The fact that Millennium has returned to an exploration of dark crime and bringing back some of the writers from season one – this is the first script from Patrick Harbinson since season one’s “Broken World” – makes the intent and drive of the season, at least at this stage, pretty clear.
Harbinson’s one and only contribution to the series thus far was a unique tale from the realm of season one that started off with a killer who murdered horses that had Frank try to stop him from escalating from that point, while dealing with a sceptical community. It’s not the greatest ever episode; it had a different feel that set it apart from everything else in the first season’s exploration of dark crime.
So far in the third season of Millennium, the series has attempted to get back to basics, in a manner of speaking, but has done so with very mixed results. The best episode of the season so far has been “Skull and Bones“, which very much embraced the changes the series has had to force itself into in light of being renewed for a third season. It says something about the season when its best instalment has been the one that has actively embraced the events of season two instead of pretending they didn’t happen.
Harbinson’s teleplay for “Through a Glass Darkly” isn’t a serial killer story but is one that has similarities to Chris Carter’s season one effort “The Well Worn Lock“. Stories of child abuse are an unsurprisingly a tough watch and it sometimes takes a subtle creative hand to make them work in a way that doesn’t feel overbearingly dark or grim.
“Through a Glass Darkly” isn’t anywhere near as good “The Well Worn Lock”, but it’s far from a write-off. In terms of the ‘crime of the week’ element that is the bread and butter of Millennium’s stand-alone episodes, it’s probably the best effort of the season so far. While that maybe isn’t saying much, it definitely gets an A for effort in many regards.
While the subject matter of child sexual abuse is a tough one, unlike Carter’s episode from season one, which is one of the most underrated episodes of the series, Harbinson doesn’t dwell on the crime in the manner that Carter’s episode did, which was more concerned with the victims of such a crime.
Harbinson never forgets about the victims either, centring the story more on the one accused of such crimes and his integration back into society. It’s interesting to watch “Through a Glass Darkly” after seeing a similar plot line finding its way into the most recent season of The X-Files. While “Familiar” wasn’t an episode as primarily focused on the child molester angle as much as it is on the creepy clown-like figure stalking the episode, there is something interesting in seeing both sides of the Ten Thirteen Universe deal with someone accused of such crimes and the fall out, albeit in very different ways, on a community when someone who has done jail time for such heinous crimes is released back into the world.
“Through a Glass Darkly” is a touch predictable. It’s obvious that there will be a twist revealing that Max Brunelli (Tom MacCleister) is not the one involved, but the exploration of a criminal from Frank’s past and the idea that there is someone that Frank has put in jail that is not guilty of the horrible crimes in question gives it a potent power that makes it work a lot better than just a standard crime story.
The episode ends up building itself up more not to the reveal that Brunelli’s lawyer is the real culprit, but more in where Frank and Brunelli have a conversation at a park where Frank reveals that he no longer believes that Brunelli is the murderer they are looking for. It’s a superb scene and incredibly well performed by Henriksen and MacCleister and almost turns the episode into something truly special indeed.
Best of all, there is a sensitivity to the proceedings and storytelling here. In a day and age when crime procedurals try to take the subject of child sexual abuse and turn it into a sensationalist piece of plotting, Harbinson’s teleplay does have nuance and subtlety to it that might have been lost in any other television series.
There is a problem in putting the majority of its emphasis on a man accused of the crime and making it 100% his own story as opposed to the victim’s, but at 45 minutes, there is only so much a single episode of a television series can do.
Maybe that ends up being the biggest problem with “Through a Glass Darkly”; there’s almost too much to explore here in the space of a single episode. And yet the emotional ambitions of the episode are to be commended and even with its flaws it is without a doubt the best stand-alone episode of the season so far and that’s really saying something.