TV discussion

TV Rewind… Millennium 2×01 – ‘The Beginning and the End’

There’s a saying when it comes to movie sequels: make the same, but different. It’s a motto that will very easily apply to Millennium‘s second season.

With Chris Carter opting to oversee the fifth season of The X-Files to ensure a smooth transition to the big screen, the creator of Millennium opted not to oversee both shows for the 1997-1998 television season.  A deal was subsequently struck with Glen Morgan and James Wong, who had ideas of their own and would steer the series in a somewhat different direction than that of serial killer of the week: one more concerned with the coming date of January 1st 2000 itself.

It would also appease some of the concerns of Fox Television, who had wanted another monster hit from the Ten Thirteen stable, but were taken aback when the series ended up only being a cult hit of sorts, more akin to the viewing figures The X-Files was getting back in its early days.

It’s an interesting notion. In many respects, the year 2000 wasn’t really what the series was about; the year 2000 being more of a MacGuffin of sorts to get the series going, with more of a focus on the increasingly dark state of humanity as the Millennium approached. Morgan and Wong had bigger fish to fry, and instead opted to turn a creative corner.

The results in this season premiere show that they have a clear idea of what they want to do. But in order to get there, and coming after, for the most part,  a superlative episode, the last five minutes almost destabilised the good work here by rushing its way to Catherine and Frank separating, thus taking Frank away from the yellow house.

Opening with a grandiose piece of editing and filmmaking that recalls the opening to The X-Files season two premiere “Little Green Men”, (interestingly, also scripted by Morgan and Wong), the episode opens by travelling through space, with a wonderful Lance Henriksen voice-over, before settling on Frank himself standing in a field, staring up at the night sky, a comet passing through overhead.

It’s an incredible opening and one that takes us into the main credits, altered somewhat to reflect more of Morgan and Wong’s interests, complete with new taglines in the shape of the incredibly catchy ‘This is Who We Are’ and ‘The Time is Near’.

We get a recap of the final moments of last season, and a subtle piece of recasting as Doug Hutchison, Eugene Tooms himself, shows as the Polaroid Man and we witness Catherine’s kidnapping from her perspective. It’s an incredibly powerful opening. When we cut back to Frank, we witness the compassionate, calm figure break down into a panic-stricken mess, one prone to shouting at Jordan (a genuinely upsetting moment, brilliantly performed by both Henriksen and Brittany Tiplady), and clearly out of his depth in a way he has never been before.

It’s a piece of character development that sums up what we’re in for this season with Frank. Previously a stalwart figure, we’re about to see a character less in control than last year, and whose professional colleagues, the Millennium Group, are clearly not who they say they are.

On top of that, we’re also given more of a three-dimensional glimpse of Peter Watts than previously seen. Last season saw O’Quinn’s portrayal as basically Frank’s partner; here we see someone who has a life beyond what we’ve seen before, and with a backstory that is dark and interesting. His dialogue to Frank in the yellow house, on his hope someday for a son, and the distressing investigation that caused him to make a pact with God, is a superb piece of writing from the script and brilliantly delivered by O’Quinn. It makes one see why JJ Abrams would want to give him the role of John Locke, years later on Lost.

We’re treated to a character who isn’t merely a “yes, Frank” sort of person, but someone with his own stories, hopes, dreams and disappointments. It’s a lovely notion to see Morgan and Wong take previously stalwart, heroic characters like Watts, and even Frank for that matter, and turn them into something beyond being mere heroic figures. They’ve always been three-dimensional, admittedly, Frank more than anyone, but this shows an interest in taking the characters of the show away from being mere investigators and into real, flesh and blood personas.

There is a real propulsive energy to the episode, with an opening act that builds to an intense sequence on a highway, complete with Talking Heads on the soundtrack, and some suitably disturbing soliloquies courtesy of Hutchison. It builds to arguably one of the most shocking moments ever in the series as Frank, knowing that he must sacrifice a part of himself to save his wife, effectively kills the Polaroid Man, something that causes Catherine some concern.

Megan Gallagher is a wonderful actress, and showed that in the first season, but for many it was clear that Catherine was not going to be the Dana Scully of the show. For a production stable that had gotten it so right with a female character like Scully a lot of the time on The X-Files, it is noteworthy how many of the same writers on this show fell back on to investigations driven by male characters.

With the promise of wanting to make Gallagher’s appearances worth something, it’s disappointing that Morgan and Wong couldn’t make her motivations for wanting Frank to leave more real. It’s understandable that his actions here have given her some cause for concern, but the need to separate the family unit means the conversation between them where they make the decision to split is weirdly rushed: a shame given that Gallagher and Henriksen do so well together in many of their scenes on this show. It almost feels as if Morgan and Wong should have waited another episode before trying to deal head on with the break down of Catherine and Frank’s marriage.

It’s a small blight on what is otherwise a great opener to the season. It’s fast paced and in some respects almost serves as a second pilot of sorts for the show. The hints at a much more expansive nature of the Group itself are brilliantly handled and make one eager for more, and overall this is an incredibly entertaining hour of television. It begins the Morgan and Wong tenure of the show with style and verve.

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