It seems as if you can never really get away from Russia. They were the bad guys in many a spy movie during the Cold War, they were the bad guys usually through the prism of mobster organization during the 90’s, and now they are once again in diametric opposition to the Western World in a way that feels as if the Cold War never really ended.
Staying in the 90’s though, it was interesting how American movies or television series could filter stories of the former Soviet Union into the prism of their own universes, from action movies and thrillers to more genre flavoured entertainment. Not even the works of Ten Thirteen Productions were immune to this. In the 1996-1997 television season, amazingly both The X-Files and Millennium would find a way to filter historical events in the country into their mythologies. The Tunguska incident would find a way to be included into the story of the Black Oil in Mulder and Scully’s investigations, while on Millennium, the Chernobyl disaster, which itself had been linked into the classic X-Files standalone “The Host”, would be at the centre of much of the horror in Chip Johannessen’s “Maranatha”.
Horror is the key word here because this plays on a similar metaphysical level as “Lamentation” and “Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions” a few weeks back. After dovetailing back into a serial killer of the week with “Broken World” in last week’s episode, Millennium once again flies back to a more satanic, occult-based form of horror, filtering it through a tale of violent crime on an epic canvas.
Whether or not the linking of these crimes to the Chernobyl disaster is tasteful or not is a matter of some debate in itself. But if one is willing to go along with “Maranatha’s” darkened story, and it’s a big ask as always with Millennium, then it is worth it, but only if you want to buy into its darkness and downbeat ending.
Johannessen has over the course of Millennium‘s debut season made a name for himself as the key contributor to the series in much the same way Morgan and Wong had done on the early years of The X-Files and Vince Gilligan was doing on Millennium‘s sibling series at this point. Even Johannessen’s most run of the mill script, his debut “Blood Relatives”, managed to embrace the norms and conventions of the series and deliver something dramatic and good, but it’s really with episodes such as “Force Majeure” and, to a lesser extent, “Walkabout”, that he has shown himself to be someone on the writing staff capable of seeing beyond the realms of just grisly murder.
Admittedly “Maranatha” is a return to grisly murder and a keenly morbid interest in violence to the body, but as always its aim is bigger, and this is not simply a tale of murder amongst a Russian community and a dark figure instilling fear. Johannessen makes his antagonist a Russian equivalent to Lucy Butler a few weeks back and manages to create something equally terrifying in the process. In that respect, it’s probably just a typical day at the office for the Millennium Group.
Contradictorily, there is the problem here, as in “Force Majeure”, of Peter Watts’ skepticism coming into play, considering that next season, albeit under a different central creative voice, we’ll see that the Group and Peter have always had a more vested interest in occult activity.
Putting that aside and just looking at the episode on its own terms as the penultimate episode of what is a very good first season of television, “Maranatha” plays brilliantly. How brilliantly it plays is dependent on how you feel about the Chernobyl connection and the episode’s unremitting grim outlook, but it does make for another ferociously dark and entertaining hour of television.
Mark Snow utilizes a Russian choir sound for his score, which works although admittedly that in itself always feels like a cliché in watching Russian flavoured thrillers from American productions, and there is gritty horror air to proceedings that helps sell it beautifully.
Guest star Levani brings a superb sense of subtle menace to his performance as Yaponchik, a more charismatic but equally dark portrayal to go with his performance the previous year on another dark episode for Ten Thirteen Productions, The X-Files episode “Grotesque”. There is assertiveness to his confidence, as if he knows he can get away with his crimes, that makes him a formidable foe, and is a brilliant counterpart to this week’s other guest star, Boris Krutonog as Yura, a typical cop obsessed with catching his quarry who is set to play a bigger role in Yaponchik’s eventual escape than he realises.
If one needs to be reminded of it, there is an even more epic canvas to Millennium than even The X-Files has ever managed to reach. Yes, the truth may be out there and the Syndicate’s plans to help alien colonists may be linked to the evolution of man and all that, but those plans and ideas are so tangible and easy to grasp literally if needed to. Evil? That’s more opaque, and while Millennium has been comfortable putting its evil into handcuffs, it’s now opened up the floodgates to having antagonists where to do so is ridiculous because let’s face it, how can one put a demon or the devil into a jail cell?
It’s meant that going into the end of its first season, Millennium has made its corner of the Ten Thirteen-verse even darker than it looked to be at first glimpse, and you have to admire the bravery of a series that promised to be dark with its very first episode and then proceeds to top that darkness before it reaches its final episode.