Sunday, June 13, 2010

Millennium - Pilot

Here's a reproduction of a review I did at my other blog at TIWWA.

We all know Millennium like the palm of our hand, so I won't be doing an introduction for this review.

The Pilot episode of Millennium is considered to be groundbreaking in pushing the envelope of what could be shown on prime time. On second viewing you see it's all in your head. There's no violence in this episode, only violence implied through victims both dead and alive. It's not as graphic as you would think and it's never gratuitous.

The show literally asks us if we like the show, if we like the naked flesh and the flow of blood. The stripper, Wednesday, asks the Frenchman during a private session if this is what he wants and he should tell her what he wants. We're put into the Frenchman's point of view. She might as well be asking us when she says "is this what you want? Tell me what you want." Some could not keep their eyes off the screen, others objected with letters of disgust which told us who they are. We're all flesh and blood, why shouldn't we want that? After all, this is who we are, literally.

One of my favorite bands is used to good effect in this episode, while not by far my favorite song, it's handled brilliantly throughout the episode. The Nine Inch Nails' song Piggy was born for Millennium.

Bletch tells Frank Black that the "homicide rate's at a record low, only 34 last year." That doesn't sound like the impending doom of the apocalypse to me. Lucky for us that Frank is working for the Millennium Group traveling across USA, and not the Seattle homicide division or there hardly would be a show on our hands. At least, not the killer of the week, that's for sure.

On the commentary track, Chris Carter mentions that the autopsy room (and presumably the homicide office) were shot on stage. Superb production design, I always thought it was shot on location. It looks real to me, thanks to Gary Wissner who was also the art director on the film Se7en. So, no wonder all the comparisons to that film and Millennium, not to mention that Carter himself cites it as an influence.

Frank is "the man with the X-ray eyes" according to the coroner, and why shouldn't we assume the same. He knew details that were left out of the paper, and he opted not to see the victim. But all the same, could be a "lucky guesser" as Bletch thinks.

Tuesday, another stripper, tells Frank "the clientele here isn't exactly the picture of moral rectitude". There are some words here that go over the nickel vocabulary line. Seriously, not like I know any strippers but this one is not your average stripper. That's not what I expect a stripper to say, is it me or does The Ruby Tip has the most intelligent strippers than any strip joint? Plus, the victim was clean, no drugs. (I know, silly to think like this, but TV has portrayed strippers like this over and over again, but then Chris Carter changes things around which is refreshing.) Anyway, I had to go to to get the definition to be absolutely sure what rectitude exactly meant, and the definitions are as follows:

1 : the quality or state of being straight
2 : moral integrity : righteousness
3 : the quality or state of being correct in judgment or procedure

It's interesting if you interpret this with the first definition as Frank Black says the Frenchman is "very confused" about his sexuality.

Another thing, she says men don't need a reason to do harm. Wrong, there's a reason for everything, a reason behind every action.

I'm examining the dialog, not her situation as stripper. I'm not trying to offend anyone here.

When Frank is driving and dropping Bletch off in his car, it's interesting that the director, David Nutter, chose these kinds of shots. These shots echo the style of Homicide: Life on the Street, another cop show which never made things pretty for the viewer. We're inside the car with them, in the backseat, a dark dormant passenger. We're on a ride which we can't leave; we can close our eyes but the horror is still there. That's about all what we can do when watching Millennium.

There was one word that stuck out for me that Peter Watts said to Frank. He said the killer knew what he was doing and doing it "with real sangfroid, judging by his tidy cleanup". According to "sangfroid implies great coolness and steadiness under strain". "Extraneous stressor" is a common profiler/medical talk, sounds like it. Why use that word, sangfroid? Does he want to sound important or wise? It's their first meeting, is that his way of making a good first impression? It does seem out of place with his sparse and precise dialog.

Watts sits in his car for over an hour outside their new yellow house to talk to Frank. Frank's wife, Catherine, tells him that she "can handle imposition" but "what [she] can't handle is secrecy." Right from the get go, the seed for the secrecy of the Millennium Group has been planted for later use, whether intentional or not. It was inevitable, I assume, to change things up.

Frank says to Catherine that the men he helps catching make him make-believe that he is making the world a better place. Catherine says to Frank that "the world starts to seep in" and that he "can't stop it". Is there no escape from the darkness? Only refuges, like in the form of a yellow house. This mirrors what the Frenchman says before he dies, that Frank can't stop it…the approaching apocalypse.

