Effectively the penultimate Millennium story since the next episode is the start of a two-part series finale, Michael R. Perry’s ‘Nostalgia’ is a title loaded with two meanings. While the episode concerns itself with Emma returning to her home town and the feelings it brings, it is also a straight down the middle serial killer of the week story, the type that was Millennium’s bread and butter during that amazing first season.
It’s also apt that this should be a Perry tale. While the writer’s name wasn’t credited until halfway through the second season, it was his debut episode that was without a doubt Millennium’s greatest ever serial killer of the week story, one that saw the series deliver one of its most engrossing and well-crafted thrillers.
Amazingly, Perry didn’t stick to such stories, crafting episodes such as ‘Thirteen Years Later‘, ‘Omerta‘ and ‘Collateral Damage‘ that were as far from that brooding and intensely gripping story as possible. ‘Thirteen Years Later’ and ‘Omerta’ were decidedly more quirky affairs, opting to go for humour in the former and whimsy in the latter. While not every episode was a success, like Chip Johannessen, Perry showed a willingness to break away from the norms of the series after a debut episode that relied upon on Millennium’s format to a devastatingly brilliant degree.
There is very little of the abstract, borderline surreal nature here that has haunted many of Millennium’s stories as it heads to its end, and yet don’t mistake this one last serial killer turn as a simple one; it’s a complex tale with a resolution that offers very little in the way of a happy ending. Even though the case is solved, it leaves Emma to consider the impact both her and Frank’s presence in her former home town has had. It’s a lovely moment between them that manages to be brilliantly sad and just a tad humorous too, as they consider any emotional collateral damage they leave behind; a brilliant touch in itself that makes one consider what life is like for any community touched by the hands of the monsters that populate Millennium (or The X-Files) and after Frank and Emma (or Mulder and Scully) leave for their next investigation.
One unfortunate victim in the episode, Liddy Hooper, is played by April Telek, who appeared as the first victim of The Frenchman back in the ‘Pilot‘, a lovely callback – whether deliberate or not – to Millennium’s beginnings, which reminds one of how far and how different the series became over its short time on the air. Three seasons is not massively long, and yet it changed in ways that not even The X-Files did, which lasted for not only nine seasons, nearly a decade, in its original run, but came back sixteen years later for a two-season revival.
As a serial killer of the week series, Millennium was unafraid to tell stories that were dark, uncomfortable and very adult in ways that The X-Files rarely was. Not that Carter’s first series was infantile, but its more youthful characters and supernatural monsters meant that while it was the longest running and elder sibling to Millennium, Frank Black’s world, the mysteries within it, not to mention its characters, all felt like an older soul, with older, more experienced characters reaching out for deeper, darker questions, even in stand-alone mysteries involving a hunt for a serial killer.
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Rewatching ‘Nostalgia’ not only reminds one of just how brilliant Millennium could be, but also in how in its attempts at being a procedural focused on real-world crimes, albeit through Carter’s more philosophical lens, impacted in a quiet way on the world of American television. High concept crime procedurals became the rage once Jerry Bruckheimer and Anthony E. Zuiker launched CSI onto an unsuspecting world, a phenomenon that was deeply enjoyable in either its original form or the New York spin-off, or ridiculous (albeit still enjoyable) when it spun-off to Miami. And yet it also reminds one how those shows, and the ones influenced by it, had very little of the depth of Millennium. Frank, Emma and the Group’s investigations may have been murder mysteries, but they were just as inquisitive and wanting of answers as to why instead of simply how.
As we head to its finale, ‘Nostalgia’ leaves one nostalgic for a time when Millennium was more concerned with being Se7en as a television show, before Morgan and Wong developed the mythology and Johannessen and Ken Horton stretched the tone to a more abstract flavour, before one realises that this differing set of tones between seasons meant that Millennium was an elastic and brilliant series the likes of which was never produced before, and never would be again, even as its original format proved somewhat influential.