The second, and last, contribution to Millennium by writer Jorge Zamacona, “The Wild and the Innocent” is a grim, almost Cormac McCarthy-style revenge thriller that takes place on the roads of middle-America, in a tale of grief, loss and violence. Typical Millennium, and yet at this stage it is perhaps the most atypical as well.
For starters, “The Wild and the Innocent” is not a serial killer tale. Like “522666”, this a brilliant expansion of the show beyond the realm of serial killer of the week. Frank and Peter’s (Terry O’Quinn) involvement begins with them on the hunt for a resurfaced rapist, Jake Waterston (John Pyper-Ferguson, a recurring Ten Thirteen presence what with this show, The X-Files and Harsh Realm, sometimes re-appearing in differing roles in the same shows), but then turns into an even more emotionally fraught tale that puts guest star Heather McComb (The X-Files‘ “Die Hand, Die Verletzt”) front and centre in a brilliant way.
There are some mixed reviews for this episode out there, but in this reviewer’s opinion, this is a brilliant episode of the show. Yes, Frank and Peter aren’t investigating as much as they are reacting to the episode’s events, but Zamacona’s script and story is so strong and engaging that it leaves the viewer with no choice but to get swept along by its darkly middle-American atmosphere and emotional story.
Like his previous episode, “Kingdom Come”, the antagonists of “The Wild and the Innocent” are never kept at arm’s length, and the script filters the hunt for them on a more emotional level rather than on an intellectual one. Like Caleb and his targeting of priests a few weeks ago, we spend time with Maddie and her boyfriend, Bobby (a pre-Burn Notice Martin Donovan), and as the episode goes on, the story is filtered brilliantly through Maddie and what she’s experiencing, with Bobby’s increasing level of violence ratcheting up the tension and making its already tense atmosphere even more unbearable.
McComb is fantastic throughout. A stand out two seasons before when she appeared on The X-Files, she portrays a brilliant slice of raw emotional distress throughout as both she and Bobby drive cross-country with Jake in their trunk to get back Maddie’s child who Jake sold for a large amount of money in order to buy a big screen television, a plot element set up when Frank and Peter discover the word “angel” scratched onto the television set when they first appear at the crime scene.
There is a beautiful level of compassion running throughout this hour that is somewhat unusual for Millennium.” Although in some respects a very different tale to “The Well Worn Lock” two weeks ago, the level of sympathy it invokes for its lead female guest star could make it a very worthy companion piece to Chris Carter’s story of child abuse. The Wild and the Innocent” features acts of violence, but at its core it’s really about a mother who simply wants to reunite with the child that was cruelly taken away from her.
On top of its emotional drive, there is a real earthliness as well to its atmosphere. Obviously it wasn’t filmed in Missouri. Much like the best of much of Ten Thirteen’s output, it’s makes glorious use of Vancouver, British Columbia, with moody uses of green fields surrounding never-ending roads, all of which add to the moody and uniquely middle-American atmosphere of the episode.
Mark Snow’s music comes in perfectly as always, and the accompanying heart of the episode alongside McComb is Lance Henriksen who portrays genuine heart and warmth in his search for Maddie. Usually Frank Black is a very world-weary character, but there is a level of professionalism to his investigations, with the more warm-hearted side of his character explored within the realms of the Yellow House, but here we get to see him genuinely care for Maddie and her plight.
He is a rare decent male figure who comes into her life, because at its heart, Zamacona’s teleplay explores many levels of toxic masculinity; from Jake’s attempts to force himself on Maddie in the episode’s teaser, to Bobby’s increasing levels of violence and psychotic behaviour, to a key moment where he pretty much pressures Maddie into having sex with him.
The latter is never portrayed violently, or even an exploitative manner, but is a horrifyingly sad and disturbing moment which feels incredibly soul-destroying.
This being Millennium, and it dealing with these themes, a tragic ending is probably inevitable, and although Maddie ends up making the right choices at the end, her realisation that her world is not a good fit for her child who is being raised by a family who can provide for him and that his home is a good one, and her having no choice but to kill Bobby, can only mean that she’s going to jail at the end. Her sad goodbye to her son one last time as Frank leads her out of the house is perhaps one of the most devastating moments this show has ever done.
It’s a shame that this and “Kingdom Come” are the only Zamacona contributions to Millennium. His two episodes of the series showed that it could do interesting things with the show’s format, and yet with this one it could also extend beyond it to tell an even more interesting and different story than simply going after a serial killer of the week.
“The Wild and The Innocent” may have a mixed reputation and reception amongst critics and Ten Thirteen scholars, but it’s one of this reviewer’s personal favourite episodes of the show, and a forty five minute mini-feature film that makes returning to this darker slice of the Ten Thirteen-verse a richly rewarding one.