Comparing how the finales of Carter’s ‘X-Files’ and Morgan and Wong’s ‘Millennium’ both explore the end of the world in different ways
With the highly anticipated return of The X-Files having now come and gone at this point, it’s left many people—hardcore fans and casual watchers, alike—asking questions like if this return was worth it in the first place. While discussions over the series’ merits and detriments have been highly catalogued, another topic that’s been brought to the surface are the pandemic-like events that Chris Carter chose to end the tenth season on. The controversial move left a lot of people scratching their heads, but long-time fans of Chris Carter’s body of work were also noticing that the plotting bore a lot of resemblances to another highly contentious finale of one of his shows, that of Millennium’s second season, “The Time is Now.” A finale that he worked incredibly hard to scrub the record of.
Millennium is not a show that is on many people’s radars, and admittedly, a lot of the people that stuck with it were just due to residual X-Files fan fervor. The show had an infinitely bleaker perspective than The X-Files did, an arguably less engrossing mythology behind it, a heavy Biblical background, and it was lacking the balancing act that was created through Mulder and Scully’s repartee. Frank Black’s sounding board and moral center was a yellow house. When Millennium was heading into its second season, Carter was too encumbered not only running the fifth season of The X-Files, but also readying the series’ feature film. In his stead, Carter appointed Glen Morgan and James Wong—two voices that were an integral part of The X-Files early seasons, and contributors to Millennium’s freshman year—to be in charge of shaping Millennium’s second year as he stepped down.
While Millennium is not a very good show, it’s second season is, and it’s absolutely worth checking out when you’ve got the time. It’s kind of incredible how much Morgan and Wong are able to shape this dour series into a serviceable, creepy vehicle that legitimately has something to say about the nature of evil and the end of times. The series’ biggest story point was that the impending millennium was ultimately going to signal the apocalypse, with the mysterious “Millennium Group” trying to police and monitor instances correlating to this event. While Carter mostly kept his foot off of the apocalypse pedal, Morgan and Wong drop a brick on it, with their finale full-on embracing the end of the world.
The conduit to bring about all of this is a deadly virus that is unleashed that kills 75 percent of the world’s population (just look at that promo ad for this finale and try to not get excited), including the main character’s wife, putting some very real consequences on the table. Morgan and Wong are dealing with the highest of stakes and it’s the payoff to what the entire show has been leading up to, with it being exactly what you’d hope for. Adversely, in The X-Files’ “My Struggle II,” Carter introduces an eerily similar pandemic that appears to be killing most of the population, except for those that are alien abductees or have alien DNA.
Furthermore, Carter’s plague does have a slap-dash cure to it, but a highly implausible one at that, and especially one that couldn’t really save what’s left of humanity. In “The Time is Now” the episode makes a point of how there is no cure here and that this is just a virus that wipes out whatever’s in its path. This stays in touch with the bleak theme of the show as well as the shadow corporations that are behind it all.
With Carter’s current attitude towards pandemics, it’s not surprising to see that when Millennium returned for its third season (with Morgan and Wong gone, to boot), it was Carter who retconned all of this effective apocalypse material. Carter retroactively greatly reduces the threat of the breakout (to a mere couple thousand casualties!)—in a means that doesn’t make any sense, no less—in a fashion that I fear will likely be done on The X-Files too, since the show can’t continue to operate in a mostly-dead world. It’s just legitimately insulting to an audience to be all, “Yeah, that stuff that you all saw happen didn’t actually happen,” and it’s the best strategy that he comes up with here. Morgan and Wong take big swings, but mean it, whereas Carter does them for big flashy moments, not thinking through the consequences. It’s a big finale moment to tell us that the world is dying, but in the light of day of a premiere, it’s all too easy to pull back on that.
What’s also crucial here is how the news of a population decimating pandemic is introduced and dealt with on a show. In “My Struggle II” Carter chooses to illustrate his doom and gloom through tacky news reports, heavy exposition, and last-minute developments. A lot of this death happens off screen and within minutes, with this sort of thing being exactly what would have benefited from a classic X-Files two-parter. Never before has the series tried to cram so much in, in so little time.
Over on Morgan and Wong’s Millennium, sure there is exposition, but the series executes this much more with raw emotion, Biblical good and evil, and letting this story have an entire season to breathe rather than a mere episode. That being said, in this episode alone, they straight up show you a mind breaking in half (in what’s the Lynchian thing I’ve seen on TV this side of Twin Peaks). These guys devote ten minutes to psychological mind fuckery to convey the feeling of the apocalypse, choreographed to a breathtaking soundscape that’s—no question—one of the best thing I’ve ever seen on television, while The X-Files gives you Joel McHale talking to a camera and the expectation to fill in blanks during commercial breaks.
Granted, Wong and Morgan supposedly attempted such a ballsy finale because they thought it was pretty likely that the series was going to be canceled. That being said, I sincerely doubt they would have abandoned this plan had they stayed on as showrunners, or that they didn’t have an idea of where they were going with this direction. Millennium would have been an entirely different beast after this point, but a show all about the apocalypse obviously needs to address the apocalypse at some point.
With the creative, different, disturbing way that Morgan and Wong presented their pandemic, it really makes you think how they would have put together “My Struggle II” if they were given the opportunity. Morgan and Wong were apart of the few select people that Carter brought back for The X-Files’ revival. In fact, they even share the executive producer credit with him, in lieu of Fran Spotnitz, so it’s clear that there’s no bad blood in the waters, and that he still values what they have to say creatively. Carter still very much seems to be calling the shots though. His instincts on the matter seem completely counter intuitive to theirs, but with the backlash Carter himself saw this year over The X-Files’ return, maybe in some twisted symmetry they’ll be the ones penning or directing the next premiere, cleaning up Carter’s mess. Only this time, I’m sure they’ll actually be improving on the matter.