TV Discussion

Millennium 3×21/3×22 – ‘Via Dolorosa’/’Goodbye to All That’ – TV Rewind

It begins as it ends; with Frank and Jordan running off to a destiny unknown. It’s a brilliant image with which to begin, a in media res opening the likes of which The X-Files utilised to a great degree in some of its mythology episodes and which cannot help but make you wonder how it is this two-part finale gets to that moment.

As is sometimes frequently the case with television series with low ratings, the finale to Millennium was written to function as both a series and season finale just in case either one of those eventualities took place. Allegedly the decision to make the episode a series finale, a decision made by the Fox Network, was not taken until just before the episode aired.

This is nowhere near as incendiary a piece of television as the season two finale, how could anything ever compare with that, even if that was claimed to have been plotted as a season finale (it’s always felt like so complete an ending, despite its dark tone), and while ‘Via Dolorosa’ and ‘Goodbye to All That’ are not the brazen masterpieces that those episodes were, they are still incredible television; dark and genuinely unafraid to be adult in a manner that seems somewhat shocking for a series made in the late ’90s.

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What’s great here about the work from Majorie David and Patrick Harbinson  with ‘Via Dolorosa’, and Chip Johannessen and Ken Horton on ‘Goodbye to All That’ is how this finale manages to be a smorgasbord of Millennium’s storytelling concerns. Under the eyes of any other team of writers, this really would be a mess of a tale, but instead it becomes a driven serial killer story in the first half before segueing knee deep into the Millennium mythology for the second.

Nothing is resolved here fully, clearly everyone wanted to hold back just in case there was a television miracle (this was the Fox Network in the late ’90s, there was no such thing), and yet there is a sense of finality to proceedings here. After its brief flashforward at the beginning, the story begins proper with Frank witnessing the execution of Ed Cuffle, a key character mentioned previously in the ‘Pilot‘ and who played a key role in Frank’s breakdown that took place prior to the events that began the series overall,  turning into a copycat serial killer tale in the first half, before the machinations of the Millennium Group reveal a darker, albeit more far fetched plot involving behaviour modification.

There is a threat, like in the season three premiere, that the story is going to fall into the pit of being too much like its sibling series, but it manages to stick to its own landing and be its own thing. This being Millennium, a mere copycat murderer tale would be too subtle, and since this is the end, we need a reminder that the Group is evil.

Some plot strands do feel like a set up for a fourth season, especially Emma’s betrayal to save her father, and that does feel like an enticing plot line which would have been fascinating to see, but alas that is not the case. We get a confrontation between Frank and Peter that feels both cathartic and somewhat misjudged, the only part of the episode to be so; the image of Frank Black brandishing a firearm has never felt right, even if Morgan and Wong pushed it more in the second season.

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The careful dialogue of the two characters later in the episode, still not fully trusting even if Peter is adamant that he has been protecting Frank and Peter this whole time (which kind of explains why the Group haven’t killed Frank yet and which reminds one of the loose reasons The Syndicate never killed Mulder in The X-Files) is more like it, but then again the more violent scene earlier in the episode may as well happen if this is the last time.

There are references and tributes to the work of Thomas Harris dotted throughout, in particular Red Dragon and Michael Mann’s superlative 1986 adaptation Manhunter, what with the copycat killer, Lucas Barr, using night vision goggles, the creepy POV shots throughout the episode as well as his relationship with someone who is blind, a lovely call back to the influences that were clear on the series in the first season.

In many ways, this is a finale that sums up the crazy nature of Millennium perfectly. ‘The Fourth Horseman’ and ‘The Time is Now’ are better structured and put together episodes, but the manner in which this finale goes from a serial killer to crazy science to conspiracy is superbly entertaining in its own right.

There is a deep sense of melancholy in its final moments that, despite those little moments of keeping thing opens for season four, feel genuinely final. Emma’s betrayal stings, but then again it is a reminder of just how damaging the Group is and how it corrupts people who don’t want to be corrupted. Peter Watts’ body lying in a pool of blood is a typical Ten Thirteen death; we never see his face, but it is his office and if he has died then it’s a noble sacrifice that takes the character back to that sense of decency from season one.

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As for Frank and Jordan, they run off into the sunset, alerted by Watts that their lives are in danger, driving together in Frank’s red jeep to a destiny unknown. It’s as close to closure as any Ten Thirteen series has ever gotten. Just look at The X-Files: season nine, and subsequently season eleven, always left the door open just in case of a return, and while this is something of a similar trope, the door is left ajar. Not quite open, not quite closed. It kind of works either way.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the last we’d see of Frank and Jordan. An X-Files crossover finally happened a few months later and it would give those characters a more closed book ending than here; the only thing the episode was really good for because Frank Black fighting zombies in a basement with Mulder and Scully is not exactly the greatest idea in the world, a rare misstep from Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotnitz.

It doesn’t take away from the audacity, chances and experimentation that Millennium itself offered. Its impact was never as commercially expansive as The X-Files, yet it’s remained no less an influential series. CSI, Medium, Criminal Minds all owe Millennium a debt, even if it’s only remembered by a smaller if incredibly devoted fanbase.

Who Cares? asks the first season of Millennium. Some of us still do. Flawed? Yes, but tonally and perhaps even in production values, it was even more ambitious than The X-Files. At its weakest, as in the first half of season three, it was a mess that couldn’t figure itself out, and yet at its best (season one, season two, the second half of season three) there was literally nothing like it on television at the time and while other shows have taken this bit of it or that, honestly, there has been nothing like it since.

This is Who We Are.

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