Film discussion

TV Rewind… Millennium 2×03 – ‘Sense and Antisense’

You cannot fault the ambitions of “Sense and Antisense”. A Chip Johannessen script is usually a great sign with this series; “Blood Relatives”, “Force Majeure” and “Maranatha” are some of Millennium’s greatest works, and in the case of the last two, some of its most ambitious.

Given that Johannessen is someone who has frequently been the one to look beyond Millennium’s narrative scope of serial killer of the week to stories offering something deeper, it’s surprising to note that for his first script under the Morgan and Wong tenure of the series, itself trying to take Millennium beyond the realm of dark crime procedural, Johannessen’s first work feels incredibly compromised.

It doesn’t fall back on serial killer of the week tropes, that’s for sure, but like “Beware of the Dog”, the script becomes the unfortunate victim of being too much like The X-Files for comfort, giving the impression that at this early stage of the season, Millennium, in trying to give the entire show a new narrative focus, cannot see beyond being anything else other than a being a tonal companion piece to the series that runs alongside it, something the first season never had a problem with because right from the “Pilot“, it managed to know that it wanted to be something different.

Without going into spoiler territory for future episodes, it’s interesting to see the series explore deadly pathogens and diseases this early in the season, but unlike future episodes that will do so again, and as spectacularly as they will, this feels way too much like The X-Files for comfort.

At the very least “Beware of the Dog”, while far from being a great episode either, did manage to use its story to lay down some groundwork for the mythology of the series that Morgan and Wong are going to explore to spectacular effect in later episodes, but this just feels way too safe, and the fact that Mulder and Scully don’t appear given the revelations in the climax of the narrative seems a surprise.

Maybe part of the problem here is that the script was the subject of way too many rewrites. Given that there is a racial component to the story, a component that made Fox executives deeply uncomfortable, it feels like it’s been watered down to the point that the episode has been diluted into a safe, X-Files-esque conspiracy thriller about disease, the Human Genome Project and an accidental infection, with the key victim turning out to be a major player in the project all along, a revelation worthy of an X-Files episode if there ever was one.

The only thing missing from the final revelation is the Cigarette Smoking Man in the background, calmly taking removing his packet of Morleys from his inside jacket pocket.

Also remarkable are certain similarities with The X-Files episode “Teliko”, which aired a year before this. A lesser tale from Howard Gordon that tried to equate disease with race, but then turned into a pretty formulaic monster of the week and tried to gain self-importance by changing the series’ famous “The Truth is Out There” tagline to the epic “Deceive, Inveigle and Obfuscate”, the best thing about the episode to be honest, but one worthier of a better episode, truth be told.

In all honesty, both episodes feel like lost causes; “Teliko” fell apart because its racial undercurrent felt uncomfortable and poorly handled (a surprise considering how good a writer Gordon can be) while here it feels like any potential well handling of the material  has been removed by other hands in order to keep it safe anyway.

It’s a shame because the episode starts superbly, with an atmospheric teaser complete with superb Mark Snow music, and features a guest appearance from Mod Squad legend Clarence Williams III, but to watch any grand ambitions give way to the most formulaic conspiracy plotline you can think of is disappointing. It wouldn’t be too much of a problem if it was done well, but alas it just plays it safe, which is a shame because it does feel like it wanted to go for something a little more provocative.

Whether or not that even would have worked could be up for some debate, but at least it would have been aiming high. Instead of coming across as a noble failure, it feels as if the episode has been compromised to play it safe and been a failure anyway.

It might feel as if the series has come off the rails a little in trying to change its focus and take itself away from the realm of the serial killer, but it’s best to keep the faith because more involving stories are on the way.

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