Morgan. Wong. Nutter. This combination of writers and director have a history of delivering the goods, from The X-Files episodes “Ice”, “Blood” to the Space: Above and Beyond “Pilot”, there is a wonderful coming together of talents with these three and “522666” is no exception, a taut thriller that is right up there with Millennium‘s “Pilot”.
After weeks of exploring evil through subtly hinted suggestions of a satanic supernatural variety, to serial killers, “522666” opens the floor to a bomber terrorising the streets of Washington D.C and the results make for a superb mini action movie that sees the series delivering the fast paced goods.
Broadcast in the US during November 1996, the episode follows from a trend when Hollywood briefly became obsessed with stories centred around what could be categorised as “mad bombers”. Interestingly the two biggest movies centered around terrorist actions by bombs came one year before the infamous Oklahoma Bombing by Timothy McVeigh, itself lending inspiration to a key set piece in The X-Files: Fight the Future.
In 1994, Hollywood delivered the movies Speed and Blown Away, films that took antagonists who are experts at explosives and turned them into taut action thrillers complete with A-list casts and big name directors, such as Jan De Bont and Stephen Hopkins.
While both those movies were blockbusters, with Speed in particularly proving a massive hit (Blown Away kind of loses points for its somewhat distasteful linking to the Northern Irish Troubles, complete with a preposterous prison escape set in a castle which looks like it’s from a Hammer production), Millennium’s rendition of such a tale may have a lesser budget than a Hollywood feature film, but it supersedes both movies by being taut, suspenseful and with something powerful to say that still applies in this day and age to the “cult of celebrity”.
In today’s climate it would be understandable for any crime procedural, especially those with a critical eye to today’s politics, to centre their story around white supremacy or Islamic terror, while in the 90’s the first thing to link a story like this to is Irish paramilitaries. Interestingly the notion of such an organisation being involved is raised, but then almost immediately dismissed; the target in the unforgettable teaser is a pub frequented by British Diplomats, but Frank realises that there is more at work here, that this is the work of one man, whose identity and motivations are revealed pretty much right away, but hidden in plain sight until it becomes devastatingly clear in the episode’s final half.
Morgan and Wong’s teleplay is, as always with them, superb. It never makes the obvious choices and being a Morgan/Wong joint, has the bulk of an entire act devoted to one conversation (which would reach its zenith with their next instalment “The Thin White Line”). Being of a more action thriller variety (there is little in the way of any supernatural or any other Ten Thirteen assorted weirdness, save for Frank’s visions), we get an entire section of the episode devoted to Frank and the FBI task force attempting to trace the bomber when they are in contact with him.
The sequence, a brilliant piece of character driven thriller if there ever was one, is also indicative of how 90’s television onwards had become dependant on technology; The X-Files was the first show that made predominant use of mobile phones, while tracing phone calls became such a key part in shows with a thriller or action theme, that by the time you got to the 2000’s and the emergence of 24, it was hard to imagine how the hell certain shows like it could have existed in a time before cellular technology. “522666” is an early example of how technology, in particularly cellular technology, was going to dominate crime procedurals and television thrillers.
An incredibly busy and intense sequence, Morgan and Wong take what is essentially a scene of two people taking over the phone, and have the sequence become incredibly mobile as Frank and bomber Raymond Dees (Joe Chrest from Stranger Things) basically drive all over Washington, with Frank and the FBI task force attempting to trace Dees. It features the usual plethora FBI techie’s at the computer, Peter Watts (Terry O’Quinn) with an ear piece and Henriksen with a phone at his ear, Mark Snow’s score ratcheting up the tension further and Chris Willingham editing the sequence to perfection.
It’s a magnificent sequence, and the icing on the cake which sees performance (Henriksen, Chrest), writing (Morgan, Wong), direction (Nutter) and editing (Chris Willingham) coming together to craft a superb slice of cinematic television.
The motivations of Dees are perhaps the most potent aspects of the episode. Produced and premiering in the Fox Network in 1996, the episode predated and prophesied the idea that we’d become a culture who would attempt to pursue celebrity by any means necessary. Where most episodes of Millennium will use some deep-seated psychology and psycho-trauma as a means to explore its antagonists, and there is an element to that here where it’s revealed Dees clearly gets sexual satisfaction from his actions, the end result with “522666” is that it lies with where Dees wants his actions to take him.
Incredibly complex and with much to chew on, and which can be viewed as an intense thriller with action movie overtones, it once again shows that while falling into the realm of crime procedural, Millennium is an altogether much different beast than other shows, even while stylistically paving the way for the likes of CSI (in particularly the use of Frank’s visions which feel more and more like they were somewhat cribbed by the procedural juggernaut for its own flashbacks) and NCIS. There is a deepness to it that feels almost exclusively Ten Thirteen, that it’s not merely enough to just do a crime and have it investigated, that there is more thematically. It is truly one of television’s most complex depictions of violent crime produced for American network television, which makes it a shame that by this stage it was clear that it was never going to be the ratings hit that The X-Files was.
That it depicts a “mad bomber” who leaves behind his bodily fluids while trying to become famous was probably too much at the time for mainstream audiences who would need time to catch up to the more intense and perverse nature of such crimes. It kind of makes Millennium, a show that very much wears its late 90’s setting on its sleeve, at least thematically, a show ahead of its time.