TV discussion

TV Rewind… Millennium 1×22 – ‘Paper Dove’

Confession time: the first time I watched “Paper Dove” I was thirteen years of age, and it left me underwhelmed and very disappointed. Maybe because I was accustomed to The X-Files way of doing season finales, but at the time I felt that Millennium had ended its first season with something of a dud and it wasn’t until I was much older that I came to appreciate the more subtle nature of Ted Mann and Walon Green’s script.

My disappointment probably also stemmed from the fact that it was a finale not scripted by Chris Carter. Carter is maybe not as popular as he used to be, what with X-Files fans dismayed by some of his scripting choices within that show’s mythology, and a feeling that he has lost his way when it comes to writing, but back when he was Fox Television’s biggest creative name, there was palpable excitement about his work, and he had a real knack for crafting big end of season cliffhangers for Mulder and Scully’s adventures.

It was something of a surprise that he hadn’t scripted the end of Millennium’s first season, and it only made me wish that “Lamentation” had in fact been the end of the season, given that it was an episode that felt legitimately game changing in a way that season finales of The X-Files felt, even though it was all distraction with that show because it never really did change the game the way its massive stakes seemed to promise.

Interestingly, Millennium doesn’t try to do a big potential game changing end to its first year, yet when the show came back for its second season it would be under the eyes of Morgan and Wong and crafting a legitimately different direction for itself. So, game changing then for real.

You wouldn’t have known that from “Paper Dove”, and now that I’m older I can actually see a lot of the good that’s within it. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a spectacular episode by any stretch. It still falls within the realm of serial killer of the week and doesn’t try to do anything spectacular with it, but it plays out in an entertaining fashion, even if it doesn’t feel as spectacular as the series did with “Lamentation” a few weeks back.

While X-Files finales take the time to include nearly every regular and recurring character in its cast, “Paper Dove” only includes Frank going it alone for this week’s investigation. We get a glimpse at the Polaroid Man, Frank’s stalker, thus making the link between this week’s murder and Frank’s involvement something of a coincidence if you think about it, but it plays into many of the themes that Millennium started off with when it began, as opposed to throwing into the ring the more supernatural occult feel that had started to creep in over the last few weeks with “Lamentation” and “Maranatha“.

Violent crime, the fear of it, and an exploration of criminal psychology are all there. Rewatching is always more of an enjoyment than watching for the first time, although it’s strange to see the series doing a finale on such low-key terms. The next two seasons will go all out, with season two actually managing to outdo The X-Files on the epic scales (although we’ll deal with that when the time comes).

In fact, one could argue that the episode almost forgets to actually be a finale until the final moments when it ups the ante in terms of drama, almost without warning. It puts Frank into a place that we know he’s been dreading all season, with nothing but a crushed dove in his hand and a missing wife.

Throughout its running time, there is an almost laid back feel to proceedings, as if it’s daring itself to be the ultimate anti-finale. As Millennium was sending Frank, Catherine and Jordan to spend time with Catherine’s family and having Frank help out with a case at his father in law’s request, The X-Files was going all out and throwing in a twist that involved Mulder killing himself and Scully disavowing his memory. A potential airport kidnapping here seems like small potatoes, especially coming at the end of a tale involving a serial killer with a bizarre mother complex, killing his victims so they’ll listen to him in a way that his mother doesn’t.

This being Millennium and an exploration of violent crime, it’s as disturbing as anything that was airing on television at the time, but it never goes out of its way to be sensationalist as one would expect coming to the end of its first season. We spend time with Catherine and her family, and we get the beginning of a sub plot involving Catherine’s sister and her antagonistic attitude towards Frank, which actually feels like it was setting character plots for later episodes that the series will not deal with. This is interesting because The X-Files was also doing something similar with Scully and her own brother’s feelings towards Mulder, while there is also a hint that the Polaroid Man and serial killer of the week Henry Dion (Mike Starr, so lovable on Ed, but brilliantly disturbing here) are part of a larger network.

Was this the series setting up some sort of anti-Millennium group to go up against our heroes in future episodes before Morgan and Wong went off on their own path? Possible, and it’s an intriguing one, but it’s hard to complain too much about losing that potential plotline given how sensational and experimental the upcoming season is going to be.

It still feels like a very odd choice to end the season on this note. With the exception of the Frank and his family go on vacation storyline, the story almost feels as run of the mill as Millennium can get. And yet there are some very pleasing oddities to its story that are incredibly enjoyable and borderline surreal: Henry conversing with the corpse of his victims and the blackly comical relationship he has his with his mother feel like two completely different tonal strands and yet work so damn well. Linda Sorenson as Henry’s french mother almost feels unreal, as if she’s walked out of a France that exists in Twin Peaks or some sort of surreal David Lynch comedy. It manages to be both funny and incredibly disturbing and as this is Millennium it pushes itself into the realm of the disturbing and violent before the final executive producer credit for the season.

I guess you could say it sums up the season and where Millennium was at this point in time. Creatively, the season is brilliant. Not everyone is able to get on board with its distinctive tone and descent into criminal darkness, and if anything it just embraced it more and more as the season continued.

On a personal note, I adore this season so much. Love it in fact. Yes, love may be a strange thing to call a season of television that devotes so much time to exploring evil and human cruelty as disturbing as this does, but watching it as a probably too impressionable thirteen year old who was excited to get more Chris Carter material, the series played fantastically. Its combination of forensic, criminal explorations and eventual descent into a dark, supernatural kind of evil could have helped make the series a tonal mess, but there was always something well handled about the season as a whole.

As first seasons go, it seldom puts a foot wrong, or has a clanger in the way The X-Files did in its first year. By this point Carter and Ten Thirteen had been doing Mulder and Scully’s adventures for four seasons and going into Millennium it was as if they knew how to craft a first season of television and figure out how not to put a major foot wrong. Yes, there are a couple of weaker instalments (“Loin Like a Hunting Flame” for instance), but they’re more minor disappointments than major failings.

With Carter opting to choose more time to focus on The X-Files as it headed into its fifth season and eventual big screen movie, a new pair of hands were needed to craft the show and steer it forward. Clearly Fox were concerned that he series was not another X-Files style success and wanted someone who would craft it in a different way. Frank Spotnitz was made an offer but turned it down, thus facilitating Fox turning towards a pair of famed writers who had helped make The X-Files what it was in its early seasons.

Morgan and Wong would steer the ship into different waters, but what spectacular waters they are going to be.

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