Millennium (1996-99) was a shoo-in to feature in this blog, given my enduring love and admiration for the series, its consummate and considered artistry, and its dense, psychological subject matter. It tells the story of Frank Black (Lance Henriksen), a legendary forensic profiler gifted with the ability to see into the minds of killers, and via whose singular perspective each episode explores the various manifestations and nature of evil in the modern world. I recently co-edited a book, “Back to Frank Black” (2012), featuring detailed analysis of the series’ themes alongside versions of interviews originally conducted by the titular campaign to see this unique criminal profiler return to our screens.
In the course of putting the book together, I revisited many, many episodes from all three seasons, yet one I hadn’t re-watched until now forms the subject of this entry: “Walkabout”. It is, in many ways, one of the most unsettling instalments of all in Millennium‘s first season, and this is in large part due to the circumstances in which we first meet Frank Black during a jarring teaser sequence. Locked in a room full of people in severe states of agitation, arousal or anxiety, he violently and repeatedly pummels the door’s reinforced glass pane in a vain attempt to escape. This is Frank Black as the audience has never seen him before at this point in the series: enraged and out-of-control. Rather than entering the scene of an horrific crime as a restrained consulting investigator, the hero’s out-of-character behaviour and subsequent disappearance represents the episode’s initial mystery.
Fellow consultant and Millennium Group member Peter Watts (Terry O’Quinn) shows up at Frank’s house to seek assistance from his wife Catherine (Megan Gallagher). Frank turns up soon after, battered and unconscious, in the town where he had been on assignment, with no memory of what happened to him. Piecing together the events that led up to his disappearance, Frank is subsequently able to track down a discredited doctor that he had visited, and who monitors experimental and clinical trials of as yet unapproved prescription drugs. Frank subsequently learns that he was present during such a drug trial, but that another substance was unwittingly taken by the participants through a water dispenser—one that led to the frenzied behaviours seen in the teaser sequence. Sandy Geiger (Alison Matthews), a forensic lab technician, explains what that substance was:
Proloft, the fictional drug that features in “Walkabout”, is actually named for two very common prescription drugs, Prozac and Zoloft, that are used to treat a number of conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders. Between them, recent figures indicate that they have accounted for over sixty million prescriptions per year in the US alone. Whilst undoubtedly helpful to some patients, concerns have often been raised regarding the overprescription of anti-depressants, resulting in side effects being suffered unnecessarily by those experiencing milder symptoms that might have better suited other forms of treatment. Meanwhile, of course, pharmaceutical companies report huge profits.
Society’s blindness to such overprescription is the central conceit of the episode’s antagonist, Hans Ingram (Gregory Itzin), who works for the pharmaceutical company that markets Proloft. Disillusioned with his work, his scheme is to highlight these dangers by giving people a drug that has the opposite effect. Having initially contaminated the water that Frank Black drank at the family clinic, Ingram’s final dramatic statement is to have free samples of the drug handed out at an office location. Mass panic ensues, all of which Ingram observes via cameras from the building’s security room. It is here that Frank Black confronts Ingram, who explains his spurious motive:
With Ingram taken into custody, one central mystery still remains. Why was Frank Black at the clinic in the first place, and why had he met with the discredited doctor?
Frank’s facility is first introduced as being both a gift and a curse; it enables him to see into the minds of killers, but it also poses a risk to his own sanity. Prior to the start of the series, he has retired from the F.B.I. having suffered a breakdown. In “Sacrament“, a preceding episode, Frank’s daughter Jordan (Brittany Tiplady) first shows signs that she may have a similar facility to that of her father in the wake of her aunt’s abduction. It transpires that, fearful for what her future may hold in store, Frank had explored the nature of the trials to seek a potential cure for his “gift”.
Whilst the exact nature of Frank’s facility remains somewhat nebulous throughout Millennium, it is here for the first time represented as something akin to an illness, and potentially a genetic condition at that. The allusions to mental illness are clearly drawn and, in the context of the episode’s plot and the audience’s knowledge of Frank’s chequered past, it makes for a powerful comparison. The episode ends with Frank and Catherine—always devoted parents—discussing the implications for their daughter:
Millennium would sometimes be criticised during its first season for being nothing more than a “serial-killer-of-the-week” procedural series. It is, however, nothing of the sort, and much more besides. It is a mature and dense series, employing Frank Black’s singular perspective upon the crimes he encounters as a prism through which to view the modern world. It explores evil in many guises, and in “Walkabout” it suggests that, in allowing ourselves and others merely to be drugged into acquiescence, we do a great disservice to society. It is a powerful message dramatically delivered, and one that still rings true to this day.