“Biogenesis” (season 6, episode 22; originally aired 5/16/1999)
In which Scully has to go back to where it all began...
Theories that operate under the assumption that humanity’s consciousness is a gift from an alien race—that we didn’t completely evolve into our present state, but were given assistance through some kind of technological enhancement or guided development—never made much sense to me. They seem more like a delaying tactic than anything else. I mean, sure, let’s say that a million years ago, some Grays showed up on our planet, poked a few of our distant, distant ancestors with magic smart sticks, as part of some larger plan to, I dunno, something something. While it would be weird and kind of cool and deeply unsettling to find out we’re all just the result of someone else’s science project, it doesn’t truly answer the fundamental questions. If we’re asking “Why does life exist?” and the answer is “Aliens did it,” doesn’t that just lead to asking why the aliens exist? And I guess then you’d say “Other aliens,” and then it would go on and on like one of those infinite regression paintings. (To be fair, this is also a problem for religion, which makes sense when you realize the “Aliens did it” theory is just God in a spaceship.) (He needs its because it’s cool, that’s why.) It’s an unnecessary complication in a universe which already has enough mysteries, and it mostly just exists to satisfy that itch in our brains that usually only gets scratched on the grassy knoll.
But as a starting point for science fiction stories? I’ve got no problem with that. Hell, it’s roughly the premise of one of the greatest movies ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus had its fair share of problems, but I don’t think the concept behind the Engineers is one of them, and Quatermass And The Pit, a 1976 British film based off a TV serial which takes the concept to a fair grimmer conclusion, is pretty great. And it’s not the worst concept for The X-Files to take on. By now, the mythology has gotten so convoluted that I’m honestly not sure if the black oil storyline is supposed to be resolved, or if this just yet another iteration on the original idea. But it feels like a new beginning, and in “Biogenesis,” all we get is a taste of what’s coming. It’s an exciting episode to an extent, although most of it is just Mulder and Scully wander into places where things have happened, asking questions, and then not being around when people get killed. Oh, and Mulder appears to be having some kind of mental breakdown brought on by symbols on an ancient tablet which was probably created by the aliens who helped jump start our DNA.
As always with this show, especially this late in the game, there’s the tension between the promise a new, and presumably mind-warping, mythology arc, and the suspicion that this is going to be a lot of cool hints that never entirely pay off. I’ve made this complaint before, and it’s such an old criticism of The X-Files that there’s probably no reason to get into it here, but throughout this episode, I found myself thinking, “Huh, this could be cool,” before immediately remembering that no, it almost certainly wouldn’t be. It’s difficult for any show to bust out some major new storyline at the tail end of its sixth season; by now, we’ve got an idea of what the show is about, and the challenge of finding some new story to tell which is both fitting to the series, and original enough to not just be old ideas in different cloths, is immense. And that’s not even getting into this particular show’s fitful history with promising more than it can deliver. The X-Files is a remarkable, frequently brilliant, unique piece of television art, but it never really figured out how to handle serialization over the long term, and there’s no reason to believe it will now.
But that’s looking ahead. For now, we’ve got a mysterious artifact, dead college professors, and Mulder’s fugue states. Of all the weirdness in this episode, those fugue states are the hardest to swallow. He looks at a rubbing of an artifact, a piece of a larger tablet covered in Native American language, and, for no reason we know, he starts experiencing weird headaches and hearing strange noises. Given that we later learn that the tablet is connected to the aliens who made us human, it’s not unreasonable to think that the language is somehow generating some designed response, or something, which is bizarre. And while yes, this is a show that regularly traffics in the bizarre, this is maybe a little too far over the line. It’s just so random, especially since no one else appears to be suffering from the same attacks, and that puts a lot of pressure on the resolution to both make sense and justify the convolutions. We’re past the point where I know what’s going on in the show’s mythology, so I’ll have to wait and see. For now, I’ll give it this much: it is very creepy to watch Mulder slowly go out of his mind over what appears to be nothing more than some markings on a piece of paper.
