It’s spring. Seemingly without warning, a deadly highly contagious virus begins to spread like wildfire in the United States. Some believe it is the start of the Apocalypse while others fear that it is a controlled biological agent. Panic ensues.
This description is not from recent events but from the series’ two-part season finale. Millennium, released in May 1998. Chris Carterthe follow-up of X files had launched as a darker, more realistic review of more realistic horrors – namely serial killers – but under the direction of season two of Glen Morgan and James wong, the scope had widened to include all kinds of weird and apocalyptic phenomena, from prophets to clones to ghosts. Their separate arc for the season had Frank Black (the incomparable Lance Henriksen) in the face of a personal apocalypse – separation from his wife and daughter – which ends up colliding with a global apocalypse in the form of the deadly Marburg virus, a fictional version of an actual virus (inspired by the then Ebola virus recent, which comes from the same family as the real Marburg).
Besides Ebola and mad cow disease, the plot of the virus had become increasingly popular in film and television. Everything since 1971 The Andromeda strain to the years 1996 Escape from LA had presented deadly contagions as main or secondary elements of the plot. I suspect this had become more and more common, not only because of the history of disease, from the Black Death to the Spanish Flu, but because of the widespread belief that another major epidemic was inevitable. Morgan and Wong had based the script on their research into probable doomsday scenarios; at the time of Covid-19, scientists had warned that we were late for such an event.
Lucky for us, Covid-19 is nowhere near as deadly as Millenniumis Marburg virus. In the open cold of “The Fourth Horseman,” directed by Dwight Small (Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers), a farmer in 1986 is horrified to discover that his chickens have all died horribly; before he can alert anyone, he himself sweats blood through his skin, collapses and dies. In the present, Frank Black and his partner Peter Watts (Terry o’quinn) investigate the mysterious death of a man as a result of massive blood loss; the medical examiner suspects a viral pathogen and quarantines the three men.
In the central sequence of the episode, we see a healthy American family reunion for Mother’s Day. Sports jokes and mom’s hokey taste in music are almost a parody of a TV family, but an ominous note is struck when the dog shows up with a dead bird in its mouth. The camera focuses significantly on the chicken sizzling on the grill; at the table, the clan has barely started to eat when they all start to bleed and break down, and the father tries to dial 911 with a blood-soaked hand before succumbing to the virus. The sweet sounds of Dionne Warwick play on the macabre table. Twenty-four years later, this is still one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen on TV – and it has been shown on TV channels.
Frank later realizes that the Millennium Group, while drawing blood from him and Peter in quarantine, secretly injected them with a vaccine. He later learns that only the members of the group have received the vaccine, not their families; I couldn’t help but recall this element when crazy stories circulated online suggesting that “they” already had a Covid vaccine for the privileged few. The episode ends eerily with an earthquake hitting at the exact time the group predicted.
In “It’s now,” directed by Thomas J. Wright, the viral epidemic intensifies and incites the Black family – Frank, wife Catherine (Megan Gallagher) and his daughter Jordan (Brittany Tiplady) – to escape to an isolated cabin in the woods. Jordan inherited the gift / curse of second sight from his father and had prophetic dreams about the origins of the virus, his family’s flight to the cabin and Catherine goes into the woods and leaves her alone with Frank.
After the horrific family massacre in “The Fourth Horseman”, this episode contains another bravery streak, which I consider to be the most amazing scene I have ever seen on television. Frank and Peter’s colleague Lara Means (Kristen cloke, Final destination) disappeared after leaving Frank a series of cryptic voicemail messages. She had access to the inner circle of the Millennium Group and hinted at some wonderful and terrible secrets to which she had access. These revelations concern future events and the end of the world. Isolated in another booth, Lara rolls the dice over and over, taking notes on the outcome. As Patti Smith’s beautiful and eerie “Land” plays on the soundtrack, Lara experiences a series of hallucinatory and terrifying visions: angels, exploding buildings, drownings and horses – suggesting the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – accompanied by the song “horses! horses! horses! ”The moment a demon bursts into the cabin – it’s actually Frank who comes to her aid – Lara has lost her mind. It’s a visceral and emotional triumph of the set-up and the vibe – more than a “music video”, the scene is tantamount to a magnificent nightmarish short film.
Lara leaves Frank an envelope containing his vaccine; he and Catherine quickly decide that they will give it to Jordan. I watched this episode again last spring, and as the couple stand over the sleeping Jordan, holding each other for support, I couldn’t help but think of myself and to my partner. We, too, leaned on each as we were locked in our apartment, awaiting a devastating and frightening plague. I never could have imagined that I would one day watch this episode and relate to it.
Catherine wakes up in the middle of the night to find blood on her pillow and face; gloomy, she says goodbye to her sleeping family and wanders the woods to die, just as Frank had told her he would to spare them the agony of her death. The next day, Frank understands what happened and goes out to find his wife. back from the forest, he is kissed by his daughter, who laughs at her new white hair. Static, panicked reporting flashes are interspersed with a grieving, glassy-eyed Frank and his motherless child. “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)”, a scary song from the 60s about future storylines and the Second Coming, plays on those last chilling moments.
The global apocalypse described in these Millennium episodes is overshadowed by Frank’s personal experience: he loses his wife and Jordan loses his mother. This scenario has repeated itself in homes across the country and around the world over the past year, as people have lost friends and family to Covid-19. The virus may not have marked the end of the world, but it was a terrifying and devastating end for far too many lives. In this way Millennium was terribly premonitory.