An X-Files Retrospective, Part 8

8 Feb

Millennium- Season 2

Chris Carter’s other show really amped up in its second season, shifting away from the morose serial killer procedural it was in season one to a much more serialized and mythos-heavy tale of an impending apocalypse. Though it’s often still pretty depressing and still has some one-off “killer of the week” episodes, it’s much more engaging and I found myself actually wanting to watch each new episode. In fact, the tonal shift from season one to two is so drastic, that this almost feels like an entirely different series, one that while structurally awkward, is a much more satisfying experience than its predecessor.

Remember: There Will Be Spoilers.

Season two picks up right where season one’s finale “Paper Dove” left off, with Catherine Black kidnapped by a mysterious, apocalypse-obsessed creepster played by Doug Hutchinson, most well known for his portrayal of mutant liver-eating killer Eugene Tooms on The X-Files and nerdy but well-meaning leader of the DHARMA Initiative, Horace Goodspeed on LOST. Hutchinson is just one of many X-Files alums who make guest appearances on Millennium, in fact the two shows have a ridiculous amount of crossover, with nearly every episode of the latter featuring a guest star from the former, some playing more than one role. Though the part Hutchinson’s character plays in the greater scheme of the show is cryptic at best, his obsession with Frank (he’s the douche who was sending him photos of his family last season) hints at the greater forces at work in the universe of Millennium. The episode ends with Frank stabbing his wife’s abductor to death before her eyes, an act of violence that pushes the two apart and conceives a separation subplot that lasts the entire season. The episode also features Hale-Bopp, or the “millennium comet,” so named because it appears in the sky every thousand years, apparently just another one of the myriad of portents hinting at the impending cataclysm. As I’ll explain later, one of the problem’s with Millennium is that it has too many apocalyptic scenarios and never seems able to settle on one.

Even though I heralded the relationship between Frank and Catherine in my review of season one, their separation in season two felt natural and thus, didn’t bother me. Seeing your husband stab a guy in the stomach five times when he didn’t really have to would probably be enough to warrant a short break, not to mention Frank’s sketchy relationship with the Millennium Group and his overall grouchiness. Had the two broken up in the first season though, I think the show might have been unwatchable. Their relationship and shared love for their daughter Jordan was the only shining light in what was otherwise a universe full of darkness and shittiness. Here however, the audience isn’t given much time to feel bad for Frank and his loneliness when there’s so much wacky mythological shit going on in nearly every episode, particularly the standout episode, “Beware of the Dog.”

“Beware of the Dog” is the first of many episodes to delve into the beliefs, organization and history of the elusive Millennium Group, who in season one appeared to be nothing more than a police consulting firm. Frank is sent to a small town by the Group, the site of a recent animal attack, with the pretense that it’s just another case. It turns out it’s actually a test- the “dogs” who’ve been murdering people are actually a manifestation of an evil that lives in the woods near the town. Another resident of the woods is the Old Man, the de facto leader of the Group, who teaches Frank about gaining the respect of evil. He lives in a cabin surrounded by protective stones, each inscribed with the Group’s logo, the Ouroboros. This, along with many other aspects of the Group’s mythology seemed reminiscent of LOST, particularly that show’s final season and villain, who was himself described as “evil incarnate.” I wonder if Terry O’Quinn wasn’t the only thing Darlton borrowed from Millennium

At first, especially with episodes like “Beware of the Dog,” it seems the show is still going for a more secular take on the apocalypse, or rather, it’s as if it’s incorporating various mythologies and folklore for its conception of evil rather than just focusing on one. In “Beware of the Dog,” the Old Man doesn’t refer to the dogs as Satan or the Devil, just as “evil” and doesn’t teach Frank about seeing into the eyes of Satan, but finding the evil that is so prevalant in our world. Thus, evil seems more like a concept and less like an actual force to be reckoned with. Other episodes continue this cross-cultural interpretation of evil and armageddon, such as the Native American-inspired “A Single Blade of Grass.” As the season progresses it becomes increasingly more Christian, with episodes that feature visions of Mary Magdalene, who according to Gnostic texts is the one true apostle (“Anamnesis”), as well as immaculate conception (“In Arcadia Ego”) and even an amazing episode that features four demons discussing their exploits at a coffee shop (“Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me”).

