TV Discussion

TV Rewind… Millennium – 1×15 – ‘Sacrament’

After making his writing debut on the series a few weeks ago with the somewhat muddled, albeit still enjoyable, “Weeds”, Frank Spotnitz returns for another grim tale of kidnapping and murder, although this time he strikes close to home by having the kidnapper go after a loved one of Frank’s.

The other important thing to know about Sacrament is that it is also a much better episode than Weeds by considerable margin, with Spotnitz instead opting not to go for another serial killer of the week style narrative, but focusing on one crime and its effect as if intrudes beyond the realm of the doors of the show’s most potent and powerful symbol; the yellow house.

There has been an interesting air of suspense hanging around Millennium due to the stalker who has returned to Frank’s life after moving to Seattle. After proclaiming that he doesn’t keep secrets from Catherine in the “Pilot”, we’ve seen Frank do exactly that, even if the stalker hasn’t been too much of a reoccurring presence in the series.

While the Polaroid stalker is not the one responsible for this episode’s events, there is still a reference to Frank’s stalker as he finds himself trying to help search for his missing sister-in-law.

The introduction of immediate family for Frank is also an interesting one. Usually, when television shows introduce family members it’s to place them in immediate danger or simply kill them right away. So far, the Ten Thirteen-Verse has both embraced and subverted those clichés; with The X-Files, we were introduced to Scully’s father in “Beyond the Sea”, only for him to die shortly after. Despite that, her relationship with her father still hung in the air and the series wasn’t above bringing him back for ghostly visitations like that in “One Breath”.

Similarly, with Mulder’s parents; Bill Mulder was introduced in season two’s “Colony”, but not killed off until later on in the season in “Anasazi”. “Sacrament” on Millennium manages to both embrace and subvert the cliché of introducing a lead character’s family for one episode to simply inflict emotional damage. Phillip Anglim’s performance as Tom Black is wonderful, filled with a haunted sense of anger throughout which puts it above the cliche of being a one episode family member in distress, but since we never see Tom again, at least in grown-up form (Tom as a kid does show up in flashback form a few times), or his wife and baby daughter again, it has, over the years, started to look more and more like embracing the cliché of introducing the family for one episode, never to be seen again.

It’s churlish to complain because “Sacrament” does do some really great things. It’s taut, suspenseful and Spotnitz’s script really runs with the familial element. A key X-Files writer who contributed a lot to its mythology, Spotnitz was a writer who frequently brought a lot of attention to Mulder and Scully’s lives outside of their jobs and he does a similarly great job here; we spend a lot a time at the yellow house, there’s a major role for Catherine in proceedings and it explores the impact Frank’s job can have even though the yellow house is perceived as a more symbolic symbol of hope.

Placing this episode after “The Thin White Line” was actually a good move because it once again demystified its leading character a tad. Frank plays it stoic throughout, to the point where Bletcher’s assertions that Frank shouldn’t be involved in the case threatens to become forced because in all honesty Frank actually handles his emotions pretty well, but its the impact on those around him that is the key here.

Throughout its first season, Millennium has been very gun-shy when it comes to Frank. Only “The Thin White Line” last week was the first time that we were given a  glimpse of Lance Henriksen holding a firearm, but despite not being a character prone to arming himself, Frank does keep a gun in his filing cabinet that ends up playing somewhat of a pivotal role later in the episode.

For the first time this season (and not the last), the violence that Frank investigates has visited itself upon that symbol of family and stability, although not as directly here as we’ll see in a few weeks. Tom’s bitter rant to his brother that such a violence is a disease that Frank is bringing upon them is a powerful one, even more so because its set to become something of an important theme going forward, even though at this stage I doubt the writers had any plans beyond what was about to happen at the end of this season, but it is interesting that both this and the previous episode are hinting at things about to happen further down the road.

As for “Sacrament”, it plays out as a wonderfully intense and dark kidnap drama, of course, it wouldn’t be anything else with Millennium because fifteen episodes in, darkness is its stock in trade. This being a kidnap drama, with a lesser body count than usual, we are instead treated to sequences involving dark basements and references to torture by burning and while a successful rescue is made by the time the episode ends, Spotnitz’s script brilliantly follows through on its more darkly emotional and complex tone, so not everything gets to be wrapped up in a neat bow at the end.

It turns out that the episode has played games with the audience as to who the real kidnapper is, but justice will not be doled out fully as expected while the emotional fall out of Helen’s kidnapping looks like it may play out beyond the “executive producer Chris Carter” credit as Tom is reunited with his wife and child, but Frank and Jordan are left to walk away alone, giving the rest of their family peace.

The inclusion of Jordan in the episode also lays in foundations for future episodes as it is becoming clear that Frank’s daughter may also share his gift, asking about Helen when it’s clear she’s asking about things she couldn’t possibly know. The image of Frank and Jordan walking alone together as Tom, Helen, and their child are reunited is a very defeating image given the happiness that we saw at the start of the episode.

It might actually be as grim an image the series has thrown to the audience yet.

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