The X-Files #99: Millennium Pilot

"How do you do it, Frank?" "Lucky guesser."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Former FBI profiler Frank Black moves his family to Seattle where he immediately gets embroiled in the hunt for an apocalyptic serial killer.

REVIEW: The show Chris Carter REALLY wanted to do instead of the X-Files? Yes, we'll be alternating seasons that ran simultaneously for the next three "years", if you don't mind. Because Millennium IS part of the X-Files universe, though we don't know it yet. No, it's not that the mysterious Millennium Group's logo is the same as Scully's tattoo, smarty pants; it's that Frank Black will eventually guest-star on the parent show. You'd be forgiven for thinking it wasn't, because if Frank Black was an FBI profiler, why would anyone hold Mulder is a paragon of the profession and never ever mention the even more supernaturally intuitive Black? Silence of the Lambs still looms large in Carter's imagination, though there's no Clarice in this. But serial murderers possibly interest Carter more than UFOs. Frank Black is even famous for putting away a cannibal! At times, Millennium seems to be a response to the X-Files' challenges (if every location is going to be a rainy pine forest, let's actually set it in the Pacific Northwest); at others, it offers a twist on the material (the protagonist is working FOR a mysterious group, not against one). It seems born from profile-intense X-Files episodes, specifically "Grotesque", in which profilers (Mulder and his mentor) lost themselves "becoming" the serial killer. The X-Files' fingerprints are all over this show, from the dark cinematography to the typed-up location captions (a worn-down typewriter replaces the FBI's efficient computer script), to words floating in the more lyrical opening sequence (but Chris, should the key phrase really be "Who cares?").

I'd originally watched the pilot and maybe an episode or two after that. I didn't grab me, or else wasn't on a night that worked with my schedule. Who knows anymore? I probably have the same problems with it today I had then. Which is to say, it's really just a crime drama, of which there are plenty on TV. In fact, The Profiler had been airing for some weeks when Millennium premiered, and with all due respect to Lance Henriksen, I'd probably rather watch Ally Walker do that kind of thing on a weekly basis. My other problem with Millennium as it unfolds here is that Frank's "powers" are entirely too convenient. He says they're not "psychic", but he "sees" images, intuitively knows how a body has been butchered without seeing it (a neat trick so Carter can push the violence without showing it), and can spot a killer when he sees him. Yes, there's a lot of detective work that goes into it, but magical flashes of insight do not make for interesting crime drama. They're cheats, especially if we can't connect the dots ourselves. The weakest X-Files usually have Mulder jumping to an insane conclusion that Scully can't believe - and guess what, neither can the audience, which is smirk-inducing when Mulder turns out to be correct. Frank Black has similar problems with being believed by other law enforcement officials, something else he has in common with Carter's other leading man.

And they're both haunted, though Frank's trauma is much more immediate. His obsession isn't a life-long, Quixotic quest, but rather a very relatable need to protect his family at all costs. Of course, most families aren't threatened by serial killers who follow them around the country, take Polaroids and send them to their favorite FBI agent. Carter is obviously going for "edgy", with a ghastly combination of sex and murder (the action starts in a peep show and we get people buried alive with their eyes and mouths sewn shut), which stands in stark contrast to Frank's happy family, living in its sunny yellow house, with an adorable puppy. Catherine Black (90s TV's ubiquitous Megan Gallagher) is as understanding as they come. She'll brook no secrecy, but indulges her husband's talent/mission. It's interesting that only the couple feature in the credits. Frank is not paired with a cop, or with a Millennium Group operative (despite Terry O'Quinn's appearance in that role), but with his spouse. That says something. Frank's real partner, indeed the life he really wants to lead, is the domestic one.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Given the name of the show and of the mysterious group Frank "consults" for, there is a strong apocalyptic vibe to the show (at least in the pilot, but the first handful of episode titles evoke it as well). If the serial killer in this story acts as a kind of Apocalypse cultist (even though he's working alone), the Frank and the Group are the forces trying to prevent that Apocalypse. We now know (if we already didn't, I'm not judging) that the end days didn't start on January 1st 2000, but in the X-Files universe, where folklore is often real, that kind of thing just might be true. We probably need someone to hold back the tide. If that's what the Millennium Group is doing. We'll see. It tickles me that the show in fact ended in 1999, though it would tickle me even more if they'd ended it a little closer to the end of the year. Don't know what the plan was. Again, things the show will reveal as it moves through this reviews. But I already feel like the X-Files have made me paranoid. Why do I suspect the Millennium Group is actually sending Frank family photos in the style of the last killer he caught?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A strong pilot. It's got strong dialog, effective mood, and intriguing mysteries. I'm just not convinced Frank's powers should replace actual detective work if this is to be anything like a crime of the week drama.


