Stranded in the Jungle--37

Chris Carter, Millennium

SENSITIVITY. A kidnapper buries his victims alive, after sewing their orifices shut. A woman performs surgery without anesthesia, extracting a man's kidneys, and leaving them on a plate in the refrigerator. A hacker creates the ultimate snuff film, broadcasting his executions live on the World Wide Web. A doomsday cult releases a virus that makes people bleed to death, within minutes of being infected. These are some of the things that happen on Chris Carter's television show Millennium. It played on the Fox network for three years, from 1996 to 1999. The show is filled with gruesome displays of violence, shadowy conspiracies, and apocalyptic visions. The characters endlessly debate the nature and origin of evil. They never come to any conclusions. Some of the murders they investigate are clearly motivated by childhood trauma, religious mania, or revenge. Others are so gratuitously cruel as to defy all interpretation. They seem to be impelled by supernatural forces. But no matter how monstrous the violence, there is always the intimation of something worse. A final catastrophe looms on the horizon, even if it never quite arrives. All the show's dread and foreboding is focused on the figure of Frank Black (Lance Henriksen). Frank is a profiler. He probes the minds of serial killers. More precisely, he intuits the killers' feelings, by suffering them in his own body. Frank has a special "gift" of sensitivity. When he touches objects from a murder scene, he sees hallucinatory flashbacks of the murder itself. These flashbacks are rapid sequences of fragmentary close-ups, linked through jump cuts, and distorted by blurring, stop frames, overexposure, and other effects. The camera is hand-held, and has no stable position. Shots of the victim screaming alternate with glimpses of knife thrusts, blood gushing, or the sneering face of a demon. The screams drown out everything else on the soundtrack. These sequences are more visceral than visual. They cut like a knife. They physically assault the viewer. They do not show Frank what actually happened, so much as they put him in the mind of the killer. They force him to feel the same excruciating sensations that drove the murderer over the edge. This unwanted intimacy helps Frank solve the crimes. But it is nearly too much for him to bear. It pushes him to the point of mental breakdown. Frank's body seems to carry the traces of all the terror and violence he has encountered. He is gaunt and weather-beaten. His every gesture is weighted down with an infinite weariness. His deep voice comes out in a barely audible monotone, almost a murmur. His face is ravaged with lines of care, worry, and fatigue. He is scarcely able even to crack a smile. The rare times he does so, it is only after what seems a long, arduous effort. Frank is like someone who has already encountered his own death. He has almost passed over to the other side. He maintains only the frailest ties to the world of the living. The sole thing anchoring him to the present is his family. Frank's domestic life is the antithesis of everything else he knows. He lives with his wife and child in a large yellow house in Seattle. The house is airy, bright, and excessively cheery. Frank's wife Katherine (Megan Gallagher) is full of tenderness and concern. Their little daughter Jordan (Brittany Tiplady) is all innocent smiles and giggles. Life in Seattle is complacent, mellow, and relentlessly upbeat. All in all, Frank's home life is oppressively saccharine and cozy. It is almost a parody of white, suburban, upper-middle-class normalcy. And that is exactly the way Frank wants it. He sees the family as his only haven in a heartless world. His greatest wish is to shield his wife and child from the horrors outside. Indeed, that is why he moves them to Seattle. He thinks that here, at least, they will be safe. Like so many others, he regards Seattle as a place of refuge from life's turmoil. But Frank is wrong. Behind its smiley face, Seattle is ground zero for evil. Violence and terror are never far away. The Pacific Northwest has more serial killers than any other place in the United States. The region's culture of sincerity, clean living, and bland politeness seems to breed them. As the series proceeds, horror impinges more and more on the lives of Frank and his loved ones. Frank and Catherine's marriage breaks down in misunderstanding and distrust. Jordan suffers from strange nightmares and fevers, as she develops her own version of Frank's gift. The Black family is assailed by stalkers and kidnappers. One of the show's most grisly murders takes place inside the yellow house itself. Frank gradually learns that there is no safety, and no way out. His gift of sensitivity is really an infinite vulnerability, an endless opening onto a world of hurt. There is no limit to how much he can suffer. Frank will not ever escape this hell. For he carries it with him wherever he goes. He might well say of himself what he is told at the end of one episode. A mysterious figure, apparently an angel descended to our world on a special mission, says to Frank: "You have no idea how painful it is for me to be here."

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