TV discussion

TV Rewind… Millennium 1×17 – ‘Walkabout’

As it has gained traction well into the second half of its first season, there has been a pleasing sense that Millennium hasn’t been afraid to explore the inner emotional sanctum and character of its heroic central figure, Frank Black.

“The Thin White Line” and “Sacrament” explored elements of Frank’s past in the former and his family in the latter, and wasn’t afraid to turn its brand of darkness and horror on to the hopeful beacon of the yellow house itself. With “Walkabout”, Chip Johannessen and co-writer Tim Tankosic (his only credited contribution to the series) go all out in an exploration of Frank that uses one of mystery fiction’s most used, but also one of its greatest, narrative devices; the lost weekend.

Not that we don’t have a full picture of what’s happened to Frank, because the shocking teaser gives us a glimpse, the question is; how did he get there?

The opening for the episode is a wonderful set up for a captivating mystery; a room full of people going crazy in horrifying ways, and in the middle of it all is Frank, pounding on a glass window, uncharacteristically violent frenzy in his demeanour.

Henriksen’s performance throughout the entire first season of the series so far has been nothing more than exemplary, and arguably he found the character of Frank Black almost immediately in comparison to many other actors or actresses who seemingly need a few episodes to fully click. Although having a world-weary persona and an innate ability to keep his emotions in check when investigating some truly horrific stuff, we are privy to those lovely moments in the family home where we see him be a genuinely loving husband and father, but to see the opening teaser to an episode display him in such a frenzied manner may surely rank as one of Millennium’s most shocking moments.

Even better, Frank is kept at arms reach for some of the opening act after the title sequence (which I haven’t written about enough here but which must surely rank, coupled with Mark  Snow’s incredible theme music, as one of television’s all-time greatest), instead having Peter Watts show up at the yellow house and showing both himself and Catherine trying to figure out Frank’s whereabouts before being called by Bletcher at the Seattle Public Safety Building.

It’s a wonderful opening up of the show to see the series focus on it supporting characters, while finally bringing Watts and Catherine together for a subtle and quietly intense confrontation after the series has spent all season keeping Frank’s life and work apart, giving Terry O’Quinn a chance to expand beyond the realms of being Frank’s partner in the field, and also giving the two characters, whose scenes have always had a wonderful sense of professionalism, a spikier air as Watts reads Frank the riot act for having to go to his family when he was missing.

For the first half of its runtime, “Walkabout” is a wonderful instalment of Millennium, and another opening up of its storytelling and thematic prowess, with some relief from a high body count and brutal violence, indicating that the series can truly do other things, even if it does do the violent crime procedural so well.

It’s a shame that it somewhat loses itself in the second half. The episode doesn’t necessarily go off the rails or anything, but it’s simply a case that in trying to resolve itself, it veers into X-Files-style territory, revealing itself to be a tale off pharmaceuticals and a mad doctor gone awry.

It’s not uncommon for two closely connected series such as the way that Millennium and The X-Files were to feed of each other a bit. As Millennium made its rating smashing debut, The X-Files entered its fourth season and with it episodes like “Unruhe” and “Paper Hearts” (both stunning Vince Gilligan tales interestingly) that put more emphasis on psychological horror and violent crimes with supernatural elements that were of a less fantastical quality and which functioned more highly as serial killer thrillers, with Paper Hearts in particularly not revealing its supernatural element until near the end of its runtime.

Amazingly for the most part in its first season, Millennium never breached too highly into X-Files territory, and when the supernatural would occur, as it will do in the next two episodes, it will be of a more religious-themed horror rather than a Mulder and Scully adventure.

The eventual explanation here is more of a conspiracy thriller vibe and when Gregory Itzin (who one cannot help but forever associate with 24 and his dastardly deeds in that) one cannot help but think that the Cigarette Smoking Man should be in scenes with him in the background, quietly puffing away on a pack of Morleys. It’s not that the more conspiratorial element is bad or anything, but given the power of its set up one cannot help but wish it had tried for something more potent and powerful.

Full credit is due to Johannessen and Tanksoic’s script which at least dares to do something different with Millennium’s framework. Johannessen has been the one writer unafraid to delve into different territory with his work and for the most part has always been successful with his stories and scripts. “Walkabout” itself is far from a disaster, it’s just that it end somewhere vastly different that where it begins, but for trying something as different here, complete with motivations from Frank which play right into the heart of the show’s central characters and his gift,, it does deserve some credit for trying something different and outside the norm of Millennium’s usual stories.

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