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Returning to the MILLENNIUM: A fresh look at the pilot episode

I’m a huge, huge fan of The X-Files, a show I began watching way back during the early days of season 2 on BBC 2 here in the UK. I’ve watched every episode and movie at least twice and recently spent 18 months revisiting 133 episodes and both movies. It’s a show that hugely influenced television as we know it with its ability to mix horror, comedy, conspiracy thriller and drama week after week and Mulder and Scully are two of TV’s most defining heroes.

But I never watched Chris Carter’s other main show Millennium. I saw an episode two of the first season and kind of liked it but I never engaged with it at the time. So having recently finished season 1 of The X-Files for the second time, I decided now was the right time to revisit Chris Carter’s other major series, a show that was retrospectively made a spin-off show when Frank Black’s story was wrapped up in the season seven episode of The X-Files, Millennium.

Millennium (1996) – 20th Century Fox Television

Looking at the pilot there is definitely the sense that Millennium is looking to go darker than its predecessor, embracing the chilling essence of The X-Files‘s serial killers like Donnie Pfaster and making it a weekly occurrence. The opening starts with a seedy strip club on acid, visions of blood and shady figures lurking behind windows in darkened rooms. It’s enough to make your skin crawl; The X-Files was never family viewing but I could watch it happily as a teenager. This though feels more adult and less accessible to the average viewer. You have to be willing to invest in the darkness of Millennium to really appreciate it. In the age of modern horror classics like Hannibal, and a much darker society in general, this is a show that feels strangely relevant now.

And yet it feels very 90’s in tone, a time where darker, edgier drama was a rarer thing but starting to break the mainstream. It has that same feel as The X-Files but also exists completely independent of it. There is little supernatural elements to the episode beside Frank Black’s quasi-psychic abilities to get into the mind of the killer (Will Graham style – the influence of Thomas Harris’s novels are quite apparent here). But it more than makes up for it in graphic horror; the man discovered in the coffin in the woods, his mouth and eyes sewn shut is gruesome stuff.

Millennium (1996) – 20th Century Fox Television

That being said the pilot felt a little…flat for me. It certainly doesn’t feel as if it establishes all the main tropes of the series like The X-Files‘ pilot did. Maybe it’s because there isn’t any one character to feed off the engaging Frank Black. The detective seems fairly one note and Terry O’Quinn’s mysterious Millennium Group contact hasn’t had enough screen time yet. Megan Gallagher is likeable as his supportive wife but I don’t really get who she is as a character and his daughter is adorable. But…it feels at this early stage as if Lance Henriksen is in a league of his own. I hope that will change; after all we didn’t get the likes of Skinner until the end of the first season of The X-Files.

The case was probably shocking at the time but I’ve seen enough religious killers that the bad guy of the pilot didn’t really have enough depth. It was more shocking imagery than substance, but that’s okay for now. Seeing Frank profile the killer in the police station – and be dismissed by everyone – was something seen in The X-Files before then and indeed you could have replaced Frank with Fox Mulder and it would have worked just as well. But Henriksen delivers his all in an understated but commanding way. The best moments are the teases for future things to come; the mysterious Millennium Group Frank has become associated after the trauma he faced in the FBI and the photos of his wife Catherine that suggest he hasn’t escaped the darkness he has tried to run from.

The pilot of Millennium holds promise. And I’ve heard good things about the show – particularly its second season. It’s not a show I will binge watch but I will be sure to share my thoughts as I wade through the dark and gritty world of Frank Black.

You can follow Baz at @BazgGreenland on Twitter or follow his Facebook page www.facebook.com/BazGreenlandWriter

Baz has recently worked his way though The X Files, revisited 133 classic episodes and both movies and reviewed them at http://www.Thedigitalfix.com

Returning to the MILLENNIUM: A fresh look at the pilot episode
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