Day: September 30, 2015

My Favorite Episodes of Millennium

So, as in my previous post of favorite X-Files episodes, this is a list of my favorite Millennium episodes. And, as with X-Files, I haven't finished watching the whole series yet, so I'll plan on updating this post as I go and adding more favorites as I get them.

Monster-of-the-Week Episodes

Season 2, Episode 6: The Curse of Frank Black

A pleasingly spooky, wonderfully minimalist haunted house episode where the true ghosts are loss and isolation.

While it's my favorite episode up to this point in the series, I can't recommend it as a good place to start, because it's not quite as standalone as I'd like; it relies on threads from Pilot, Lamentation, and The Beginning and the End. But you should watch those anyway; they're not just important, they're also good. (See below.)

Season 2, Episode 7: 19:19

The show gets back to the Revelation cultist arc, combining a take on the Chowchilla bus kidnapping with -- because it is 1997 -- Twister. (I was also inclined to blame a popular 1997 film for what I'm going to call the My Heart Will Go On remix of the theme song used as background music throughout the episode, but 19:19 aired a month before Titanic or the single came out, so we can chalk that up to coincidence/something in the zeitgeist.)

The ending is a goofy little bit of deus ex machina, and Lara Means is used as more of a third-act plot device than a character, but the pacing is good and the cat-and-mouse between Frank and the villain-of-the-week is engaging.

Season 2, Episode 9: Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense

While it doesn't quite live up to Jose Chung's From Outer Space, Chung's second appearance is a lot of fun, and a great showcase for Charles Nelson Reilly. While it lacks stop-motion kaiju and its unreliable narratives aren't quite so twisty, it reuses a lot of the devices from that first outing and does a great job of maintaining its tone.

Season 2, Episode 13: The Mikado

I love this one as a time capsule of the Internet circa early 1998 -- a time when connections were slow, a search for "naked girls" would produce hundreds of results, and, most crucially, webcam video framerates were on the order of seconds-per-frame, not frames-per-second.

The hacking scenes are...well, pretty dubious, but probably less dubious than most detective shows' hacking scenes. It makes for a fascinating reminder of how TV shows depicted the Internet in the early days, and it uses the aforementioned video framerate limitation as a very interesting storytelling device.

Season 2, Episode 21: Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me

Four celebrated character actors (Bill Macy, Dick Bakalyan, Alex Diakun, and Wally Dalton) play demons sitting around a table telling each other stories (think Almost Got 'Im from Batman: The Animated Series). I knew this was a Darin Morgan episode before the end of the cold open, and the makeup deserves special praise.

Season 3, Episode 5: ...Thirteen Years Later

Someone's murdering people who are making a slasher movie, improbably based on one of Frank's previous cases, and Kiss guest stars for some reason. It's very meta and very silly; its reach far exceeds its grasp, but it's the first fun episode in season 3.

Season 3, Episode 9: Omerta

This one makes the favorites list entirely because the late Jon Polito is a goddamn delight to watch every time he's onscreen. The rest of the episode -- which concerns the mob, Christmas, a pair of feral women with magical healing powers and, one assumes, magical extremely-well-groomed-and-polite-for-feral-women powers, and an overbearing musical score -- is nothing special. But Polito makes the whole thing shine.

Mythology Episodes

Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

Introduces the series: Frank Black, his wife and daughter, the Millennium Group, and his police contact Bob Bletcher. Frank having a family immediately sets him apart from Mulder and Scully over on the sister show. We also find out that he's a former FBI agent who had a breakdown and has since moved back to Seattle, and that he's got some kind of minor psychic ability to see what happened at a crime scene. The show also establishes the eponymous Millennium Group and vaguely intimates that it's involved in investigating some kind of Satanic apocalyptic cult, but then the show goes episodic and we get a bunch of forgettable serial killer episodes, and really don't get any development on that idea until episode 13.

Season 1, Episode 13: Force Majeure

I think it's pretty clear, looking at season 1, that Carter and company didn't originally intend for this show to take place in the same universe as X-Files, because they cast a lot of actors who had appeared on that show to appear on this one in completely different roles -- this episode, for example, has Terry O'Quinn, CCH Pounder, Brad Dourif, and Morgan Woodward. All of them are excellent, but it's a little jarring.

Anyhow, this episode finally picks up the Millennium Group/Doomsday Cult thread from the pilot. We get the prediction that the world will end on May 5, 2000, and a sinister old man who's breeding clones to survive the coming apocalypse.

Season 1, Episode 14: The Thin White Line

We get a good hefty chunk of Frank's backstory, and some cat-and-mouse with a serial killer who he put away during his time with the FBI.

Season 1, Episode 15: Sacrament

Introduction of Frank's brother, sister-in-law, and nephew; first signs that Jordan may have inherited Frank's psychic ability.

Season 1, Episode 17: Walkabout

This one gets off to a really strong start, with an in media res opening, the other characters not knowing what's happened to Frank, and Frank himself suffering from amnesia and not remembering what's happened to him the past few days.

The last act doesn't quite live up to the setup, but the beginning is strong enough to make for a pretty solid episode.

Season 1, Episode 18: Lamentation and Episode 19: Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions

Another episode where Frank has a run-in with a killer he's faced previously and a potential copycat, this episode features a threat against his family and the death of a recurring character.

And then the second part, despite centering on Frank's quest to find the killer, appears to be completely disconnected from the first part. He matches wits with someone who may or may not be the Devil, someone claiming to be an angel, and at the end of the whole thing there's no resolution and we're left with way more questions than answers.

