|The future in full flower.
“Evil dwells where fear lives. In a heart without fear, Evil can find no purchase.
God, love, goodness…these things reside in our connections with other people…
…it is those who feel the strongest that Evil wants the most.”
– from “Seven and One,” by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz.
There are a few programs and films I absolutely refuse to watch when I’m at home alone. The Exorcist (1973), Halloween (1978)…and select episodes of Millennium.
Or to paraphrase Lance Henriksen’s android Bishop in Aliens, I may be an atheist…but I’m not stupid.
Why do I find Millennium (1996-1999) so disturbing? Well, occasionally Chris Carter’s second series achieves a level of deep, unrelenting spiritual terror. That terror is not necessarily due to the egregious presence of a drooling demon or an insane serial killer. Instead that sense of evil — of wrongness— is somehow amorphous, yet suffusing. It casts this doom-laden shadow over the entire enterprise. It’s a cerebral, existential terror…and it has an inescapable feel.
In my interview with Chris Carter last December, I termed this unsettling brand of horror (which was also featured in The X-Files…) as something like anticipatory anxiety. It was a mood of looming paranoia; it was a feeling of intense uncertainty about our shared future.
|Frank Black senses the presence of Evil close to home.
This unsettled vibe was partially a result of events in the narrative on any given week, but with Millennium, sometimes you can’t necessarily point to any clear or comprehensible source of the feeling — of the fear — if that makes sense.
In other words, evil things are clearly occurring, but you don’t always understand exactly what, who is doing it, or precisely why. Clarity eludes you…and your imagination starts to fill in the black spots.
This paradigm was especially evident in Millennium’s final season, 1998-1999 on Fox. As Millennium moved towards its inconclusive last hour — and crept up towards Y2K — the storytelling grew creepier and yet — at the same time — more deliciously opaque.
Stories such as “Bardo Thodol,” “Saturn Dreaming of Mercury” and this week’s cult-tv flashback, “Seven and One” were utterly bizarre, ambiguous…and unnerving. All these episodes are laden with potent symbolism and require some amount of deciphering; of interpretation. They are mysteries wrapped in enigmas…just the way an active, engaged viewer might prefer.
Birthday cakes and butcher knives.
“Seven and One” — written by the team of Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz — opens immediately with that sense of amorphous anxiety, and with a surfeit of symbols.
It is young Jordan Black’s (Brittany Tiplady) eighth birthday, which should be a joyous occasion.
But, as is so often the case in Millennium, peaceful domesticity is violated by an unexpected invasion, a home invasion often.
Here, director Peter Markle shoots the little girl’s birthday party in a manner roughly akin to Benjamin Braddock’s graduation party in The Graduate (1967) — it’s almost a first-person point-of-view assault on the senses. We’re down on kid’s eye level, surrounded by dancing children, and it’s a little weird; a little off.
Very shortly, another disturbing image occurs: Jordan’s grandfather gleefully cuts the birthday cake with a very large butcher knife. This is a foreshadowing that something is amiss, a hint of dangers to come.
Finally, Frank Black — the incomparable Henriksen — senses something is wrong in paradise, and the clock on the wall literally stops ticking (in an expressive shot highly reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2).
The doorbell rings, and the heretofore unseen (but already felt) Evil finally arrives. Someone has sent Frank creepy polaroid photographs; photographs that reveal Frank drowned in his own bath tub.
The F.B.I. investigates the polaroids, led by Frank’s partner, Emma Hollis (Klea Scott).
A profiler, Boxer (Dean Norris) begins to live up to his name, subsequently “boxing in” Frank, and arriving at the conclusion that Frank himself is the culprit behind the photographs; that he is experiencing “the beginnings of a breakdown.”
Though he can’t prove it, Frank understands something else is occurring. Someone is attempting to terrify him using personal fears only he knows about. Specifically, Frank has long held a fear of drowning, following a childhood incident at a swimming hole (recounted in glorious silver-and-black, night-time flashbacks.) It is a terror that Frank simply can’t get past, as he unhappily acknowledges to Emma.
Meanwhile, the shadowy, violent figure behind the polaroids escalates his criminal activities. He murders Frank’s psychiatrist, further framing Frank by utilizing the same butcher knife we saw deployed at Jordan’s party. And the killer also buries Emma alive (her worst fear, we are led to understand…), though Frank rescues her.
Finally — alone in his house — Frank confronts his fear of drowing as his locked bathroom floods and escape proves impossible. Sinking deep beneath the surface of the roiling water, Frank finally “comes out the other side” of his fear, so-to-speak, and accepts his own mortality. He experiences a vision in which his life (with Catherine and Jordan flashes )before his eyes. He sees flickering candles in the dream too — a symbolic lamp-post; a light in the darkness.
|In extreme high angle, Frank faces his fear of drowning.
At this point, the bathroom door suddenly opens, and Frank escapes, the flood gates literally having been opened (another canny symbol; the dam of Frank’s emotions and fears finally shattering…).
The tidal wave of water also represents the flood gates of understanding opening up.
Having moved past his own personal sense of fear, Frank insightfully ties his experience here — confronting his terror at drowning — with a Millennial Prophecy about seven plus one equaling not just 8, but the year 1999 (and also Jordan’s age in 1999; at her birthday party)…the so-called last year of peace before the onset of millennial catastrophe.
