Millennium: The Complete Third Season Review
When Lance Henrikson first heard the news of Millennium’s cancellation, together with some crew members he was travelling to a location with, he did not sit in a stunned silence usual for such occasions. Instead he began cheering and laughing, as did his companions. An unexpected reaction to be sure, especially for someone who seemed so committed to Frank Black, his character in the show, and several years later he was asked to explain why he had reacted in such a way. The reason, he said, was not so much delight at the show's demise as the fact that, at that point, “We were exhausted, man, we were totally wiped out;” three years of hard labour on this physically and mentally challenging show had finally wiped him out. Having now finished watching this final season of the show I too feel like cheering, and am similarly exhausted by its run. However, this is not down to the adrenaline of watching a tense, nervous, scary and enveloping series but rather due to the fact this season is, at times, such an effort to get through if I hadn't been writing this review I would have given up on it several times. Just like Henrikson I was committed to see it through... but my goodness it was an effort at times. And it's not even that it's particularly bad, it's just so... bland and uninspiring, it saps all your strength and makes you look around for something else, anything else, to do rather than watch any more of it. When the series first began bland is not an adjective many would have associated with it, so how has it, in three short seasons, descended from the visceral challenge it presented to its viewers in the first year to this, a dull, almost safe, set of twenty-two episodes which coasts along getting nowhere fast?
Following the death of his wife Catherine Frank Black (Lance Henrikson) returns to his former job at the FBI, both to give his life a renewed focus and also to help him track down the Millennium Group, the mysterious organisation that he blames for spreading the viral outbreak that killed Catherine. Teaming up with a new partner Emma Hollis (Klea Scott) he finds himself investigating more strange goings-on, occasionally running into old friends and enemies, all the time drawing ever-closer both to the Group and the apparent Apocalypse they are predicting will fall on the planet on the stroke of midnight, January 1st 2000.
Or, at least, that’s the idea. However, in practise, the basic premise of the Chris Carter's series – that Frank and co are racing against time to stop Hell descending upon Earth at the turn of the new century – is almost entirely forgotten. Instead, far more focus is paid to both Frank’s constant circling of the Group who he once almost worked for but now considers his inveterate enemies, and the individual cases he and Hollis investigate. Marking yet another about-turn for a show that each season seems to career off in an entirely new direction to that of the one before, this results in the most unsatisfactory year yet for this most frustrating of shows.
It’s no secret that Season Two was considered by the Powers-That-Be to have been a narrative disaster. Morgan and Wong, to whom Carter had delegated responsibility for the show, had antagonised both the writing staff and their leading man, none of them approving of the direction the two writers took with the show. Come the unexpected renewal for another season, they swiftly departed, and Carter himself came back to try and steady his project’s wayward course. Unfortunately it seems that not even he was entirely sure what to do with it; he once said in an interview that Millennium was an extremely limited format that was very tricky to write for, and that becomes swiftly obvious in the first third of the season. Simply put it meanders, the strain of the writers as they try and figure out exactly what to do with the thing almost palpable. As a result they didn't want to commit too early to any one particular course, resulting in a set of generic episodes that literally stand still in the grander scheme of the show. Thinking back now, it’s very difficult to recall anything about any of these first episodes other than the tedium of having to sit through them: each one, on its own, is a formulaic example of a Chris Carter show, but with nothing to distinguish between them it becomes hard, after nine years of The X Files and now three of this, to muster up any enthusiasm for the run-of-the-mill procedural quality they have. With no individual spark they are an anonymous bunch – only Thirteen Years Later, the Halloween comedy episode, raises any sort of enthusiasm and even that pales in comparison to the two magnificent Darin Morgan episodes from the previous year. (It doesn’t help that the opening two-parter, in which Frank and Hollis discover seemingly-identical women, is reminiscent of an old X Files plot strand.)
As the season progresses, individual episodes do improve but the bigger story doesn't: stuck in a quandary, it becomes clear that Carter and his team have become stuck for inspiration, and are failing to get a firm grip on the thing. The Millennium Group become no more than another conspiracy group akin to that which Mulder and Scully fought and, while the details are different – there are no aliens in Millennium as far as I can gather – the general modus operandi of the two seem to be the same. Frank and Peter Watts (Terry O’Quinn) are at loggerheads for much of the time, Watts assuming the air of a wronged innocent, Frank that of dogged avenger determined to bring him and those he worked for down. Unfortunately it only becomes an interesting battle in the final two parter, especially in the last few scenes when it becomes clear that maybe Watts was doing as he said and protecting Frank: only when the show was cancelled is a commitment made, everyone safe in the knowledge it's not something that will need following up. Watts’ attempt to bring Hollis into the Group is rather better, however: we don't know how Hollis will go, and in watching Watts try to coerce her away from Frank we see a technique not dissimilar to that which he used on Frank the first season. This secondary arc is a success, but the only element of the Group's story that is: Frank’s battle with them is tepid and uninspiring, used as a convenience in some episodes, crowbarred into others in which it has no place. We do learn much more about the history of the Group, including seeing its inception, but that's about it.
