Despite the somewhat faltering ratings that plighted Millennium after it sensational premiere night, the Fox Network renewed the series for a second season. After all, Chris Carter was their golden boy and as history showed, The X Files was not a massive success itself until its second year. Fox were patient. A trait they would not show to other series that would follow in later years, which I won't get into listing right now, but I think we all know the shows I'm referring to.
Somewhat taken aback by the ratings dive and with Chris Carter having to relinquish show running duties in order to overlook post production on The X Files:Fight the Future as well as spearhead that show's fifth season which was set to be the lead in to the feature film, Millennium was in need of someone to show run the series for it second year. The offer was made to Frank Spotnitz, an inspired choice actually, but who turned it down as he didn't want to step away from the world of Mulder and Scully. Instead the job was offered to Glen Morgan and James Wong, two of the Ten Thirteen Universe's most talented writers who had scripted some of the best X Files instalments in it's first, second and fourth seasons as well as three episodes during Millennium's first year, one of which, The Thin White Line, was a masterpiece. The decision was a no brainer.
Except they had ideas of their own and in the end their stewardship of the series would prove a controversial one. If season one invoked controversy due to its content, season two would invoke controversy due to its story telling.
First thing was first. Serial killers were out, at least as a focal point for the series. Instead of using the end date of 1st January 2000 as a MacGuffin of sorts to tell stories about the increasing violence and moral downfall of society, season two was going to deal head on with the the oncoming millennium and use the series as a platform for stories of an occult and religious tone. As the Millennium Group were an organisation that dealt with violent crimes, a change was needed here too so the group is revealed to be even more mysterious than thought off previously and one whose methods and motivations are more murky and morally complicated than previously thought. With this in mind, certain characterisations are more developed. Terry O'Quinn as Peter Watts is given more to do than being Frank's right hand man at crime scenes. It was a task the actor did very well, it has to be said, but here his performance becomes a wonderful, Emmy worthy one as Morgan and Wong add dimensions previously never hinted at, an origin tale that Watts himself tells Frank about being an undoubted season highlight.
Things would change as well at the Black family home. The opening episode would deliver a schism that would see Frank leave the family house and the family become a broken one, the yellow house would change from being a symbol of hope for the family to one they are desperately trying to get back to. New characters are added to the mix. Kristen Cloke appears as Lara Means and nearly steals the season right under everyone's nose, as well as Allan Zinyk as Brain Rodecker, a Lone Gunmen type character. Both these characters added a level of quirky humour that the series previously turned away from. Lara in particular was a wonderful creation, partnering up with Frank for several cases and sharing a fun, laid back chemistry that was incredibly entertaining to watch at times.
The change in tone was admittedly a bit of a shock at first as were the different type of stories. The premiere episode continued from the season one finale pretty well, but Beware of the Dog and Sense and Antisense which followed felt like they had walked in from The X Files. They were very entertaining episodes, but it felt peculiar to see Frank Black walking around investigating dogs which killed and a conspiracy which involved killing African Americans which a deadly pathogen. Things settled down a little with Monster, although A Single Blade of Glass was still a step in the wrong direction and one could be forgiven for thinking during those first five episodes, regardless of Morgan and Wong's undeniable talent, that they had allowed themselves to lose track of where they wanted their take of Millennium to go early in the run.
Morgan and Wong pretty much spear headed the season on their own terms and whilst other writers such as Chip Johannessen, Michael R Perry, Erin Maher and Kay Reindl are there, they only delivered a handful of episodes, Morgan and Wong deliver an impressive eleven episodes, pretty much half the season. Word was that the other writers were to work mainly in stand alone episodes, which seen the serial killer format retained for some of the tales, including the incredibly impressive The Mikado, whilst Johannessen once again, despite only three episodes to his credit, was a key star. Whilst his first episode of the season is not one of his best hours, something he credits to rewrites at the last minute, In Arcadia Ego and Luminary in particular saw the season on wonderful form, the latter being one of the all time best ever episodes of the series that saw many of the characterisation and directional issues of the season healed with just about every character getting a key role and some fantastic story telling to boot.
