Second Sight: “The Thin White Line”


“The Thin White Line” (14 February 1997)

Writers: Glen Morgan & James Wong
Director: Thomas J. Wright
Editor: Stephen Mark

Quote: “Can you see what I see, FBI? Can you see your fear? Can you see what you really are?” –Richard Alan Hance


Overview: At Millennium’s very center is an intrinsic concern with the nature of dreams and visions. This is, in part, because Millennium is a television series that continually embraced modes of alternate perception, both stylistically and thematically. Through the eyes of its visionary heroes and its delusional villains, the series explored the ways in which our memories, emotions, and instincts reveal themselves in the way that we see the world around us.

Perhaps no installment of Millennium’s first season embraces this more fully than “The Thin White Line.” The manhunt for copycat serial killer Jacob Tyler, who murders innocent men and women based on wishful fantasies, forces Frank Black to confront his own past. Thanks to an inventive script, the story that unfolds allows him to do this somewhat literally in some scenes. Our hero’s remarkable inner eye is expanded yet again as his trademark visions are supplemented with recurring nightmares, dreams in which the profiler is forced to relive one of the most terrifying confrontations of his life. One of these dream sequences in particular, in which the present day Frank joins forces with his wide-eyed younger self in an effort to rewrite history, beautifully enacts the psychological struggle of the story. “The Thin White Line” stands as one of the first season’s strongest episodes and this remains one of the first season’s most memorable moments.

In both nightmares and flashback sequences, “The Thin White Line” also offers us a number of minor tidbits that contribute to the mystery and mythology surrounding our hero’s remarkable talents. Dialogue suggests to us that Frank’s “feelings” had earned him something of a reputation among his colleagues as early as 1977, when he was a member of the FBI team that captured Richard Alan Hance. Marked on his palm as one of this fearsome killer’s victims, staring into the face of his own death as he endures Hance’s vicious taunts, Frank experiences the sudden flare of one of his visions. This is the first occurrence of one of Frank’s visions, chronologically speaking, shown to us in the series thus far. Whether they represent the hero’s intuitive imaginings or some prophetic insight, we now know that Frank Black was seeing what the killer sees as early as the late seventies.

This scene also marks out “The Thin White Line” as one of the few Millennium episodes in which the hero’s visions are in some way internalized, offering a self-conscious glimpse of his own fears, his own potential fate. Glen Morgan and James Wong remain true to form with this script, forever aiming to more deeply explore Frank Black’s unique way of seeing the world, to ensure that his visions contributed to the themes of the story rather than providing highly-stylized distraction or plot loopholes. This is the same writing duo that first hinted at Jordan Black’s inheritance with the bad dreams of “Dead Letters,” the same team that first turned Frank Black’s visions inward in a feverish nightmare seen in “522666.” Yes, dreams are undeniably key to understanding this series and the struggles of its characters. Under the direction of Morgan and Wong, dreams and visions would become an increasingly intrinsic element of Millennium’s deepening mythology.

Connections: Jacob Tyler’s delusional fantasies, in which he imagines his victims to be volunteering themselves, are based on the hallucinations of real life serial killer Herbert Mullin, who murdered thirteen victims in California in 1972 and 1973. Frank Black’s visions were first utilized for introspective purposes in a nightmare he experienced in “522666,” also scripted by Glen Morgan and James Wong. Serial killer Richard Alan Hance has been previously profiled in Adam Chamberlain’s What the Killer Sees.

Trances in Total: 5 (0:16)

Gore Score: 4/10

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