X-File of the Week – “Millennium”

Posted on by Dave

Stephen Harber

Hey, remember that show Millennium? It was also created by Chris Carter, the controversial, um, “mastermind” behind The X-Files franchise. (Notice I said franchise and not story.) It starred Lance Henriksen, the guy who played Locke on Lost, and other various hosers from Canada. It was a show about serial killers, secret societies, grunge, and vaguely Catholic, pre-2000 paranoia. Actually, I’m going to be real here – it was pretty darn good television. You should check it out if you haven’t already. I’m cereal.

(If you do decide to watch it, you should consider skipping season one, as it’s mostly stand-alone fillery stuff you can revisit after watching the rest of the series. If you’re curious, only watch the 1st, 18th, maybe 19th, and 22nd episodes, then move on to season two. I’ll get shot for saying this, but trust me. You can go back and enjoy the filler at your leisure whenever you want. K, I have to duck now.)

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This review is probably going to have spoilers for that short-lived and unfortunately dated show, seeing as this team-up takes place after its series finale. But if you’re cool with that, I’m cool with that.

This particular episode of the X-Files is a very special one, in that, well, it’s probably the only example I can think of in which our sexy iconic duo teams up with a not-so-sexy iconic character from a different show. (The COPS ep does not count, by the way.) In “Millennium”, Mulder and Scully must combine their powers with Frank Black to stop the last remnants of the clandestine Millennium Group from bringing about god’s holy y2k on new year’s eve. Because, obviously, zombies.

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Okay, so there were only like three or four zombies in this episode, but still. They were creepy!

Another thing that’s unique about this episode is that it’s the first time Mulder and Scully just go ahead and finally fucking kiss on-screen. It’s a new year’s kiss, so it’s still kind of a tease, but after seven years of no smoochies, it’s kind of a big deal. Right?

Well, fine, okay, it was in the ‘90s.

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The plot of “Millennium” revolves around your average joe necromancer, played by Holmes Osborne (aka the dude who played Donnie Darko’s dad), who’s going on a road trip to celebrate the year 2000…to do your standard necromancer type stuff, like, y’know, making corpses reanimate. His mission is to resurrect a few Millennium Group buddies in order to bring about that apocalypse thing that was supposed to happen.

His process is pretty simple: he opens up the casket, strips the body (and himself), puts on the corpse’s clothes, and leaves a brick cell phone in their hand so that they can ring him (or text him if they’re that savvy) when they’re all zombie-fied and ready to go. Did I mention he recites a specific verse from the book of Revelations the whole time? Oh, I didn’t. Well now you know. Creepy, yes, and very creative. This imagery has stuck around in my head for almost fifteen years now, by the way. The X-Files has that kind of power over you, though. Or, should I say, it did.

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Mulder and Scully get right on the case, of course. Mulder can obviously tell that it’s a necromancer (duh) even though Scully does that thing where she quietly gives him stank eye because he is so cray (even though he’s right 99.9% of the time about everything ever).
After hearing out Mulder’s theory, Skinner gives the agents a special private debriefing on the case, revealing to them that the Millennium Group is involved, and that the missing cadavers are indeed some of its members.

Now, if you still don’t know much about the Millennium Group, I’ll fill you in just a teensy bit. The Group itself is made up of former FBI/law enforcement agents that banded together to do consulting work for criminal cases. At least, that’s what their official “About Us” page said. What the Group really was, underneath everything, was a centuries old cult based around Judeo-Christian prophecies of the end times. Which doesn’t have much to do with the consulting biz, does it?

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Actually, on the series Millennium, the Group was unquestionably the most intriguing plot device, playing a key role in far-reaching, timeless conspiracies that Mulder would have literally shit himself over. In fact, I’m surprised that he hadn’t caught wind of their shadowy dealings before, if both shows share the same universe like this episode claims.

Like, for example, that one instance where the Group released a virus onto the world that killed a bunch of people – including someone close to Frank Black. Wouldn’t Mulder and Scully have been alerted to such a global pandemic? Or the time when two separate sects of the Group fought over a magical piece of Jesus’s cross that made whoever held it invincible and impervious to bullets. No, Mulder? Nothing? Hmmph. Alright, fine. Not enough aliens for you, I guess.

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To gain insight into the evil Christian zombie plot, Mulder and Scully visit Frank Black, who has been spending his sabbatical from chasing serial killers and having his life ripped apart by a secret society hiding away in a mental institution. Because yeah…where else do you go after that? Our agents get butthurt because the gravelly voiced, solemn faced Frankie don’t want none of their Millennium Group drama, mama. And who can blame him? He lost quite a lot to their religious power games. Frank even admits that he had prioritized chasing after the holy unholies over caring for his daughter, who he’s now fighting a custody battle over. Therefore, he refuses to help, but gives Mulder a little clue about a little Bible verse that a little necromancer might be reciting while conjuring up his little zombies.

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Yadda, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah. A new body is discovered, Mulder catches on to Frank’s clue, and Scully witness the undead in action. Mulder revisits Frank and gets some conveniently solid exposition out of him this time, because that was always Mr. Black’s superpower. Mulder follows the lead and winds up at the necromancer’s house, which of course is in the middle of nowhere.

After sneaking around his evil lair, the necromancer traps Mulder in his basement with the zombies dancing all around him, ready to pig out on some juicy (and rather gamey) Duchovny flesh. Luckily, Mulder came prepared with a handful of kosher salt he grabbed from the trash outside to form a protective magic circle that fends off the evil undead. You go Mulder! Fuck yeah. Save your ass and stuff. With sodium.

