‘Bardo Thodol’ is a fascinating hour of television for sure. Written by Virginia Stock and Chip Johannessen, it continues Millennium‘s journey to its end in a very opaque way, with ideas and themes that are dense, complex and explored in a very outside the box manner compared to most US network genre television.
There is a lot to unpack here, and honestly it feels as if it would take more than this single review in order to do it; to read the plot synopsis to it is to not suggest the layers upon layers that are going on here.
This opaque approach to storytelling can either be successful or very much not so, depending on what the script can accomplish, and with ‘Bardo Thodol’ the episode is more successful than not. It is a clear indication that as Millennium finds itself approaching its final hours, it’s willing to take risks and go out on a thematic high.
The majority of the episode keeps Frank and Emma apart as they each deal with separate plot lines that correspond to each other, but also shows how they are two of the most brilliant lead characters on a television series.
The partnership between them has been an enjoyable one based on mentor and protege but has become decidedly more complex, as Hollis learns more and more of the inner workings of the Millennium Group. All the while dealing with a mentor who alerts her to the dangers of the likes of Peter Watts, but is also keeping his own secrets from her in the shape of the gift that has defined his life and which his own daughter has a variation of.
Co-writer Johannessen has forever been one of the best weapons at Millennium‘s disposal in regards to the writers room, taking chances on stories and themes that, even from the very beginning when Millennium was essentially a high concept crime procedural with just a taste of genre about it, took the series away from the types of grisly crime stories that were its bread and butter.
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While this third season struggled in the first half given behind the scenes changes, it flourished once again when Johannessen was put in charge, and with it came dazzling entries such as ‘Borrowed Time‘ and ‘Saturn Dreaming of Mercury‘. While ‘Bardo Thodol’ may not quite reach the heights of those two, especially the latter which was as brilliantly bizarre as 90’s American genre television could get, you have to love the ambitions here.
We get a story about a mystical bowl, Buddhism, and the darker workings of the Group, and while the story never feels like it gels completely in the way that Stock and Johannessen’s teleplay is aiming for, you have to admire and love it for even trying to reach out for the themes and ideas that it’s aiming for here.
It is incredibly dense on first viewing and the first time I watched it I never quite knew if I liked it or not, but it’s an episode that stands up to repeat viewing brilliantly and ends up being a unique episode to go back and revisit either on its own or as part of a rewatch.