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07 June 2006

Review of Millennium, episode #1x16, "Covenant"

by David Bjerre, March 2005


"Once you start something like this, you somehow have to finish", William Barry to Frank Black.

In October 1996, after three successful seasons of "The X-files", Chris Carter launched another show, this time to mixed reviews. "Millennium" was quickly labelled as a "psychopath of the week" series, and by the time Carter kicked the underlying "impending doom" subplot into high gear, and added the force of the Millennium Group, it was too late. The show never recovered. It was cancelled in 1999, six month shy of the actual change of millennium.

At the heart of the show Lance Henriksen stars in his first high-profile lead role, as detective Frank Black, an FBI profiler with a unique gift. He can see into the mind of a killer. Always the dependable supporting player ("Aliens", "Terminator", "Jennifer 8"), "Millennium" gave Henriksen a chance to shine, and it was arguably his finest hour.

"Millennium" was always the evil cousin of "X-files". It focused on the corrupted nature of man. It was dark. It was brooding. And there was an unmistakable sense that soon everything was gonna break down and go to hell...

Deputy on the phone, 34 kb


In the small town of Ogden, Utah, Sheriff William Garry (John Finn) is working in his garage as his wife and kids return from a shopping trip. They beg him to come to dinner, but he declines, content with toiling alone in his workshop. Nervous gazes between Garry and his wife bear witness to the fact that something is wrong in this family.

Later the same night, one of the kids goes to the kitchen for milk and cookies when he hears a sound from the garage. When he goes down to check it out, he finds a shocking sight: A body wrapped in a blanket is lying at the foot of the stairs. Then a dark figure appears in the doorway. The boy looks on in terror. Something is definitely wrong in this family.

Fast forward 6 months.

Former sherif William Garry has pleaded guilty to the brutal murder of his 3 kids and his wife. On the eve of the trial Frank Black is called in by the prosecution to make sure the jury doesn't just send Garry to jail. State wants a death sentence, and Frank is there to say some very specific things to convince the jurors. The case needs to be laid to rest so the town can have some peace.

Frank starts with a walkthrough of the crime scene, assisted by Deputy Kevin Reilly (Steve Bacic). He carefully examines the crime scene, the forensic evidence, and arrives at his conclusion: Garry may not be the killer after all. But why would an innocent man plead guilty to such a heinous crime, knowing he would most likely get the death penalty?

Sherif on the phone, 30 kb

This is a solid, if somewhat unusual "Millennium" episode. Except for Frank's visions, which are few, this episode is completely plausible, and grounded in reality. It's extremely low-key, and the story could have worked in almost any cop show you can name.

I'm not a hardcore "Millennium" fan myself, but I wouldn't be surprised if this episode left regular viewers somewhat disappointed. The trademark darkness is not present. Neither is the sense of danger. Frank never comes face to face with any actual threat, at the most he's up against a conservative judge. Also, William Garry is not about to be executed right this minute, so there is no sense of urgency. It would be cool if Frank were facing some kind of deadline.

Despite these shortcomings, the episode still plays to the series' strengths. Ordinary people faced with horrible and evil deeds is the focus here, and that's something "Millennium" knows about. Brutal serial killers, demons and the end of the world do not necessarily need to be featured in every episode. A good show needs good stand alone episodes too, to serve as breathers, so the "big story" can rest for a while in the back of the audience's mind. As such "Covenant" works very well.

In terms of acting, my only beef is with John Finn who plays William Garry. He is way out of his league during the finale, when he attempts to portray William Garry's breakdown. I've seen Finn in several shows, and he's always been dependable, though he never struck me as an emotionally charged actor. And clearly he isn't. A serious blunder from this otherwise top of the line production.

Black & O'Reilley on the stoop, 39 kb


Steve Bacic stars as Deputy Kevin Reilly.
Bacic quote: "To be honest Mr. Black, I don't think about that... No use stirring up feelings."

My, my, here's a refreshing change of pace. Not only does Bacic get to play a central character, but he also appears before the opening credits, AND he gets to live till the end.

Bacic stars as Deputy Reilly, who is closely connected to the case, in ways I cannot reveal here. He's hiding something. And he tries very hard to keep it from Frank. The part calls for him to be cold, almost too cold, and a tad reserved. He doesn't get to play around or flash his signature winning smile (I kinda miss it), but this is because of the way the character of Reilly is written. From the first time we see him, we suspect he's up to no good. During the course of the episode he keeps popping up, in very suspect ways.

The episode ends in a touching scene between Frank and Reilly, in which Reilly gets to drop his guard and spill his guts. Bacic sells the tortured cop quite well, and ironically though he's not the center of the episode, he gets to be the one who saves it, after a less than convincing performance from the lead guest star. Bacic saves the day! Put that on stickers and sell them, I say.

Tearful O'Reilley, 42 kb


The case ends with Frank's involvement, which is a shame, because it would have been nice to see the aftermath of his discoveries. It would also have been nice to see the fate of Bacic's character, but alas 42 minutes is not a long time and when the credits roll, the story doesn't feel quite finished.

Perhaps "Millennium" was too dark for its own good. Perhaps it was just ahead of its time. Recently shows like "Carnivale" has played on the extreme dark side to great effect, and I can't help thinking that if "Millennium" debuted today, and had focused on the mysterious Millennium Group from the start, things would have gone differently.

Still, Chris Carter's touch makes the show ever watchable, and Lance Henriksen's committed performance is never anything short of engaging.

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