Coming off the back of the masterful “The Curse of the Frank Black” last week, there’s a sense, a pleasing sense mind you, of “19:19” going back to basics somewhat this week, at least in terms of story and structure, with lovely reminders of how the series has managed to change and reinvent itself over the course of the previous six episodes.
What begins as a criminal act quickly reveals itself to be something built around prophecy and religious belief, but in dealing with several aspects that have come to the foreground this season, it’s still lovely to see Frank and Peter just getting on with the business of trying to solve a well crafted and brilliantly handled mystery as they did last season, and even better when Lara Means (Kristen Cloke, who is showing herself to be a wonderful recurring addition to the series) shows up in the second half of the story.
It may not be as dazzling an episode as last week, which was very much in the realm of a masterpiece thanks to its ability to throw in so many wonderfully quirky touches, but it indicates that when Millennium returns to elements of what was its original mission statement, so to speak, it can still manage to deliver a compulsively entertaining hour of television. The fact that it features a storyline involving a busload of kidnapped children but never allows itself to become as dark or as grim as anything last season also indicates how much the series has managed to change this season, but doing so without ever truly feeling like a different show. The same but different indeed.
Where last season was more than content to view its stories through the prism of criminal investigation and psychology, the thing that really marks “19:19” as standing somewhat different even when it feels like it’s looking back, is how it factors in themes of prophecy and theological concerns.
Whilst season one used the coming year of 2000 as a tonal and thematic MacGuffin, Morgan and Wong have grabbed it fully and made it the very focus of the series and its concerns, even if those concerns are filtered through stories such as kidnapping, and solving such a case through criminal psychology, which gets a real workout this hour through the involvement of Lara and her ability to figure out, through his body language, where the kidnapper, Matthew Prine (Christian Hoff) has hidden the children he has abducted.
It’s a potent mix, and while “19:19” is not the most original hour of Millennium, it does what it does incredibly well and entertainingly. We get a hint of the more complex elements of the Millennium Group when it’s very much suggested that they keep an eye on the sales of “certain books” that may be of concern to the religious and prophecy minded group, an idea that is wonderful and yet darkly concerning, and very far from reassuring. This may be “back to basics” but Frank’s vocal concern at this development reminds him and the audience of how far the series has come and how different we are this year despite this episode being the type of procedural the series would have thrown itself at this time last season.
In fact, despite being a tale reminiscent of many of the episodes the series produced in its first season, the more quirkier aesthetic and tone actually reminds one of Chip Johannessen’s season one gem “Force Majeure“. That was the first episode in a season full of darkly delivered crime stories that really went after the 1st of January 2000 date, and it kind of makes sense, even if it wasn’t a deliberate tactic by Morgan and Wong, to go for that tone again with the first episode this season that really wants to concern itself with Millennial fears that were grabbing hold of the public consciousness in 1997.
It all builds to a wonderful climax that is filled with quirky realization and irony, and while it may leave one or two questions unanswered, it does so superbly and in a way that is oddly and wonderfully satisfying. It even manages to let Frank Black crack a lovely smile at the end, a rare sight indeed, but a welcome one in a season that is really starting to sing and enjoy its groove at this point in its run.