The TV series
MILLENNIUM (1996-1999) has always been Chris Carter’s redheaded stepchild next to THE X-FILES, but MILLENNIUM fans are no less devoted than X-Philes. Since 2008, a group called “Back to Frank Black” has been waging an online campaign for the return of actor Lance Henriksen to the role of criminal profiler Frank Black, calling for closure to the hastily-cancelled series.
When audiences last saw Frank (in a season seven episode of THE X-FILES) he was wrestling zombies on New Year’s Eve 2000. Suffice it to say the arrival of the dreaded new millennium was anticlimactic, and fans were left to wonder what really happened to Frank, his daughter Jordan, and the increasingly mysterious Millennium Group.
In light of the success of the new X-FILES miniseries, calls for closure are perhaps louder than ever. Chris Carter has said he’s game. Lance Henriksen has said he’s game. Now it’s all up to the executives at Fox. No doubt they’re wondering if a 20-year-old show will resonate with today’s viewers. Will a story born out of Y2K angst be relevant to 21
st century millennials? Perhaps even more troubling: Since each new season of MILLENNIUM had a distinctly different focus, what storylines and characters should be resurrected? Here are a few ideas from a hopeful fan about how to reboot the series…
THE HANNIBAL WAY
Although a lot of recent crime shows have taken some inspiration from MILLENNIUM, HANNIBAL (2013-2015) was the first true heir. It delved deep into the fictional world of Thomas Harris—Chris Carter’s original inspiration for MILLENNIUM—and it was every bit as dark, intellectual and magisterial as is Carter’s show.
Unlike the first season of MILLENNIUM, however, HANNIBAL wasn’t built around a “serial killer of the week” format. The entire show hinged on a complex central conflict between would-be hero and nominal villain. Lance Henriksen has said that he yearned for a similarly open-ended structure for MILLENNIUM, arguing, “From my point of view, I was trying to live this thing in an authentic way, and there was no reality to it—because [every episode’s conflict] was always going to end at nine o’clock.”
One conflict that didn’t end was Frank Black’s recurring struggle with his arch nemesis Lucy Butler (played by Sarah-Jane Redmond), a character as smart, seductive and elusive as Hannibal Lector. Although she only appeared in five total episodes, Butler’s devil-in-a-black-dress posed the same type of challenge that Hannibal posed to Will Graham. She was his intellectual equal, if not his superior, and was capable of manipulating him better than anyone else. A new showdown between Frank Black—now an older man, confronting his mortality—and Lucy Butler—a seemingly ageless agent of chaos—could make for a wonderfully nuanced tale of good-versus-evil.
THE X-FILES WAY
Many of MILLENNIUM’s most ardent fans are particularly enthusiastic about season two, which saw showrunners Glen Morgan & James Wong take over from Chris Carter and spin their own elaborate myth-arc about the coming apocalypse and a shadowy group of power-mongers dedicated to establishing a new world order. By emulating classic dystopian science fiction films, and giving Frank Black a female counterpart (profiler Laura Means), the season moved MILLENNIUM closer to the strengths of THE X-FILES.
It’s worth pointing out that the 2016 X-FILES miniseries ended on a note similar to the final episode of the second season of MILLENNIUM, in which Frank Black was separated from his wife by the spread of a super-virus intended to destroy most of the world’s population. Third season showrunner Chip Johannessen opted to basically ignore that apocalyptic cliffhanger—not unlike a horror filmmaker rebooting a franchise by ignoring sequels—which turned some viewers off of Season Three.
This begs a question: If the original producers could retrofit the series mythology in mid-stride, why couldn’t new producers do the same? A new MILLENNIUM miniseries could essentially ignore Season Three and pick up where Season Two (not to mention the new X-FILES miniseries) left off: with the world in chaos, and desperately in need of heroes.
THE 24 / HOMELAND WAY
In a 2009 interview with journalist John Kenneth Muir, Chris Carter said that he would like to see Frank Black and the Millennium Group “distill” something interesting from the 21st century War on Terror. The idea dovetails nicely with ideas that Lance Henriksen has pitched for a MILLENNIUM movie:
“Here’s what I imagine: Frank sitting in a coffee house in Paris or Romania or Bulgaria…. He’s having a simple cup of coffee and looking at the people around him. Suddenly something he sees triggers a thought about a case he’s pursuing. We green screen everything behind him, and then all around him you see the images in his mind. You’re actually seeing the flow of thoughts in his head…. To me, it’s all about how you communicate ideas to the audience. The reason you put him in another country is so that he can’t rely on language. He has to rely completely on his instincts and intuition, and a good movie could really show the way that his mind unravels a mystery.”
Here’s what I’m imagining: a Frank Black version of 24 or HOMELAND. Chip Johannessen has been an executive producer on all three series, so….
THE MILLENNIUM: APOCALYPSE WAY
In a continued effort to keep MILLENNIUM from being a one-man show, Season Three writers paired Frank Black with a young protégé named Emma Hollis (played by Klea Scott). Fan reactions to the character were divided. Some felt that she was too naïve and too corruptible to be Frank Black’s partner—which proved to be true in the final episode. In the series finale, Emma turned against Frank and joined the villainous Millennium Group, forcing him to go on the run with his daughter Jordan. The final scene made clear what fans already knew: The only true protégé in Frank’s life is his daughter Jordan.
In 2006, the creators of a web fan series called MILLENNIUM: APOCALYPSE took that lesson to heart and focused on the adult life of Jordan Black. The original show had dropped several hints that Jordan might be psychic like her father, and those hints became the central idea of the unofficial spinoff. If anyone ever tries to officially reboot MILLENNIUM without Frank Black (and Lance Henriksen) at the center, this is the only way to go.
THE “EMPATHY MACHINE” WAY
A few years ago, I had an extended conversation with Lance Henriksen about Frank Black’s worldview. We talked about how Frank is a unique type of hero because he relies on empathy rather than a gun, how he struggles to understand people rather than judging them or hunting them. Lance went on to say that Frank’s real challenge—and the American justice system’s real challenge—is to figure out a way to make sociopaths more empathetic.
Lance’s words popped into my head again recently while I was having a conversation with another filmmaker about virtual reality as “the ultimate empathy machine.” If cutting-edge VR technology can literally help us to see the world through other people’s eyes, maybe it can be used to rehabilitate sociopaths.
Of course, Frank Black was never one for cutting-edge technology. In the second season MILLENNIUM episode “The Mikado,” he had trouble profiling a serial killer who was broadcasting his kills over the Internet. The profiler complained, “I can’t feel anything through those wires.” Twenty years later there are no wires, and it may soon be possible for us to share other people’s personal experiences in a way that even Frank Black never could. What might Chris Carter’s hero become in a world full of virtual psychics?