The television output of Ten Thirteen Productions was never afraid to deal with religious themes within their stories; The X-Files would return to religion at various points throughout its run, mostly within stories centered around Scully (“Revelations”, “All Souls”, “Orison”), so given its dealings with prophecies, millennial angst, not to mention frequent use of biblical quotations to open episodes, it was no surprise to see Millennium go to the well of religious themed crime as soon as it hit its sixth episode (in actuality its fourth, as “Kingdom Come” was held over to allow “The Judge” and “522666” to potentially bring in higher numbers).
One of only two episodes contributed to the series by writer Jorge Zamacona, a key writer on series such as Law and Order, Homicide:Life on the Street and Third Watch, the episode is something of a serial killer of the week, but manages to transcend the format a little by making its antagonist somewhat three-dimensional and, daringly, sympathetic at times, coupled with some nicely played familial angst coming from the Yellow House.
It stands to reason that Frank and Catherine would be somewhat unsure of where they stand with religious belief. Raising their daughter, Frank expresses confusion to fellow Millennium Group member Ardis Cohen (guest star Lindsay Crouse) on how best to approach the subject with his daughter, something further fuelled by Jordan’s new-found experience with death after witnessing a bird dying on the steps of their home.
Of course, the latter plot point can’t help but feel a little forced, something with which to drive home the episode’s themes of grief and bereavement, but that they work as well as they do is something that Zamacona and stars Henriksen, Gallagher and Brittany Tiplady deserve credit for. It never becomes too maudlin or heavy-handed, but it does fall into the trap of making one wonder about the fortuitous timing of such an event at the house, just when Frank begins investigating a case centred around a serial killer who is striking at priests due to having discovered a lack of faith following a heavy and awful personal tragedy, or so it seems at first.
This being Millennium, serial killer of the week Galen Callaway (Michael Zelniker) and his methods of dispatching his victims is provocative, grisly, imaginative and incredibly disturbing. Some are more imaginative than others (the teaser sees a burning at the stake, while another is simply using a golf club), but for the first time it feels as if the set pieces are not there to drive home the drama or the horror.
Make no mistakes, Millennium is a very intelligent series, this being a Carter creation and with the likes of Morgan and Wong, Maher and Reindl, Frank Spotnitz and Chip Johannessen writing for it, how could it not, but there is always an inherent danger that a series like it will fall into the trap of upping the violence and the gore when it’s falling back on the tropes of a serial killer of the week, something that happened two weeks ago with “The Judge”, but Zamacona’s teleplay manages to stop itself from falling into those tricks, and offers something that has intelligence and emotion to it.
Callaway’s methodology and psychological drive is fuelled by the loss of his family in a house fire, his loss of faith causing him to strike at those who represent it, but brilliantly Zamacona’s script throws in the twist that in fact Callaway has not lost his faith at all, and his psychosis is fuelled by his anger that he never in fact lost his belief in God. It’s a great piece of storytelling, and even though it comes during a somewhat clichéd set piece (a hostage situation the Frank willingly enters into), the dialogue and performances from Henriksen and Zelniker are superb.
It’s not every show that would dare to make you sympathise with someone who violently dispatches men of the cloth, but “Kingdom Come” does a fantastic job with doing so; Zelniker’s violently emotional outburst and tears in the final moments are powerful stuff, and there is an inherent novelty in the fact that his character is a murderer fuelled not by the loss of his faith due to his bereavement, but due to the fact that he still has been able to hold on to it. In other words, he is killing faith.
In rewatching “Kingdom Come”, it’s always easy to expect lesser things, but it frequently ends up being a surprise in a Millennium-rewatch; the case of the week is engaging and it puts stock into character and thematic resonance in a way that crime procedurals of the day don’t. Compare this to an episode of something like NCIS, and one can see how crime procedurals that came after it have taken elements of Millennium, but alas none of its depth.