TV discussion

TV Rewind… Millennium 1×13 – ‘Force Majeure’

After two weeks of somewhat average, or just above average, serial-killer-of-the-week stories, Chip Johannessen delivers “Force Majeure”, an episode that really pushes Millennium forward into doing something a little bit different.

If anything, and in a brilliantly surprising move given that his first script for the series, “Blood Relatives”, was a serial-killer-of-the-week and one of the show’s best examples of it, “Force Majeure” is the beginning of a series of work in which Johannessen would push the series beyond the limits of a high body count and a hunt-the-murderer narrative.

Opening with an intense sequence involving a woman going up in flames, the episode promises something different and delivers it with aplomb. The eventual explanation on what is going on may push the show beyond the realms it would usually allow itself to fall into, but it manages to pull it off and Johannessen and director Winrich Kolbe deserve full credit for doing so.

Going forward beyond this, one could point out certain contradictions with the series’ characterisation and mythology; given the direction the series would take Peter Watts (Terry O’Quinn) and that this is the first episode to really deal head-on with the fear and uncertainty surrounding the upcoming arrival of the year 2000, it might come as a surprise to hardened fans of the show that Watts doesn’t show more of a vested interest in the themes and ideas on display here, but then again it needs to be clarified that this part of Watts’ character development would not be set in stone until season two and the show’s course into a different direction.

That aside, what amazing themes and ideas there are here, not to mention a superb guest appearance from Brad Dourif.

It comes as no surprise to see him here, given his now famous appearance on one of The X-Files‘ greatest ever hours, “Beyond the Sea”, and Millennium’s wonderful penchant for bringing over previous guest stars from The X-Files that happened to be well-regarded when encountering the FBI’s finest. Having him amongst the Millennium Group is wonderful, especially given that his performance as Dennis Hoffman here is of a different variety than that of Luther Lee Boggs in Millennium’s sibling series which was a performance full of tics, intense soliloquies, and angry outbursts.

In fact, Dourif isn’t the only X-Files connection here; Morgan Woodward from “Aubrey”, another intense serial killer thriller from Mulder and Scully’s early days also guest stars as a more sympathetic and compassionate character than he did when ran into Mulder and Scully, while a theme of planetary alignment, which is so important here, was something explored via an X-File just a year previously in the third season episode “Syzygy”, an altogether lighter concoction, complete with some hugely enjoyable embittered Mulder and Scully banter that helped make it one of The X-Files‘ most underrated installments.

Here, the story of a mysterious run of suicides and their link to a potential upcoming cataclysm allow Millennium to open itself up in the storytelling department. Other episodes that have felt different have been so through the series’ recurring exploration of violent crime, meaning Johannessen deserves a lot of credit for filtering a story not only through a different eye but with a different level of stakes too.

There is a body count here, but it’s not one being dealt with through violence from one person against another, but instead is self-inflicted. Suicide is a very dark theme and the episode does feature sequences that are almost typically dark for the series, including its intense self-immolation depiction in the teaser sequence, but it’s the mystery and Johannessen’s storytelling that really sells this as something different from the show.

Mark Snow’s score is also a little lighter and melodic than usual on the series, with one key theme here being reused to emotional effect on the acclaimed X-Files episode “Memento Mori”, which reflects the more darkly whimsical heart at the core of the episode.

Winrich Kolbe’s direction is visually gorgeous, and the teaser sequence makes intensely atmospheric use of rain in the build-up to its most shocking, fiery moment. It’s also wonderful to see Frank, Peter and a returning CCH Pounder as Cheryl Andrews doing more than just profiling and investigating violent murders.

Make no mistake, Millennium’s exploration of violent crime through an apocalyptic prism is wonderful, but it’s a trip that not many wanted to take, as evidenced by the fact that its ratings never managed to compete with that of the more escapist stylings and occasional comedy of The X-Files (even though at this stage Millennium’s sibling was going through a dark phase of its own with Scully’s cancer and stand-alone episodes such as “Paper Hearts” and “Unruhe”, stories which could easily have come from the Frank Black side of the Ten Thirteen-Verse).

For much of the first season, the oncoming date of January 1st, 2000 felt as much of a MacGuffin of sorts, a means with which to explore the potential social fallibility of humankind rather than as a drama about the apocalypse, hence the exploration of violent crime and the worst that human beings can do to themselves. Amazingly that area of Millennium has probably helped it aged as well as it has done, especially the dark heart that is its first season.

As the year 2000 has come and gone, and humanity has made great strides forward, it has also taken many strides back, and nearly twenty-two years after its debut, humanity has only gotten more dark and violent it seems, something the series was actively exploring during its more procedural-based first season.

Despite that being the intent, an episode such as “Force Majeure” and it exploration of the fears we held as we headed towards a new decade and century feels like an exquisite time capsule, a time when things like Nostradamus prophecies and the fear of the Millennium Bug were seemingly at the forefront of our fears and paranoia.

Johannessen has drafted a wonderful teleplay here, and it could be seen as something of a stylistic precursor to what is about to come, albeit through the prism of where the series was at this stage. It’s a wonderful, wonderful episode that while being characteristically dark in the way the series has always been famous for, also carries within it something that Millennium seemingly never gets enough credit for; hope.

Are you a fan of Millennium? Let us know what you think of this episode.

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