X-Files Flashback: ‘Millennium’

Season 7, Episode 4
Director: Thomas J. Wright
Writer: Vince Gilligan, Frank Spotnitz

The X-Files‘ “Millennium” is something of a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone episode. Unable to develop a satisfactory crossover project between his two Fox series before Millennium was suddenly cancelled, Chris Carter wanted to tie up its loose ends by pairing Mulder and Scully with Millennium‘s Frank Black (Aliens‘s Lance Henriksen). Trouble is, no one could figure out a really great way to do it. Separately, there was a separately bubbling project between Stephen King, George Romero, and a Night of the Living Dead-influenced X-Files episode. So, somehow in the writer’s room, the two became one, and the Frankenstein’s monster of an episode “Millennium” was born. While the episode has its merits, the two intentions clearly do not mesh, resulting in a schizophrenic outing.

Having not watched Millennium (the series), I didn’t really feel that I’d missed anything critical. I’m sure there are Easter eggs scattered throughout the episode which rewarded those who had, but I certainly did not catch them. The central storyline revolves around a necromancer, the deeply religious Mark Johnson (Holmes Osborne), who had been conned by the Millennium Group to revive four FBI agents who all committed suicide. They believed they could bring about the end of the world at the start of the new millennium using four zombies, effectively the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Mulder and Scully seek the advice of the voluntarily committed Frank Black since the missing FBI agents all had ties to the Millennium Group in which Black specialized. Their investigation leads them to Johnson’s secured property where Mulder encounters the four zombies and shoots one of them in the head, effectively ending the experiment very early in the episode. Black and Scully arrive later to finish off the rest, and New Year’s Eve happens without a hitch. Mulder and Scully share a much-anticipated kiss to celebrate.

The best parts of the episode all revolve around the mechanics and terror around the zombie scenes. Watching Johnson go through his revival process is fascinating, and the subsequent zombie attacks are more intense than your typical Walking Dead attacks. The problem with the zombies, though, is that they’re really just zombies in the end, something you can easily deal with by destroying their brain. The episode completely lacks the sense of foreboding danger necessary for a plot designed to bring about the end of the world. There aren’t any really strong villains either. Johnson is being duped, as Black tells us, so he isn’t really an effective foe. And whomever he’s working with failed to give him any sort of support or protection, so… It’s not entirely shocking the plan failed miserably.

Then, there’s the question of wrapping up Millennium and saying goodbye to Frank Black. Sad thing is, “Millennium” literally gives Henriksen nothing to do. He sits in a psych ward watching football. He gives advice to Mulder and Scully, and then he lets himself out to stop the pending apocalypse. That’s really it. There’s a small subplot about his estranged daughter, but it only provides mere seconds of screen time. It is reported that Henriksen was disappointed with the script and its heavy focus on zombies. It’s not hard to see why. Frank Black is effectively a cardboard character here in The X-Files, and my suspicion is that he was anything but that in Millennium. Given that, this is a sad send-off for the character.

And then there’s the kiss. The kiss that many viewers were clamoring for since Day One of the series. It’s also the kiss that, once it happened, many viewers felt signified the beginning of the end, which isn’t really surprising. Once the sexual tension is cut, the drive goes out of a lot of series. That’s the biggest problem with having unfulfilled romantic chemistry between your two leads – eventually, you’re forced to give into it, and it leaves you few options in the end. For me, the kiss felt oddly placed in the episode. Sure, it was New Year’s Eve, and it technically fits. But after the incident a few episodes ago where Scully kissed Mulder’s forehead instead of his lips (to his chagrin), there needed to be some build-up, some increased sense of romantic tension. Anyway, it’s just a kiss. Right?

In the end, “Millennium” is one of those well-intended episodes where the expectations put upon it nearly crush it. There are only so many plot points that can be put upon a 45-minute episode of television, and, given the ground they wished to cover here, they clearly bit off more than was advisable. Still, even the worst episodes of The X-Files are at least entertainments, and “Millennium” delivers that in spades. Frank Black and Millennium probably deserved a better send off than what was afforded them here.

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