Friday, July 22, 2011

Exploring The Nature of the Group Designed To Save The World: Millennium Season Two Shakes It Up!

The Good: Very dark, Wonderfully well-written, Clever, Well-directed, Season finale!
The Bad: Seeming lack of direction at the season beginning
The Basics: As the world nears the turn of the Millennium, Frank Black finds himself exploring the group that is designed to save the world and wondering if they truly will in the second season of Millennium.

One of the problems Chris Carter, who conceived The X-Files and Millennium had with The X-Files was that he had no clear blueprint of where he wanted the show to go. If one goes back and watches the second season "mythology" episodes of The X-Files where the Alien Bounty Hunter comes into the series and compares them to the later episodes with the eye-gouged shapeshifters, it becomes clear he didn't know where they would end up when he originally characterized them. It's unfortunate, because the show would have been much stronger in its later seasons if he had the foresight to work it all out ahead of time.

Watching the second season of Millennium on DVD it becomes clear that Carter's disciples, Glen Morgan and James Wong, executive producers of the show, have no such lack of vision. Out of the twenty-three episodes in this set, the pair wrote twelve. Chris Carter's name is featured prominently on the box, but - while he created the series - it is clear he had little to do with the creation of these episodes. Morgan and Wong created a creepy masterpiece that reaches its fullest potential here in its second season.

Opening with the cliffhanger from the first season, Millennium finds Frank Black's wife Catherine at the mercy of a kidnapper. Over the course of the season premiere, Frank finds himself struggling to find Catherine and going into the darker ranges of his psyche. When the situation resolves itself, Frank finds himself pushed away from his family, distraught. He moves out of the yellow house and away from his loved ones into a small, spooky yellow house where he begins to question who exactly the Millennium Group is and what role they intend to play in the oncoming apocalypse. As the season progresses, Frank finds himself more and more troubled by the discoveries until events climax in an incident that will change everything for him.

First off, is the sole point against this season and the boxed set DVD. The second season of Millennium is a definite shift in the television show. Unlike the first season "serial killer of the week" storylines, the second season of Millennium is an exploration of the growing apocalypse predicted for the end of the Millennium and an investigation into the Millennium Group. As a result, this show is a little different from the first season and it feels like the train has switched tracks. The DVD boxed set suffers because the two people who took the show in this new and wonderful direction, declined to participate in the creation of the extras. That is truly disappointing. (As a result, one of the extras is simply Chris Carter sitting and saying that he had nothing to do with the second season of Millennium and that it was very different from the show he envisioned.)

The result, however, is a show that is incredibly creepy that starts at a murky character point and builds incredibly to a climax of catastrophic proportions. The first episodes of the season build an estrangement between Frank and Catherine and introduce Lara Means, another Millennium Group Candidate. Frank and Lara investigate potential child molesters, a young man abducting innocent children to keep them safe from the apocalypse, holy relics that are causing international conspiracies, and a division within the Millennium Group itself.

This is a terrifically engaging show and this season is filled with some of the most intense and intriguing plots of any television show conceived. Here are some of the highlights that make this boxed set an easy and truly worthwhile investment:

"Monster" - A creepy story of a day-care with perfect casting of a little girl who is just plain evil,

"The Curse of Frank Black" - A very different episode for Millennium as there is almost no real case, but rather an exploration of Frank and the pathetic form his life has taken on. Unredeemably depressing,

"19:19" - One of the few "serial killer of the week" type stories in the second season, this follows Frank and Lara tracking down a young kidnapper that believes he is saving children from the apocalypse,

"Jose Chung's 'Doomsday Defense'" - An episode that would have been inconceivable in the first season, Darrin Morgin's quirky author Jose Chung, from The X-Files appears on Millennium to expose a cult and the end of the world in a hilarious, weird, episode that makes its mark,

"Goodbye Charlie" - One of the most powerful episodes of television anyone could watch, this follows an amazingly ambiguous villain who is able to sense when people are dying of terminal illnesses and he helps them kill themselves. This is an hour of television that is fearless in its exploration of assisted suicide and the ethics behind it and it is amazing, given the power and tact of the episode, that it was ever made,

