Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Enter Frank Black, Investigator Of The Darkness Within In Millennium's "Pilot".

The Good: Character, Acting, Plot.
The Bad: "Gehenna" is a little weaker
The Basics: Chris Carter's serial killer horror show Millennium begins on a high note with "Pilot" and "Gehenna!"

At the beginning of Millennium, writer and creator Chris Carter envisioned a series focusing on serial killers and the man who stood at the brink to oppose them. The hero is Frank Black, an investigator who is so attuned to the mind of evil people he has the ability to put himself in their place, see through their perspective, in order to try to solve crimes. And it is intended to be a dark, adult series and Carter's vision is well-executed from the very first episode. This is a scary show and it pioneered the way for every profiler series that clogged up the airwaves after it debuted. Today, it remains an original . . . and a terrifying one at that.

In the "Pilot," a serial killer kills a stripper and decapitates her. As Seattle police detectives scramble to solve the crime, Frank Black, retired from the FBI, arrives in Seattle to settle down with his wife Catherine and daughter, Jordan. Black, now working as a consultant for the Millennium Group, is brought out to assist the police and he becomes convinced that there are more people who have been abducted and are awaiting slaughter.

When a poem mouthed by the suspect leads Frank to a biblical prophecy about the apocalypse, he is given unlimited resources by the Millennium Group to find the killer. Concerned that glimpsing into evil will fracture his psyche, Frank is hesitant, but when the police - especially Frank's old friend, Lt. Bob Bletcher - come up empty, he engages his skill to track the killer down.

In "Gehena," Frank Black is called to the site of strange ash which is revealed to be human remains desiccated in an industrial microwave. When it seems that a cult might be responsible for the death, the parents of one of the young men who has been missing from a local school hire Black and the Millennium Group to find out what happened. Frank's old FBI mentor assists Frank on the case, while helping Frank to deal with the implications of the photographs being sent to him in the mail.

Millennium is a combination of episodic - killer of the week - stories and serialized character arcs, as Frank Black is harassed by a photographer who takes pictures of his wife and daughter. This, predating the series, made him have a breakdown and in "Pilot" and "Gehena" it becomes clear that the stalker has followed Frank and his family to Seattle. These two episodes make the implied threat of the unseen stalker very real and it puts Frank on edge.

These two episodes establish well the series as a visually and psychologically disturbing drama. For example, in the "Pilot," there a person is found with their eyes and mouth sewn shut. The image is gruesome and it is shown, so for the sensitive members of the potential audience, it is important to be aware that this is the closest network television ever got to a Silence Of The Lambs series. It is creepy and truly frightening, even after multiple viewings.

Unfortunately, there are some elements of predictability even in these first two episodes. Both were written by Chris Carter and directed by David Nutter, giving the series an instant start that screams continuity! But in "Gehena," Carter seems bound by the conventions of "If a gun is introduced in the first act, it must be discharged by the final curtain." Sure, he's stylish and cool by replacing "gun" with "industrial microwave" but from the moment the mammoth device is introduced, the viewer knows someone is going to end up inside it.

What continues to sell Millennium, even ten years after it originally aired, are the characters. Frank Black is an incredible character to watch and his tortured backstory lives within him in every scene he is in in the "Pilot." Frank's ability to get inside the heads of the killers is a gift that borders on the paranormal (it is never explained in the series, outside a reference in the first episode to Frank seeing what the killer sees). It is an intriguing ability and the way it is played out - even in these first two episodes - makes for entertaining drama.

Moreover, Frank is surrounded by people who are equally interesting. Catherine is more than just a symbol of all that is good, she is dynamic, loving and concerned about Frank and the effect his work has on him. Bletch is a competent police lieutenant and his pride is wounded by having to call in Frank, even as his friendship with Frank makes him worried about the effects of having him on the cases.

On the flip side is Frank's Millennium Group contact, Peter Watts. Watts appears as a mysterious character in these two episodes almost exclusively to deliver exposition and insinuate about what the group is for future episodes. He is well played by Chris Carter favorite Terry O'Quinn, of late of Lost. He and Lance Henriksen play off one another amazingly well.

It is Henriksen who must sell Millennium, though and he does an impressive job at that. Perfectly cast, Henriksen represents a mature, disturbed adult figure who is not Hollywood beautiful, which makes him instantly more believable in the role than any number of actors. He plays the part with a detached logic and coldness that is distinctly different from his role of Bishop in Aliens (reviewed here!). Indeed, the power of his acting is that he spends much of the episodes with a look of grim determination on his face, but in moments with his female costar, he softens and smiles. They play a couple in love with an adult sensibility to it and that is beautiful and realistic. One has the sense from the moment Henriksen appears on screen that Frank Black is a strong man with a real gift, but a core of humanity that only comes out with his family. He makes the show.

And this is a wonderful beginning to the series and one that is well worth the attention of anyone who loves great drama, especially the creepy serial killer stuff and CSI type shows that are on the air now. This is what paved the way for them. It should be noted that Millennium does fall into the same universe as The X-Files (reviewed here!).

Knowing that VHS is an outdated medium, a better investment might be Millennium: The Complete First Season, reviewed here!


For other television reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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