Fifteen years ago, Millennium’s “Pilot” first aired on Fox with considerable fanfare and 17.72 million viewers tuned in. They were treated to one of the most finely crafted television pilots ever, courtesy of Chris Carter’s vision. For the purposes of What the Killer Sees, we will explore how this also extends to the psyche of the episode’s violent and twisted antagonist…
Killer: The Frenchman (Paul Dillon)
Episode: “Pilot” (25 October 1996)
Writer: Chris Carter
Director: David Nutter
Quote: “This is prophecy! The final judgment and victory! This is the way it ends! But you know that. You can see it, just like I do. You know the end is coming! The thousand years is over! But you think you’re the one to stop it! You think it can be stopped! … You can’t stop it.” –The Frenchman
Profile: The Frenchman is in many ways the archetypal Millennium serial killer, just as he needs to be in order to meet the requirements of a pilot episode. We learn much of his modus operandi from Frank’s insights into the killing of Calamity: the mutilation of the body, including decapitation, the removal of the weapon from the crime scene and, tellingly, the absence of any sexual assault. This aspect is significant and his homicides are revealed to be sexually motivated, as becomes further apparent in his targeting of gay men. It becomes evident he is sampling their blood and testing it to determine the HIV status of his male captives, who suffer horrific treatment as he buries them alive, sews up their eyes, mouth, hands and more or resorts to burning them alive. As Frank outlines to a room of bemused Seattle police detectives, the Frenchman feels confusion and guilt over his sexuality, confounded into anger as he tries and fails to feel anything for women by visiting The Ruby Tip. All of this fuels his psychosis, which is further twisted by an obsession with apocalyptic poetry from the likes of William Butler Yeats, Nostradamus and the Book of Revelation. The Frenchman comes to think that he is fulfilling a prophecy, twisting these various sources to match his psychosis as he acts to rid Seattle, “the maritime city”, of a “great plague”. He is thus the kind of composite of serial killer attributes that is often used to such dramatic effect in Millennium, one that serves the story and theme foremost without being identifiable by profile to any single category of killer.
This column is of course titled for a line of dialogue delivered by Frank Black in this episode. Bob Bletcher asks Frank how he has such insight into the investigations on which he consults. Frank responds, “I see what the killer sees… I put myself in his head. I become the thing we fear the most… I become capability. I become the horror, what we know we can become only in our heart of darkness.” Crucially, this is what The Frenchman has also become. He shares something of Frank’s insights regarding the rising tide of evil, explicitly stating, “You can see it, just like I do.” He is, then, something of a mirror image to our hero, personifying the moral and psychological depths into which the darkness to which they both bear witness can push a man. And as such he serves to emphasise the heroism of Frank Black as a man who also sees such horrors but handles them, retains his humanity—notably through his family and the sanctity of his yellow house—and moreover renders his curse into a gift, a weapon against such evils. The contrast between protagonist and antagonist here really underlines Frank Black as the “very bright centre” that Chris Carter had envisioned to shine out against the darkness that surrounds him.
Investigation: Frank Black has newly arrived back in Seattle, where he hopes to resettle and create a safe new home for his wife and daughter. He recognises a modus operandi he has seen before from the detail of a newspaper article, though, and soon finds himself reunited with Lt. Bob Bletcher and assisting on an investigation into the murder of a stripper that grows yet more horrific. The accuracy of his insights confounds Bletcher, whilst his theories leave Detective Giebelhouse and his colleagues less than convinced.
Frank eventually tracks the killer to the police lab via blood samples, and this leads to his dramatic showdown with The Frenchman. In his final moments the killer spouts warnings of the greater evil that is coming, a rising tide that hints at this very outset of something larger at work than the pathology of individual murderers operating in isolation. Once again, “Pilot” acts as a superbly crafted introduction to Chris Carter’s vision for Millennium, hinting at different interpretations and manifestations of evil that the series would explore over three seasons and which fans are still debating fifteen years later.