That said, the Group were only ever half the story, with Frank’s battle with demons, both inner and outer, always the core premise of the show. Here we skip over Frank’s initial breakdown following his wife’s death – an understandable if regrettable necessity – but don’t get to see enough of his own pain. Only in a couple of episodes – most notably Borrowed Time in which the Grim Reaper literally turns up to take Jordan, one of the better instalments – do we get to see the real Frank unleashed, most of the time Henrikson and the show’s writers keeping the guy on a tight leash. This is a shame for the viewer because when he’s allowed to, Henrikson can be very powerful, spilling out Frank’s pent-up emotion (a side of his repertoire we don’t get to see much of in his film work), but this reticence to show that side of his character can be justified in that those moments are even more powerful for their relative rarity. However, there’s no common strand running through this season for Frank, other than the exterior of getting back at the Group, and as such there’s no coherence to his story: it’s just a bunch of stuff that happened. He, like everyone else, seems to have forgotten the apparently impending Apocalypse, and even a return match with recurring villain Lucy Butler in two episodes isn’t enough to really shake up the troops. Originally Season Two's finale, written at a time when Season Three didn't look likely to happen, was the Apocalypse (and a very good one it was too); however, as this season happened it was explained away, and yet now Frank acts as though the end of the world isn't as big an issue as tracking down the Group. Looking around Millennium websites there are plenty of people who insist it all ties up in a satisfying thematic whole but – while I admit I haven’t paid nearly as close attention to the show’s nuances as they have – I’m not convinced: from this distance thematically it just seems a show adrift with no one at the rudder (a sentiment Henrikson seems to agree with: in the making of featurette on this disk he remarks ruefully that he wishes the writers “had kept score better.”)
The mystery of why this season doesn’t gel especially well is heightened when one considers how good its principal actors are. Although Klea Scott is a disappointment, just not having the screen presence the character needs (the actress comes across far better in the documentary in these disks: if only she’d been able to bring some of that warmth to the screen) Lance Henrikson is, as ever, magnificent, rising above the occasionally hackneyed stuff he is presented with, infusing each scene he is in with gravitas. Although his character is as stiff as ever, the actor is plainly much more relaxed in the role, his many scenes with daughter Jordan (Brittany Tiplady) particularly free and genuine, while his relationship with Hollis, while not having Mulder and Scully levels of chemistry, is fine. When all else fails he’s worth the price of admission alone, and despite the fact he was never entirely comfortable with the directions the series was going, he was always comfortable with the character himself – it’s a sign of how much he enjoyed playing with him that he’s still, six years after the show was cancelled, saying he would like to return to play Frank in a feature film.
His colleagues at the FBI are pretty good too, notably Peter Outerbridge as slimy agent Barry Baldwin. The character is underused, and if one is being honest there isn’t a natural slot for him in the series format, but the little we see of him makes us want to see more: he mixes the bare-faced ambition of a career agent with the hint of something more, the actor only being allowed to give his character extra nuances in the season finale, by which time it’s too late: if there had been a fourth season (and if things had turned out differently in the finale) it would have been good to have him return. Stephen E Miller too, who after floating around the periphery of Season Two returns to his Season One status of regular, is also decent, doing the most with his one-dimensional character. This is a season in which the secondary characters do a lot with their brief time: as well as the two mentioned above, special praise should go to John Beasley as Hollis’ senile father, who gives his limited role an extraordinary level of realism. He paints the picture of a once-proud man frightened by what is happening to him, his grip on sanity crumbling around him, aware and yet unable to do anything about it. His scenes with Scott are a highlight, and he provides arguably the most memorable moment of the finale, when he turns to his daughter and says “You shouldn’t have done it Emma.” From the most unlikely source comes the one truly satisfying arc of the year and I'll remember him far longer than I will anything else in this season. Meanwhile Brittany Tiplady does very well with her occasionally very intense role - a deceptively talented little actress - and Terry O’Quinn, of whom I’m not a particular fan, nearly won me over, especially in the episode in which his daughter is kidnapped: Watts is a greatly improved character this year, and I enjoyed his presence far more than I would have expected.
