The Fourth Horseman
Written by Glen Morgan & James Wong
Directed by Dwight Little
The Time Is Now
Written by Glen Morgan & James Wong
Directed by Thomas J. Wright
It begins with a ghostly wind. The sounds of galloping horses can be heard. A biblical quotation appears which is read to the audience by Peter Watts. The sound fades away and is replaced by silence. We are then at a picturesque farm, the sun is shining. A toaster clicks. Coffee is poured, and an egg is cracked open. The farmer who owns this ideal setting subsequently finds his chickens dead in a pool of blood and then he too begins to hemorrhage before dying.
I was fourteen when I first watched these two episodes and they were so unlike anything I had ever seen on television at the time. Faced with the strong possibility that Millennium was about to be cancelled, Morgan and Wong go all out with these final two episodes. There was nothing to lose. For their final two episodes, Morgan and Wong go all out. The world is ending, a virus is loose on the world, characters will die, others will be left to a more uncertain fate and someone will make the ultimate sacrifice come the end credits.
From its opening moments to its stunning conclusion, there has never been a piece of television like The Fourth Horseman or The Time Is Now. The X Files was truly brilliant, but it never faced head on the threat of cancellation as Millennium did and when faced with this threat, Millennium delivers as stunning a piece of television as you can imagine. Believing that there was no future for the series, Morgan and Wong go all out with these final two hours delivering something beautiful, horrible, disturbing and downbeat all in one go. With seemingly nowhere left for the show to go, Millennium embraces the end that its characters have seemingly been fighting to avoid. The group is finally shown to be the big bad of the show, beyond the middle line that they've seemingly been shown to be standing on, Frank Black has effectively been working for the villains the entire time. Peter Watts has to make the decision of what line to stand on and possibly pays the ultimate price for his eventual allegiance, Lara Means succumbs to her failing mental state, the Blacks return to the yellow house only to realise you can never truly go home and the world ends, not with a bang, but in a more disturbing and realistic manner, the whole show culminating with the most grim and depressing final image imaginable.
It never happened with The X Files because it always had great ratings to keep it on the air for most of its nine years on the run, but imagine, if you will, Mulder and Scully losing to The Syndicate, colonisation happening and the world in ruins. Morgan and Wong strive to end Millennium with its own equivalent of that. There is a real apocalyptic feel running throughout, a real palpable sense that the end is approaching. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the death of an all American family in the second act. The banality of their conversations and life gives way to an all to disturbing death for them all, although given how much blood flows through the screen it almost has a streak of black humour running through it.
There is the danger that like some of the earlier episodes of the season that this two part finale could become all too X Files-esque, what with the lab scenes, involvement of the CDC and extras in bio hazard suits, but it remains, miraculously, very much Millennium. The showing of Peter Watts' origin tale, the one he described himself in the premiere is wonderfully presented in the episode's opening moments. The discovery of the child, his initiation into the group via The Old Man, it's extremely satisfying to see these moments shown in full. Then there is the mental disintegration of Lara Means.
Set to Patti Smith's Land:Horses, the entire third act of the episode is a true television marvel of editing, photography, direction and writing. No dialogue and carried intensely by Kristen Cloke, Robert McLachlan's photography and James Coblentz' editing, it is so unlike anything ever broadcast on network television. It feels like something that one would get from a cable television series, not one from a side of the medium more interested in commericalism and ratings. It satisfyingly adds to the anything goes nature of the episodes and there is a real feeling that the world is going to hell and we're seeing it all through Lara's eyes.
It remains at its heart the story of Frank, the Black family, and their eventual place in the world, from the death of Frank's father in the episode's first act, to his admittance that he feels so alone, to the three of them, Frank, Catherine and Jordan, being the only three people seemingly still alive in the world as it tears apart around them, it is very much the culmination of Frank's journey as investigator, husband and father. Henriksen is wonderful throughout, his dismay at his father's death is wonderfully played, the grave yard scene being one of his very best on the show as Jordan gives him back the angel from Midnight in the Century. It is touching and tender. It all leads to the final moments when, shockingly, it is not Frank who ends up making the ultimate sacrifice for his family, but Catherine. Frank, who has been the one to go out in the world to fight the 'bad man' and the monsters, the one who made the 'sacrifice' in The Beginning and The End at the start of the season is not the one who gives his life for his family. It's Catherine. Okay, so faced with the end, Morgan and Wong have seemingly decided that with no show to continue they can kill off one of the Black family, and yet it is the most logical decision. Frank has been immunised against his will and in the end it's Catherine who must say good bye to her family one last time before heading out into the woods to die.
With an almost fairy tale motif running throughout some of the earlier episodes, to end with the Black family in a cabin in the woods, one of the few left alive in the world, brings Millennium to a powerful end, and finishes the last ninety minutes of Millennium in stunning fashion. Having walked out into the darkened woods to find his wife, the episode, and the show, ends with Frank in the cabin with Jordan. She is oblivious to what has happened. Frank's hair has turned white, and he is seemingly in a catatonic state. A burst of static appears. Followed by another, and another and another. Zagar and Evan's In The Year 2525 plays out over the executive producer credits and the show ends.
As stunning as all this is, as final as it feels, this was not to be the end. Shockingly, Fox renewed the show, a third season was commissioned and Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz and Chip Johannessen were left to pick up the pieces. Morgan and Wong, frustrated at how Fox treated this as well as their previous works Space:Above and Beyond as well as the never commissioned The Notorious, chose not to come back. The world may have ended at their hands, but it was up to the three other key talents of the show to bring it back from the brink.
Despite the events of this episode having to be dealt with, and let's face it, any resolution to these events was going to feel like a cop out, you cannot deny how brilliant these two hours of television are. Not since Dale Cooper took a trip to the woods of Twin Peaks at the end of that show's second season had television been pushed to limits like this. Narratively, stylistically, artistically, this is the type of television you tell people about but get laughed at because it would seem unbelievable that television could ever do something like this. The envelope is truly pushed, two geniuses have seemingly decided to meet their show's cancellation head on, even though in the end such a thing would never happen, but one mustn't complain too much, because The Time Is Now exists. It's a genuine televisual masterpiece, two glorious hours of two writers, a television show and it's cast and crew at the top of their game. Best episodes ever.