“Dead Letters” (8 November 1996)
Writers: Glen Morgan & James Wong
Director: Thomas J. Wright
Editor: Chris Willingham, A.C.E.
Quote: “Do you know all about bad dreams?” --Jordan Black looks to her father for comfort
Overview: “Dead Letters” is a powerful and affecting story largely because of Jim Horn, the prospective profiler played with such tragic desperation by guest star James Morrison. Horn serves as a brilliantly effective foil for Frank Black; he is a flawed and wounded character who, by contrast, shows us what is so special about Millennium’s singular hero. Horn is utterly incapable of the sort of incredible insights that have been harnessed by Frank Black. In attempting to avoid problematic descriptors such as “paranormal” or “supernatural” in discussions regarding Frank Black’s gift, Chris Carter has often described the profiler’s abilities as “empathic” in nature. It is that uncommon empathy for his fellow man, that selfless willingness to become one with the thoughts and feelings of both victims and killers, which shows Frank to be such an exceptional hero. “Dead Letters” reveals just how essential empathy is to the equation by progressively eroding Horn’s own facility for emotional and intellectual identification. Without the empathetic connection, Horn is blinded and soon becomes a reckless and vengeful man who is only able to see the serial killer they seek as a dimensionless bogeyman. “These killers can’t be simply cases or psychological anomalies anymore,” Horn bemoans. “They’re just... monsters. Just monsters.”
This episode is also noteworthy for its preoccupation with young Jordan Black. With “Dead Letters,” Glen Morgan and James Wong slyly add a significant layer to the mythology quickly building up around Frank Black’s unusual flashes of insight. It is an idea acknowledged by Frank Spotnitz when he conceded, “I can see why people thought there was a psychic component to it.” Spotnitz attributes this impression of Frank’s gift in part to the inheritance implied in this episode’s unnerving teaser: “It was certainly hinted that his daughter, Jordan, had the same gift, if you will… that Jordan had the same ability.” Jordan’s nightmare--a darkly playful sequence dominated by the figure of a fearsome clown--is not easily forgotten. At its heart this is an episode about “bad dreams,” a story concerned with the imaginative visions that torment slumbering children and the grim knowledge that can torture waking adults. (Given the role such visions will play in our understanding of Frank’s own abilities, Jordan’s nightmare has been included in our usual tally of trances below.) Though Jordan’s dreams are of a sort that have troubled every boy and girl at one time or another, as the sleepover with T.C. Horn implies, their prominence in the episode poses a persistent question, a question that would come to serve as a key component of Millennium’s continually evolving mythology: Could Jordan Black have inherited some abnormal ability from her visionary father? The first hints of the prophetic bond between father and daughter are to be found in the chilling cackle of that black-and-white clown.
Connections: The nameless figure that inhabits Jordan Black’s nightmares instantly evokes Pennywise, the monstrous, clown-faced antagonist of Stephen King’s It (1986).
Trances in Total: 6 (1:00)
Gore Score: 1/10
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