It’s a common trope in genre television for sure, but I love it when television shows do an alternative universe episode, but one factored through a difference of decision as opposed to epic tales of changed timelines and histories.
Make no mistake, both types of stories are easy to adore, but there’s always something strangely lovely when a series takes an episode to explore what happens when one of its characters has a chance to witness what might have happened had they done something differently, and it’s something that has popped up in too many series to mention (although, for what it’s worth, I have a massive soft spot for the Doctor Who episode “Turn Left”). Millennium presents its own spin on the idea with “Siren”, or at least that’s where it ends up going in its later stages.
Although not the best episode of the season by any stretch, it has a lot to recommend it, but must be done so with caveats. Beginning as one type of episode before delving into a personal fantasy for some of its final stretch, it also marks the fourth episode in a row for writers Morgan and Wong who have been churning out a high number of scripts this season.
The idea of exploring a ‘what might have been’ scenario might appear as if Millennium is once again falling into the trap of being too much like The X-Files for its own good, but there is genuinely enough here to make it feel like its own entity, and even better yet, continues this season of Millennium’s explorations of de-mythologizing its leading character.
READ MORE: What We Left Behind – Film Review
There is a sense that Frank Black, even more so than Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, is owned by the world; that some possible divine destiny has meant that he is the one who sees the evils that the world is capable of, or is being forced to ask the question “if God exists why is there so much evil in the world?”. It’s the main reason why Millennium has always felt more mature than its elder sibling and its monster of the week storytelling and younger protagonists.
Season one presented us with Frank as part of a happy family unit, one which Morgan and Wong smashed to pieces at the start of the season by the onslaught of darkness that overtook Frank when he tried to save Catherine from The Polaroid Man in “The Beginning and the End“. It had been, as previously noted, a rushed separation, but the series has found ways to make the central relationship somewhat more interesting as a result, even if it took half the season to remove the bitterness that felt wrong even in light of such estrangement.
The first season presented such a perfect life for Frank that some sort of encroaching darkness destroying it was possibly inevitable, but there is, amazingly for a show not even through its second season, a nostalgic glow to seeing that sense of unity restored, with brilliant work from Henriksen, Megan Gallagher, and Brittany Tiplady, with the fantasy sequence that the episode builds to being its undoubted highlight.
READ MORE: Halloween – Film Review
There is an X-Files sense of a monster-of-the-week to the central villain, Tamara, the siren of the title, portrayed by Vivian Wu. You could slot her into an X-Files episode very easily, to the extent it makes one wonder if Morgan and Wong considered playing along these lines on that show with either one of that show’s two heroes. But Tamara does feel as if she slots in here in much the same way as a character like Lucy Butler/Legion does; in fact one could even argue that “Siren” is playing for real with Legion’s repeated efforts to offer Frank a deal to give him what he wants, with Tamara basically playing the role of a devilish figure who wants to torture Frank with a life he knows he wants but can never really have.
It’s a recurring theme for sure, and this is the first time Frank has found himself knee-deep in some scenario where he lives the perfect life. It’s superbly directed by Allen Coulter, who did “The Pest House” a few weeks ago, and Morgan and Wong’s script has a lovely sense of melancholy and sadness to it that is genuinely poignant.
It’s just unfortunate that the section of the episode that deals with Frank and Lara’s investigation into what happened on the cargo ship, and how Tamara ended up chained up with everyone afraid of her, stumbles somewhat. Whenever The X-Files did a tale based on Eastern beliefs (“Hell Money”) or Native American beliefs (“Shapes”) the results were mixed at best, and in some cases may even play as offensive. “Siren” never feels that bad, and one will come away remembering it more fondly because of how wonderful its second half is, but the investigation element is not the episode’s strongest point and it does lose points for that.
It’s almost a shame it didn’t devote more time to being the Millennium equivalent of It’s a Wonderful Life. Millennium this season has shown through its seasonal episodes that it’s capable of stories that don’t have to rely on crime procedural elements, and “Siren” genuinely would have benefited more from that approach. Because when it deals with Frank as loving husband and father as opposed to an investigator, it soars higher than it does as a mystery, and it’s maybe where Morgan and Wong should have placed more of their focus.