The flaws are obvious at times though. The break down of the Black marriage feels very forced and happens in the space of a single scene and given the way the marriage was portrayed the first year, the break up feels very forced and out of sync with everything else, as does, at times the character of Catherine Black. Megan Gallagher does her very best, and she does get an episode pretty much to herself, but her sudden descent into a bitter wife jars very badly with season one and feels at times like a betrayal of the character in itself. The more experimental nature of the story telling means that not every episode is one hundred per cent successful. Some are noble failures like Siren and Anamnesis, but others like A Single Blade of Grass just don't work in any capacity and the fact they feel like rejected X Files ideas only adds to the failures. Much better portrayed is Peter Watts development from key side kick, to a man of mystery and secrets, a facet that threatens to destroy Frank and Peter's friendship. The character becomes a metaphor for the Millennium group itself, the organisation revealing darker and more mysterious aspects before Frank himself, in the season's most honest moment in The Fourth Horseman, blatantly shouts out that it is nothing but a cult.
Despite the brilliant unpredictability of the season, high production values and never ending brilliance of Lance Henriksen's portrayal of Frank Black, not to mention the excellent quality of the episodes that do get it right, ratings didn't climb and there appeared to be a feeling that the series was going to end. Whether or not Morgan and Wong crafted the final two episodes as a series finale, thinking the series was over, or as a season cliffhanger for whoever show ran the third season to resolve is a matter of some debate. The truth is The Time Is Now feels like the end of the road, that with their back against the wall and no possibility of renewal in sight, Morgan and Wong opt to go out all guns blazing, ending the world in an onslaught of a viral apocalypse and pretty much killing off not only several lead characters, but the world they inhabit as well. The oppressive, dangerous atmosphere of the episodes, the entire act devoted to Lara Means's descent into hallucinogenic madness and the grim, depressing final scene, feel like a series going out with all guns blazing, a blatant middle finger to the network that failed to promote a series that really should have been the commercial equal of its sister series. Although they have denied it was their intention, the romantic side of me loves the idea that Morgan and Wong opted to end the world rather than be safe just in case the series did come back. The Fourth Horseman and The Time Is Now are incendiary, dangerous pieces of television, right up there with the best of David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks, that fires hypnotic visuals at the screen and isn't afraid to scare the hell out of you in the pursuit of genius story telling. Looking back, it is a mixed bag of a season. It feels inconsistent at times and veers off in different directions and yet I think that's the reason it is so good. It's almost as if, with Morgan and Wong at the helm, the series is challenging itself to experiment, to be wild, to not just find a niche, in this case serial killer of the week, and stay on that course.
Admittedly, anytime I watch season one, I find myself a little annoyed that the change happened. I have to be clear, I adore season one of Millennium, I loved the groove the series was in and I think, had it aired a few years later, it would have been a commercial success. Grisly crime procedurals with a quirky, high concept edge are all the rage and yet my annoyance dissipates when I watch season two. Morgan and Wong are genius writers and filmmakers and they bring their own touches to the series and make them work. They aren't afraid to throw long scenes of actors talking the most wonderful dialogue into their episodes, the use of music is incredible also. The season is filled to the brim with Bobby Darin songs whilst the incredible sequence devoted to Lara Means' psychological disintegration in the season finale is set, in its entirity, to Patti Smith's Horses.
The season, overall, will surely go down as one of the most brilliant, insane, infuriating and downright superlative seasons in the history of television. If season one wasn't afraid to take chances at how far it could stretch its content, then season two of Millennium is the one that dared to go other places in its narratives. It may be different to what came before, but yet again Millennium proved itself as a series that dared to push the envelope, to try and go beyond the scope of television, a medium that almost prides itself on being safe and secure. The funny thing is, if you watch The Time Is Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that was it, the story was over and Millennium allowed itself to blast its way into television history with violent bursts of static. It wasn't. The renewal was a surprise. The story was not over. Millennium had more to tell.