starring: Lance Hendrickson
(editors note: This is a review not of one episode or season, but of the ultimate demise of an excellent show, and an attempt at explaining why the episode which aired on Friday, May 21 1999, was Millenium's last.)
I've watched Millenium from day one. It started out as a cool "serial killer of the week" drama with a twist -- the hero (Frank Black, an ex-FBI serial killer profiler) had minor psychic powers and belonged to a secret society of supposed bad-guy hunters called, "the Millenium Group." The series was dark and intelligent, well written and well-acted (especially by leading man Lance Henrickson) and had all of the same makings of a hit that made the X-Files such a phenomenon, including sharing the same creator -- Chris Carter.
As the show progressed, an overlying plot started to appear (again, much the same as in the X-Files). As the show moved into its second season, it became apparent that the Millenium Group was not all it claimed to be, that the Group itself may not only be fighting to prevent the coming armageddon, but certain portions of the group may be fighting for that end.
Unfortunately, as the show progressed into its second season, it also became apparent that it was not going to gain the following or the level of success that the X-Files had achieved, despite winning the 1996 People's Choice Award for best new drama. In fact, as Millenium moved into the midst of its second season, it began battling ratings lows and many feared cancellation.
Why? As I stated above, the show was excellent. The writing had only gotten better as the show went on, Henrickson and cast were some of the strongest actors on TV, and Chris Carter was Fox's golden boy. Explanations for the decline are, in my mind, unfortunately plain. The show had gotten even darker -- few and far between were the happy endings. Frank separated from his wife and child, adding an air of desperation to the show. And the overlying plot became more and more complex as Frank searched for answers about the Group and fought with and against his Millenium Group friend, Peter Watts. All of this spells confusion and loss of all but the most loyal viewers -- this is true for any TV show. The second season ended with a series of dark, stirring, confusing and spectacularly moving episodes in which Frank's companion Laura (having discovered the Group's secrets) succumbs to insanity, Peter Watts disappears, and a plague wipes out a portion of the upper west coast, killing Frank's wife but sparing him and his gifted daughter, Jordan. The second season also ended with abysmal ratings and complaints among viewers that they could not understand what was going on -- that the show had simply become confusing for the sake of confusion and no other reason.
The third season began with an attempt to shake things up, simplify plot and gain back viewership. Several months had passed and Frank's connection with the Millenium group had all but vanished. He was back working with the FBI in the DC area. He quickly picked up a new partner, a young female FBI agent named Hollis (perhaps an attempt to create further similarity to the X-Files and broaden viewership). While Frank often mentioned the Group as the cause of the plague that killed his wife and almost every other bad thing that happened, any previous overlying plotline had disappeared. Peter Watts occaisonally popped up briefly, but the show began once again to focus on its original "serial killer" format. This was the final kiss of doom, as many of the once loyal followers abandoned the show after deciding the story was essentially over. As the season wore on, the original plotline and Frank's quest to expose the Millenium Group for what they truly were returned, but too late. The season wound down with a group of excellent, intricate episodes, amid the news that it had been cancelled by Fox and would not return.
Now we can only hope for sydicated reruns, or that Chris Carter will resurrect the characters in a new show.
If it does begin to appear in reruns, watch it. The show is/was beautiful -- dark and mysterious, intelligent, well-written and well-acted. Individual episode plots are engaging, and the overall plot of the series grand and terrifying. It is/was definitely a show worth spending time with, contrary to the viewership numbers which drove Fox to cancel it.
In the end, I think Millenium commited a television cardinal sin -- though it gave an excellent program, it asked that its viewers bring intelligence, knowledge of the world around them, and a certain level of concentration and commitment to the viewing act. Unfortunately, in the world of TV, that seldom pays off. Somehow, the X-Files, perhaps by staying a little tongue-in-cheek and less dark than Millenium, has managed to pull it off for all of these years. Normally, as in the case of Millenium, shows that ask that much end up cancelled.
Unfortunately, (to quote a phrase in Millenium's opening) "this is who we are."