Directed by Roderick J. Pridy
Although there have still been episodes with elements that deal with real crime in season two of Millennium, The Mikado, which marks the debut on the show of writer Michael R Perry, is in many ways the first episode of season two that has nothing to do with the metaphysical, the inner working and mythology of the Millennium group and instead relies wholeheartedly on a crime procedural. You could argue Goodbye Charlie, but even that episode ended on a note that suggested that its villain might not have been of this world. Nope, what we have with The Mikado is a crisp, clear, serial killer thriller and let me tell you something, it is brilliant.
What is so wonderful about this is that it does something all great horror is capable of and it takes an element of the world that we take for granted and turns it into something truly scary. While The Mikado is a horror tale about the Internet and as we all know the Internet can be a tool for bad as well as good, it takes the bad, frightening elements of it and turns into a thing of true terror in many, many ways. Like 2Shy from season three of The X Files it takes something that was relatively new at the time technologically, in this case the use of web cams, and makes them capable of a full on horror that is in fact all too common. Violent and disturbing crimes are fully capable of being uploaded onto Internet servers and it's almost become a fact of life in 2012, although in 1998 when this was first broadcast, it felt like a novelty scare.
Of course the key to this episode a little is the year of broadcast. Everything about The Mikado screams out 1998. The computers, the technology, the manner in which the video link on serial killer Avatar's website updates every couple of seconds as opposed to being a continuous feed. It could damage the episode, but seemingly knowing that this might be the case, Perry's script and Pridy's direction compensates for any dating issues by making it such a watertight, brilliant tale.
It doesn't allow itself to be bogged down by the ongoing mythology of the show either, in fact one almost gets the impression Perry has written the script to The Mikado with a season one mindset but has ended up updating it to include certain aspects of season two. It gives Rodecker his largest role to date, and he makes for a wonderful companion to Frank and Peter and even though we get a new discovery about the group, their top of the line office with access to the latest computer hardware (which conveniently all comes in handy for this case), it still fits with season one a little. There are no new mysterious revelations of the group, instead Frank, Peter and Roedecker are solving a clear cut serial killer case and the simplicity of the narrative makes for a great television.
Best of all, there is a real sense of scale to the story and yet it mainly takes place in one location for the majority of the episode. There is a real chill to Peter Watts' declaration to Frank in their opening scene together that there is no one to claim jurisdiction to the crime since nobody knows where Avatar is or where he killed his first victim online. It almost suggests that the following forty minutes are going to sprawl across the entire United States and yet the episode takes place in the one office of the Millennium group and basically entails Frank, Peter and Roedecker against the clock and quite possibly the most formidable foe the show had ever devised.
Ah yes, Avatar, originally set to be Zodiac, the serial killer from the 70s that terrified San Francisco, Perry's script originally was set to be involve a real world serial killer mixing in with the fictional world of Frank Black but was baulked at by Fox executives who were uncomfortable with such a mixing of reality and fiction, but in the end, even though its clear that only the name has been changed since it builds up to a San Francisco set climax, Avatar is a remarkable creation. We never see his face, he is clothed in black garments throughout, and yet his ability to adapt to technological changes, being mysterious and pose a credible threat makes him more of a frightening character than many of the other serial killers who have popped up on the show.
Not only has he made technology his own way of protecting himself, he has made Frank and his ability useless, Frank's gift is restricted by the means at his disposal and even he himself says he can only function when at the scene of the crime himself physically. Even Rodecker is stumped, his expert ability to track Avatar proves to be a dead end and for the first time this season the character doesn't just come across as Frank Black's equivalent of the Lone Gunmen, but a real flesh and blood character who is very confused when his own ability to manipulate and work technology is fired back in his face. This is without doubt Allan Zinyk's best performance of the show which makes it a real shame this is the last episode we'll see him in.
Everything flows brilliantly in this one though, it's tight, epically intense and suspenseful, claustrophobic, engaging and powerfully thrilling. You may scoff at the computers and 1990s technology on display, but as a thriller this is Millennium at its very best and is a definite contender for being one of the show's best ever episodes. Truly brilliant.