Here’s a repost of an article I wrote last year, here prefacing a very special Millennium Group Sessions to be released on Christmas Day…
“Midnight of the Century” (19 December 1997)
Writers: Erin Maher & Kay Reindl
Director: Dwight Little
The first thing we hear in “Midnight of the Century” is a ticking clock, the opening image that then fades in by way of accompaniment its rocking pendulum. This episode’s title comprises two descriptors of time, and the weight of time’s passage is very much its underlying theme, right from the opening moments in which Frank is first visited by the ghost of a Christmas past that is to haunt him this particular Christmas Eve.
“There’s something about this time of year that always makes me consider time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in life you could pick the speed in which you were going to experience time? I would have it take forever for these kids to grow up—I don’t care if they didn’t like it. I’d have autumn go much slower, winter a little faster and the time that I was experiencing regret I’d have go… slower actually, so I could fix and leave the situation without regret.” –Peter Watts
Peter Watts’ speech to Frank and Lara at his pre-Christmas gathering speaks to the same themes, to the sense of reflection that this season can often inspire in us, contextualised further beyond his family to the larger concerns that lurk at the heart of The Millennium Group. We are all at time’s mercy, but life’s highs and lows and the all too often irreparable mistakes that scar our passage can leave us yearning to have mastery over it, to wind the clock back, to revisit and fix our failings.
Angels of course manifest throughout this episode in one form or another, each in their way guiding Frank as to how he might do just this to a fashion. He is at first reluctant to heed them in spite of their appearances, and clashes with Catherine over Jordan following her being re-cast from the role of an angel in her nativity play. Catherine knows what Frank’s gift did to him and seeks to protect her daughter from a similar fate. As the conversation flashes him back to his own childhood and similar treatment from his father, though, Frank understands the need to recognise Jordan’s gift for what it is and to support her. If her gift is denied or demonised, then Frank’s family history could so easily repeat itself and Jordan could be destined to live a lonely, misunderstood and burdened life. Here the situation is left unresolved, and it is not until Frank talks his daughter’s emerging gift over with Lara that his next course of action becomes clear to him.
“Here’s my thing. This is a tough time of year for me. Angels are everywhere… It’s not what I see, but from them I get the same feeling when ‘he’ appears. And that’s how it all started when I was a kid—I just sort of felt them. I felt a presence around me… I don’t know how you can prepare her, Frank. You’re right—they won’t just go away. And for me, it only gets more intense as I get older… I would’ve done anything, anything, not to have this in my life. But Frank, look—at least she’s got a father who understands, and that will really help her… But there is one thing. In The Bible—and to me—they are messengers. This was brought to your attention and you said you’d seen angels all day. So my immediate concern isn’t for Jordan but for you. You may not be able to see them, but I feel that something is trying to be communicated to you. And there’s only one place to find the answer.” –Lara Means
And so it is that Frank finds himself finally visiting his long estranged father. He finds Henry Black living alone in a dilapidated yellow house—Frank’s childhood home—itself full of painful memories and regrets. Here we learn more of Linda Black and a fateful Christmas Eve from over five decades ago.
“Do you remember Blue Rose Tea? They used to have those little angel things that you could send away for. Your mother wanted one in the worst way and I wouldn’t have the damn things in the house. Fifty-one years ago, she changed her mind—she gave in and said she wasn’t seeing angels anymore. The last picture she made was with you. That scared me, Frank—it scared me enough that I gave in. I wanted to find her one of those little Blue Rose angels. I finally found one at the Woolworth’s. I gave it to her. She was so touched. We made a pact over that, your mother and I. I told her that I would love her forever, and she said that she would move the figurine to show that she was waiting for me on the other side where I too could see the angels, and where we could finally be forever together.” –Henry Black
Henry’s attitude towards his late wife’s gift mirrors that of Catherine towards Jordan’s, and whilst both are valid and understandable reactions in the face of seemingly supernatural powers, Frank’s overriding fear is revealed to be that of history repeating. Frank’s father recognised that Frank and Linda, his mother, were both gifted albeit in different ways, just as Catherine recognises the same in her husband and daughter and fears for her child’s future. Henry feared that his wife’s premonition of D-Day would lead her to be branded insane, whilst Catherine simply wants Jordan to be able to lead a “normal” life.
Pivotal to breaking a rift that has spanned decades between Frank and his father is the picture of the angel that Jordan claims her grandmother helped her draw, identical to the one she helped Frank draw exactly fifty-one years earlier. Frank shows it to Henry, and he instantly recognises the image. Her angel leads the two men to begin a process of reconciliation. And so the pact between husband and wife is finally honoured through time and the angel does move, as Henry Black offers it to Frank and he in turn gifts it to Jordan, who seems to recognise a sign of her grandmother’s love for her from beyond the grave. The angel connects the family through the generations: past, present and future.
Of course, “Midnight of the Century” has a sting in its tale. Frank and Henry’s reunion may have begun to reverse many years of mutual regret over their relationship but, as the fetch of Henry manifests amidst the falling snow before him, Frank realises that their time is now short. This proves to be the case in “The Fourth Horseman” and, in a poignant moment at her grandfather’s graveside, Jordan returns the same angel to her father to be placed on Henry’s Black’s grave. Again, the angel connects the generations.
In sum total, then, the episode is a meditiation on the inexorable passage of time: the upcoming millennium, the midnight of the century, one generation of the Black family mirroring another, the year’s end as a time for reflection. It is a sentiment I share around this season and one that, even after so many repeat viewings, “Midnight of the Century” stirs powerfully within me. A moment’s pause in which to look both backwards and forwards and to reflect upon the passage of time. So, on the eve of another Black family reunion, wherever you are this Christmastime and however you will mark it, be sure to spend your time without regret, tell the people that mean the most to you—especially those you may have neglected—that you love them, and just make the most of the time afforded to you. And Merry Christmas.