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Millennium [tv]

Entry updated 4 April 2017. Tagged: TV.


US tv series (1996-1999). 20th Century Fox Television/Ten Thirteen Productions for the Fox Television network. Created and Executive Produced by Chris Carter. Directors included Ralph Hemecker, Winrich Kolbe, David H Little, Paul Shapiro and Thomas J Wright. Writers included Chip Johannessen, Glen Morgan, Frank Spotnitz and James Wong. Cast includes Megan Gallagher, Lance Henriksen, Terry O'Quinn, Sarah-Jane Redmund, Klea Scott and Brittany Tiplady. 67 45-minute episodes. Colour.

The disastrous viewing history of Millennium – a steady decline from the first extremely popular episodes to an ignominiously trivialized final season witnessed by few – seems almost solely due to Chris Carter's initial concept of the series as ramping up off his successful X-Files. But instead of escalating that series's underlying Paranoia into the apocalyptic narrative about the prevention and cure of the End of the World that pre-season hype had hinted darkly was in the works, a decision was taken to focus instead on serial killers and other criminals, with only rudimentary hints of any larger story. It may be the case that the actual year 2000 was effectively too imminent for any plausible story arc to have room and time to unfold before events (or the absence of events) caught up with the action. In any case, Millennium was cancelled before the fatal year.

The insertion of an episode called "Millennium" into the 1999 X-Files season, apparently in an attempt to tie up some loose ends and achieve what was probably referred to by its makers and marketers as "closure", was inept. In retrospect, whatever excuses might have been offered, the stereotyping misuse of a fine cast was deeply frustrating.

Frank Black (Henriksen) is a former FBI profiler with ESP powers that allow him literally to see inside the minds of violent criminals, a taxing gift which has already caused two emotional breakdowns. Having moved to Seattle, Washington, in an attempt to recuperate, he has been helping the local police with intractable cases when Peter Watts (O'Quinn) offers him a position with the Millennium Group, a cadre of putative Secret Masters founded in 100 CE and focused (we are meant gradually to learn) on mentoring the end of the century, the climax of the series presumably destined to occur just after midnight of 31 December 1999. As the series progressed, however, this ominous background Benendanti-like organization, with its apparent linkages to supernatural forces, proves to be trivially schismatic in nature, with its "Rooster" faction espousing an Eschatological terminus, and the opposing "Owl" faction plumping for secular apocalypse. With a succession of serial killers hogging the spotlight in most episodes, neither outcome was given the benefit of any sustained attention. In the end, the third-season decision to further demote the Millennium Group by treating its behaviour as essentially criminal, fatally simplifies and domesticates any original hints that something earth-shattering was afoot, and made Millennium's cancellation almost inevitable, leaving the mostly untold but visibly mutilated story arc to swing in the wind.

Throughout Lance Henriksen's depiction of a tortured, haunted, charismatic figure seems increasingly designed for some other programme: perhaps the one intended at the beginning; and although the character he plays, Frank Black, continues to generate a sense that through his extrasensory abilities he is able to detect some looming abyss, it is an abyss in a vacuum. Frank's wife Catherine (Gallagher) is foolishly killed off at the end of the second season; he takes up with a new partner, Agent Emma Hollis (Scott), but they quarrel lots and it is in any case now too late to establish a new ensemble of players. A recurring enemy, Lucy Butler (Redmond), outwardly an attractive human though in reality a Shapeshifter, variously manifests as a large, dark-haired man and as a hideous creature, presumably a demon (see Supernatural Creatures); but again, any connective understory has been parched to death.

Novelizations and associated texts, which inevitably reflect the increasing loss of cohesion of the ongoing series, include the nonfiction The Book of End Times: Grappling with the Millennium (1999) by John Clute, Millennium: Gehenna (1998) and Millennium: Force Majeure (1999) by Lewis Gannett, Millennium: The Frenchman (1997) by Elizabeth Hand, Millennium: Weeds (2000) by Victor Koman and Millennium: The Wild and the Innocent (1998) by Elizabeth Massie. [JC/GSt]


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