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Thursday, May 5, 2011

You can have my isolation; you can have the hate that it brings - Trent Reznor

Sometimes, we all have to walk the dark path. You have to walk alongside and in the dark to understand and make peace with it. The third episode of "Millennium" that really struck me during my revisitng of the series is "The Thin White Line". Frank Black walks a very dark path in this one, a path that has to do with his regrets and personal convictions, his whole belief system. And as dark as it is, it's ultimately uplifting.

There is a copycat killer loose. He is mimicing a the pattern of a current inmate that Frank put inside years ago. A true psychopath that almost killed him. He wasn't successful, but he left him with a scar, a thin white line across the palm of his hand. Frank bears more than just a physical scar from this confrontation. The events send him into serious contemplation about what he could have or should have done.

I'm going to digress a bit here, but there is a point to this.

One of the people that I still just respect to an insane degree, to this day, was a cop. One of my best friend's Mom actually. Mrs. Neff. She was the first woman to work at our city PD. She then became a county sheriff, and eventuall FDLE. She was tough as nails. That, and she made a mean Key Lime Pie. The dichotomy is what is key here. She could decorate her house like a photospread in Vanity Fair, and that night smack a drunk felon upside the head with her Kel-Lite to subdue him. Frank Black has said over and over that he is not a cop. Technically, no. But he works in that world that is there to uphold all of our principles. He doesn't bake or decorate, but when he is at home there is a shift - he keeps the dark path far from the yellow house, by doing all of the things a husband and Father do, which is wisely emphasized often in this series.

It takes a special kind of person to do what Mrs. Neff and Frank Black do. I've heard that law enforcement officers have different ways of dealing with the special kind of daily stress they face. Some engage in gallows humor at a crime scene. While sitting at the table and eating that Key Lime pie Mrs. Neff would tell us about her day. She she didn't spare us for the most part, because she wanted us to know. She chose which experiences she shared carefully, but they all had a point. She wanted us to know about the dark that was out there, to be prepared. She could be funny, like telling us about how the recorder in her purse at an undercover sting wasn't working, and the John she was about to arrest was getting way to close and personal. She would tell us this while my friend and I would help her dress really trashy for the evening's work. We clipped roach clips in her hair, Picked out the tightest jeans in her closest, told her NO! Not the leather purse, you need a Crown Royal bag for your cash...

Sometimes she would scare the crap out of us, telling us about the time she was first on the scene of an accident that killed a girl our age, and had to go tell the parents that their daughter was dead. She didn't mess around, Mrs. Neff. And she loved her work. She loved it, and like Frank Black, eventually had to step back from it for a bit, transfering to a dept. in charge of transporting fugitives, after the undercover work. She told us she was spending way too much time every night with addicts, prostitutes, pimps, and petty criminals, and it was making her question her commitment to the job.

In "The Thin White Line". Frank has to confront a similar set of circumstances. This case, the one that he had such a close call with himself, is causing him a lot of angst. He isn't sleeping. He's reliving the trauma in his dreams. In my last post, I talked a bit about how sometimes in life you don't have good choices, just a few that are bad and less bad. When he and Richard Alan Hance last met, even though Hance had killed some of colleagues, and terrorized Frank himself, Frank made the choice to wound but not kill, and put this man into the justice system.

That brings me to the pivotal scene in this episode, Frank has to confront the monster, the man that is responsible for mentoring the current killer out there.  He has to confront the dark path he walked with this man in the past. And seriously, Mr. Henriksen hits it out of the park. Out. Of. The. Park. It's crazy good, this scene. I usually don't use this expression, as I don't have them. Just a basic rule, take that as you will. Frank has cojones of steel, and a job to do, and he will not be manipulated by this evil, empty man.
There is a lot of subtley in this scene. Stillness. Mr. Henricksen steps into the dangerous territory of the cell and is focused and still. Zen like. It's a dance between he and this murderer, played by Jeremy Roberts, who I gotta say, is intense and great. Frank needs information, and he plays on Hance's ego to coax it out...He makes him tell his story, Hance's walk down the dark path after he was bullied. The dance then escalates as Hance starts to relive his crimes, among them the fact that he groomed his former cellmate into the killer Frank Black now hunts. Frank has a job to do, but his hate for this man wants to compromise that. You can feel the taughtness of his emotions. It's as taught as the tension Hance fells due to the constant hum of the flourescent lights in his cell. Frank's moral code is keeping him on track, but his gut is telling him that he should have taken this guy out. And he is tempted, by his doubts and colleagues. And the moment where Frank tells Hance basically, give me a reason to be crazier than you, because I'll go there with no regrets and TAKE YOU OUT is stunning. Mr. Henriksen has this look in his arsenal, it's like a laser death ray, you don't want to be on the other end of it. Hance loses.

Frank now knows exactly how this end game with the copycat killer is going to go down. He is prepared. He steps in to the dark path of the sacrificial victim, and turns it back in the killer's face. And in a final confrontation a very important thing happens, Frank tries to get the killer to step off of the dark path. He is just about to be possibly successful, and Lt. Bletcher takes that option from him.

I won't say I was sorry to see the bad guy go. That's the dilemmna we all face. Step onto or out of the dark.

In a brilliant coda to the story, there is a panning shot of Hance sleeping. The lights go out.

Frank Black made an oath, and he will stand by it. That's the great thing about him, he walks the dark path when necessary, and steps off it at precisely the right time.


  1. Hi Jane,

    I can't tell you how much I have enjoyed all three of your Millennium-based posts this week, during the blogathon. This look back at "The Thin White Line" is another strong piece, and I enjoy how, wherever you can, you tie elements of the episode narratives to real life experiences and personal connections.

    Thank you for posting this.


  2. Thanks John, that's gratifying to hear:)

  3. Another beautifully written post, Jane! This is one of the finest episodes of season 1, and it certainly has a lot to say about ethics and the inherent dilemma of those in law enforcement. The interview scene is absolutely mesmerizing; two fine actors at the top of their game, feeding off each other. I have said before that there is a rock solid strength in Henriksen's stillness. He's played flamboyant, over-the-top guys before, but I think he is at his best when he is still. When he pulls you into his world with sheer magnetism. We get two things in this episode that we've never seen before up to this point. One is Frank as a law enforcement officer (FBI in this case). We had not seen him with a gun before, taking orders, conducting typical in-the-field activities. The other, and most important, is rage. Even though it is only a look and a slight flare of the nostrils, we believe in that moment that Frank is capable of inflicting extreme damage. It is something that will be important in seasons 2 and 3 where all Frank seems to do is rage. (I'm *not* a fan of seasons 2 and 3.) At least this episode supports what is to come so that it doesn't seem to come quite so out of the blue.

  4. Thanks Terri. I was thinking today that some of the most thought provoking TV, and consequently the stuff I have loved, (Carnivale, Twin Peaks) needs to be revisited often. I've been enjoying the heck out of my revisitng of Millenium.

  5. Wonderful post of a great episode in this series, Jane. I think I'm going to have to re-visit this one again soon because of this piece. Thanks.

  6. "You can have my isolation; you can have the hate that it brings."

    Reminds me of the plaint of Frankenstein's Monster.