The episode concludes with a voiceover from Frank, as he holds a terrorized Emma Hollis (who has seen her own doppelganger apparently commit suicide…). In that voice-over, Frank concludes that if he does see into the darkness, it is because there is also light there; and that the light can guide him.
Furthermore, Black notes that the world seems to be in for a spell of trials and tribulations the likes of which it has not encountered before. He doesn’t know how right he is, at least if we go by real life. The peace and prosperity of the 1990s was coming to an end indeed as the millennium changed, and since 2000 (and the U.S.S. Cole bombing, perhaps), the world has seen a decade of war, torture, and natural disasters (tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes of terrible proportions).
Of course, writers Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz could not have known this would be the path of the decade, but they adroitly plug into this communal fear of the future. And in retrospect, it’s surprising (and a little bit freaky…) how this and other millennial-type prophecies featured on the series often ring true, at least after a fashion.
But on the surface, “Seven and One” is a baffling, mysterious and opaque installment of Millennium. An unknown, possibly demonic, shape-shifting villain frames Frank for murder, attempts to drive him from the F.B.I, shape-shifts into Boxer and Hollis, threatens Frank and Jordan, and then, after apparently committing suicide in the form of Hollis, disappears into thin air.
Very briefly, the episode reveals this Loki-type character as Mabius (Bob Wilde), the assassin we have seen before, in the employ of the shadowy Millennium Group.
|The flood gates of water — and understanding — are opened.
But Mabius is never seen by the dramatis personae for who he really is (or if they do…they die, as in the case of the psychiatrist). Furthermore, the Millennium Group is never even mentioned by name at all.
The episode thus expects intelligence and puzzle-solving capability from the audience, and we are left to ponder a big question.
Is the Millennium Group trying to drive Frank Black insane — separating him from the F.B.I. — so as to prepare him for his role in their diabolical turn-of-the-century plot? (As seen in the X-Files episode Millennium, Frank was being groomed for suicide…and zombie resurrection, right?)
Or contrarily, is the Millennium Group helping Frank — albeit in extremely bloody fashion — to move past his personal fear so that he can see the terror of the millennium without such fear when it finally arrives? This seems to fit the pattern. In the past, the Millennium Group has also attempted to “innoculate” Frank from a contagion; though in that case it was viral, not one based in the emotion of fear.
Again, this is all speculative material that must be sussed out from the action that occurs on screen. Carter and Spotnitz spoon-feed the audience almost nothing. They expect us to keep up.
Thus, the best way to understand what occurs in “Seven in One” is to understand and track the highly-cinematic visuals.
First, we have the butcher knife — the murder weapon — cutting into the future (as represented by a child’s birthday cake). In horror films and programs, children always represent tomorrow/the future, and that’s what is being explicitly imperiled here.
Then we have the idea that Frank is “drowning,” literally, without Catherine….without human connection. He has lost his wife and his yellow house, and is teetering on the breaking point. As he tells his psychiatrist in a session (seen on video in “Seven and One,”) he isn’t sure he wants to get better “this time.” Life for Frank Black has turned fearful and frightening because he feels alone.
Frank confronts his fear, and experiences the happy vision of his life — of the good things (as initiated by the imagery of a red flower in boom; see top of post). He sees the light (the flickering candles…) too.
|Ending on Connectedness.
Frank recognizes Catherine, Jordan and his yellow house, and comes through the fear at last.
Then the floodgates of understanding (the flood in the bathroom) are opened, literally, and understanding comes to Frank.
He knows he will be a warrior in the darkness against the grave and gathering threats of the rapidly-approaching 21st century.
Finally, Frank understands that to be that warrior, he must follow the advice of the Catholic priest at Catherine’s parish at St. Timothy’s…he must not run away from his fears and separate himself from humanity (which is what Boxer recommends), he must seek humanity out; gain strength from those bonds.
The episode ends on the explicit visual of Frank doing just that with his young apprentice of sorts, Emma Hollis.
I might add, this “connectedness” to the world seems to be the great challenge of the archetypal Chris Carter male, so far as The X-Files and Millennium are concerned. Both Mulder and Frank Black are extremely intelligent men who go to great lengths to help others; but always seem to refuse help themselves, even from their loved ones. They demand emotional clarity from others, but themselves are emotionally remote; distant.
“Seven and One” is an authentically creepy episode of Millennium, an installment about the (changing) shape of fears yet to come; yet known. Since anticipatory anxiety is hard if not to impossible to feature or embody as a character, I submit that “Seven and One” captures the vibe of the upcoming Millennial “doomsday” with all effective symbolism, a cerebral, cinematic intimation of indescribable Evil. I don’t know that Millennium could always operate on this highly visual, highly symbolic level, but I appreciate this episode for dwelling at that apex with so much audacity, confidence and mystery.
What’s even more terrifying than “Seven and One,” perhaps, is the downward spiral of the series’ last few episodes. Emma Hollis — Frank’s apprentice and true friend — allies herself to the Millennium Group, leaving him very much alone in his battle against the darkness.
And, finally, betrayed, Frank does have to run away. Staying connected to the dangerous world is not a viable option when he learns of the Millennium Group’s plans for his daughter. He takes Jordan out of school, grabs her hand…and flees.
The darkness has won, at least for the moment. But we have not yet seen the last stand of Frank Black.