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MILLENIUM - Missing the Point by Brendan O'Regan

Millenium is a TV drama created by Chris Carter of X-Files fame, and like the X-Files it is a show that can both intrigue and infuriate. As the title suggests the end of the millenium is its main focus. Every time the hero Frank Black, played by a subdued Lance Henriksen, turns on his computer he is reminded of the number of days remaining, the struggle between good and evil is becoming more intense as the countdown proceeds. The Millenium Group which has recruited Frank is a shadowy organisation, hundreds of years old, set up to combat the forces of evil incarnate who are getting particularly hyperactive. The show is liberally sprinkled with Biblical quotations and allusions though religion figures less frequently than one might expect. However one of the main faults of the show (in common with much of the secular preparations for the millenium celebrations) is that the reason for there being a millenium at all, is largely ignored! It makes you want to cry out to the programme makers: two thousand years since WHAT??
Even if the coming of Christ was referred to more often the whole millenium angle raises other questions. Why are the forces of evil getting so uptight at this stage? Do they know something we don't about the end of the world? Are we to believe that God is a Maths fan or a neatness buff, choosing to end the world exactly two thousand years after his first coming?
If so, will it end on Dec 31st 1999, or Dec 31st 2000, the actual end of the 2,000 years by our calendar, or 2,000 years exactly after Jesus' actual birth day or conception day, neither of which we know for sure. And anyway our calendar is known to be out a few years. Truly we know not the day or the hour. To further complicate matters, a second series episode, Owls, lets us know that there is a wing within the Millenium Group who are waiting for a secular millenium over six decades away! Thankfully the main characters are more in the religious camp, but they fear that if they don't get a theological sign soon, the secularists will win the day.
One of the most striking features of the show is that it takes evil very very seriously - there's no fashionable liberal Utopianism here! The mood is very dark and disturbing, and it comes at us from all angles: the music, the lighting, the themes, the characters. The series started with a string of serial killers, and the only possibly paranormal elements were the intuitive flashes of the horrible circumstances of murders that came as gift or curse to Frank Black. Then towards the end of the first series we were shocked by demons and evil spirits - all the more unnerving because unexpected. Thus the evil that was always there became, or was revealed as, demonic.
The evil was always treated seriously, and seen for what it was, and it was opposed to friendship, family, good relationships. Frank's improbably yellow house stood as a symbolic bulwark of genuiness and innocence, but under constant menace. And herein lies a major problem with the show from the point of view of a Christian. In Millenium the ultimate outcome of the cosmic battle between good and evil is never sure. Significantly, as hinted at earlier, the struggle against evil is largely carried on without Christ, though there is one episode where a large part of the crucifiction cross is unearthed so that its mystical powers can be used in the fight against evil. It reminds one of what the film Raiders of the lost Ark did with the Ark of the Covenant. Using the cross instead of the Saviour who died on it is another blatant example of missing the point.
Considering the theme one would imagine that religion would figure more centrally, but the Millenium Group are lay people of no specific religious faith with some questionable methods and attitudes of their own. There was a priest in one episode but he was burnt at the stake in the first five minutes by a serial killer! In another a character implied that the Church was an obstacle in the fight against evil, but perhaps he was one of the secularists! On the plus side angels figure strongly in many episodes, in the role of protectors and giving warnings against impending evil. This element is stronger in the second series.
On the artistic level the show is way ahead of most American series. The attention to detail and especially character is particularly impressive. The craggy middle-aged hero is well rounded, riddled with conflict, desperately trying to be a normal family man and yet trying to follow the apparent call to do battle with evil. His wife, played by the excellent Megan Gallagher is subtle and interesting but far too peripheral in the first series, disappointingly absent in many episodes of the second and sadly deceased by the third. The show seemed to have difficulties finding a strong female character, and various half hearted attempts were made to redress this, particularly by the introduction of a female character, Lara, with similar intuitive insights to Frank. ( Frank's 'gift' has become more confused and unreliable since he used excessive force in killing the man who kidnapped his wife - an incident treated with all the moral seriousness it deserved.).
As it's made by much the same team as The X-Files the high quality is not surprising, though they are having trouble distinguishing the two shows from each other. Like the X-Files spin-off seres The Lone Gunmen, Millenium only gets closure in a later X-Files episode, a touching story about the end of the Millenium when nothing apocalyptic happens. It's as if the relatively lighter mood of the X-Files lifts it to a more genial optimism.
So we can give Chris Carter and his writers the plaudits for quality and innovative drama, for taking evil seriously, for teasing out moral issues in an adult way, for giving us three-dimensional and very human characters we can relate to, but they could do with a clearer focus on why there is a millenium, a better grasp of theology, and they might also question the necessity for the graphic nature of some of the shows which occasionally border on border on voyeurism, thus ironically becoming part of the sleaze which the sympathetic characters in the show find so repulsive.

© 2000 Brendan O'Regan