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Scully also decides to pay another visit to Frank and mildly scolds him. Very mildly. She didn’t raise her voice or anything, but she does that one thing where she plays the exasperated voice of reason. Kind of like an assistant principal, but sexier and cooler and not as gross. Thanks to her pep talk, Frank decides to check himself out of the loony bin and get to the necromancer’s evil lair just in time to save Mulder somehow. I don’t know how he does it!

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What ensues is a little mini-zombie battle in the basement. This is where this episode really shines. The cinematography here is great – claustrophobic, scary, dark. It makes you wish that The X-Files had gone out of its way to make more zombie episodes. For some reason, it didn’t, since this is basically the only one out there, but shh. Let’s just enjoy this while we can.

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Scully, too, somehow shows up just in time to save their asses, being all bang-bang! Because she’s Scully. Then we are taken to a hospital waiting room where she wraps things up with Frank while Mulder gets his arm bandaged (he had gotten some zombie boo-boos, by the way). Scully spouts off her standard expository closure on the necromancer dude’s fate and then brings in Jordan Black, Frank’s little daughter, who was a big part of his life and show. The two hug and stuff. Awwww! So special.

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Mulder finally comes out with his arm in a sling, presumably after making sexual advances to the nurses. The TV mounted to the waiting room wall shows the final countdown to the year 2000 has begun. Frank Black and his little girl decide to split before seeing the ball drop, which is a very powerful statement for his character. Having spent the past few years tormented by zany acolytes that were all about seeing the millennium come to pass in the most horrific way possible, he simply doesn’t care about witnessing such a moment happen. He would rather be at home with his family. Awwww! So special. I like that.

Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully kiss or something. Whatever. The end.

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Right. So, many hardcore fans of both shows look down on this episode and I see why. It definitely has its issues. Such as, it doesn’t quite satisfy our appetite for a substantial resolution to Frank Black’s dangling character arc. It just further complicates his situation. Yes, we see what he’s been up to since he literally drove off into the sunset with his daughter Jordan at the end of his show’s third and final season, but he didn’t get the most uplifting fate. Then again, Frank was always a tragic character.

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Finally seeing Agents Mulder and Scully in the same room as Frank Black is as weird as it is intriguing, because he inhabits a completely and utterly different universe than the other two. You sense this in his reaction to seeing the couple for the first time. Their glossy, fast-paced universe collides with his intimate, shadowy world and all players struggle to find a common ground, tonally speaking. They don’t necessarily succeed, but they cultivate an unspoken sense of respect that’s important to have when you’re, like, legendary television superheroes and stuff.

Actually, the dynamic between the three is slightly fascinating to watch because the actors approach their respective roles quite differently. Lance Henriksen’s deep, passionate performance clashes with David Duchovny’s bored and distracted line deliveries – which, in turn, bumps and grinds with Gillian Anderson’s Masterpiece Theater demeanor. This all works to create a level of subtextual dimension that feels just right.

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Truth is, Frank Black had more character development in the span of three years than Mulder and Scully did in a decade. Alright, so that might be an unfair statement. Mulder and Scully went through a lot of shit. Like the multiple abductions, the cancer ordeal, and that magical alien baby thing. You just felt Frank Black’s traumas more, regardless. His character was more personally affected by the horrors he encountered and the conspiracies he got lost in.

Millennium was much more of a narrative driven series, even though it tried desperately not to be early on. It was more of an intimate show than the X-Files was, since it focused on the story of one man standing between the light and the darkness, seeing the best and worst of both sides but claiming neither. Frank Black was and is a truly inspiring character because of this – he’s brave, fierce, wise, and capable of being snuggly sometimes. What more can you ask for in a gothic hero?

Even if you haven’t seen the other series it crosses over with, “Millennium” is a great horror outing for the X-Files. It’s quick, dirty pulp horror that balances the cinematic and comic book influences perfectly, evoking EC horror just as much as Romero’s undead. The zombies are freaky, the tone is dark and dusty, and the lighting is ominous.

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Speaking of the lighting, one of the things I loved about Millennium was that they always knew how to light Lance Henriksen’s face in the most dramatic and expressive ways. The lines on his face were shown as a roadmap navigating his character’s trials and tribulations, while his eyes always gave off a wild and dark wisdom that engulfed you. Frank Black is an iconic character, even if he isn’t as well-known in the public lexicon as Mulder and Scully are, and deserves to be more well-known.

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You might be wondering: why zombies? Out of all the stand-alone threats to choose from, why would they pick zombies to have an epic team-up over?

Well, what are you saying, exactly? Are you implying that zombies aren’t epic enough to have a multi-TV series crossover event for? Huh? Is that it?

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If you think about it, zombies are perfect for this, not only because people sweat them so, and the apocalypse thing, but also because they’re play a symbolic role here. A dead TV series is being resurrected, brought back to life one last time to pay tribute. In this context, zombies are way more appropriate than, say, leprechauns. Because that would have been weird.

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Although the zombie thing is cool, it’s sad to see three years of personal struggle from Frank Black amount to just a quick tussle with the undead in a basement in the middle of nowhere. Especially when you think back to when they would countdown the days to the year 2000 on his show. Years of built up suspense comes to head in a very brief climax. Oh well.

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I get why this was so rushed though. This team-up had to be a stand-alone, it had to be as viewer friendly as possible (without having much heavy context from the cancelled series), and it needed to follow a monster of the week format. In a perfect world, this would have been a two-parter, celebrating the run of Lance Henriksen’s show and the dawn of the 21st century in one epic send-off.

Actually, scratch that. In a true perfect world, Millennium would have come back for a fourth season to wrap things up and ring in the new year its own way. But, we don’t live in either of those perfect worlds. We live in this one, where we got to see our favorite ‘90s TV horror icons finally meet and kick some undead ass together. I, for one, am okay with that.

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