There is no doubt that ‘The Mikado‘ is one of Millennium’s best ever episodes, and it deservedly ranks high in many polls of the show’s best ever episodes. With the debut on the series of Michael R. Perry, one was left very eager as to what the writer would do next. Strangely, he decided to take up the baton of Darin Morgan on the series and deliver a comedic episode.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: ‘Thirteen Years Later’ is nowhere near as good as any of Darin Morgan’s episodes from season two. It is a very hard balance to get right on a Ten Thirteen series when one decides to do comedy, and it was something that even X-Files writers have sometimes struggled with.
After Morgan left The X-Files, Chris Carter, John Shiban, and Vince Gilligan all contributed comedic episodes, and while Carter’s tenure was a little hit and miss, he did quickly realise his comedies worked better through the prism of high concept. With this came episodes like ‘Triangle’, ‘How the Ghosts Stole Christmas‘, ‘The Post Modern Prometheus‘ and ‘Improbable’ (the latter is usually criticised heavily but I have to admit rather loving it more than I really should), while Shiban gave us the forgettable ‘El Mundo Gira’ and then Vince Gilligan showed us that he was probably the best writer to ever contribute to The X-Files when he went from darker masterpieces such as ‘Paper Hearts’ and ‘Unruhe’ to ‘Small Potatoes’ and ”Bad Blood’.
The best rule when it comes to writing comedy on a Ten Thirteen series is that one is better off marrying it to their own voice (Vince Gilligan’s voice was always that touch warmer and more sincere, even when his tales were dark, so it made sense that his comedies had a warmth to them that Morgan’s lacked with his attempts at destroying the worlds he was contributing to).
With Michael R. Perry, we only have one episode of Millennium to his name, albeit a truly great one, and so it is with ‘Thirteen Years Later’. Like ‘The Mikado’, we’re presented with a serial killer tale on a movie set and with it an attempt at satire, which meant that not only was Millennium attempting to take on the might of Darin Morgan, it was also doing that thing that became super popular in pop culture in the ’90s: postmodernism.
I always get the feeling that ‘Thirteen Years Later’ ranks very lowly in terms of the Millennium fandom. It’s really not that bad but it’s also not quite the misunderstood masterpiece that I really want it to be either.
There are things about the episode that are genuinely funny, and when the humour flies, it does so brilliantly. There is a framing device involving Frank detailing the events of the case to a room full of FBI Academy cadets, with a twist that one can kind of see coming but which you wait in anticipation for – which is no mean feat – while the episode’s central plot of one of Frank’s cases being turned into a Hollywood film also beats The X-Files to the punch by a full season, although the satirical elements here are nowhere near as on point as they would be when David Duchovny took Mulder and Scully to ‘Hollywood A.D.’.
Then there’s the episode’s best joke, in which Frank and Emma watch a plethora of Hollywood slashers, Emma getting very into the narratives (she is such a horror nerd and it just makes you love her even more) but which Frank debunks each and every time by profiling the killer’s within them. It’s subtle and brilliant, genuinely witty and the biggest reason to recommend the episode.
What isn’t subtle is the episode turning into a KISS music video towards the end. The idea of having the band members show up in differing roles throughout is a smart one and genuinely funny, but when the band show up in the movie within the episode and the episode itself turns into a promotional video for the band, it gives the feeling of the episode stopping just to promote this week’s guest stars. It may also live or die depending on how much one likes KISS.
READ MORE: Mary Queen of Scots – Film Review
Always an interesting proposition to look back on, ‘Thirteen Years Later’ forever remains a Millennium episode that is neither the nadir of the series that many may have you believe, but which never holds together perfectly either. What it is, in the end, is an attempt at trying something a little different in the series’ approach to violent crime. If The X-Files could make its monsters funny then there’s a feeling that Millennium is trying to say ‘why not our murderers?’ – which seems either daringly brilliant or just daringly silly.
While Morgan’s work on the series showed that this darker side of the Ten Thirteen Universe could be funny as well, those two episodes were somewhat departures from the norm, and featured for the most part atypical plots from a series that had a particular viewpoint on crime and the millennium.
While ‘Thirteen Years Later’ never reaches the delirious heights of Darin Morgan’s work, it is still a genuinely humorous concoction that whilst never perfect or anywhere close to reaching the level of masterpiece, is in its own way, funny.