Returning after a short sabbatical, What the Killer Sees is pulling out the big guns for this edition. As a nod to the recently released podcast interview with writer Michael R. Perry—a highlight of the Millennium Group Sessions’ entire run and a very revealing interview that I highly recommend—we turn our attention to one of the most popular episodes in Millennium’s entire run and an antagonist to rival Lucy Butler as Frank Black’s archnemesis…
Episode: “The Mikado” (6 February 1998)
Writer: Michael R. Perry
Director: Roderick J. Pridy
Quote: “Avatar will tell us how to find him. And then, after he escapes, he proves his superiority.” –Frank Black
Profile: Avatar is a highly organised killer. The degree to which he stages his murders and the level of pre-planning demanded by the obtuse clues he leaves in his wake along with their complexity all indicate this and point to an extremely high intellect. He is also very unusual in a couple of respects. Whilst most serial killers follow a particular modus operandi, even when this develops over the course of a killer’s career, Avatar has completely changed his approach from a decade previously. Also, it is notably rare for a serial killer to go for such a long period as this without any activity unless incarcerated or otherwise restricted. Perhaps Avatar has simply evaded detection over this period, although this seems unlikely, since what truly defines him and forms his overriding motive is the extent and methods by which he taunts the authorities that would seek to catch him. This sociopathology not only leads to him asserting a level of control and superiority over the authorities as he demands that they “defer” to him—“The Lord High Executioner”—but also cultivated a culture of fear and infamy from his previous killings.
This should not detract, however, from the fact that Avatar has another motive belying his crimes. His typology is that he selects couples, killing the male and then enslaving the female before murdering her. He thus seeks to usurp the men and gain control and ownership over the women he murders. Frank Black gives an insight into this element of his motive by voicing what he “sees” as the investigative team seeks his lair:
“You slaughtered that young girl for no other reason than you wanted to. You hate yourself but you feel like you’re God at the same time. But maybe the bitch had it coming. I watched the life blood drain from her body. And now she is mine forever. I showed her to the world. And now I have her in a safe place where I can see her any time I want.”
Avatar is, of course, closely based upon the Zodiac Killer. Various particulars of the cases and the killers mirror one another: the use of ciphers, delivering a minute change to a known text in his encrypted messages, the taunting of the police, the adoption of a symbol as a calling card, the evasion of capture, even down to sending of a segment of The Mikado to the authorities.
Investigation: The most notable aspect of this latest investigation into Avatar’s killings of course derives from the fact that the murders are broadcast online; it offers a social comment in that the public’s voyeurism precipitates the bloody culmination, making them complicit to the crime. “The web has become his world” as Frank puts it. Given it is not immediately clear where the crimes are being perpetrated, no-one has jurisdiction; it is as though Avatar has selected the medium to highlight this shortfall in the law, or maybe even to defy Frank Black’s gift. As Frank indicates when it is suggested his apparent re-appearance is in fact a copycat killer:
“The most recent events are not a copy. It’s a whole new creation, from the slipstream of electrons, a world as real as life or death but that disappears in the blink of an eye. The devil has a new playground.”
Nevertheless, assisted by Roedecker unleashed on the Millennium Group’s state of the art technology and Frank Black’s instincts, albeit muted by the fact he is not present at the crime scene, the investigation closes in on Avatar’s location by unravelling some of his subtle clues. Ultimately, though, Avatar manages to stay one step ahead and proves he is still a rare match for Frank’s gift, escaping from the stage on which he has performed for him and for us in order to fight—and kill—another day.