There’s no denying that Glen Morgan and James Wong are wonderful risk-takers, unafraid to take chances with their material and do things that are slightly different, or outside the norm of established rules and conventions of television within the series they created or write for. Even on their own series, Space: Above and Beyond, they would accomplish something like “Who Monitors the Birds?” which would feature little to no dialogue, indicating a wonderful ability to craft unique episodic television.
Best of all, they do these wonderful little experiments early on. Space: Above and Beyond was only one season long, but its daring silent episode was right in the middle of that one season. Most television shows would rather wait until they’re well into their runs before delving into the world of experimentation and high concept. Millennium’s sibling series The X-Files would wait until season five to dazzle audiences with its black and white James Whale tribute “The Post Modern Prometheus“, or the one-take trickery of “Triangle” in season six.
Six episodes into its second season and Millennium delivers “The Curse of Frank Black”, essentially a one-person play that puts its emotional and storytelling focus on one night of Frank Black’s life. There is really no crime to investigate here, no murder or serial killer of the week, just an exploration of Millennium’s leading character in a way that has never been done before. Up to this point in the series’ lifespan, it is the best piece of work that Glen Morgan and James Wong have delivered for the series, and possibly within the Ten Thirteen universe.
Demythologising and making Frank Black a more relatable figure has been the key component so far in season two. While various interviews at the time would suggest that Lance Henriksen wasn’t completely happy with what was going on creatively with the series (after all, this more surreal take on the series wasn’t what he signed up for in the first place), it’s hard not to see how wonderful his work in the past six weeks have been. Frank Black was a wonderful creation right from the “Pilot“, make no mistake there, but Morgan and Wong have broken down some of the more heightened aspects of his character in order to make him more relatable and real.
Where last season one could compare him to mythological figures of old, venturing out into the world to combat the darkness and returning home to the yellow house and the warm and loving embrace of his wife and child, this season has thrown us into a character struggling to get back to them, as he learns that the world he is a part of is not that at all. And worst of all, the world that he knew may be casually taunting him at his own expense, throwing in all sorts of weird easter eggs related to his backstory, including recurring numbers (the latter plot a good seven years before Lost did it).
The exploration of his childhood is incredibly welcome. Filmed in brilliant black and white, coupled with an intense guest performance from Dean Winters (so very, very different to his recurring role as The Vulture in Brooklyn 99), it marks the episode as completely different to anything the series has ever done before. It’s as intense as anything the series has ever done, but more so on a character level as opposed to a portrayal of violence and death.
Unafraid to show how different things are for Frank compared to this point last season (a lovely reminder comes from small flashbacks to those happy moments from the opening scenes in the “Pilot”), we see that Frank is in some respects still a mythological figure, but in a way that is as far from intimately epic as last year. Revisiting the yellow house, he has become a neighbourhood legend with the local kids, happy enough to sit in the basement of his house and tell stories of the time Bob was murdered there, making Frank look like the type of urban legend that fuels teenage ghost stories with little or no logic to them.
It’s a lovely subversion of how the series has presented its leading man, and subversion is the key word here. For a series that is part of a universe known for its intense and sometimes very philosophical mysteries, to turn around and devote an episode to a day in the life of its leading character is wonderful. That it is every bit as deep and philosophical as a case of the week shows the level of intricacy and brilliance going on here.
There is a darkness here that sits comfortably within Millennium’s framework, but it’s a deliriously quirky one that makes “The Curse of Frank Black” feel so different, and indeed unique within the short history of the series and within the grand oeuvre of Ten Thirteen Productions. It is without a doubt one of the greatest episodes of the series and one of this reviewer’s personal favourites. It indicates that after that rough opening to the season, and with the improvements over the last two episodes, Millennium has found a drive and determination to mine its way through this new look at its side of the world, much like Frank himself.