Friday, March 30, 2012
Skull & Bones: The Parapolitics of Ten Thirteen's Millennium, Part 4
Millennium went down, but it went down swinging for the fences. Carter later revealed the series’ fate was sealed when the always stretched-to-the-bone Ten Thirteen Productions took on sci-fi actioner Harsh Realm as its next project, a show which was quickly killed in its crib by new Fox programming chief Doug Herzog, who was no fan of The X-Files and went out of his way to alienate Carter--his network's top moneymaker-- during his brief and disastrous reign as network chief.
As many Millennium fans know, Frank Black was brought back to television on The X-Files episode named ‘Millennium’, somewhat of an anticlimactic coda to the highs and lows of the three seasons of the series itself. As written by XF head writers Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan, 'Millennium' had members of the Group (the Rooster faction, of course) committing suicide in order to be resurrected as zombies at the stroke of midnight, 2000.
While Henriksen was in top form and worked well with Duchovny and Anderson, the story didn’t seem to make Millennium fans happy, nor Henriksen himself. Long-suffering X-Files fans loved it, though, since it featured Mulder and Scully's first onscreen lip-to-lip kiss.
I’d offer that the X-Files episode that brought the Millennium story full circle, even though Frank Black himself doesn’t appear in the episode, was ‘Orison’. Written by Chip Johannesen, ‘Orison’ is a sequel to the episode that inspired Millennium in the first place, ‘Irresistible’. That thriller introduced Donnie Pfaster, an “escalating death fetishist” (the network nixed the term “necrophiliac”) who likes to bathe and groom his victims and then keep their body parts as trophies. Pfaster becomes fixated on Scully and kidnaps her, planning to murder her as well.
In ‘Orison’, Pfaster is freed from prison by a psychic preacher who is a serial killer of a kind himself, freeing notorious prisoners only so he can pass final judgment on them. Pfaster outwits Orison and goes after Scully once again, only this time Scully turns the tables and puts Pfaster’s lights out forever in one of the most chilling and dramatic sequences in the X-Files’ long history.
Again, no Frank Black, but quite a bit of the flavor and ambiance of Millennium.
Indeed, The X-Files would grow increasingly “Millenniumistic” in its final season when Duchovny left and Anderson played a lesser role. New agent John Doggett (played by Henriksen’s close friend Robert Patrick) made for a suitable gruff Frank Black analog and new partner Monica Reyes often found herself in a Lara Means-lite role in several episodes infused with a Millennium vibe such as ‘Daemonicus’, ‘Hellbound’, ‘Underneath’ and ‘Release’ (all very Millennium-sounding titles, don’t you think?).
In fact, many X-Files fans complained that the second X-Files film (I Want to Believe), was more of a Millennium movie, with the older and more weathered David Duchovny fitting snugly into the Frank Black role (right down to his wardrobe) and Scully doing the same as the new Catherine. (Even with all the trashing of Believe*, it seems like there's been at least five or twelve Fringe episodes rewriting the plot to the film, only without the thorny sexual politics).
Believe had the same body-parts crime plot (reminiscent of ‘Dead Letters’, among others) and the same religiously-themed debates for seasoning. But it just goes to show how closely linked the two shows were (in more ways than their respective fanbases would want to admit) with Frank Black very much of an older, wiser and world-weary Fox Mulder to begin with. And it was the under-appreciated Season Three of Millennium that provided the vital connective tissue between the two.
There's been no shortage of TV shows retracing the path first set by Ten Thirteen Productions, but none have dared to ask the questions that The X-Files or Millennium did. Blatant X-Files clones like Fringe and (God help us all) Warehouse 13 are as subversive as Super Friends, in that the bad guys (not the truth) are always out there. Power never corrupts, the enemy is never within.
This might be more comforting for the kind of people who will throw an absolute hissy fit if you question the countless absurdities in the Warren Commission report or suggest that FDR had advance warning of the Pearl Harbor attack, but at the same time the safety and comfort these shows offer in place of the danger and paranoia of Ten Thirteen shows prevents them from ever resonating with people's real fears.
Doing so didn't create the militias of superstitious paranoiacs the skeptics feared; it had a kind of homeopathic effect, allowing these fears to be manifested, analyzed and understood.
But we may have already seen the Golden Age of Television, maybe even the gold-plated zinc age as well. Hour-long dramas are expensive to produce, and though tech-savvy geeks love to brag about watching their favorite shows via torrents or some other kind of convenience, advertisers are not stupid.
They realize that people aren't watching the ads that pay for all of these expensive shows anymore. So these shows are all disappearing, replaced by one dismal "reality" show after another. Maybe those reality shows will eventually all be replaced by infomercials. Or test patterns.
There's an apocalypse of our making, if ever I saw one.
*Read these brilliant and insightful reviews (here and here and here) of I Want to Believe. Ironically, many of the exact same people who trashed IWTB then adopted Scott Pilgrim as their favoritest movie ever, which cost a whopping $55M more to make and earned $20m less at the box office. IWTB had a successful run as a rental as well. The Internet allows extremely small but vocal minorities to distort everything.
Which is not to say the knives weren't out for IWTB long before anyone saw a frame of it, as a simple Internet search will quickly prove. Some recent revelations about certain practices among certain powerful players in Hollywood might certainly explain why Carter was so paranoid about keeping the plot of this particular film so tightly under wraps-- and might explain the obvious preemptive campaign against it-- but that's a topic for another post...
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