Second Sight: "Wide Open"

“Wide Open” (3 January 1997)

Charles D. Holland
Director: James Charleston
Editor: Chris Willingham, A.C.E.

Quote: “Hi, Bob... Came down to see what I didn’t see.” --Frank Black

Millennium defies traditional genre labels but, over the years, it has most often been described as horror. Indeed, a tagline printed on promotional posters prepared by Fox Broadcasting for the show’s second season declared, “We don’t want to scare you. We want to terrify you.” The series employs many tactics in order to strike fear into the hearts of its viewers but among the most complex and captivating of these is to be found in the show’s preoccupation with spectatorship, the act of looking. Though it is a subject matter we don’t often stop to reflect on in our daily lives, there is an inherent power in the gaze, there is an undeniable threat in a stare, and these ideas are embodied in the serial killers seen so frequently on the series. It has been evident since that first blood-drenched private strip show the Frenchman paid to see in the visually arresting “Pilot.” On Millennium, spectatorship inevitably gives way to the threat or menace of voyeurism, which inevitably gives way to sudden and brutal death.

No episode thus far has explored this theme more clearly, perhaps, than “Wide Open.” Here we have an installment concerned with the relationship between fear, security, and spectatorship, a story about a voyeuristic killer and a traumatized young witness whose experiences prove pivotal to the ensuing investigation. A trademark Ten-Thirteen sight gag reinforces the themes of the episode when we are shown a sign promoting the selling points for Emerald Shore Realty: “Killer Views, Killer Price$.” Such visual cues abound, from Detective Giebelhouse’s futile efforts to peek in apartment peep holes to a realtor’s viewing of a harrowing videocassette. Nothing sells the dominating menace inherent in the act of looking more strongly, however, than the penetrating, unblinking stare of guest star Pablo Coffey in his chilling portrayal of the aptly named Cutter. His is the watchful eye behind the peep hole, the controlling hand behind the camcorder. There is threat in the man’s very look, a prevailing menace that cannot be blocked or avoided or deterred. As Hannibal Lector explained to Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, “We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?” The key to this case, our investigators soon realize, is in the gaze.

The only hope for security, in fact, is offered not by police patrols or burglar alarms but by the gaze of Frank Black. Cutter is not the only character possessed of a watchful eye. Opposing voyeurism with vigilance, “Wide Open” shows us the power provided by our eyes and thereby reinforces the unique power of the protagonist. Frank Black is a hero whose might lies not in his lightning reflexes or his unrivaled strength but in his eyes and in his mind’s eye, in his often astonishing facility for observation. It is what Frank Black sees that sets him apart. The strobe-like imagery of his trademark visions--some of which, in this episode, focus directly on the eyes of young Patricia Highsmith, who is emotionally scarred by what she has seen--are there to remind us of this. These visions are a mixed blessing--both a gift and a curse, as the profiler has told us--and “Wide Open” remains a frightening example of horror television. There is hope in the profiler’s visions but they are, as ever, jarring and deeply upsetting to see. As viewers participating in our own sort of voyeuristic engagement with the violence and gore that flashes before us on the glowing TV screen, it is impossible not to be unnerved by the implications.

Trances in Total: 4 (0:10)

Gore Score: 4/10

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