Millennium: The Complete Third Season (DVD)

My computer thinks this is the year 1900.

In the first season of Millennium, we met criminal profiler Frank Black (Lance Henriksen, Aliens), a former FBI agent who used his psychic-like “gift” to hunt down and catch various serial killers. In the second season, Frank explored the background of his mysterious employers in the Millennium Group, and their plans and theories about the upcoming apocalypse. As the third season begins, it’s post-apocalypse (but not really) as Frank finds himself back where he started, at the FBI. He’s lost and alone, looking for some direction in his life. The series follows suit, and spends most of its last 22 episodes finding its own direction. Now, viewers can experience all the ups and downs leading to the end of this Millennium.

A lot has happened since we last saw Frank Black. His wife Catherine (Megan Gallagher, National Lampoon’s Van Wilder) is dead, thanks to a Millennium Group-engineered virus. Convinced that the group’s leaders are full-blown bad guys, Frank relocates from his Seattle home to Washington, D.C., both to return to the FBI and to take care of his daughter Jordan (Brittany Tiplady, The Pledge). He’s paired with newcomer agent Emma Hollis (Klea Scott, Lullaby) and goes back to the daily grind of tracking down those pesky serial killers. But the forces of darkness are always there, hiding in every shadow. Whether it’s a murderer’s lunacy, the Millennium Group’s scheming, or an unidentified supernatural evil, everyone seems to have an interest in Frank and his daughter. The time is near…

As stated above, each season of Millennium had its own personality. Chris Carter (creator of The X-Files) started it out as a dark detective series. Then the writing duo of Glen Morgan and James Wong (Willard) opened the history and mythology of the Millennium Group. In season three, showrunner Chip Johannessen and others borrowed liberally from the previous seasons, while adding a new emphasis on stories about family. With so many elements thrown into the mix, it should be no surprise that this season is hit or miss in terms of storytelling. Although many fans have dismissed the third season as crap, there’s just as much here that’s enjoyable as there is that falters.

The Good

• Father-daughter relationships
The best episodes this season deal with Frank and his daughter. This would seem to be a given, since they are the most personal, the most emotional. In “Borrowed Time,” Jordan’s life is threatened by an unknown ailment also plaguing the victims in one of Frank’s cases. The scenes in which Jordan lies helpless in hospital bed while Frank sits back in frustration are some of Henriksen’s finest moments in the series. In “Saturn Dreaming of Mercury,” Jordan displays a gift similar to Frank’s as she exposes a sinister evil in her own neighborhood. Brittany Tiplady has always been cute on this show, but she proves herself to be quite the talented young actress this time around, with a lot more screen time and more scripts based on her character.

Later in the season, as we learn more about Emma, we’re introduced to her father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. These are some of Scott’s best scenes, in which she reveals her own fears that her father not only no longer recognizes her, but could become dangerous to both him and her. All this leads to the Millennium Group making a tempting offering for her, and her character ends up in a surprising place when it’s all over.

• The group goes bad
Although it was hinted at from day one that the Millennium Group was up to no good, this is the year that its members turn into full-blown mustache-twirling villains. This is a good thing because it gives Frank his drive, especially whenever group member and former friend Peter Watts (Terry O’Quinn, Lost) shows up. Instead of Frank’s loyal sidekick, which he was in the past two years, Watts now has a different purpose. He pokes his nose around every corner, watching Frank and Emma from a distance. Every time he and Frank confront each other, it’s explosive, and both actors bring their best intensity to these scenes.

This doesn’t mean Watts is relegated to nothing but dastardly deeds. Occasionally, his human side shows through as well. This is most notable in the wonderfully suspenseful episode “Collateral Damage” in which a deranged soldier (James Marsters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) kidnaps Watts’s daughter. Here, Frank is put in a position where he must choose whether to help his sworn enemy. Watts’s exit from the series in the final episode is mysterious, and we’re left to wonder just where his loyalties really were.

• Gloom n’ doom
It’s often been pointed out how any given episode of Millennium could be mistaken for a multimillion-dollar feature film, and that trend continues through to the series’ conclusion. The foggy Vancouver woods that stand in for various locales seem to go on forever, while killers’ lairs are appropriately shadowy and drenched in fresh blood. Even when the show was on its last legs, an effort was still made to give even the smaller moments some visual “oomph,” and the series as a whole benefited from it. Even when at its most grotesque, Millennium was one of the most visually rich TV series ever created.

The Bad

• The big ret-con
What’s a ret-con? It’s when writer-A establishes an important element to a story, and then writer-B comes along and says, “That’s not how it really happened.” Writer-B then re-writes the story’s history to fit his or her own agenda, creating “retroactive continuity,” or “ret-con” for short. Millennium’s third season is one of the biggest ret-cons in entertainment history. In the spirit of the whole millennium-apocalypse mythology of the series, season two ended with a deadly plague, which we were told would kill up to 80 percent of the world’s population. But in the third season premiere, “The Innocents” there’s a fleeting mention of how only a few people died in the Pacific Northwest, and that was it. We don’t get any real answers until later in the season, when “The Sound of Snow” reveals in detail the aftermath of the plague, stating that the hysteria it created was far greater than the actual number of deaths. (Perhaps creating mass hysteria was the Millennium Group’s true goal with the virus? Sadly, the writers never explore this as a possibility.) The flashbacks from “The Sound of Snow” really should have started off the season. Instead, the action picks up in “The Innocents” months after the plague, with Frank already back at the FBI with little explanation of what happened.