What’s cool is that the show never outright sides with Catholic mythology and the prophecies of Revelations. In the two part arc “Owls” and “Roosters” we discover there are two separate factions in the Millennium Group- the Owls are secular and believe the apocalypse will happen in about sixty years and will be due to natural phenomena; the Roosters believe the time is near and that the apocalypse is going to happen at the dawn of the upcoming millennium. It’s an interesting arc that finds the Group fighting amongst themselves without realizing they’re actually under siege by a third party: the Nazis. That’s right- Nazis. Apparently the SS, who have survived and have now masked themselves as a corporation called Odessa, are one of the Group’s many nemeses, mainly because the two have been fighting over a holy relic, a piece of wood taken from the Cross, which like the Spear of Longinus a.k.a. the Spear of Destiny, grants its user invincibility. Another holy relic, the Hand of St. Sebastian makes an appearance as well, in the episode that shares its name. While I liked “Owls” and “Roosters” and the expansion of the Millennium Group mythology, I think the writers should have thought twice before throwing Nazis in there just for the hell of it. This show’s already weird enough as it is.

The Millennium Group, as it turns out, is far more than a consulting firm. Founded after the fall of Rome in Italy, they were a secret society of Christians who were tasked with preparing mankind for the first millennium, and now the second. They believe an apocalypse is imminent and are trying to ready mankind for its aftermath. They seek out evil and combat it and even have their own catchphrase: “This is Who We Are.” This, along with their centuries-old origins, rituals and rules, reminded me of the Assassins in the Assassin’s Creed series, who are also a morally ambiguous secret society working to protect humanity. In addition to the SS, the Group also comes at odds with the Family, a society descended from the Knights Chronicler, who are obsessed with Mary Magdalene, as well as the Trust, a seemingly ordinary consulting firm formed by some of Frank’s former FBI associates. It’s all very cool and helps to keep a geek like me engaged, though unfortunately none of the various mythological arcs really ever go anywhere.

Here's my thing...

The fourth episode, “Monster” introduces a new recurring character, Lara “Here’s My Thing” Means, “Here’s My Thing” being the character’s catchphrase. She, like Frank, has visions, though instead of seeing into the eyes of evil like he does, she sees a glowing angel that leaves her emotionally vulnerable and warns her of impending danger. It was a nice touch creating a character who shares Frank’s ability, thus giving him someone to relate to. Lara, though dorky, is pretty and becomes a bit of a love interest for Frank, but again, this never goes anywhere. The show also delves deeper into the nature of Frank’s power, with flashbacks to his childhood in episodes such as “The Curse of Frank Black” and “Midnight of the Century.” These reveal that Frank has been having these visions since childhood and in addition to “seeing evil,” he can also occasionally see ghosts as well as demons. It’s also revealed that Frank’s mother was visited by angels just like Lara, and that Jordan, who last season was hinted at having had Frank’s ability passed down to her, shares the same power as Lara and her grandmother. This seems to imply that women who have these powers see angels, men see demons.

Terry O’Quinn’s Peter Watts is also greatly expanded upon, with episodes that reveal him as a family man not unlike Frank. The two have an interesting relationship, as they are clearly friends but have trouble trusting each other due to Peter’s steadfast allegiance to the Group, an allegiance he only questions at the very end of the season.

Brad Dourif and his Noah’s Ark cult don’t make an appearance this season, though Lucy Butler, the shapeshifting demon-lady from season one, who may or may not be Satan himself, is the villain in “A Room WIth No View,” where she tries to break the spirits of teenagers by convincing them that the most extraordinary thing they can do is choosing to be ordinary. Frankly, I would have liked to see a more definitive answer to who she is. In other words, I’d really like for them to prove or disprove my theory that she’s Satan. I mean, I guess you could say Frank’s assertion that she’s “everywhere” could imply he believes she’s Satan, but sometimes, and by sometimes I mean a lot of times, Millennium is far too cryptic for its own good.

Demons drinking coffee? Now I've seen everything!