And, individually, the episodes are okay in themselves I guess. Ultimately, though, what this season lacks that the first two – especially the first – had is intensity. The stakes don’t seem especially high this time around, the final battle between Good and Evil seems further away rather than closer, the premises of the episodes themselves second rate. The odd decent episode comes through, including a couple starring Buffy actors: Collateral Damage starring James “Spike” Masters and Forcing the End, a nicely old-fashioned Millennium episode starring Juliet "Druscilla" Landau (as well as Andreas "G'Kar" Katsulas). Others worth a look include the afore-mentioned Borrowed Time, Saturn Dreaming of Jupiter (another good Jordan episode) and the final two-parter, even if it is a rip off of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon. The majority, though, are utterly inconsequential, which is a real shame: one constantly gets the feeling that there was a great show here bursting to get out, but no one ever got it completely right - not even Chris Carter himself seemed to know exactly what to do with it. In the final analysis the first season is by far the best, consistent both in its thematic handling and individual episodes, while this third is the worst, simply because it is so boring and limp at times. That said, the final moments are surprisingly touching and - unlike similar Mulder and Scully's fate, which in their cases came across as half-baked - Frank and Jordan's departure is most appropriate. Good acting and the odd good plot strand aside, however, this is a disappointment.
The twenty-two episodes of the season are presented on six dual-layered single-sided disks. Anyone who has seen either of the first two seasons will be familiar with the layout of both the disks themselves and how they are housed. Each disk, holding four episodes (with the exception of the last) is held in a slim-line jewel case with individual artwork pertaining to one of the episodes held on that disk. On the back is information about the four episodes including synopses, airdate and writing and directing credits. All six cases are kept in a covering box and fit smoothly, making access to any one of them easy, and the whole design of boxes is both functional and attractive.
Each of the disks’ menus opens with a montage of stylised clips from the show accompanied by the title music. As with the other two seasons, this montage goes on slightly too long. The main menu lists the four episodes on the disk, and accessing one brings up that episode’s submenu which consists of Play Episode, Language Selection, Scene Selection and (if any) Special Features. Each submenu is illustrated by a still from its own episode. All episodes are subtitled but none of the extras are.
Quite grainy, which, while apt for the series dark style, is a bit much sometimes. Flesh colours are also very pale and wan, sometimes almost unnaturally so, but in other regards this washed-out, almost drained look serves the series well. A good rather than great transfer then, although there appear to be no digital artefacting problems.
Perfectly standard for an aurally unambitious series made at this time. No 5.1 to be heard here, but the sound is fine and suitably atmospheric at certain junctures, and all dialogue is clear and audible - not always easy when characters mutter away.
Two episodes are accompanied by commentaries this time. The first, on the season opener, is by Henrikson and Scott which makes for a nice reunion. After a slow start the two warm up nicely, with Henrikson having plenty to say about the show and Scott recalling her first days on set. Not the most revelatory, but nice to hear anyway.
The second is on Collateral Damage by director Thomas J Wright, and is not worth bothering with. It’s one of those tracks in which the contributor leaves long periods of dead air before making random, staccato observations. There are some vaguely interesting bits and pieces about the making of the show to be gleaned here, but not enough to merit slogging through all forty-five minutes.
The X Files: Millennium
An episode from The X Files’ seventh season which brings Frank and Jordan back for the actual Millennium. As an X Files episode its standard fare for this era of the show’s life: by this time Duchovny was in his bored phase, counting the days until the end of the season and his contract, while Anderson too is largely going through the motions, albeit with one eye on extending her contract for the following year. As a Millennium episode, however, it’s an abomination, and a complete let-down. The plot, in which past Group members are being revived as zombies, is absurd in Frank Black’s world, while the revelation of what Frank and Jordan did next following the finale is a complete letdown. Like the Millennium itself, it turns out to be all a bit of a damp squib.
End Game: Making Millennium Season Three (38:08)
The season retrospectives on both The X Files and Millennium DVDs are always good value for money, and this is no exception. Cast and crew talk about certain episodes (although they skip quickly over the second half of the season, odd considering that is the better half) while Carter, Henrikson and others reflect on the show’s ending.
Between the Lines
As with the first two seasons, a featurette with contributions from the Academy Group, the real life inspiration for the Millennium Group (wonder how they took to becoming the bad guys?) This time around two of their members talk about how handwriting and text analysis can be used to profile a subject, with one giving a practical demonstration. Very interesting.
A boring season gets a good retrospective documentary and a nice accompanying featurette, but this is not Millennium's finest hour. Henrikson saves it from being a total washout, but both he, and the series, had by this time seen better days. A shame.