• “Thirteen Years Later”
Wes Craven’s Scream had successfully deconstructed horror movies a year before the episode “Thirteen Years Later,” but the writers somehow felt the desire to rip it off anyway. Here, Frank and Emma hunt down a killer who bases his M.O. on classic slasher movies. Sound familiar? It seems the creators attempted to capture some of the same humor that oddball writer Darin Morgan provided in his two scripts for the second season. But Morgan’s mad genius is not something easily recreated, and it shows. The episode is far too jokey and self-referential for its own good. This is also the one where legendary rock band KISS guest stars, playing their song “Psycho Circus.” Seems like an appropriate comment to make on the worst episode of the series.

• Lucy Butler butts in
Remember the sexy villainess Lucy Butler? No? One of Millennium‘s strangest creations, Lucy (Sarah-Jane Redmond, A Wrinkle In Time) would show up once per season to torment Frank, not unlike how Q would torment Picard about once a year on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Who Lucy really is, as well as whatever agenda she might have, was set up as a huge mystery. She might have something to do with the death of one of Frank’s friends, and she might be a lot older than she looks—as in immortal. This being the final season, I expected a big, final showdown between Frank and Lucy when she reappears in the episode “Antipas.” Instead, all I got was Lucy living with a rich couple doing the “evil, seductive nanny” routine. Although it ends with a promise of Lucy returning to mess with Frank some more, it’s still mostly a waste of a great character.

• Samiel I am
The episode “Borrowed Time” is one of the best in this set, but it’s also one that leaves the most unexplained. Who is the villain, Samiel, who, with a wave of his hand, can make people drown to death on dry land? Is he or isn’t he the same character Sammael who appeared in an earlier episode? How can he do all these physics-defying tricks? If this were The X-Files, we’d at least get some crazy theory as who or what he is, but here, he’s Mr. Scary Supernatural Guy, and we have to accept that.

The frustration I felt over Samiel’s character reveals the big flaw that haunted Millennium from the beginning: Ambiguity. For all the great acting, the creepy atmosphere, and the high-quality production design, the show was too ambiguous for its own good. Just who is the Millennium Group? What is the group’s stake in the whole apocalypse/end-of-the-world thing? What do all these serial killers really have to do with the whole apocalypse/end-of-the-world thing? What, exactly, is the nature of Frank’s gift? Does Jordan have that same gift or doesn’t she? What’s with all the devil stuff? And on and on. The more you watch, the more questions get raised. Nothing about the series is easily defined. This makes it something of a turn-off for casual viewers, and potentially confusing for first-timers going into just this season. It all does come together in a way, but only for patient viewers who watch aggressively and pay strict attention to all the little details, there’s a rewarding experience to be had. It’s up to you if you want to make that much of a commitment to your entertainment.

Millennium: The Complete Third Season oozes its way onto DVD with excellent audio and video. The dark, foreboding atmosphere that is the series’ signature comes through clearly, with vivid colors and deep, rich blacks. The 2.0 surround audio is rich and immersive, and composer Mark Snow’s moody theme song sounds terrific.

The highlight of the bonus features here is the “End Game” documentary, which covers the troubled behind-the-scenes history of the third season, detailing how the writers and producers scrambled to put it together after assuming the show would be cancelled. Henriksen and Scott reunite for a commentary for “The Innocents” and director Thomas J. Wright (Unspeakable) comments on “Collateral Damage.” Both commentaries suffer from the participants watching the show more than talking about it, but their fondness and excitement for the series is still evident. “Between the Lines” is another look at the Academy Group, a group of retired FBI agents who consult for law enforcement, and the real-life inspiration for the Millennium Group.

Finishing off the set is an episode from The X-Files, appropriately titled “Millennium,” in which FBI agents Mulder (David Duchovny, House of D) and Scully (Gillian Anderson, Bleak House) cross paths with our own Frank Black. Although many have criticized the episode for being anti-climatic, I say pay closer attention. The finale here is actually not related to the Millennium Group, making this more of a side story to Frank’s adventures, rather than the final confrontation between good and evil. What makes this episode a true standout has nothing to do with Frank Black. It’s the big Mulder-Scully moment at the end, which is cleverly written and well acted.

This is nit-picky, but it nonetheless deserves to be addressed: What is going on with Frank Black’s hair this season? In some episodes, it’s all brown. In others, it’s all white. But at most times, it’s a little of both, mixed together Dennis Rodman-style. Henriksen’s performance is still great, but some continuity with that hair would have been a big improvement.

As of this writing, we’re about two months into the year 2006. Some really horrible events have happened in the new millennium, what with the terrorists and all, but there have also been moments of great joy and wonder, like the Red Sox winning the World Series. Mirroring real life, Millennium: The Complete Third Season also has its low points and its high points. Placed within the context of the series as a whole, I’d say the good outweighs the bad.

The Verdict

Although Millennium: The Complete Third Season appeared guilty at first, we used our “gift” and looked deep into the unseen trenches of its soul, where we discovered it’s not guilty after all.

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