Millennium is the most frustrating show in my list of great horror TV. It had great promise and it was a great failure.
A terrific set up, good writers, very good actors and it just fell apart under creative changes, low ratings, and some bad writing.
The show, for those that don’t remember it, was about ex-FBI agent Frank Black (played by the extremely awesome-looking Lance Henriksen) who is working with a crime consulting organization called the Millennium Group. Along with being a trained profiler, Black also possesses a unique gift: the ability to see into the minds of the people he’s profiling.
Good enough set up, right? It got even better when it became a show not only about serial killers, but also about the apocalypse, conspiracies, the supernatural and more.
The first few episodes of the series made it clear that Millennium was going to be different than anything else: it showed us, perhaps for the first time on TV, what the world looks like to the insane, to the psychopath, the millennial nutcase. It was amazing. In the first episode, seeing the world burn down around a stripper as the Frenchman quotes William Blake was revelatory and riveting. In a later episode that vision was renewed: a man in the park watches decaying, ancient children playing and then we flash to reality where the children are normal.
The first season, heavy on serial killers and psychological crime, is good. The second, which delved into millennial mythology, was possibly better. The problem the show suffered from, though, is an uncommon one on TV: underwriting. Stories just didn’t always make their subtexts, their inferences, as clear as they should have been.
Along with being underwritten, the show also failed in not letting its protagonists be active enough. Though there were a lot of whispered warnings, car driving, and intense eyes for Frank Black, he was often caught up in events as much as he was controlling or confronting them. While of course this is a reasonable depiction of a single man, ignorant of the truth, being introduced to a centuries old struggle of which he is only a tiny part, not allowing the main character enough chances to really be involved in his world tends to leave an audience feeling unfulfilled, teased and rarely satisfied.
Despite this, the show was really exciting in moments -? the psychology, the subtle, quiet and very deep scares. And best of all, how many shows about an apocalypse actually give you an apocalypse? None, pretty much. Millennium did, when in season 2 a hyper-ebola broke out in the Pacific Northwest and liquefied bodies in a hellish, thrilling pair of episodes.
Unfortunately, season 2 creators, Glen Morgan and James Wong, were only contracted for one year and didn’t return for season 3 (a Making of Season 2 documentary seems to indicate that most everyone involved with the show was happy to see them go) and the creators who picked up in season 3 largely ignored what were clearly supposed to be world-changing repercussions from the outbreak (in season 3, it’s said that the plague killed about 80 people, instead of the thousands or millions who should have died under the Morgan and Wong set up).
Maybe the show would have regained its early momentum if it had had the chance to continue. Instead, it was cancelled at the end of season 3. And not without good reason: Season 3 was lifeless and badly written (until the last few episodes, which were really good), and lost much of the character and mythology tension that seasons 1 and 2 had.
But those first two seasons are compelling, interesting dark TV fiction.