Anonymous said...

Frank's powers are a problem if it's a detective show, but usually it didn't function like that, so much as a showcase of disturbed minds. At least, when "Millennium" was at its best, that's what it did.

Maybe it's a little bit like the Joker in comics: the interesting thing isn't the detective work Batman does to track the Joker down to the abandoned playing card factory, but watching the Joker's madness.

Initially at least, there's very little supernatural to the show, just Frank's power in a world where people go mad and he is witness to all that madness. That will eventually change and the show will be about a war between heaven and hell and also the Millennium Group will have its deep and shameful secrets. Ah, the 90s.

Siskoid said...

Well, I'm looking forward to discovering it before your very eyes!

snell said...

I will note that the direction of the show changed radically with each new season, so the only the first one is focused so hard on "serial killer of the week." As to whether those shifts were planned all along, or responses to network pressures, who knows...

Siskoid said...

I'm glad people are responding with a far greater knowledge of the show than mine. When you switch gears between core show and spin-off, you're in danger of alienating the audience for these kinds of posts. So I'm glad Millennium had its fans!

Jeffrywith1e said...

I didn't realize you were going to do this! MillenniuM has been one of my favorite shows since this pilot aired. I'm on board for this ride! Thank you!

Siskoid said...

Glad you approve!

It's very much the same strategy I used for Doctor Who and Babylon 5... Reviews must include spin-offs! So you'll see the Lone Gunmen series as well.

Troy L. Foreman said...

First, thanks for writing up a review of the pilot episode of my all time favorite series Millennium. I am one of the people who run the fan campaign called Back to Frank Black. Just a couple of things..

1) Millennium is not a spinoff. Many people have mistakenly called it a spinoff or having it as part of the X-Files universe, it is not. it is it's own entity and the episode that Frank Black appears on in season 7 of the X-Files was just a reason to try and close out the Millennium story.

2) There have been many arguments about the so called "supernatural" aspect of the series. Myself along with the folks who work at Back to Frank Black don't agree with that..both Lance Henriksen and Chris Carter are on record saying it is not a supernatural gift. Now granted, in Season 2 especially when Morgan and Wong took over, you might get that impression.

Anywho, not bitching, just leaving my thoughts. Thanks for the review and hope you enjoy your Millennium journey. When you have time, check out our site!

Siskoid said...

Your love for the material is obvious and I hope you'll comment often! I have fond memories of passionate Babylon 5 fans enriching the discussion when I covered that show, so I'm totally game (without spoilers, of course).

1) You're right, but if it didn't "spin-off" the world of the X-Files exactly, it DID spin out of concerns the same production people had on that show, so thematically if not literally. It's a "cousin" to the X-Files, we can say that.

2) I think it's ambiguous, and that's fine. We can take it both ways, or even swing between one and the other. What's great about ambiguity is that it doesn't matter what the author intended, art also belongs to the audience, and they've given the audience permission to interpret. That's what great about these shows, they're not force-feeding us a straight solution.

Mr. Morbid's House Of Fun said...

I remember that show. Don't think I watched it more than one episode, but I chalk that up to probably being too young to get it other than it was related heavily to the whole Y2K thing. Did not know Frank appeared on the X-Files, this making it tied to the show in moe ways than just sharing a creator.


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