To put it another way, 19 episodes in Millennium finally feels like a Chris Carter show.

Season 2, Episode 1: The Beginning and the End

(While this technically picks up from season 1's finale, you can skip that episode; it's basically a middling monster-of-the-week episode with a cliffhanger ending. That cliffhanger ending is re-presented, in its entirety, at the beginning of this episode.)

This is a status-quo-changing episode where a lot happens (even if it relies too much on narrative monologues to establish that a lot is happening): Peter gets fleshed out a little as a character, we finally get a few more hints of just what exactly the Millennium Group is, and the Polaroid Man plot finally gets a resolution.

Season 2, Episode 8: The Hand of St. Sebastian

Peter Watts, Cheryl Andrews, a little more history on the Group and signs of internal struggles.

Season 2, Episode 10: Midnight of the Century

The most thorough look to date at Frank's -- and Jordan's, and Lara's, and, we learn, Frank's mother's -- gift, and the toll it has taken on his family over three generations. It's a low-key, talky one, a Christmas episode structurally and thematically similar to the Halloween episode that had recently preceded it. It's an episode about loss and estrangement and family, and it sells the human element effectively, with spare dialogue delivered impeccably by the cast.

Season 2, Episode 12: Luminary

The show literalizes the metaphor of the season arc, by putting Frank out in the wilderness, alone.

Perhaps surprisingly, separating him from the rest of the cast makes for an excellent opportunity to explore other characters' relationships with him, Catherine and Peter in particular.

We also see more of the Group than we've ever seen before, and they don't come across very well. It makes something of a striking contrast between Frank and Mulder: they're both former FBI profilers, and they're both being manipulated by a shadowy conspiracy, but where Mulder seeks to fight and expose the Syndicate, Frank is trying to join the Millennium Group. Though with this episode, he doesn't seem to be trying very hard.

Season 2, Episode 15: Owls and Episode 16: Roosters

Nazis, Masons, ancient religious artifacts, doomsday cults -- it's Conspiracy Theory Bingo Night on Millennium. (They even work alien abductions and the Kennedy assassination into dialogue, though they don't factor into the plot.)

We're introduced to two rival factions in the Group: the Roosters we already know; they're the ones who think the world is going to end in two years in a biblical prophecy. The Owls, on the other hand, don't believe any of that religious hooey, and instead subscribe to the much more rational and science-based theory that the world is going to end in sixty years when the collision of two neutron stars causes the creation of a new universe. Also, there's another group, and they're Nazis.

Season 2, Episode 17: Siren

A run of strong episodes continues. This one turns on a strong scene between Frank and guest star Vivian Wu, and a glimpse of what Frank's life would have been like if he'd never been recruited by the Group.

Season 2, Episode 20: A Room With No View

A villain from season 1 returns to abduct guest star Christopher Kennedy Masterson and subject him to creepy psychosexual Misery stuff.

If you don't hate Love is Blue before you watch this episode, you will by the end.

Season 2, Episode 22: The Fourth Horseman and Episode 23: The Time is Now

Season finale time! There's a plague that may or may not be the biblical pestilence, Frank's conflict with the Group and Peter comes to a head, Peter gets some flashbacks (where Terry O'Quinn gets to wear a fake bushy mustache over his real pencil mustache, so you can tell that they're flashbacks), and yet another cryptically-named faction is introduced.

And then in part 2 some other stuff happens, but fully ten minutes of the episode is a Patti Smith music video where Lara is tripping balls. Seriously. Ten minutes. It is ridiculous and it is gratuitous and I love it.

Season 3, Episode 1: The Innocents and Episode 2: Exegesis

You might call this a repilot. While last season's plague still hangs heavily over the plot, the show's setting and premise have changed -- and they look a lot more like The X-Files. Frank's back with the FBI and, joined by a female partner, he investigates (against the orders of their superiors, naturally) a CIA conspiracy involving astral projection and clones.

The motivation for the change in direction seems clear: X-Files was at the height of its popularity, and Millennium was on the verge of cancellation. It sure looks like the goal here was to save an unpopular show by imitating a popular one.

Of course it didn't work; this is Millennium's final season. But it still makes for a pretty solid season premier.

Season 3, Episode 6: Skull and Bones

This one's mostly constructed of tropes we've seen before -- Frank arrests a weirdo who turns out not to be the killer but an eccentric who has visions; Emma investigates a creepy empty murder house while an ironically mismatched music cue plays; Peter delivers a couple of purple-prose monologues about how all the shady stuff the Millennium Group is doing is for the public's protection -- but they're well-assembled tropes. We also find out what's happened to Cheryl Andrews since the last time we saw her, and...it doesn't make a whole lot of sense given what happened the last time we saw her, but sure, okay.

Season 3, Episode 11: Collateral Damage

There are some bits in this one that are uncomfortable to watch -- not just the kidnapping and torture, but a show featuring conspiracy theories shared on right-wing talk radio feels a lot different in 2019 than it did in the era the show was made. Much of what made the 2016 X-Files revival uncomfortable is that conspiracy theories that seemed like harmless fictions in the 1990s take on a far more sinister cast in the era of Alex Jones.

That aside? We're back to the Millennium Group/plague plot (and I can't help noticing the symptoms and effects of the plague keep changing). Watts's inner conflict between his loyalty to the Group and his discomfort with their methods continues to be one of the show's richest veins, and it's central in this episode. Here he's pitted against guest star James Marsters, and we see two men on opposite sides struggling with the question of whether the ends justify the means.