TV discussion

Looking back at… Millennium: Exploring Midnight of the Century (2×10)

Although never acquiring the level of commercial success that The X-Files did, there is no doubt that Millennium was every bit the equal in terms of creativity that Chris Carter’s first show was.

It is always funny to refer to The X-Files as Millennium’s elder sibling. Since Mulder and Scully’s adventures premiered first it makes sense, but Millennium always felt like a more mature series than the one it somewhat spawned from, and it always feels odd to refer to the series featuring Mulder and Scully as the elder of the two.

Not a direct spin-off by any means, since the series traded some guest characters and eventually crossed over when it was cancelled, and it’s safe to say that the series took place in the same universe as that of Mulder and Scully, but since the adventures of The X-Files‘ lead characters were very young, Millennium presented a range of more mature characters, somewhat more middle-aged and dealing with problems such as failing marriages, raising kids and asking more fundamentally deeper questions of the nature of evil and the existence of God as opposed to the aliens and monster presented by the originating series.

When Millennium entered its second season, there was a definite sense of change in the air. With Glen Morgan and James Wong taking over as showrunners, due to Chris Carter opting to oversee The X-Files as it made its move to the big screen, Morgan and Wong took the darkly psychological approach to violent crime and opted instead to explore more occult and religious themes.

With it came a much more deeper exploration of the show’s lead character, Frank Black, in ways that The X-Files rarely even did.

“The Curse of Frank Black” was a wonderful “day in the life of Frank Black” story that explored Frank, his past and where he was now on one of the biggest holidays of the year. Just a couple of episodes later we would get a thematic sequel in the shape of Erin Maher and Kay Reindl’s superlative “Midnight of the Century”.

Where the Halloween episode has a mischievous and surreal sense of atmosphere, “Midnight of the Century” feels like it’s more subtle and melancholy mirror image, exploring Frank’s family in a way that the series hadn’t done before. With no mystery to be solved, the episode is a purely character driven tale as we explore Frank on what has become the loneliest day of the year.

After the yellow house and happy marriage of the first season, the second season opted to separate the family unit at the heart of Millennium, and with this and the Halloween episode, the series used two of the most mainstream holidays of the year to explore the impact of such a separation on its leading character, two days which are ones he which he cannot spend time with his daughter the way he previously had done, and is confronted by his own troubled youth reverberating on to his present in a beautiful way that Charles Dickens would be proud of.

Complete with black and white flashbacks and a visitation from a darkly clothed angel (an infrequent occurence on the show), the episode has a beautiful feeling of sad dreaminess running throughout that is the icing on its Christmas cake.

In fact, it seldom ever happens, but this is perhaps one of the saddest portrayals of the holiday period ever done for a mainstream American television series. Most Christmas episodes are usually a chance to be upbeat affairs, but Millennium opts for something more deeper and less superficial than other Christmas specials.

As fun as The X-Files Christmas episodes were, and season five’s “Christmas Carol” does feature some Dickensian explorations of Scully’s past via some beautiful flashbacks/dream sequences, Chris Carter’s first series never explored its lead characters or their pasts in the way that Millennium did with this, or even “The Curse of Frank Black”, where the show effectively stops with its procedurals and mysteries and uses a forty-five minute run time to just slow down and deliver a provocative and beautiful character study.

It feels more like something from a character driven drama than a series that was part of a universe, or output from a production company, that delivered provocative mysteries that could touch the heart and leave your stomach in knots.

It can be sweet, it can be sad, it can be funny (Frank’s attempts to buy Jordan a toy always reminds me of Jingle all the Way, only, you know, better), and it utilises black and white flashbacks magnificently.

Frank’s is effectively finding himself visited throughout by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the loss of his mother and the strained relationship he has with his father driving his journey back home and to a reconciliation that is heartwarming and lovely, but which has a sting in the tale come the final scene, a moment that we’ll have to wait all season for to pay off, but just the fact that we now know is hanging in the air can’t help but bring a limp to the throat.

The following year the series would give us “Omerta”, a more different, quirky and upbeat Christmas episode courtesy of Michael Perry, with an incredibly quirky Mark Snow score, and while a lovely episode too, “Midnight of the Century” is perhaps the more brilliant of the two. It is a soulful and gentle Christmas card, and a type of Christmas episode that maybe a touch too melancholy for mainstream audiences, but it is one of Millennium’s most defining and brilliant masterpieces and is a clear series highlight.

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