Number 9: Millenium
‘Millennium’ charts the story of a freelance criminal profiler called Frank Black. Recruited by the mysterious Millennium Group, Black travels North America assisting local law enforcement, the FBI, and the group itself as they investigate serial killers, occultists and crimes with a supernatural bent. Other features such as his daughter’s psychic powers, signs of an imminent demonic apocalypse and the increasingly sinister agenda of the Millennium Group were introduced over the course of three series.
In the Nineties Chris Carter was television’s hottest property; coming off the runaway success of ‘The X Files’ he was approached by Fox to create a new series. Intending a more Gothic, horror-themed show than his sci-fi heavy hit, Carter ultimately conceived ‘Millennium’. Given an unheard of full month to make the pilot on a huge budget of over a million dollars, the episode ultimately set the tone for the first series of the show; an investigation into a serial killer committing the grisliest of crimes.
To populate his dark world, Carter created an equally dark hero in the form of retired FBI profiler Frank Black, homage to The Pixies Black Francis. Though Fox initially wanted a different lead, Carter persisted and, after much persuasion, finally got his man in the form of genre legend Lance Henriksen. The casting was a stroke of genius; despite being an excellent actor and a familiar face with which to market the show, he physically embodied the world-weary, hangdog nature of the character. He also introduced Frank’s special gift – an ability to think like the killers themselves – and, whilst Frank himself declares himself not to be psychic, there is much evidence to the contrary over the course of the show. Carter also sought to create a purpose for Black beyond the investigations themselves; fearing that the show may be too bleak without some point of reference for viewers, he gave him a family. He recruited Megan Gallagher as Catherine Black, Frank’s wife, and emotional anchor for the character; in many episodes she is the moral centre of his world, helping him adjust his mental filter back to the living from the dead. Rounding out the Black family is Jordan, their young daughter played by Brittany Tiplady, who despite being initially conceived as a way of humanising Black became one of the show’s key mechanics in later seasons. Carter already had the idea of the extended involvement of the Millennium Group as the show developed; he had great success with the shadier parts of ‘The X Files’ mythology, secret cabals and committees working to sinister ends behind the scenes, by giving audiences a single face to latch on to in the form of William B Davis’ ‘Smoking Man’. Aiming to repeat the same trick with his new show, Carter hired renowned character actor Terry O’Quinn as Peter Watts, the public liaison for the Group.
The series premiered to both critical and commercial success. Most of the praise centred on the show’s more adult approach to its subject matter, its dark themes, and a great performance by Henriksen in the lead role. Transplanting the format of ‘The X Files’ the season followed the contemporary trend towards monster of the week episodes, with Black investigating everything from immoral cloners and religious zealots to vengeful bombers and devil worshippers. The season was linked by the overarching mythology of the Millennium Group and audiences speculated widely about whether the group was a benevolent as they seemed. Despite huge numbers for the opening episodes, audiences left in droves very quickly thereafter but Fox moved to renew the show quickly on the back of its critical success.
Due to commitments on his other show, Carter departed the project leaving Glen Morgan and James Wong as showrunners and they took ‘Millennium’ in an even darker direction by separating Black from his family and refocussing the show on the Millennium Group itself. After ratings dropped even further during the early episodes of the season, Morgan and Wong believed that the show would be cancelled at the end of its run and wrote episodes intended to wrap up the show in a satisfying way. This led to a season that was extremely variable in terms of quality, with a large number of weak instalments over its course – the very derivative Native American stylings of ‘A Single Blade of Grass’ (Episode 5) and the female-centric ‘Anamnesis’ (Episode 19) being especially lacklustre. Conversely, a number of the show’s strongest episodes also appeared in Season 2 with simple shocker ‘The Curse of Frank Black’ (Episode 6) and the two-part series finale ‘The Fourth Horseman’ / ‘The Time Is Now’ being particular high points.
Despite ratings dipping even further over the course of the Season 2, Fox surprised everyone by renewing ‘Millennium’ for a third run. This saw the departure of Morgan and Wong as showrunners and the introduction of Chip Johannessen and Michael Duggan who took the series in yet another differing direction; aiming to more closely emulate the more successful original season, Black was drafted back to the FBI and given a sceptical new partner in the form of Klea Scott’s Emma Hollis. This dynamic, hackneyed though it may be, was entertaining viewing; the introduction of a new foil for Henriksen’s morbid blackness prevented him from falling into parody. Further seeking to simplify the now convoluted mythology of the show, the decision was made to finally pit Black directly against O’Quinn’s Watts – a showdown that fans has predicted way back in Season 1 – and the show was given a full seven-episode thread to round it out. As with previous seasons, ratings fell yet again and Fox finally cancelled the show.
The fact that ‘Millennium’ was cancelled after three seasons, as is usually the case in these situation, meant that many story threads were left hanging despite the best efforts of cast and crew. However, through its connections to Chris Carter, the show was given a unique opportunity via a crossover episode in Season 7 of ‘The X Files’ simply titled ‘Millennium’ to conclude its story. In it, fans were left with a conclusion of sorts to the tale of Frank Black; the episode was not well received however, with many disappointed at the lack of definitive closure. Despite this, there has been a lengthy campaign on the part of the show’s dedicated fanbase via the ‘Back To Frank Black’ campaign to bring the franchise back from the dead. This led to a book of the same name being published, with sections written by all of the major cast and crew. Over the years Carter and Henriksen have both expressed a desire to return to the show for more episodes, or for a feature film, but Fox have shown little interest and now, with its star Henriksen well into his seventies, it seems fans may well have seen the last of Frank Black.
As a horror fan, there is much to love about ‘Millennium’. Whilst not overly violent or bloody – mainly due to censorship at the time – the themes it deals with are satisfyingly bleak and portentous. In many ways, despite criticism of its derivative nature at the time, with hindsight it is a show ahead of its time. Unlike many genre shows, it almost entirely eschews comedic elements in favour of thick, apocalyptic atmosphere and, though later seasons were more mixed, the original series stands comparison with the very best of genre programming. The fact that its central performance was consistently excellent, the interesting dynamics that are introduced season by season, and the sheer commitment to making a horror-focussed show means that it beats its more well-known sibling to a place on this list. A loyal fanbase is determined to bring back Frank Black for a last hurrah; whether or not they are successful, ‘Millennium’ is a dark and entertaining show to which genre fans should definitely give space.