The second season of Millennium is widely regarded as a strong one amongst fans. Chris Carter (creator of The X-Files for anyone who doesn't know) also devised Millennium and worked very hard on the first season (the Region 2 review of which can be found here, and the Region 1 review here). However, when the news came through that a second season was being commissioned, Carter found himself in the midst of working on the feature-length film of the The X-Files and so passed the baton to Glen Morgan and James Wong. Together the pair wrote twelve episodes that form part of the second season, so they really made a mark - especially as the episodes they're responsible for are the ones that give the background to the Millennium Group and establish a mythology for it.
So, back to the story. Millennium is chiefly the tale of former FBI criminal profiler Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) - a man 'gifted' with the ability to see into the minds of criminals. After leaving the FBI and taking a break from crime-fighting, he joins the mysterious Millennium Group, who act as consultants on difficult cases. Where season one often had a 'killer of the week' feel, season two definitely steps up with more of a narrative arc, that being a progression towards the Apocalypse, with the audience (and Frank) learning a lot more about the background and make-up of the Millennium Group, which until now have remained very shadowy.
Frank's also faced with a very different home life in season two, as the opening episode leaves his relationship with his wife Catherine more than a little strained. In his growing isolation - and with every snippet he learns about the group he's now working for - Frank seems more driven. Another difference from the first season is that many of the cases Frank gets to work on no longer involve serial killers; instead they include abductions, child abuse claims, missing persons reports and well, searches for religious artifacts. Mostly Frank works with his Millennium Group contact, Peter Watts (Terry O'Quinn)... but we're introduced to another Group member, Lara Means (Kristen Cloke), and she soon becomes a confidante, colleague and friend to Frank. She even gets to investigate a case with Catherine Black! In the meantime, Frank's daughter Jordan (Brittany Tiplady) continues to develop a similar 'gift' to that of her father.
The show has definitely maintained (and built on) the dark and apocalyptic feel it established during the first season. Morgan and Wong have upped the ante by investigating the religious undercurrents of the Millennium Group and by adding a huge number of religious references, making the build-up towards the climax all the more compelling. But that's not to say that this is a show without a lighter side too (depending upon your sense of humour, obviously). Glen Morgan's brother, Darin, contributes two amusing episodes; 'Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense' and 'Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me'. The former includes a name familiar to fans of The X-Files with the return of wacky writer Jose Chung (played by Charles Nelson Reilly), a character who first appeared in The X-Files episode 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space'. Even when there is comedy, however, the tight writing manages to keep the overall creepy and worrying tone to this series; still, it's nice to be able to report that it's not all misery and death here. The quality of the writing is very high, as is the quality of the production and the acting throughout.
The cast continues to impress. Lance Henriksen and Megan Gallagher seemed to me to have a better chemistry once their characters' relationship was a bit more rocky - maybe just because they had more to work with on an emotional level. Terry O'Quinn does a great job as Peter Watts, the man who helps to reveal more and more information about the Millennium Group and seems at times friendly and at times quite menacing. And Kristen Cloke impressed me also, especially as her character is also involved in getting the audience more information about the mysterious Millennium Group, but also because she has quite a plot arc towards the end! And finally, Brittany Tiplady continues to do well at not making Jordan annoying.
Overall, I took great pleasure in watching the second season, and pretty much put in one disc the moment the previous one finished (allowing for annoying side habits such as work, sleep and eating!). I found that discovering more background about the Millennium Group added an extra layer of interest to the show, while the continuing criminal investigations were still appealing. I particularly enjoyed the Darin Morgan episodes, but another favourite for me was the 'The Mikado', mainly because I found it particularly creepy - just right for the genre and mood of the show.
Episode Guide (and Potential Spoilers)
1. The Beginning and the End
Catherine Black gets kidnapped and Frank pulls out all the stops to try and find her, including calling in the Millennium Group and his contact, Peter Watts.
2. Beware of the Dog
Frank's brought in to investigate a small town which is being terrorized by a series of animal attacks. Off he goes to Bucksnort where he finds a strange pack of dogs roaming the streets…
3. Sense and Antisense
There's a manhunt on, and they're looking for a man with a deadly and infectious disease - it's a battle against time and of course Frank is called on to help.
Frank gets to meet a new Millennium contact, Lara Means. The two end up working together on a potential child abuse case.
5. A Single Blade of Grass
Frank investigates a murder at an excavation site that's on a Native American burial ground; in the process he learns some more about his gift.
6. The Curse of Frank Black
Frank takes his daughter out trick-or-treating for the Hallowe'en episode. Of course, given the date, strange things happen!
Frank and Watts help in the search for a bunch of missing children, calling in Lara to assist.
8. The Hand of Saint Sebastian
The search for a holy relic that may hold the key to unlocking Millennium Group secrets takes Frank and Watts across to Germany.
9. Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense
The episode provides some light relief, with Charles Nelson Reilly reprising his X-Files role as Jose Chung. Frank helps Chung, who is researching and writing a book on the new millennium - and being stalked by a possible murderer at the same time.
10. Midnight of the Century
It's Christmas and Frank tries to repair his relationship with his father.
