Millennium (TV series)

I have gradually worked my way through most of the late-1990s series Millennium, over the past year and a half. For various reasons I have skipped a few episodes, but I can evaluate the series from the pilot through the final episode.

Conclusion: good, interesting, holds up well. Might have gone in some very promising directions had it not been cancelled after season 3.

I remember the series from back then, and I caught some or all of a few episodes. Enough that I suppose it made some kind of impression on me, to be recalled more than a dozen years later browsing DVDs in the library. (I miss browsing in the library although I’m not going back any time soon.) The episodes I watched on the scratched-to-hell library DVDs interested me enough that eventually I asked for the complete series when trying to think of gift ideas, and here we are.

Millennium is/was obviously making-it-up-as-they-went-along fiction, which has various uses for a serialized work; viewed as a whole, the absence of any firm master plan is not really a strength, but is less of a fault than might have been the case, given the intentional themes of mystery, conspiracy and questioning what’s real.

Ultimately Millennium lacks firm answers or closure, in much of any form, because its fundamental story was pre-millennial eschatology and it was cancelled several months before the year 2000. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Earlier in my life this kind of thing bothered me much more than it does, now. By my late 30s, reality had compelled me to find meaning in journeys which are never completed, something which subsequent pursuit of political change has only reinforced.

So I don’t greatly mind that the series ends with big blank spaces. The episodes generally work well as individual stories (or occasional two-parters). There is also genuine character development, even if the only “completed” c.d. arcs are basically by default, for characters killed off.

In odd ways, I can’t help pairing Millennium with Daria, a very different series in obvious ways. Millennium was almost humorless; the one big exception, “Somehow Satan Got Behind Me,” is a delight, but it’s an anomaly. Millennium was a dark, brooding examination of evil; Daria was a sarcastic cartoon about the foibles of a dozen or so fairly privileged teenagers.

Most of the sense of connection is a product of looking back from 20 years, on an era which was formative in my life. I think both series began around the same time, during my freshman year of college. Daria, with two more seasons, aired its final send-off in 2002, but really both series are artifacts of an antebellum world before a feeling that things began going off the rails (even if I’m aware of a deeper history now).

I suppose the pairing is also of some interest for its night-and-day differences. Daria made fun of the pettiness and banality of (predominantly white, middle-class professional, suburban) American culture of that era, while documenting it in caricature for posterity. Millennium sifted varieties of creeping fear lurking around the edges of “the end of history.” Genetic engineering, cults, child predators, “global instability” coming home to roost. (Daria‘s show-within-a-show, Sick Sad World, seems like it almost could have fit in both series.)

But also it just amuses me to see the pagers, and dial-up internet, and that boxy red SUV which I swear both the Black and Morgendorffer families owned, whatever it was.

Millennium had its story template, which evolved to some extent over the series, but it also changed things up. Catherine was the lead character in one episode. A few episodes let supernatural elements be very overt; one of these, “Somehow Satan Got Behind Me” was both the series’ comic interlude and reduced Frank Black a minor character. The three seasons produced an amusing Christmas episode, and a delicious Halloween ghost story episode which I remember from when the series first aired.

I also like the measure of self-awareness which Millennium admitted over three seasons. Instead of manifesting with e.g. “fourth wall” commentary, it played out within the conspiracy theories running through the series. Over time, characters’ suspicions of the shadowy Millennium Group’s involvement in one episode or another ranged from obviously correct, to paranoia, and some episodes left room for real doubt either way.

My favorite thing about Millennium might be the two-parter which ended the series, however, not least because the first half disappointed me initially. “Via Dolorosa” felt like someone had intentionally created a fairly dull “generic” episode of Millennium. All the typical pieces were there—serial killer, FBI, Polaroids in the mail, Peter Watts being cagey about the Millennium Group—but it did not add up to a compelling story. Until part two.

“Goodbye to All That” was not only a fantastic episode, itself, it made “Via Dolorosa” feel like a brilliant set-up. I doubt that anyone intended part one of the story to feel dull, but if they did intend some sense of a recapitulation of where the series had been, it would make complete sense as part two upended many of the familiar roles and relationships.

The series might have gone in a lot of interesting directions, from there, but outside the world of fan fiction there have only been two “official” follow-ups. One is a comic book miniseries; I have read the first issue, and when some day I’ll get hold of the rest, we’ll see what it offers.

Otherwise, for a number of years the only official “ending” to Millennium the series was an X-Files episode by that name. This is not really great, and as an ending it would be a complete flop, but I have to agree with this commentary in interpreting it otherwise.

The X-Files episode “Millennium” doesn’t make any attempt to pick up where the series Millennium left off, or even fill in the gaps, except by implication. Clearly, the Millennium Group appears to be out of business, Frank Black is satisfied of that and working to move on with his life, and the episode’s zombie plot is not at all The Group’s schemes come to fruition. Instead, the literal zombies are also a metaphor for the only way in which the episode makes sense: the Millennium Group’s ambitions have been slain, but its peril shambles back into motion one last time, horror-movie style, through the efforts of some loose-end crackpots who are all that remain of the organization.

That isn’t completely unsatisfying, in that it implies Frank Black succeeded in dismantling his former employer’s conspiracies. In reality, Frank was always fighting against patterns of behavior which seem to be a perpetual companion of humanity (even without bringing immortal supernatural agents into it).

Two decades on, the warning that “we are heading toward an apocalypse of our own creation” seems considerably more relevant than it did in the late 1990s.

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