“Thou dost frighten me with dreams and terrify me by visions.” – Job 7:14
There is an episode in the upcoming seventh season of The X-Files that intended to wrap up the story from Millennium, the second program Chris Carter created that ran for three seasons on Fox during the fourth through sixth seasons of The X-Files. I thought it would be nice to talk about the series, touch on its themes, and throw some plaudits at a pretty bold show to air on network TV in the late 90s.
Given the impressive rise and success of The X-Files on Fox, executives went to the head honcho himself and asked him if he had any interest in pitching them a concept for another program. Indeed, Chris Carter was throwing around ideas in his head for a show that would address the coming of the new millennium that was only a few years away, and set about developing those ideas.
The result, a show that (in Carter’s words) would be “Seven in Seattle,” focusing on a former federal investigator drawn into dark and twisted cases, frequently with biblical undertones. The character he conceived, Frank Black (Lance Henriksen), was a former agent of the FBI who, like Fox Mulder, had an aptitude for getting into the mind of serial killers and violent offenders. After some unexplained events, Frank moves his family (wife Catherine and daughter Jordan) to Seattle as a way to get away from the specter of his previous workload.
However, he gained employment with a private investigative outfit known as the Millennium Group, which wanted to utilize his expertise on cases including latter-day fanatics, victims of abuse, and the underbelly of society. His main contact in the Group was Peter Watts (played by frequent X-Files guest Terry O’Quinn), whom the audience felt was always keeping something about the Group from Frank.
We’ve talked here at Apt. 42 Revisited about how the use of Vancouver as a shooting location influenced the overall atmosphere and creepy vibe of The X-Files, and I would have to say this goes doubly so for Millennium. Also shot in Vancouver (with work done in Seattle as well), the show was immeasurably dark and bleak, which perfectly fit with the eschatological outlook espoused by many of the characters that populated the program. In fact, this was one of the major gripes the network had when going forward with a second season, when X-Files alums Glen Morgan and James Wong took over show-running duties from Carter. As Morgan recalled, “There was too much gore in the first season, and it was for shock’s sake. There was no humor. Everybody wanted to know more about the Millennium Group.”
Moreover, Morgan and Wong wanted to develop the characters of Frank and Catherine, given that both Henriksen and Megan Gallagher (who played Catherine) were more than capable talents. The character of Frank Black is perhaps one of television’s more under-sung creations, a man tormented by the violence that he finds endemic to civilization. It is in this mindset that he moved his family to Seattle, to keep them safe in the yellow house they called their home. The house itself became a symbol for everything that Frank wanted to keep pure, for his family. Catherine, meanwhile, in her position as a clinical social worker dealt with the fallout from this violence, which got her into some binds in a few episodes, and was a factor in straining their marriage. Frank also was concerned when he observed Jordan developing the same kind of powers he did, seeing into the mind of evil, which turned the series’ metaphorical device into a literal one.
Millennium used a lot of iconography to support the device of seeing into the heart of evil. The logo of both the program and the Millennium Group was that of the Ouroboros, the symbol of eternal return. We’ve seen this before, as it was what Scully got tattooed on her back in “Never Again.” The psychologist Carl Jung thought this symbol to be an archetype for the human psyche, which taps into the idea of having a window onto the nature of evil. The show also would lead off each episode with a quote, primarily from the Bible, but also from literature and philosophy, that set the foreboding mood (the quote from Job above is one such quote). Perhaps all of this was a bit suffocating, which could be a reason why the show never reached the mainstream like The X-Files did.
The desire to know more about the Millennium Group was explored primarily in the second season, when we as viewers learned of a dogmatic schism within the group that threatened to undermine its agenda. As we became privy to the Group’s primary function (preparing for the eventual coming of the Apocalypse in the year 2000), members like Frank Black and Peter Watts were aligned either with the Roosters (those who believed in a theological end of days) or the Owls (members who espoused that man would meet his end in a materialistic disaster). A lot of this was pretty compelling stuff, which mixed tried-and-true biblical prophecy with contemporary anxieties about terrorist acts and viral epidemics. While Millennium never got the opportunity to have its mythology spiral out of control like that of The X-Files, there was something a bit smaller in scale going on here, which is surprisingly paradoxical given that we’re talking about the end of the world here.
Aside from Catherine, the show was populated by a trio of fascinating female characters. We’ve talked a lot about Scully (and Anderson’s portrayal of her) and how it has evolved over the years and struggled sometimes to break free of certain tropes (“Milagro” being a prime example of this), so it is interesting to compare her to Lara Means, Emma Hollis, and Lucy Butler. Lara Means was the woman assigned to be Frank’s partner in the Group during the second season, who demonstrated her own psychic abilities and was preparing to be fully initiated into the organization. In “The Field Where I Died,” we commented on Kristen Cloke’s acting ability, but here she really shined, culminating in a scene that is one of the most audacious sequences in television. Emma Hollis (Klea Scott) was a young FBI agent who worked with Frank and would be tempted by the Group with the promise of answers, especially in regards to her brother. Sadly, the show was cancelled before the writers got a chance to flesh out her promising character. But out of all of these, the most captivating is Lucy Butler. Played by Sarah-Jane Redmond, Lucy was the personification of pure evil, and while she only appeared in five episodes in three seasons, she made an impact in every one of those. With an incredibly nuanced performance, Redmond complicated our notions of humanity’s greatest ill.
Each season was helmed by a different showrunner (Carter in season one, Morgan/Wong in two, and Chip Johannessen in three), which gave each unit a different vibe, a particular flavor. Some viewers were a bit put off by these tonal shifts, but somehow the series was able to maintain its integrity. Millennium also had its fair share of experimentation, some of it outstanding (Darin Morgan’s two season two episodes), and some of it that you wish you could forget (an episode that climaxed with a KISS concert in the third season). Darin Morgan brought the same incredible wit he displayed in The X-Files’ third season to this show, as well as the character of Jose Chung, who tackled a spiritual organization that was so blatantly a critique on Scientology that it is surprising legal action wasn’t taken. The program also had a blink-and-you-miss it cameo from a man and woman FBI duo, and the lady had striking red hair.
Declining viewership eventually sealed Millennium‘s fate, the third season proving to be the show’s last. The final episode aired on May 21, 1999, the cast and crew unable to continue telling the story of apocalyptic skullduggery and the outcome of the Group’s prophecies about the year 2000. Frank Black and company would get an eleventh-hour reprieve though, when Carter decided to bring Frank onto the show with that man and woman FBI duo to wrap up Millennium’s mythology and the long strange journey of a man haunted by evil things. We Invite you to stick around as we plunge into The X-Files‘ seventh season, including the aforementioned episode “Millennium,” and discuss at length the trials and tribulations of an aging series.