11. Goodbye, Charlie
Frank and Lara work together again, this time investigating someone who seems responsible for some mercy killings.
A body is washed up in Alaska, and this leads to Frank searching for a missing boy up there. In doing so he goes against orders from the Millennium Group and loses access to their information stores.
13. The Mikado
When a sick killing takes place live on the Internet, Frank and Watts need to look for help with understanding the technology. Clues from the killer tie in with an old unsolved case Frank worked on in his past, which makes him even more driven to catch the culprit.
14. The Pest House
When murders take place that involve urban myths, inmates at a local asylum become the chief suspects.
The Millennium Group is unveiled a little more in this episode, which is primarily concerned with the discovery of the True Cross and its retrieval. We learn of a rift developing in the Group that threatens to split it completely.
The growing rift in the Millennium Group continues, and we learn more about both sides. Meanwhile, Frank discovers yet another player in struggle, making it all the more intriguing.
When some of the crew of a ship die in mysterious circumstances, a strange Asian woman rescued from the ship becomes the prime suspect.
18. In Arcadia Ego
Two female prisoners kill a guard and go on the run - Frank and Watts are called in to help with the search, and in the process discover one of the inmates is pregnant and about to go through a dangerous birth.
An episode which doesn't feature Frank at all! This time it's Catherine Black in the limelight - along with Lara she investigates a girl who seems to be having religious visions. More of Lara's background and beliefs are shown in this episode and Catherine gets to play the cynic.
20. A Room With No View
Sarah Jane Redmond plays Lucy Butler in this episode where a teenage boy is kidnapped and held against his will by a strange couple. Frank senses Lucy's involvement and plunges into a desperate search for the missing child and also the perpetrator.
21. Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me
In an all-night doughnut café four jaded demons discuss their work in another fairly light-hearted episode (depending on your sense of humour, obviously!).
22. The Fourth Horseman
Lara disappears and Frank is concerned for her wellbeing - he's also getting pretty worried about himself as he and Watts are exposed to a dangerous disease and quarantined. Frank begins to sow some seeds of distrust about the Millennium Group to Watts.
23. The Time Is Now
As the disease seems to be spreading throughout the world and the apocalypse seems to be drawing near, Frank learns that he has been inoculated against the disease. Jordan and Catherine, however, are a different story…
The transfer is a clear and sharp 16:9 anamorphic one. There's very little to complain about here, with only the odd touch of grain, and even that only serving to add atmosphere. There's a lot of dark interiors and night scenes, and they're all rendered beautifully, with deep, rich colours that contrast well and still maintain realistic tones. It's very nicely done and definitely brings out the best in the show.
The sound transfer is in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, and is perfectly respectable. There's enough surround to know it's there, but the back speakers don't really get a fantastic workout - but why be surprised, this is often the case for TV shows and honestly it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of them. The dialogue is clear throughout, the background music really works together well with the show and altogether while this may not be the most amazing sound ever, it does its job.
There's not a huge number of extras, but those that exist are substantial enough to make up for the lack of quantity. First of all there are two audio commentaries. The first is by director, Tom Wright, on the episode 'The Hand of San Sebastian'. Unfortunately the disc featuring this episode was missing from the review copy I was provided with, so I can't say much more than that about this feature. However, I did get to listen to the other commentary track, by writer Michael R Perry on 'The Mikado'. Perry talks about his inspiration for the episode, casting, actors, and technical details about the internet and webcams and how he had to beg the production crew to make all the 'webcam' video look worse, so it would appear more realistic. He also talks a bit about how he came to work on Millennium and about Chris Carter, Morgan and Wong and the progress of the series.
Then there are two meaty featurettes. The first, The Turning of the Tide: The Making Of Season 2, runs just over 30 minutes and includes cast and crew interviews... including voxpops by Chris Carter himself. It examines many of the episodes individually talks about the influence of Morgan and Wong, and delves into various characters' development. (So much so, in fact, that I'd suggest not watching this until you've seen the show, because it does include some big spoilers). Basically this is more than the usual 'making of' fare; it's interesting and insightful and definitely worthwhile.
The second featurette clocks in at just under 25 minutes in length and is called Academy Group: Victimology. The Academy Group is the real-life inspiration for the Millennium Group, except - as one of their members put it - without the government conspiracies and religious undertones (i.e., more like the Millennium Group of season 1). This featurette mainly consists of members of the Academy Group talking about cases they worked on, and how they carry out their work. It's not as dry as I expected it to be; the speakers are animated and passionate about their work and this comes across well here.
Oh, and finally there was an Inside Look on the final disc. Not an inside look at series 3 of Millennium, as I at first thought it might be, but rather a sort of elongated trailer for the Jimmy Fallon film Taxi. It felt really out of place and it's not listed on any site as an extra for the series - but it was present on the screener disc so I thought I should mention it.
The second season of Millennium is definitely a strong one and doesn't require a particularly thorough knowledge of the previous season to enjoy. Under the tutelage of Morgan and Wong, the show develops its own mythology which works pretty well with the apocalyptic undertones - and the writing, acting and production are really impressive throughout. The DVD set includes some interesting and valuable extras for fans of the show, as well as lovely picture and sound transfers, and, as such, comes highly recommended.