Appellate Judge Michael Stailey may be dating himself with this review, but exceptional television is timeless.
The time is near
Season Two is the closest this series ever got to firing on all cylinders. Chris Carter was right to turn the series over to X-Files bad boys Morgan and Wong. Unfortunately, they didn't stick around long enough to reap the harvest they so meticulously sowed.
Facts of the Case
A life-changing search and rescue mission leaves Frank Black (Lance Henriksen, Aliens) more alone than ever before. He's comes to realize that enlightenment has its costs, not the least of which is the somewhat solitary path upon which he now finds himself. The darkness he's fought so hard to keep at bay has shattered the sanctity of his home and his family. Unable to protect the ones he loves from the life that has chosen him, Frank sequesters himself, putting all his time and energy into his work. Yet, the deeper he goes, the more he finds that all is not what it seems. Even The Millennium Group, with whom he closely works, holds centuries old secrets that undermine their self-professed altruistic motives. As the Millennium draws near, the darkness grows, and the signs of things to come are more and more apparent…at least to those in tune enough to see them.
Season One defined Frank Black and the world in which his talents are a rare beacon of light and hope. Creator Chris Carter went to great lengths to showcase this overwhelming darkness and despair as a metaphor for the diseased core of modern society and its oft-inhuman populace. However, with Carter fully immersed in post-production of The X-Files: Fight the Future, he was forced to relinquish creative reigns of the series.
"When the cat is away, the mice will play."
Season Two spins the series' original concept on its ear, discovering the dark and twisted humor found in any dire situation. Like a cavalry lead by John Waters and Tim Burton, the rebellious yet oddly reverential creative team of Glen Morgan and James Wong march into this dour world, lighting its deepest recesses with black light, and injecting its atmosphere with a mixture of nitrous oxide and fine Colombian reefer.
Don't get me wrong. It's not as if the show morphed into The Munsters move to Eerie, Indiana. Frank is still up to his eyeballs with things that go bump in the night and the inhumanity we needlessly inflict upon each other. It's just that Morgan and Wong take Carter's dark tapestry and deftly weave in pop culture references, spiritual and cultural folklore, and a welcome dose of self-deprecating humor.
Gone is the serial killer du jour, replaced by the unfolding (and deeply disturbing) mythology of the Millennium Group. Instead of exploring the fractured psyches of the human mind, we're now peering through the arrogance of our own unenlightened existence, to discover the inner workings of the pawn-like significance humanity plays in this vast cosmic chess game. Through Frank, our eyes are opened to a world we could have never imagined; one that operates just out of reach of our factory installed senses.
Next to the installation of the Morgan and Wong engine, the most notable accessory for Season Two is Frank's expanded support network…
• The Old Man
There are a handful of episodes and story arcs in Season Two that represent the best the series has to offer.
• "The Curse of Frank Black"
• "The Hand of Saint Sebastian"
• "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense"
• "Midnight of the Century"
• "Owls / Roosters"
• "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me"
Now here's the bad news.
In the face of sinking ratings and almost certain cancellation, Morgan and Wong used the last two episodes of the season to burn the series to the ground. Frank, Peter, Lara, and the Millennium Group finally come face to face with the apocalypse they have long feared.
You can't blame the creative team for wanting to cap the show. The last thing a cancelled series wants is to leave their fans hanging. However, the way it was handled left me extremely disappointed. For all the bold, creative risk-taking that underscored Season Two, this apocalyptic plague comes across as forced and incongruent with the well-established mythos. Here's a show chock full of monsters, demons, and evil forces, all hyped into a growing frenzy over the power of the impending Millennial event. Yet, when it finally arrives, it's in the form of a scientific experiment gone wrong? Where is the justification in that? It's little more than stealing the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene from Ghostbusters—the true face of evil is both recognizable (e.g. West Nile, Ebola) and insipid. Been there, done that (remember when it was called Outbreak?). Show me something I haven't seen.
I know I'm in the minority here, but I don't care. The end of the world, in the hands of Morgan and Wong, should have arrived in a mind-blowing package, not the latest update from the Center for Disease Control. To me, this was the moment the series "jumped the shark"—an admittedly overused pop-culture phrase, but quite apropos. The only redeeming aspect of this two-part debacle is the resolution of Lara's storyline. It is not only smart writing, but has the side benefit of showing Frank what life could have been had he chosen a different path. Lara would not return in Season Three, nor would the level of quality that was the trademark of the series first two seasons.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the sound and image quality of the transfer is impeccable. Granted, it is a dark show, much of it being shot at night, but the incredible use of lighting to establish setting and mood is beyond reproach. The color palette, a diverse mix of earth tones punctuated by the vibrancy of blood reds and calming blues, is used to paint a distinct landscape on a very broad canvas. Mark Snow's emotional underscore is tailor made for these tales. This is yet another level of quality few hour-long dramas ever achieve. While not as intense as a 5.1 remastering, the 2.0 surround is more than adequate to convey the emotion of these 23 episodic adventures.
In terms of bonus features, Fox continues the trend established in the first season release. Two episode commentaries for "The Hand of St. Sebastian" and "The Mikado" (an all too prophetic glimpse into the future of internet web cams) are appreciated, but nothing to go out of your way for. Same holds true for the featurettes on the "Making of Season Two" and the "Academy Group," both picking up where their Season One counterparts left off. What is sorely lacking here is any involvement from Glen Morgan and James Wong. To have made such a definitive impact on a series and not contribute to its DVD release could easily be classified as criminal neglect.
Millennium is a series few people watched and fewer people appreciated. If you are a fan of shows such as the WB's Supernatural, Fox's Bones, and ABC's remake of Night Stalker, you owe it to yourself to seek out the first two seasons of Millennium. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
Weighing carefully all of the evidence and testimony presented, this court finds Millennium: The Complete Second Season not guilty. However, on the separate charge of neglect, writer/producers Glen Morgan and James Wong are found guilty and sentenced to write a book detailing their experiences as well as the rationale behind the conclusion of Season Two. This court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Two Episode Commentaries
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