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Frank Black (Lance Henriksen), Millennium. (Image links to The Millennial Abyss, a fine fan site for the show.)

This is one of my favorite television series ever. It was the second series from Chris Carter, the creator of The X-Files, and it debuted to great fanfare in 1996 and had good ratings initially; however, over time its ratings dropped as the show’s tone never varied much from the dark and grim atmosphere of the early episodes. The show centered on Frank Black, a criminal investigator who had a psychic ability to see into the minds of the killers he tracked. As he notably said in the pilot episode, “It’s my gift….it’s my curse.” Thus Frank was torn in two directions, between delving into the darkest parts of the world in which we live and protecting his family from the darkness. Lance Henriksen played Frank Black with immense gravity, creating a character who was absolutely the moral center of everything that went on around him. Even now, three years after the show’s cancellation, Henriksen’s accomplishment on Milennium amazes me.

The general impression of the first season was that the show basically trotted out a “Serial Killer of the Week”, and was thus a fairly hard sell. That criticism was partially accurate, but it downplays the general high quality of those first-season shows. In the second season of Millennium, the subject matter was expanded a bit to include a mix of serial killers, secret societies, Christian mysticism, and Biblical prophecy. Many fans of the series felt that Year Two was the show’s best, and I agree; this was when Millennium displayed the most interesting storytelling, with excitement and emotional depth. The standout episode, for me, was the amazing “Midnight of the Century”, in which Frank Black must come to terms with his mother’s death in his childhood, through ghostly visits and visions. The second season was managed by executive producers Glen Morgan and James Wong, who were also responsible for some of the more memorable early episodes of The X-Files.

The third season of Millennium, though, was a seriously mixed bag that eventually fell apart completely. Part of the problem was the preceding season, which had ended with events of near apocalyptic horror; it is possible that there really was no way for the show to go on after that and remain convincing. Also, Morgan and Wong left for other pastures, and the writing that replaced them was generally nowhere near the quality of the first two seasons. The stand-alone “serial killer” episodes of the third season were not particularly well written; even worse, the “mytharc” episodes brought in all manner of X-Files-style conspiracies, ignored previously established continuity, turned former ally characters into villains with no justification (most egregiously, Terry O’Quinn’s character of Peter Watts, a wonderful character from the first two seasons who became a Cigarette-Smoking-Man-style caricature in the third season), and generally foundered. Frank’s wife, who had died at the end of Season Two, was replaced by Emma Hollis (Klea Scott), a new FBI partner for Frank who was never sharply drawn as a character at all. By the time Season Three was half-done, it was clear that the show would not be back for a fourth, and Chris Carter took quite a bit of heat from fans for seemingly abandoning a show that had had so much promise and had reached such heights during its first two years. Still, Season Three had some good moments, particularly a Christmas episode called “Omerta”. Nevertheless, I remember Millennium almost solely on the basis of the first two seasons — much like fans of the original Star Trek series, who will waste little time telling you how bad their Season Three was.

It was Millennium, coupled with The X-Files, that led to my re-discovery of the horror genre. For that alone I am forever in its debt.

This is who we are.

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