If there’s one thing you can be assured of with the television output of Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen Productions, it’s that death will be violently imaginative, and so it is with “The Judge” which opens with a victim of this week’s serial killer of the week being clubbed with a bowling bowl and subsequently his tongue then mailed to a soon to be traumatised woman.
What follows from this entertaingly violent opening is a tale of new age vigilantism that feels like the Peter Hyams directed and Michael Douglas starring movie The Star Chamber meets Se7en.
The first of several season one episodes from writer Ted Mann, as well as a theme that would come into play again, for deliberate reasons, in his later episode “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions”, “The Judge” is an enjoyable hour of Millennium, but is the first episode of the show that is probably not up to the standards that the series has displayed so far.
Far from terrible, in fact it’s got some incredibly meaty themes for what is essentially a serial killer of the week hour of television, but it is essentially what would constitute as a run of the mill episode of the show, basically a meat and potatoes hour of television in which Frank and the Millennium Group go after a serial killer, consulting with the local police department, and basically investigate a case to its natural end point.
It’s the Millennium equivalent of Mulder and Scully going after a mutant who needs to feast on some human body part to survive.
On the plus side, we get the first appearance in the series from CCH Pounder as Cheryl Andrews, a Group member and forensic pathologist, which brings some diversity to the Group and to the scenes within the Seattle PD, while also giving the Group the feeling of being a place with which to make recurring guest appearances from one time X-Files guest stars that Ten Thirteen wanted to work with again, as seen with Terry O’Quinn, who came from X-Files episode “Aubrey”, strangely enough an episode with several ideas that were similar to what would be developed in this show.
On top of Pounder, we also get another one time X-Files guest star Marshall Bell (season one’s “Fallen Angel”) as this episode’s villain, the titular Judge, along with future X-Files guest and indie movie favourite John Hawkes.
There is a wonderfully dark, ghoulish feel to “The Judge”. Mann’s script may be Millennium by numbers, but they are enjoyable numbers. The episode seemingly gets mixed reviews from critics, but the episode is good, dark fun, making great use of its Vancouver locations, and offering a mix to the serial killer working alone story by making the perpetrator of the episode’s events someone who dictates the actions at the heart of the episode’s plot.
This last idea is where the episode truly excels and punches above its weight. We witness The Judge picking up recent paroles, seducing them essentially with a promise of giving their life meaning, which we witness happen to new protoge Bardale (Hawkes) who takes to his new job with gusto, but then eventually take violent vengeance when it comes to The Judge’s hypocrisy at essentially using the law he is disgusted with for his own ends.
For an hour of television that can be described as “serial killer of the week”, it still feels meaty and deep, indicating that when Millennium does an episode that is run of the mill for it, it’s not simply going to just rest on its laurels. It’s an intensely thematic story, it’s emotionally that it somewhat fails in the long run. It lacks the more deeper emotional themes from the first three episodes, and although there are several key moments between Frank and Catherine, they don’t feel as emotionally loaded as they did over the last three weeks.
We get obligatory scenes at The Yellow House, which give what could have been typical husband and wife scenes a philosophical feeling that are seldom replicated in other shows. Catherine Black is not a stupid character, and the writers are seemingly aware that she is not some useless wife, and while the scenes between Henriksen and Gallagher are wonderfully played, it does feel like the series needs to do more with Megan Gallagher at this stage than they are doing. Thankfully they will learn this, although falling into this trap will become all too easily to them as well.
Production wise, the episode is once again Millennium continuing to match the high production values of it “Pilot”; The Judge’s house is the stuff of classic horror, with darkly lit rooms and a farm full of pigs which will come into glorious use in the episode’s climax, which is typically violent and imaginative as per the Ten Thirteen way of doing things. In fact, by this point in 1996 it was clear that a series bearing the upbeat “I Made This” at the end of Chris Carter’s series usually meant that one was about to watch well made and gorgeously produced work.
“The Judge” is by the numbers, but they are good numbers, the episode features a plethora of scenes involving cops and detectives investigating, going to the morgue, finding dead bodies, with a dread feeling in the air before the victims are murdered. It’s an enjoyable hour of television that signifies that Millennium knows what it’s doing, but also indicative that for as brilliantly made as the series is, its serial killer of the week format means that it does run the risk of not having the wealth of variety to its tales that The X-Files would have.
Having said that, it’s hard to criticise too much when it’s as ghoulish, dark and intense as “The Judge” is.