Second Sight: "Pilot"

Last week, Adam Chamberlain performed an act of televisual profiling by offering us a glimpse inside the mind of a serial killer with What the Killer Sees. This week, I am proud to introduce a companion to his bi-weekly column: Second Sight. Millennium lingers in the minds of its faithful viewers in part because it left us with many enduring enigmas, mysteries that are discussed and debated still today. Chief among these is the true nature of Frank Black’s extraordinary gift. Was our peerless forensic profiler employing a brilliant but purely intellectual deductive skill? Or was there something miraculous, something inconceivable, about his astonishing insights? Identifying connections as well as discrepancies, statistics as well as disputes, Back to Frank Black’s newest regular column is concerned with confronting these lingering questions. On alternating Fridays, episode-by-episode, Second Sight will endeavor to offer viewers a fresh perspective on Frank Black’s mysterious talents by investigating the inner eye of Millennium’s visionary hero...


“Pilot” (25 October 1996)

Writer: Chris Carter
Director: David Nutter
Editor: Stephen Mark

Quote: “I see what the killer sees... I put myself in his head. I become the thing we fear the most... I become capability. I become the horror, what we know we can become only in our heart of darkness. It’s my gift. It’s my curse. It’s why I retired.” --Frank Black


Overview: One of many stunning stylistic elements that separate Millennium from earlier crime dramas--indeed, one of the show’s trademark hooks--is to be found in the attempt to offer a distinctive visual representation of the hero’s deductive methods. “Pilot” takes full advantage of this device by offering us a string of gruesome, sometimes symbolic montages representing the unique vision of both the Frenchman and Frank Black. Whilst they often serve to illustrate the particulars of the crimes that have been committed, these visceral sequences are also undeniably surreal, immediately evoking the supernatural sensibilities already associated in the minds of the audience with creator Chris Carter.

As a result, the script for the episode goes out of its way to defend Frank’s so-called facility as purely intuitive or intellectual. In what is undoubtedly the show’s best-remembered monologue, our favorite criminal profiler emphatically insists that there is nothing psychic about his deductive feats. Carter has repeated this mandate on countless occasions. In his audio commentary for the episode, the show’s creator describes Frank Black as a man “who doesn’t necessarily have an in-born gift but something he has developed through his hard work with catching criminals, seeing how they operated, knowing them, and ultimately being able to see like them.” For the Millennium devotee, “psychic” is a dirty word.

From the very start, however, there exists an undercurrent of the miraculous that troubles our understanding of Frank Black’s extraordinary gift. At least two specific aspects of “Pilot” leave us wondering about the true extent of Frank’s mental talents. Firstly, there is his refusal to use his eyes as he repeatedly turns down opportunities to personally view the bodies of murder victims hidden by tarps or body bags. (It is this quirk that prompts a coroner to glibly dub our hero “the man with the x-ray eyes.”) Then there is the Frenchman, who, in the midst of his ravings, instinctively insists that he shares a sort of apocalyptic power with the retired lawman who has hunted him down: “You can see it, just like I do. You know the end is coming.” Should we simply shrug this off as a tirade from a murderous madman? Or is there something unusual, something unavoidable, about the implied prophetic connection between the two? Is there more to the hero’s gift than meets the eye? Millennium’s exceptional pilot episode, like so many of those installments that would follow, raises just as many questions regarding Frank Black’s gift as it seemingly answers.

Connections: The blood-and-fire visuals associated with the Frenchman’s point-of-view are inspired by evocative imagery to be found in “The Second Coming” (1920) by William Butler Yeats and the biblical Book of Revelation. Frank’s attempt to describe the precise nature of his abilities recalls “Heart of Darkness” (1902) by Joseph Conrad, a novella that explores the capacity for darkness inherent to the human heart. Whoever Fights Monsters (1992) by Robert K. Ressler and Mindhunter (1995) by John E. Douglas--both men who served as models for the character of Frank Black--offer insight regarding a factual approach to the psychological profiling of serial killers.

Trances in Total: 5 (0:20)

Gore Score: 9/10

6 Responses to "Second Sight: "Pilot""

Terri said... October 1, 2010 at 1:26 PM

I think the smash cut visuals greatly confused the issue. While they gave the show a distinctive style, they appeared to be "what Frank saw" in his mind and were often literal depictions of the crimes. (In the Pilot they tended to be more metaphoric.)

Two other instances of the connection between the Frenchman and Frank. In the park when the Frenchman instantly "recognizes" Frank which leads to that great on-foot chase scene. And at the end in the lab when the Frenchman feels Frank's presence with his back turned to Frank as he enters.

Chris Carter can say all he wants about not wanting Frank to appear to be psychic, but with such blatant examples as these right from the very beginning, it's no wonder that viewers were never clear on the nature of Frank's "gift."

Joselyn Rojas said... October 1, 2010 at 6:23 PM

THis new column is amazing! Between Adam and Brian my brain is wired!!! Woohooooooo!!!
I adore the sweet touch GORE SCORE! hehe hehe hehe hehe

Brian A. Dixon said... October 4, 2010 at 10:40 AM

Thanks, to both of you, for your comments on the inaugural column!

Yes, Terri, you're quite right. I think that both the style and storytelling in "Pilot" greatly confuse the issue from the very start--and, to be perfectly honest, whatever attempts were made to set the record straight after the fact, I have to say that this seems a deliberate part of the mystique of the series as it was first sold to us.

Your enthusiasm is very much appreciated, Joselyn, as ever! Given that the visions I'll be examining in each column are all quite gruesome, I thought the "Gore Score" a nice touch--and, hopefully, one that'll serve to slightly lighten the mood!

TL said... October 5, 2010 at 1:50 PM

Fantastic read Brian, as with Adam's, I read it several times. Very well thought out and presented!

Adam Chamberlain said... October 8, 2010 at 5:52 AM

It's certainly a fascinating and rich subject matter to explore, and one that will doubtless encourage further such discussion of its nature!

It's interesting to me too how some investigative teams defend the use of "psychics", though. They don't believe in a sixth sense ability per se, but some do acknowledge that certain individuals have an ability to detect clues or signs from a crime scene almost subconsciously, just since they are so attuned to such micro detail.

I do wonder, then, if there was an intent to reflect such an ability that could explain some of the content of "Pilot": perhaps Frank was able to intuit something about the nature of the killings from their background without needing to examine the corpses, for example. And maybe The Frenchman in turn recognises something subtle in Frank's appearance or bearing that speaks to his profession and hence flees at the moment he does so.

It's not a watertight theory, for certain, and one that will doubtless hold less weight as further episodes are explored, but it's an area in particular that fascinates me.

Brian A. Dixon said... October 11, 2010 at 9:31 AM

I agree with you, Adam--though much of what Terri has said is still very much at play.

Millennium is a series that often requires us to read between the lines, to apply our own sense of intuition and understanding to the scenes offered to us. There are numerous encounters here--including Frank's sudden recognition of and foot chase with the Frenchman--that can be justified or explained, I think, by considering the powerful potential in observation and intuition. That being said, I stand by what's stated in the column; there are other convenient connections present here, as well as stylistic choices, that simply suggest something far more "extrasensory" in nature.

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