Yet again, I am intentionally breaking the rules I laid out for Horrorclature 2023. This episode of MILLENNIUM involves childhood trauma and suicidal references. This is not a happy or carefree work. However, I feel it’s a singular, important work that deserves to be extolled on the day depicted in the episode: Halloween.
Happy fucking goth Christmas! I hope you’re either all slutted up and partying like there’s no tomorrow — no judgement! Been there, done that! — or cuddled up at home, all warm, surrounded by great, scary works.
If you’ve been following along with this blog, you know that I absolutely love Chris Carter’s MILLENNIUM, specifically the second season when he handed the reigns to James Wong and Glen Morgan (who would go on to help kick off the FINAL DESTINATION franchise).
“Do you ever find yourself talking with the dead?
“Since Willie’s death, I catch myself every day, involuntarily talking with him, as if he were with me.”
Abraham Lincoln — upon the death of his son
There was nothing like it on TV in the mid-to-late 90s. It was astoundingly dark, but had moments of levity. It was super smart, but wasn’t pretentious. It had motherfucking Lance Henriksen as Frank Black, an overly-emotionally sensitive ex-FBI profiler, and LOST’s Terry Quinn as a morally dubious, potentially exploitative head of a quasi-cult.
It is one of my favorite seasons of TV and this episode — The Curse of Frank Black (CURSE going forward) — is one of my favorite episodes from that season.
I know this episode like the back of my hand. I vividly recall my mind being blown when it was first broadcast, and I have revisited it every October for many years now.
CURSE has many of the hallmarks of the best MILLENNIUM episodes: it leans far more on showing rather than telling; there are more than a few scenes where little more than an utterance occurs. It’s extraordinarily visual for network TV at the time. Also, most importantly, it is seriously empathetic. It showcases Frank’s origin story, when he realized he felt too much, felt for people and could read people far more than others. (Hence why he was so great at being an FBI profiler.)
It’s that sense of empathy from a man — who, again, is played by a middle-aged, very craggy Lance Henrickson instead of some young emo 20-something — that is rarely seen on TV. It’s his empathy that undermines his entire life. It’s a trait he inherited from his mother — along with an ability to see the demons and angels that inhabit the world — and it fucks over his career and his marriage and his life. Folks simply do not understand the way he feels, despite the fact that he knows how they feel. Frank is haunted, not just by the demons and angels that he actually sees, but by how much he feels for others.
As noted in the content warning, CURSE takes place almost entirely on Halloweens. One from Frank’s childhood, and one current Halloween. It opens with Frank prepping for Halloween, gutting a pumpkin. Odd events start occurring around him, such as radios turning themselves on or refusing to dial in correctly, electricity going out, and his car sputtering to a stop. All of these events occur around the number ’268’. Frank exits his busted car, runs into kids egging houses, scares them off and then sees his house — the house he and his wife and daughter once were happy in — and he eggs his yellow house himself.
We flashback to when Frank was a youth. He’s dared by friends to trick-or-treat the house of a scary, chain-smoking shut-in who lives at a singular 268 number, Mr. Bob Crocell, played by Dean Winters who has great comedic chops. He is best known right now for being Mayhem in insurance commercials, but also Dennis ‘Beeper King’ Duffy in 30 ROCK, however he was also dramatically great in TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNER CHRONICLES. This is not a comedic performance; it is extremely dark.
Crocell is ruminating on his life and just wants to be left alone, but he allows young Frank Black into his abode. He forces Frank to listen to his horrible mental tribulations and his time in the army before he offers him his deserved treat, which is a lone cigarette, and it’s not even a candy cigarette.
Fast-forward a few years: Frank and his friends drive by the house. Crocell is being carted out of his house, dead on a covered stretcher. His friends make light of it, but Frank bluntly remarks about how Crocell was misunderstood.
FRANK: “He killed himself.”
FRIEND: “…yeah, because he couldn’t take being a commie traitor.”
OTHER FRIEND: “He’ll go to Hell for killing himself.”
OTHER FRIEND: “I always heard he, you know, liked men. That’s why he killed women.”
FRANK: “…it’s none of that.”
FRIEND: “How would you know?”
It’s Frank’s empathetic awakening, something that will loom over him for the rest of his life. As someone who has felt too much and felt too hard and felt haunted for so many years, this depiction hits me intensely.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“Tell that to Frank Black.”
There’s one amazingly stark, darkly back-lit scene where Frank enters his attic and sees Crocell there, chain-smoking as usual. Then the ghost-of-Halloween-past (or future, depending on how you look at it) Crocell delivers a monologue that chills Frank:
“I know you’re feeling strange right now kid but, believe me, it’s a hell of a lot creepier for me to be back.
“That night, I was so dying to know if the dead can return… if there was anything afterwards, ‘member?
“The time when you’re really asking the question and when you really need to know just goes by like — nothin’.
“But you know the answer.
“I’ll tell you this: all that stuff your hear about the fire and the brimstone and the rats and the excrement and the demons tormenting you for all of eternity — there’s none of that stuff.
“It’s worse. It is so much worse.
“It is for me, at least.
“Imagine having to suck on this [cigarette] for all eternity. Man, I wish someone had told me!
“Others, they uh— they ain’t got it so bad, I guess. I don’t know. But you’ll know… soon enough.
“I’ve been sent here here because you’ve become me.
“The way people look at you, what they say about you, making stuff up… pretty soon you come to believe it’s true and then it’s really all over.
“You know, I threw things at my house too. Not eggs though. I think I threw dog crap.
“Yeah. I threw dog crap from my backyard at my kitchen window.
“I never cleaned it off. Imagine that.
“The one thing you’ve got that I never did is that you’re getting close to understanding what’s about to happen. And He’s been watching you — uh-huh, oh, yeah — more closely and more often the closer you get.
“Here’s the deal, kid. Give up the fight. Sit it out. Forget about this Millennium Group.
“Go back to your wife and to your daughter and to your puppy and to your yellow house and just live out a nice, happy, normal life. And there’s gonna be a place for all three of you afterwards.
“A place, believe me, where a lot of souls wish they could be.
“But you pass on this… and you’re going so much farther than I have ever been.
“Hell, the way you gutted that guy who took your wife, the anger inside of you, whoo, I don’t know why you’re not being offered a sweeter deal.
“You got the heat inside of you to fight for this side so what I’m asking of you is really simple. Sit back and do nothing. Anyone can do it. Hell, most people do.
“Take this deal, kid. Secure you and your family’s future because the time is near, and He will win. There’s no way He can lose!”
Frank then responds:
“When will it happen?”
And Crocell is gone.
It’s a harrowing, sensitive piece, one about empathy and trauma and temptation and complacency and giving up, with a perspective that is rarely seen — even in contemporary prestige TV.
Happy fucking goth Christmas.