What else? Well, Skinner’s ill-advised relationship (heh) with Krychek rears its head again, although again we’ll have to wait to see how that pays off. The immediate effect is mostly pissing Scully off, in a scene which should be bad-ass, but unfortunately plays as somewhat shrill and forced. Mulder, after spending some time with Agent Fowler (why he’d look to her for comfort and not Scully is odd), gets worse, to the point where Fowler and Skinner have him committed. When Scully finds out, she’s understandably upset, which leads to a confrontation between the three of them in the hospital hall, as Mulder bashes his head into the walls of his padded cell. The transition is so sudden, and Scully’s rage so intense, that it becomes melodrama. Of course Scully is right to be angry—Fowler is working with the Cigarette Smoking Man, and Skinner’s hands are very dirty—but the whole thing just doesn’t work the way it should. The seams show too obviously, robbing the moment of its intended dramatic impact.
So what does this episode have going for it? It gets crazy enough at the end that, if nothing else, I really want to know what happens next. Most of “Biogenesis” is just building up to the final couple scenes; the back and forth with the murderous college professor and his attempts to keep the truth hidden give us a couple corpses and kills some air time, but as of yet, there’s no indication of what the bigger picture is, or why anyone would want to kill to keep all of this secret. Maybe that’s the real problem with the mythology episodes at this point. It just feels like our heroes are wandering through back-story, taking notes on events which keep happening to someone else. But hey, that’s how mysteries work, and this is, in its way, a mystery. So far, there are cliffhangers, but no great rising action. I appreciate the episode for its willingness to take huge risks, and the sense that the show is trying to redefine the stakes at its core. We’ve gone from “aliens are working to colonize the planet” to “aliens are responsible for our existence,” and that’s a pretty big deal, right? The end of the hour has Scully going back to the African beach where the original tablet piece was discovered, where she discovers an alien ship resting on the shore. That’s a huge moment, and it basically works, but it’s shot strangely—the parts of the beach don’t match up between shots. It’s ambitious, but it doesn’t exactly make sense, which is pretty much where The X-Files is at now.
- Sorry about the dropped week; I was sick. Maybe I looked at the wrong piece of paper.
- Albert Holsteen makes his (presumably) final appearance, as the character dies this episode. Poor guy doesn’t even get a last line.
- I love when they bring the nerdy FBI guy in to explain the concept of “the magic square,” which he does by telling us that magic squares have been around for a while, and then nothing else. Unless I missed something, all I have at this point is that magic squares are squares that people once thought were magic.
- Krychek has a chance to take Mulder out, but doesn’t. Hm.
- The African professor keeps going on about the tablet’s “magical” properties—wouldn’t you just call it magnetic or strange? I doubt academics describe stuff as “magical” too often.
“Goodbye To All That” (season 3, episode 22; originally aired 5/21/1999)
In which the series ends.
This is the last episode of Millennium. Barring Frank Black’s appearance of The X-Files next season, this is where the story ends. I’m not sure what to say, really. This feels like it should be a big moment. Todd and I have worked through this show from the beginning, and I’ve enjoyed more of it that I was expecting to, and now it’s over, and—well, there it is. It feels inappropriate that I should be the one to write the finale review. Todd should be doing this.
But then, maybe he already did. I hope, if he gets a chance, Todd will maybe throw in a comment below about his thoughts on this episode and on Millennium’s third season as a whole, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say that the real heart of this series, the real reason I’d recommend it to it someone in the mood for something different, was over at the end of season two. Now there was TV worth watching, in all its loopy, lumpy glory. It wasn’t perfect, but it was distinct, and it wrestled with ideas—religious apocrypha, the apocalypse, faith, doom—in ways that felt like something important was going on. There was a point to all the madness, even when the dimensions of that point were not immediately obvious. Each episode wasn’t just an excuse for Lance Henriksen to glower, and for the writers to find a way to exploit horrific sexual crimes in a way which, while not exactly entertaining, was at least compelling to watch. It had intentions. And thankfully, Todd got to write about the end of that show when we finished the second season.
