A recent episode of Millennium begins with a religious quote from Job 3:25,26 in the Bible: ‚For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me. And what I dreaded has happened to me, I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes.’
It is the reality of the world today that a series like Millennium, as much as the various religious prophecies it mines, need not prefigure: trouble isn’t necessarily coming, it is already here.
Created by Chris Carter, executive producer and creator of the Fox Network’s other paranoiac cult phenomenon, The X-Files, Millennium concerns itself with age-old struggles of good and evil played out in the timeless scenario of violent confrontation. Lance Henrikson stars as the series’ central protagonist, Frank Black, an ex-FBI agent assigned to the tracking and profiling of serial killers. Black has a unique ability to enter into the minds of the killers and actually ‚seeing’ what they saw as they committed their gruesome acts. This insight is presented not only in vividly horrifying sequences of violence that flash in Black’s mind as he surveys a crime scene, but also as revealed understanding into the motivations of the murderers. He states in the pilot episode that this percipience is his ‚gift as well as his curse,’ but whether these enigmatic visions are some psychic gift or just an example of incredible psychological profiling is never made explicitly clear. They do, however, serve a revelatory function in providing evidence needed by Frank to resolve the various crimes.
One important theme that underlines much of the mayhem on Millennium is the violence that threatens the apparent safety of the domestic sphere. The arenas of domesticity and family are inextricably linked in the series and in Frank’s case, the dangers that face his wife Catherine (Megan Gallagher) and daughter Jordan (Brittany Tiplady) become the most relevant and terrifying for him. Moreover, while the vulnerability of his family is cause for anxiety, it is also these fears that provide the crucial impetus to continue with his work. Ultimately, Frank’s fear of home invasion mirrors the popular and collective fears of communities from the suburbs to the nation as a whole, and it is here where Millennium hits home, so to speak: The quasi-religious trappings that the series wraps itself in may be a very tangible expression of the unspoken and ambiguous fears of a paranoid millennialism. And they also speak to an underlying fear that danger and destruction do in fact lurk just outside our doors.
With its dark and cautionary tales of serial murder, Millennium forewarns not of the apocalyptic vengeance to be faced at the turn of the century but of the manifest evil that confronts us now. The represented transgressions invoke the awkward relationships between the social function of television and the precarious nature of our presumed sense of security. In this respect, the series is the contemporary equivalent of prevalent bogeyman stories where eternally significant meanings of destructive millennial forces become the substance of cultural mythologies. These myths are then used throughout a community’s history to explain the threatening physical and social landscapes. Where shows like The X-Files have channeled this popular anxiety into a warning about the manifestation of ambiguous dangers and subconscious fears, Millennium confronts the very human reality of predatory violence committed against innocents.
Considering the recent debates that have raged around the issue of TV violence and the subsequent ratings controversy that has followed, Millennium is indeed a series where the issue of violence entering the domestic sphere of televisual experience is profound. The show is incredibly violent, and this graphic violence as it is perpetrated by various serial killers is, in fact, very frightening. Yet where critics have cited this depiction of threatening violence as somehow engendering a false sense of fear among viewers and society at large, Millennium seems to position itself in a far more articulate and nuanced vision of social engagement. In its metaphorical appeal to our fears of the coming millennium, the series speaks less to the attendant religious mythology and symbolism that it exploits than to the frightening reality of our apocalyptic present — a present where we increasingly face real threats to home, family, and self in very personal ways.
Tim Halloran is an MA Critical Studies student in the UCLA Department of Film and Television.
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