Written by Chris Carter
Directed by David Nutter
It was perhaps inevitable, but given the success of The X Files, it was understandable that Fox would want another series from Chris Carter. The question was, what would Chris give us for a second series? Would it be a spin-off of The X Files, would it be another supernatural/sci-fi series or something entirely different? What he gave us could be classified as a sister series to his original success, even if it wasn't a straight up spin-off, but whilst this was a series that was firmly rooted within the horror genre with a slight supernatural bent, make no mistakes, right from the off Millennium is not The X Files.
From the opening scene this sets itself up as a different type of series. Sure it has a similar visual style to the adventures of Mulder and Scully, albeit with a more washed out look, has been filmed in Vancouver, is directed with feature film-esque production values by David Nutter and features a score courtesy of Mark Snow, but the superficial similarities end there. It's hard to imagine an X File ever opening up with a stripper dancing in a room of blood, or showing the audience scenes of murder filmed in tight POV shots, edited to precision, or anything as terrifying as the discovery of a man, buried alive, his mouth and eyelids sown shut. If The X Files shows us a dark, but fantastic sense of the horror genre, Millennium goes a more a realistic route, one that is genuinely terrifying and disturbing. Chris Carter makes no apologies for it.
I suppose this all started with Irresistible, the critically acclaimed, fan favourite, masterpiece from season two, an X File that dealt with a real world serial killer, but one with the smallest hint of the supernatural. The possible supernatural element to that made it that little bit more durable, that Donnie Pfaster could fit into The X Files world, despite the highly disturbing and sickening qualities of the crimes he was committing. The pilot of Millennium doesn't even afford the audience the supernatural as an out from the unrelenting horror it presents. The Frenchman is a real world serial killer, he is flesh and blood and all too real. There is nothing fantastic or paranormal about what happens here and that's what makes this as frightening as it is.
There was always a sense of wonder to The X Files, that no matter how dark it became, it was about the supernatural and maybe because it was viewed through the eyes of two relatively young protagonists, it felt spirited and escapist. Millennium presents a different dynamic and outlook to its world right from the off. The two lead characters are happily married, they have a young daughter, live in a bright yellow house and are very happy and contented. The husband, Frank Black, is the investigator, the wife, Catherine, raises their daughter whilst also working as a social worker. The supporting cast is made up of jaded police officers who work for the Seattle Police Department, such as Bob Bletcher (Bill Smitrovich) and Detective Giebelhouse (Stephen James Lang) and the strong headed professionals of the Millennium group, who simply knuckle down and investigate the crimes with a level head. These are family men and women of a mature age who have seen horrors and crimes that very rarely ever met the eyes of Mulder and Scully and are predominantly represented by Peter Watts (a fantastic Terry O'Quinn).
Everything about this Pilot is perfect. Make no mistakes about it, the Pilot of Millennium is one of the most ferociously and brilliant openers to a television series to have been produced, brimming with confidence and perfection. By 1996, with one hit television series to his name and free reign from Fox to do what he wanted here, the Millennium pilot is a television writer and his production company at the top of their game. Chris' script is one of his best, Nutter's direction recalls the best work of such directors as Jonathan Demme and David Fincher (the teaser with its scenes of strippers dancing to Rob Zombie music feels like it could have walked out of Seven or Fight Club) and despite only lasting forty five minutes, it feels more complete and cinematic than most feature films, so much so I'm actually surprised Fox didn't allow Carter to go all the way with a 90 minute pilot.
The casting is beyond perfect also. Lance Henriksen is Frank Black. Instantly you know this isn't going to be an actor that has to grow into his role over time, he has it nailed immediately, the demeanor, the way he holds himself, the manner he delivers his lines, the stead fast professionalism at crime scenes, the way in which he explains what he has to and doesn't worry what everyone else thinks, through to the loving family man in the yellow house, his disconnectedness from the violence he investigates to the way he cares so much for his wife and daughter makes for a stunning portrayal. There was a lot of criticism of the way in which Megan Gallagher was misused on the show, but rewatching the series lately I've come to think that the show actually utilises the character very well. Her support for her husband throughout the season, despite his having to be constantly on the road investigating murders, made Catherine a different type of 'wife to the hero' character you usually see on television, so much so that it was a major disappointment when Glen Morgan and James Wong turned her into a more jaded, bitter character when they took over in season two (let's not get ahead of ourselves though).
Millennium has infiltrated many other television shows over time. Stephen Mark's editing, especially the manner in which he edits Frank's 'visions', has become a staple of many crime shows over the years, especially CSI, and even the crime/forensic format of the show was ahead of its time, not to mention the casting of Lance Henriksen. Primarily a movie actor, with such brilliant pieces of work as The Terminator, Aliens and Near Dark to his name, it was almost a very unusual practice in 1996 to cast a movie actor as the lead in a television series. Cut to today and we've become used to seeing Kiefer Sutherland, Rob Lowe, Charlie Sheen and Gary Sinise as the leads on our television screens, but back then it was something of a novelty.
Anybody watching Millennium based on their love of The X Files will be shocked at what they see here. Make no mistakes, Chris Carter was not trying to do another X Files with Millennium, this was a different vision, a different type of horror, and whilst ratings for the Pilot were extremely impressive, it was a trend that was not to continue unfortunately, which is shame, but it doesn't negate the fact that this is an impressive and brilliant slice of television and one so unlike anything else on the air at the time.