I love the usage of that Nine Inch Nails song both in the scene where Frank is deciphering what the Frenchman is saying on the security camera footage and the enhanced version that he made for his Frenchman lecture for the homicide detectives. Frank rewinds and re-watches, there are loops and jump-cuts and the music follows suit. It's something Homicide: Life on the Street did do, another echo. And I love Frank's enhanced version of the tape, it's not that silly CSI music stripped clean for a clear dialog to be heard, which is impossible. It's all about frequencies you can block, and there's only so much you can do. And that's why I miss this in today's cop show, but I know they do this to expedite things; we only have so many minutes in the television hour.

For all his gifts and curses, Frank crosses paths with the Frenchman by pure accident. It's always the little things that can lead to the capture of serial killers, like an unpaid parking ticket for the Son of Sam serial killings. Frank spots the same word in a photograph that was carved on the empty coffin they found in the woods.

And that encounter leads to the chase sequence, which ends rather strangely in my mind.

The Frenchman jumps off the bridge off-screen, we see him hanging under the bridge. This has always looked odd to me, how did I manage to do that when he had no time to plan for this? And especially the position he's hanging there makes it all the more unrealistic to me. Chris Carter says in the commentary that this was a re-shoot, they did that shot twice. This apparently worked for him, but I wonder how the original shot looked like.

It's interesting seeing the politics of a high stakes murder investigation. The argument of following the only lead they have, some hairs that we know don't lead anywhere, or follow Frank Black and his gift. There's a palpable tension between everyone in the room, these guys are serious men with a serious job, to catch a crazy killer who "is confused about his sexuality".

There's one error, which I would be none the wiser if Chris Carter didn't point it out in the commentary. Frank says the Frenchman is "prophesizing" which should be "prophesying". But you still can find it listed on as it's a common mistake, I assume. Paul Dillon, the actor who portrayed the Frenchman pointed it to Chris Carter, but it was too late to change it. What, no looping and/or cut to the men listening to his lecture?

Frank tells Bletch about his gift, that he "become[s] the thing we fear the most" by becoming capability and horror. "What we know, we can become only in our heart of darkness". It sounds to me that everyone has that gift judging by his description of his cursed gift.

It's good that there's some tiny bit of humor in Millennium, a reminder of the cold hard truth of real detectives. They crack jokes at work like everyone else, under not so normal circumstances. When Bletch crosses the icy cold river he says to himself "it's a good thing [he] already got a family". It's funny each time…at least to me.

Bletch says to Frank in 18 years he hasn't "ever seen anything as terrifying" as what he saw that night when they found the guy in the coffin. Frank replies, "You ever see your kid lying on a bed in an emergency ward?" They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, this applies to everything we see, but also horror and terror. This is the reason why some people think Borrowed Time or The Sound of Snow are much more effective than any other episode of Millennium with all its gory content and crazy killers.

Frank tells Bletch about Ed Cuffle, the last big case he did for the FBI before he retired. A nice circle, an Ouroboros if you will, is created between this episode and the last two episodes of Season 3 where Frank witnesses Cuffle's execution and gets a farewell Polaroid. Although, he is not responsible for the Polaroids he gets in this episode. It's just a nice callback at the end of the series, I've always felt.

Another thing which is off to me for this episode and which is rather convenient is the dispatch of the Frenchman. Bletch just happens to come down there at the right moment. It's not shown if Frank did write it all down what the guy on the phone said to him, about the blood tests coming from their own building. Or was it a lucky guess or one of those typical cop gut feelings or a hunch? I wonder if they had a line in the script to address this, maybe they did, maybe they didn't.

Enter Benny, the dog, Chris Carter's best casting job according to himself. And what a smile on Frank's face, I've never seen that face on Lance Henriksen before or again. You never know what you are going to get from Lance, but you know it's going to be good.

Frank gets those dreaded Polaroids again, that drove him to a mental breakdown causing him to retire from the FBI, as Catherine is on her way to a job interview which is presumably for that social worker job title we get a glimpse of a few episodes later in The Well-Worn Lock.

The Pilot episode will always be highly regarded in Millennium fandom, but it's too by the numbers for me to be close to a top 5 list…maybe on a top 10. Everything is well done, the actors, the music, the direction and the production design elevated the standard cop show routine that this looked like it was going be. But we all know, it didn't become a routine, otherwise we all wouldn't be here still talking about the show…Thirteen Years Later…(sort of).

***1/2 out of ****

Cheers from Iceland!
- Jósef

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