In addition to having crossovers with their guest stars, Millennium makes several references to its sister show this season. Last year the only connection to The X-Files was an episode where Frank and Peter traveled to Quantico, where various background extras were done up to look like Mulder and Scully. This year we get an actual crossover episode, “Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defense,” a spiritual successor to The X-Files episode “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” starring the titular novelist. There’s a scene in the episode in which posters for fake movies starring a fake action hero are portrayed by David Duchovny, with a wink-wink description of the character as an actor who started with nothing and is now a multimillionaire dating super models. “Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me” finds a Broadcast Standards and Practices executive losing his mind and going on a rampage on the set of an X-Files-esque show, complete with Mulder and Scully lookalikes. However, the coolest reference comes in the season finale, “The Time is Now,” in which Peter Watts finds a Morley cigarette stub on the floor of a Millennium storage room housing the Old Man’s personal effects, implying that even the Cigarette Smoking Man has taken an interest in the enigmatic Millennium Group.

Though I much preferred season two to the soul crushing first season, I feel it sort of lost momentum and fumbled its finale. As I’ve mentioned before, dozens of mythological arcs and ideas were established earlier in the show, but not a single one receives even a semblance of payoff in “The Time is Now.” Instead, an entirely new plot thread is introduced, involving a deadly virus which may be the great plague that kicks off Armageddon. There was nothing wrong with this story, in fact pandemics are in my opinion, the scariest horror story there is, but excluding the visions Lara Means had earlier in the season of the Four Horses of the Apocalypse, it seemed kind of random, and does little to expand on the Catholic mythology the show seemed so obsessed with all year long. Lara, who was such a great character, is also essentially written off, with little fanfare. After she becomes a true member of the Millennium Group and is given access to their darkest secrets, she goes entirely mad. The third act of the show is completely devoted to a hallucinatory montage of her flipping her shit in her hotel room, set to a Patti Smith song. THE ENTIRE ACT. That means a fifth of the finale’s runtime is devoted to a dialogue-free music video. Hey, I like Patti Smith and as a music video the scene was pretty amazing. But in my opinion, that’s a screenwriting 101 no-no. That’s what LOST did for its series finale- they devoted tons of time to a fake universe no one gave a shit about. Watching Lara’s crazed visions for nine minutes straight gave me a similar feeling of frustration.

There isn’t much closure at the end of “The Time is Now,” and the show seemed to have returned to its good, old fashioned depressing self by the last scene. There’s a very tragic and sad twist at the end, and we’re left with a cacophony of radio broadcasts as the world erupts into chaos, the deadly virus sweeping across the land. Though I was left somewhat unsatisfied, I am interested to see how this world-ending plague will be resolved, especially as the show’s mythos fits somewhat into The X-Files’ and there’s nary a mention of a plague that almost destroyed civilization on that show. I am a little worried we’ll never see Lara or Peter again, and that the mysteries of the Millennium Group will never be answered. Still, after watching this I’d recommend trudging through the first season just so you can see the crazy shit Chris Carter, James Wong and Glenn Morgan came up with for season two.

Score: 8.5

Best Episode: “Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me”

Four demons meet up at a donut house for coffee… No, that’s not the start of a cheesy joke, it’s the plot of this awesome episode, the only true glimpse we ever get at the demons the show is constantly hinting at. Each tells a story of their efforts to damn mankind, each of which features a disturbing encounter with Frank, who scares the demons due to his ability to see their true form (to the rest of us they appear as crotchety old men). It’s a really great exploration into the meaning of sin and how the forces of evil often have no need to manipulate us- our own actions are often enough to damn ourselves. It even somehow manages to get you to sympathize with the spawn of Satan, when the demons come to the conclusion that even though they find mankind’s nature to be ridiculous, they themselves are “so lonely.” Oh, and did I mention the episode parodies Ally McBeal’s infamous dancing baby?

Worst Episode: “Siren”

Not so much the “worst episode” (none of this year’s installments were particularly bad) as the weakest. “Siren” centers on an illegal Chinese immigrant who may be- you guessed it- some kind of demonic siren, capable of sending men into hallucinogenic trances where they expose themselves to the elements, and thus, freeze to death. It’s all very confusing as the character is clearly evil and even tries to kill Frank, but according to one of Jordan’s prophetic visions, she’s supposed to save his life. She’s about to be killed by the captain of the ship that brought her to America as he knows she’s responsible for the death of his crewmen, and as an audience member I really want to see this awful creature put down, but she’s saved at the last minute by Frank, who learns nothing about who she is, what she wants, or where she came from. In other words, the entire episode is totally pointless.

Continue to Part 9

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