Yes, this is the second time I’ve written about Midnight of the Century, the first time being a retrospective of the episode that was posted during the Christmas period last year, but with the episode being as great as it is (and it is genuinely great), a second assessment is more than worth it for one American television’s greatest Yuletide pieces of episodic television.
Being a Christmas episode, one could very easily expect it to be an upbeat tale, that might be free of Millennium’s brand of emotional and Millennial angst for a week, but instead Maher and Reindl’s teleplay, itself taking a similar narrative direction as “The Curse of Frank Black” and opting to focus on a day in the life of Frank Black away from his frequent criminal investigations, is a masterful and superb continuation of the “de-mythologizing” of the series’ central character that has been the driving force of the second season.
There is a wonderful use of many of the series’ supporting cast, with a prominent emotional role for Megan Gallagher, a wonderfully grim soliloquy from Peter Watts, a return appearance from Allan Zinyk as Roedecker, and a fantastic performance from Lara Means, whose appearances in the series at this point where fast becoming a major highlight of the season.
The star, however, is Lance Henriksen. The series may have taken that turn into a different realm and direction for this season compared to last, but he has really gone to town with his performance as Black. While this is very different in many respects to any episode of last season, like the Halloween episode was a few weeks ago, it once again shows a willingness for Millennium to be tonally expansive and experimental in the way that The X-Files was going full tilt with during this year, which had seen it deliver episodes like Darin Morgan’s output and Chris Carter’s The Post Modern Prometheus.
Unlike those somewhat daring episodes, one of which we had the last week in the shape of the comedic “Jose Chung’s ‘Doomsday Defense‘”, humour and quirkiness are not the main part of the tale; instead, its the emotional expansion of the Frank Black character and the narrative style that are helping to make this feel different to anything the series has offered before. Last season it would have been unthinkable to think of the Black family separated, Frank being a part-time dad and struggling to buy a Danny Dinosaur in a scene that feels reminiscent and ten times better in a shorter space of time than the movie Jingle All The Way, or how that leads to the eventual disappointment for both Frank and Jordan when they realize it was what she got last Christmas, a heartbreaking beat that once again fits so well and once again reminds us of what Frank, Catherine, and Jordan have lost this season.
It is a wonderful reminder of how far the series and character has come. “The Beginning and the End” suffered a little in its final moments because it felt like it was trying to rush its way to the separation; now that we’re right in the middle of it, it’s gratifying to see Henriksen and Gallagher play more complex scenes. Not that they didn’t get complexities to play in the first year, but there is a higher level of angst that while it hurts to see it between the two of them, is written and played to perfection.
Exploring Frank’s past once again in the shape of gorgeously filmed black and white sequences, which make it once again a lovely tonal companion piece to the Halloween tale a few weeks back, the scenes and the emotion here is more of a melancholy dreaminess compared to more intense surrealism afforded to the flashbacks then, and it just makes the episode feel all the more wonderful.
It is an achingly sad episode, but Maher and Reindl never hit you over the head too much or make it overbearing with it emotion. There is melancholy here for sure, but it just makes it all the more perfect and shows an emotional side to Christmas that is always there on the surface; for all our celebration of family and love and warmth, there is always that touch of sadness and loss just above the surface.
It is nothing short of another masterpiece from the series and this season, and it builds to a lovely final scene that gives the audience and Frank an emotional beat that is truly earned, before subtly hinting another layer of sadness yet to befall our lead character. That it comes after a wonderful final act made up of those intensely brilliant flashbacks and superb performances from both Henriksen and Darren McGavin as Frank’s father, Henry, just makes it the Yuletide icing on the cake.
It makes the very final beat of the episode a true heartbreaker and leaves a lump on the throat, but with a note of what can only be described as sad optimism that is truly a superlative moment of emotional drama, unlike anything that has been done on any other television drama set at Christmas before.
Are you a fan of Millennium? What did you think of this episode? Let us know.