Which is great, but now I’m stuck with trying to find a way to say something more interesting about this final batch of episodes, and I don’t know if that’s possible. If there’s single characteristic which defines Millennium’s third season, it’s a lack of definition, an aimless, increasingly desperate struggle to retool and rework the show’s core elements in a way that would somehow find it an audience. That didn’t happen, and it’s not hard to see why. Season one was a dry run for the moder serial killer procerual, with all the dourness, and endless litany of wasted lives and unpleasant sexual subtext. I wasn’t a fan, but at least I could’ve recognized the series in silhouette. (Icky, icky silhouette.) Season two, the freaky, mind-bending coolness described in the previous paragraph. And then season three comes along, and it fails to ever pass the most fundamental test of a television program: it never justifies its own existence.
There are nice moments in the finale—a finale, by the way, which clearly wasn’t intended to be any kind of final chapter. Oh sure, big things happen. Emma goes over to the Millennium Group after learning she’s being positioned to take McClaren’s job once he steps down. Her father’s conditioned has worsened substantially, and she feels she has no choice to take up Peter’s offer of a cure. She has regrets, especially in the face of Frank’s growing anger at the Group, but there’s no indication which way she’ll go at the end of the episode. It’s a decision which should seem momentous, but doesn’t. I appreciate how the writers find a way to put Emma in a position where she seemingly has to give in simply to protect someone she loves, but there doesn’t seem to be anything all that permanent about what she does. It’s not like she signs a contract to be evil or anything.
Peter’s dead. If this had happened earlier in the show, I would’ve been upset, but here it’s just a sort of clumsy, unsatisfying attempt to make the Group look all the more evil. I did appreciate that Peter got a chance to be a sort of good guy again, if only for a few scenes. When the show was on its game, Terry O’Quinn and Henriksen worked well together, and a man struggling to determine if the cause he gave his life to is a noble one is a much more interesting character than stone faced baddie. In “Goodbye To All That,” he once again has doubts, and we learn he’s been protecting Frank this whole time; that’s cool, but it also plays like a forced attempt to generate sympathy for the character, so that his death will have an impact.
Lucas Barr’s adventures in really committed Red Dragon cosplay continue, as he now decides to up the ante and move in with a beautiful blind woman. It’s all very silly and derivative, and while it manages to generate some suspense, it’s hard to feel a lot of sympathy for Barr, even after the reveal that the Group drilled a whole in his head and activated a dormant part of his brain. Frank manages to track him down and save the blind lady, but not before Barr decides to go for a double feature and rip off the end of Silence Of The Lambs. The weird attempts to mix the serial killer story with crazy Millennium paranoia is unwieldy and distracting. Barr’s attempts to connect with the blind lady, and the growing sense that he’s going to do something horrible to her whether he wants to or not, are scary, but not in a way that really builds to anything. If the episode had been more streamlined, this might have been more intense. As it is, its directness is effective, but not enough to save the hour.
The only real winner here is Frank, who decides he’s done putting up with all this insane bullshit. Bad enough the Group’s games cost him his wife, but now his daughter has been threatened, and that’s all the reason Frank needs to Hulk out. The scene of him busting into Peter’s home and interrupting a quiet family dinner has the kind of urgency and power that has been lacking from so much of the show, and watching him rage at just about everyone is, no question, fun. I’m not sure it entirely makes sense, but it gives Henriksen something to do, and it’s unusual to watch a main character essentially turn his back on every other major character on his show. The episode ends with Frank and Jordan going on the run, and while I’m not sad to see Millennium end, I wonder what the next season would have looked like, if the series had been renewed. Frank and Jordan doing a Fugitive cross country, solving sex crimes in towns along the way? That—that would’ve been weird. But at least it would’ve been different.
- “I always had it in me, didn’t I.” “We all do.” Lucas and Frank, talking about the fact that anyone could turn into a psychotic who breaks into people’s houses, films them while they sleep, and then murders them. There’s always something about Millennium that rubbed me the wrong way, and I think this exchange sums it up. You can make an argument that everyone has a dark side, that everyone is capable of horrible things; this could be a very effective theme. But just saying it’s true doesn’t tell anyone anything. It’s borrowing darkness without plumbing its depths, and that bothers me.
In two weeks: Todd dives in to the seventh season of The X-Files with “The Sixth Extinction” and “The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati.”