"Owls" and "Roosters" - An episode that the show has been building to all season wherein a division in the Millennium Group forms over how the end of the world will come about. When a piece of wood from the cross of Jesus is unearthed, it sparks debates between those who believe in a theological apocalypse and those who believe in an imminent secular apocalypse. And this is a wonderful conspiracy tale as the divisions are exacerbated by a third faction that his attacking the Group from without,

"In Arcadia Ego" - Following a prison break, two female inmates who are very much in love flee to have a baby they believe is immaculately conceived,

"A Room With No View" - Another incredibly powerful episode wherein young high schoolers are abducted and tortured to break them of their extraordinary abilities. This is an episode that is both frightening in its implications and extraordinary in its resistance. It is fine to watch the resistance of evil in the form of young people simply trying to make life better for others,

"Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me" - Another weird episode that would have been inconceivable in the first season (also written by Darin Morgan) wherein four devils sit around a coffee shop discussing the nature of evil today. It's hilarious and just plain weird,

"The Fourth Horseman" and "The Time Is Now" - The two-part season finale that is one of the most gripping and intense season finales of all time. "The Time Is Now" is impossible to stop watching (even with the full-act breakdown sequence). When a virus begins to plague Washington State with complete lethality and communicability, Frank discovers the Millennium Group may be the cause and the true villains of the apocalypse. Best season finale ever. Seriously. Of all time!

In fact, the build-up to the season finale is a ratcheting up constantly that does not disappoint the viewer and leaves the viewer aching for season three. It also does beg the question (which is, alas, not answered in ANY of the DVD extras!), "Was the second season finale of Millennium originally intended to be a series finale?" Millennium was picked up for a third season, but the way the second season ends, it puts fans over the edge of a cliff in the most entertaining, agonizing way.

As with all great television, Millennium is truly about characters and how they develop. Here is how the second season finds the principles:

Lara Means - Introduced in this second season, Lara is a Millennium Group Candidate who has the supernatural power of seeing an angel that forebodes bad things. She is articulate, wry and efficient and she and Frank bond quickly into a great team,

Jordan Black - Her abilities begin to develop more and more as the young girl begins to see things beyond her and that freaks out Catherine,

Peter Watts - Far more knowledgeable and in control, Peter becomes a gate keeper to Frank and Lara and it becomes clear that he is the keeper of the Millennium Group's secrets. He becomes more of a religiously-oriented figure in the second season and his relationship with Frank becomes more and more strained as Frank questions what the Group is,

Catherine Black - Surviving the horrible abduction by a maniac, Catherine finds herself raising Jordan and trying to reconcile her love of Frank with despising the Millennium Group he has joined. Catherine's part is much smaller this season as she is estranged from Frank and she works hard to find her way back to love, with mixed results,

Frank Black - Estranged form Catherine and distanced from Jordan, Frank spends his time focusing on the apocalypse and how to prevent it, if that is at all possible. Frank aids individuals in doing good and tries to combat larger evils in a world he is discovering is more and more out of his control or understanding. When his abilities fade, he becomes hardened and as they resurface, he learns the end may be much nearer than anyone had anticipated.

While Terry O'Quinn (Watts), Kristen Cloke (Lara Means) and Megan Gallagher (Catherine) are all amazing in their roles and performances, the show hinges on the acting talents of Lance Henriksen. Indeed, there is only one episode Lance is not in (and it is in this season). Henriksen is moody, intense and realistic as Frank Black adding his dour demeanor and gravelly voice to create a character that is adult and incredible. This season allows Lance to illustrate more of his talents with moments of comedic edge to them.

Millennium is a great horror show that creates horror far more often by using realistic situations than the supernatural. In its second season, investigator Frank Black discovers that the horrors of our world may be caused by those claiming to work to prevent the end of the world.

For other works featuring Terry O'Quinn, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The West Wing - Season 7
The West Wing - Season 6
The X-Files: Fight The Future


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

© 2011, 2008, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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