Sadly the only episode of the third season to be scripted by Erin Maher and Kay Reindl, the writers behind last season’s glorious ‘Midnight of the Century‘ and the wonderful, albeit underrated, ‘Anamnesis‘. ‘Matryoshka’ may be the only episode of the season that they delivered to have been actually produced (another episode by the name of ‘Fallen Angel’ was also completed but never filmed), but it is a continuation of the vast improvement of the season that kicked in with ‘Borrowed Time‘.
Stylistically and thematically, there are a lot of similarities here to The X-Files, but the episode manages to make those similarities work rather than make them a burden, as is prone to happen whenever Millennium feels like an episode from the Mulder and Scully branch of the Ten Thirteen-verse.
What makes the similarities to The X-Files work here is that it reminds one of the style of X-Files episodes that Millennium had abandoned around the end of season six: back story episodes. One of the most underrated episodes to come from The X-Files was ‘Travelers’, a flashback episode that took the audience back to 1953, to McCarthyism and the work of Arthur Dales who discovers the X-Files.
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‘Matryoshka’ similarly takes us back to the past, complete with black and white flashbacks, gorgeously photographed by director of photography Robert McLachlan, as well as using the same actors from The X-Files to play J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson, a lovely and subtle holding of hands between both shows which makes it genuinely feel like they’re set in the same universe.
Like ‘Anamnesis’, ‘Matryoshka’ feels like a Millennium episode that has fallen through the cracks somewhat, and yet this is one of the few times that the season feels as if it’s walked out of the second season and into the third. It gives us the one and only glimpse of the Group at their headquarters, the first time since season two, and treats Peter Watts as a complex character, one with torn allegiances, although admittedly this does feel like a continuation of his development after the events of ‘Collateral Damage‘.
Centred around the suicide of a FBI agent Michael Lanyard (played in flashbacks by Dean Winters, his second appearance in the series after playing a different character in last season’s ‘The Curse of Frank Black‘) and his potential link to the group, the episode would actually make a brilliant double bill with The X-Files episode ‘Travelers’ (similarly an episode of Millennium’s sibling that hardly ever gets mentioned, or if it does, it ends up being dismissed, undeservedly, as a lesser entry).
Maher and Reindl’s teleplay has a great command of structure and while this plays out as an episode that doesn’t rely solely on the presence of Frank, Emma or Peter, the events of 1945 are so engrossing and brilliant that we don’t miss them too much. With its story relying on political intrigue and a conspiracy that might reach to President Truman, there’s a sense of scope to the timeframe and the events.
Legitimately one of the best episodes of the season, with this, ‘Midnight of the Century’ and ‘Anamnesis’, Millennium presented the audience with works from a writing team who may not have contributed as many scripts as Morgan and Wong or Chip Johannessen, but remain a powerful and important voice within the framework of the series, crafting stories with a sense of emotional and structural scope, not to mention some of the most powerful character studies as well.
Their work, even a lesser one such as ‘A Single Blade of Grass‘ (and yes, I actually rather like that one too) were some of the most unabashedly heartfelt in the series, unafraid to push emotional stories front and centre that could sometimes be cathartic (‘A Single Blade of Grass’), or achingly sad (‘Midnight of the Century’) while ‘Anamnesis’ remains one of the most unapologetically feminine pieces of genre television of the ’90s, and still remains so to this day.
A significant and brilliant body of work indeed of which ‘Matryoshka’ is a worthy addition.