It felt somewhat inevitable for a show very much preoccupied with violent death, that the emotive subject of bereavement and funerals would come to form the fabric of a Millennium story. That the funerals in question are the setting for some typically upsetting material, especially in the haunting teaser, is also not a surprise, but “Blood Relatives” does it very well.
The writing debut on the show of Chip Johannessen, who would become one of the most important voices on the show in much the same way as Vince Gilligan did on The X-Files, “Blood Relatives” is a prime example of Millennium doing serial killer of the week incredibly well; emotive, thematic, the entire cast of the show being given something to do, as well as incredibly suspenseful, with a quirky air and a gorgeous Mark Snow score (parts of which made it into the first volume of La-La Land Records superb soundtrack collections), this is Millennium doing what it does incredibly well in terms of story and character.
Like “Kingdom Come”, there’s a sense that “Blood Relatives” isn’t just trying to do a well produced serial killer on the loose in Seattle narrative, but trying to explore its antagonist in a deeper way. Or at least that’s what we believe we’re seeing via Johannessen’s teleplay. Brilliantly he throws in a twist in the end which pulls the rug out from under the audience’s feet, or at least that’s what this reviewer believed it did, having watched it when he was thirteen years old.
We’ve become so accustomed to Millennium being a serial killer of the week, with each episode cutting back and forward between Frank and the team investigating the case and each week’s antagonist doing their psycho-psychology thing that to have an episode throw in a twist in which this week’s antagonist, in this case James Dickerson (Sean Six), who we’ve been following throughout the episode, not be the killer, with the real culprit in fact being his legal guardian, Connor (John Fleck), is superb.
Also an episode highlight is how it integrates Catherine into the story. Millennium has superbly portrayed a marriage that has an intelligence emotional center to it, with Frank and Catherine engaging in wonderful philosophical conversations in each episode that shows them to be equals (see “Gehenna” for a wonderful example), but where the show has failed, in comparison to Carter’s other show, is that since Catherine is not actively a part of the Group or Frank’s investigations, and the show seemingly has to relegate Gallagher to scenes mostly within the Yellow House.
“Blood Relatives” brilliantly incorporates her profession as a social worker into the episode’s opening. It’s her involvement that leads to Frank’s, and she pretty much keeps in touch with the episode’s narrative throughout, getting scenes within the Seattle Public Safety Building and in the episode’s final crime scene. It’s a lovely set up, in a manner of speaking, for next week’s episode, “The Well Worn Lock”, that will put Gallagher front and centre in a more overt and brilliant way.
It sums up how well Johannessen has incorporated many of the show’s elements into a wonderful whole. It makes great use of the cast, the characters, and utilises the show’s narrative structure magnificently, while delivering an emotionally complex mystery that once again shows how that while Millennium subtly became the most copied series on television, the copy cats never matched the thematic complexities that made the show a more deeper beast.
Death is everywhere in crime procedurals, but we watch them because we want a world where there’s a near one hundred per cent success rate; the bad guy is always caught, even if there is a body count with it, but with Millennium death is always something to be feared, or at least the method of death itself. In fact, if anything the Ten Thirteen-verse is a world where violent death is always around a corner, even in the more comfortable sphere of Mulder and Scully’s investigations. While they deal with monsters of the supernatural, and subsequently are of a more comforting nature (if you can call a liver eating mutant comfortable viewing), here Frank and Catherine have to deal with more darker sets of philosophy and confrontation.
Frank may save James’s birth mother at the end (it’s the only sequence that feels clichéd and somewhat exploitative within the episode given that it involves being stalked while showering), but he does so in a way that may interfere with Connor’s eventual prosecution, but a life is still saved, and all that is left in the end for James is a life of attending funerals of those he doesn’t know, with nothing but hugs from strangers to look forward to.
It sums up superbly how much Millennium has its own set of rules and story telling, and that it can be more than just a case of serial killer of the week. It’s a philosophical and deep crime procedural that, despite being set firmly in the late-90’s, is as much a series about today, and themes of violence and evil that are as relevant as ever. That it can do this in a show with such brilliantly well thought out stories like the one here indicates that for what was one of the most hyped dramas to premiere on US television in 1996, it also one that is forever underrated and had more to offer than what many people thought was simply a shock value, controversy baiting serial killer series.