Perhaps the purest serial killer-of-the-week story that Millennium has produced this season that harkens back to season one, remarkably instead of feeling like its falling back into old habits, The Mikado is Millennium delivering one of its greatest ever episodes.
Make no mistakes, there is a strong part of The Mikado that will look dated today, even more so to audiences considerably younger than those who watched the series when it first debuted on television. At the time Michael. R. Perry’s story felt modern and cutting edge; now it might invoke anyone under the age of twenty to look on in horror at not just its serial killer-on-the-internet narrative but at the idea that video streaming on the internet wasn’t even streaming but just a still image that updated every couple of seconds. Those were the days.
For this reason, The Mikado may not feel maybe as terrifying as it did back in 1998 when it first aired, but watching it back then (this reviewer was fourteen years old), it was one of the most brilliantly frightening pieces of suspense horror that had ever been produced for television, managing to induce a fear of a paranoia over the internet which had not yet dominated our lives in the way it was about to.
Even more remarkably, it manages to mix elements of being both that famed television cliché, the bottle episode, while also going outside its predominantly one setting to the outside world. The majority of the episode takes place within the Millennium Group’s computer room, with Frank, Peter, and Roedecker (sadly Allan Zinyk’s last appearance on the series as he chose to pursue theatre work despite Morgan and Wong begging him to stay) trying to track the killer online.
Technology dominates the episode, with computers in nearly every shot, footage from the outside world being relayed to Frank and Roedecker, and a near-mystical component coming from this week’s antagonist.
If you think Avatar, as he is called here, seems very similar to the Zodiac killer, you’re right as writer Perry had wanted to actually use Zodiac before the idea was vetoed by Fox. It’s clear what the intent is and the idea of someone like the Zodiac Killer returning in modern times and utilizing the technology of the day to continue their “work” is an enticing one that the episode not only runs with but practically sprints with.
For an episode that sees our heroes trying to track down a killer who could be anywhere in America, there is a lovely sense of claustrophobia that comes with setting the episode in the one set. They may be trying to track down a killer who could be anywhere in the country, but our characters are literally boxed in for a large part of the runtime, burdened by technology that should be able to help them track down their quarry but which is used against them to a chilling degree.
It also predicts the onslaught of online voyeurism. Not only do we as a society have a want to view something dirty or pornographic (the teaser of three teenage boys finding the website in question comes after they try to view porn) but it also posits the notion that if you tell us there is something dark and nasty out there and we’ll want to watch it too, with the view count getting higher as the episode goes on, potentially putting the next victims in harm’s way.
It may be a tad tasteless to make the comparison, but is there any difference between the high number of people here who want to watch Avatar slaughter his victims and those who choose to view execution videos that might appear on our social media feeds?
In many ways, The Mikado has probably aged perfectly. The technology less so, but its message and Frank’s anger and despondency at how many will watch material of this nature probably remains more identifiable than ever. Roedecker may say that the number is getting higher because they hope that Avatar’s victim will “simply take off her clothes” but once again that just seems to be predicting the rise of videos of that nature too.
Dazzlingly original when it first aired, elements of The Mikado, like Millennium the television series itself, have found their way into other sources, the most blatant one being the Gregory Hoblit film of 2008 Untraceable which upped the ante in terms of gore but had little of the intelligence on display here.
Twenty years after its debut, The Mikado remains one of horror television’s best ever episodes and one of Millennium’s finest. There is also an argument to be made that Avatar fits into the mystical element of the second season nicely; the killer is never caught and there is a bogeyman feeling to him that is heightened by the idea he only appears when society is on the cusp of the next big change.
It’s a haunting notion that drives home the chilling elements of the episode even more, but the truth is even on a surface level, this remains an absolutely brilliant piece of work from Millennium and a superb debut from Perry who’ll go on to become a major contributing voice to the series over the next season.
It’s an episode you can return to at random whenever one is the mood to simply watch an episode of the show and as such deserves to be mentioned within the confines of the very best the series had to offer.
Are you a fan of Millennium? Let us know what you made of this episode.