not minded Catherine’s explicit counsel. She asked that he not keep secrets. And what has been exposed is that Frank is still keeping secrets, against her wishes.

This is very typical of the character type that my wife (a psychologist) terms “The Chris Carter male.” Men of this type are loving in some fashion but also unavailable, emotionally, on a truly intimate level. They keep their own counsel about what to self-disclose. Although they can be funny (Mulder), paternal (Frank), or sardonic (Doggett), they keep much close to the vest.

Specifically, in this case, Frank has been investigating Proloft, a drug which might quiet his “visions.”  Frank is exploring this option because he fears that his daughter, Jordan, will offer suffer from them as well.   This is exactly the kind of fear or insecurity a husband might share with his wife.  The fear that he has transferred to their daughter something of his own suffering or pain.  But Frank doesn’t do that.  He doesn’t share.  Instead, Frank explores his fear by himself, alone, disclosing nothing.

Soon, however, Frank has an “extreme adverse reaction” to the drug he is exposed to: Anti-Proloft. Instead of suppressing temporal lobe activity, it stimulates it. It causes “primal behaviors,” including self-mutilation and extreme violence.

This is what happens when you don’t share your feelings, metaphorically-speaking, right? You don’t get better. In fact, you get worse.

As I’ve written before, Millennium is a series that looks at the culture around it, and then reflects that culture back at the audience. In this installment, the commentary is plain, but worthwhile. The fear here is of a culture in the 1990s that medicates itself with anti-depressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and Celexa, rather than face psychological problems head-on. One character in “Walkabout” notes, for instance, that “half the country’s on anti-depressants already.”  Another notes “People will take anything. We’re a nation of zombies.”

What does this mean on a practical level? Simply that as a people we cannot tolerate feelings of ambiguity or sadness. We can’t accept that such feelings are part and parcel of human life, of the human condition. Instead, we choose to eradicate those feelings through drugs; via so-called “happy pills.”

The trade-off is that the drugs have different side effects, ones that may also change “who we are.”

I should make plain that I am not against medicine that helps people handle recurring depression. I am against over-prescribing medicine to people who don’t need it, to ameliorate “moods” that can be vanquished, instead, through communication, therapy, and a degree of self-awareness.

In “Walkabout” Frank learns that the killer wants to call attention to this nation of “zombies.” He wants to demonstrate that you can’t “straighten out your life” with drugs -- the motto of Proloft.  You can only delay your reckoning with your emotions.  That day will still come.

This is a powerful metaphor for what Frank goes through too. Instead of sharing with Catherine his fears about his gift, and its impact on his daughter, he seeks a route to medically eliminate his gift. 

Easier to stop thinking about the problem, and just take a pill, right?

Of course, Frank insists in this episode that he would never be part of a drug trial like this. And we learn, indeed, his drinking water was contaminated without him knowing it.  The question left unanswered by the episode is this: Why did Frank explore the Proloft trial in the first place (and under an assumed name), and with the intent of helping Jordan, if he had no desire or plan to use the drug?

Once more, one can see how Millennium’s “crime/serial killer of the week,” is really but a symbol for some struggle in the personal gestalt of its protagonist, Frank Black.

Here, Frank battles himself. He can’t accept the part of himself (his gift of insight) that one day may bring harm to his daughter. Here -- make no mistake -- he tries to kill that gift.

A “walkabout” is an aboriginal custom, a journey on foot, taken to live in a “traditional matter.”  Millennium’s “Walkabout” concerns Frank Black trying to return to a normal or traditional mode of life, by eliminating the thing that keeps him seeing the dark: his visions.

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