Should the third season of Millennium exist? It’s an interesting question to greet the audience with as we enter the third season of Millennium. We can debate to this day whether or not ‘The Time is Now’ was planned to be the finale or should have actually been the finale, but things being what they are, it wasn’t and as a result, Millennium returned to our screens.
To call the two-parter that opens the third season a mixed bag is something of an understatement. With Glen Morgan and James Wong not returning to the series, opting instead to go into movies, (the first of which would be the rather wonderful Final Destination), Millennium needed new showrunners. With Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz putting more focus on the series after spearheading The X-Files onto the big screen the previous season, new writers were needed for the day-to-day running of the series.
The decision was made to put two writers in charge again, and unsurprisingly the decision was made to make Chip Johannessen one of those writers. Given the quality of his work and his ability to experiment with the series, putting Johannessen in charge as one of the main creative writers on the series made total sense. The other writer was a newcomer to the series, Michael Duggan, whose previous work had been in seminal television series such as Hill Street Blues and Law and Order and who had just come off the short-lived ABC series C-16: FBI.
Much of the talk prior to the premiere of Millennium‘s third season was how the series was going to get back to basics and try to get the series back onto a road similar to where it had been in its first year. Good in theory except, once again, in order to get back to where it was, Millennium delivers a pair of episodes that are essentially X-Files that have Frank Black running around them.
Wait a minute, I hear you cry, didn’t the world end last season? In a slice of retconning that is either brilliant or naively terrible, the explanation that is given is that the world didn’t end and that the virus that was on the loose only affected the Pacific Northwest. As an explanation to explain away the end of the world, it gets the series back to a procedural format for sure; whether or not it works is hard to tell.
The series throws itself back into a sense of normality as best it can, and admittedly once we’re past the teaser and credit sequence and we catch up with Frank and Jordan, there is enjoyment to be had in seeing the characters we care about and where they are now. For a series that put out a lot of talk of trying to ignore what happened last year, Millennium really can’t, and certain things do still have to stick: Catherine is dead; Frank has left the Group, who are now facilitating the role of antagonists, represented by Peter Watts who is now effectively a villain of the series; and Frank is now working for the FBI again as a consultant, working out of the FBI Academy in Quantico, and reporting to new boss Andy McLaren (Vancouver actor Stephen E. Miller who you will instantly recognise from his numerous appearances as various characters throughout The X-Files).
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The series also takes the time to bring in a new regular character: Emma Hollis, played by Klea Scott. It would have been so easy to be afraid that the series was going to try to turn itself into an X-Files clone through having a central male and female pairing solving mysteries, but right away the series tries to do something different; Hollis is younger than Black, she’s African-American, and the relationship between her and Frank instantly positions itself as a mentor/protegé one.
Even more brilliantly, Hollis is likeable. In lesser hands, her eagerness to work with Frank and partner up with him could have been annoying, but by the end of the second hour Hollis has managed to slot into the series brilliantly and going forward the relationship between them will become one of the best aspects of the season.
As for the episodes that are launching the series and the audience into this new season of Millennium – oh dear. What we have here is a plane crash, clones, lots of running around, a paranoid atmosphere, great production values, and a half-hearted attempt at both dealing with last season, but also an equally half-hearted attempt at pretending it didn’t happen.
Both episodes are a mess. ‘The Innocents’ is the better of the two, mainly because it has that novelty of seeing how the series is going to write itself out of the corner it found itself placed in last season. The character stuff is pretty engaging, but once we get to ‘Exegesis’, a disappointing effort from Johannessen, we’re so far into X-Files territory that by the time we get to the set piece at the climax in the missile silo featuring so much running around, one is expecting to see Mulder and Scully come running from the other direction.
Even the use of a plane crash to kick-start this season feels wrong, and somewhat off for Millennium. It reminds one of the superlative X-Files two-parter, ‘Tempus Fugit’/’Max’. There is maybe a Millennium story that could have used the plotline, but to see the series dealing with a story on this scale and then use it a means to segue into one involving clones never gels.
The story has obvious similarities and parallels to season one’s ‘Force Majeure’, a dazzling episode that saw Millennium try to expand its focus at a point when it was being consumed by a serial killer of the week format. That episode, a Johannessen one also, managed to make itself work wonderfully and become something that felt right at home on this show, but the majority of ‘The Innocents’ and ‘Exegesis’ never feel that way.
Admittedly the series has no choice but to play certain beats in a certain way now. One can complain all they want about the choice to make the Millennium Group antagonists, but that was the direction in which Morgan and Wong took the series by the finale of last season and it would be too much of a reboot to go and change it now, but the decision to make Peter Watts a villain is the biggest and most bitter disappointment here.
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Yes, there is a sense of mystery as to why Watts, after learning the error of his ways at the end of last season, has now opted to stay put at the Group. To see Frank and Peter at each other’s throats is not fun. It’s not meant to be, but it’s hard to buy the drama of it as well. Terry O’Quinn is a wonderful actor, and it’s clear the series didn’t want to lose him, but it feels as if it’s truly negated everything that his character went through at the end of last season. Then again, maybe the series really has no choice but to negate a lot of things from last year. After all, they had to explain away the apocalypse through plot exposition, which says a lot about where we are with Millennium at this stage.
Where the season two finale was incredible, incendiary television of the highest order, ‘The Innocents’ and ‘Exegesis’ are safe in every conceivable way. If this, or a variation of it, had been the season two premiere, and if Morgan and Wong hadn’t taken over the series and instead it had been Duggan and Johannessen, this would have been fine, although the similarities of The X-Files might still have been a problem.
It’s not the fault of the episodes. This is what the series has had to do. Were there were more imaginative ways to deal with the events of last season? Probably. You could have done the series like the Cormac McCarthy novel The Road, or you could have gone to Morgan and Wong to see about those “outs” they had talked about.
The Ten Thirteen Universe is one that is made up of mystery and procedural, coupled with complex mythologies. The X-Files did that, and so did Millennium, so reformatting the series into a post-apocalyptic drama was probably a big no-no. With Carter returning to contribute scripts and oversee much more of the series than he did last year, it’s no surprise that the series would want to get back to basics. But there are basics and there is this.
It’s not terrible, far from it. The production values are very high, with the depiction of the plane crash and its aftermath terrifyingly depicted as one would expect from Ten Thirteen, and while the scripting is messy, Henriksen is brilliant as always, Hollis makes a great debut, and Brittany Tiplady brings new layers to Jordan that are poignant and heartbreaking. The dinner table scene between her and Frank is a brilliant, subtle highlight of the episode that says so much more than any chase, or clone, or mystery ever could in these episodes.
But it still can’t hide the fact that the season three premiere of Millennium is a strange, bizarre mess.