Have Yourself a Very X-Files New Year, With a Side of Zombies

Looking back at the 1999 episode that probed Y2K fears while crossing over with Lance Henriksen's recently cancelled Millennium.

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Mulder and Scully on the box art for a season seven X-Files DVD release.
Mulder and Scully on the box art for a season seven X-Files DVD release.
Image: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The X-Files generally didn’t give much shine to holidays—aside from a few notable exceptions, like the season-six classic “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas.” But the looming arrival of the year 2000 was too juicy for a show that reveled in conspiracy theories to ignore, and thus the aptly titled “Millennium” popped up in late 1999, early in the show’s seventh season.

As devotees of late-’90s television will recall, Millennium was also the name of another Chris Carter-created Fox series; despite mining some of the same turf as The X-Files, it failed to achieve similar pop-culture heights and was canceled in mid-1999. “Millennium” the episode features a guest-starring appearance by Millennium the series’ lead character—Lance Henriksen’s former FBI profiler Frank Black—who gets some closure for his storyline as a result, though it feels a bit shoehorned into what’s otherwise a fairly standard “monster of the week” episode.

As the calendar marches toward December 31, 1999, a former FBI agent dies as a result of suicide, which turns out to be the fourth such incident in a short amount of time. The bureau flags the cases after each man’s grave is vandalized in what appears to be some kind of ritual. “Grave robbing with a twist,” as Agent Mulder (David Duchovny) calls it. And though there are the usual eye-rolls and paper-shuffling when he further elaborates on this cemetery funny business, everyone—including the usually-very-skeptical Agent Scully (Gillian Anderson) and FBI boss Skinner (Mitch Pileggi)—lets him roll with it: “It was necromancy, the summoning of the dead. It’s a form of magic dating back to primitive shamanism with a long tradition in the Christian church. Through it, the dead are brought back to life for the purposes of divulging arcane knowledge and performing ritual tasks.”

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Skinner suggests the Millennium Group—former FBI agents turned top-secret law-enforcement consultants who, as Scully said, “fell into disrepute” after it became clear they were a doomsday cult—is involved. But what exactly are they up to? In search of answers, Scully and Mulder head to the psychiatric hospital where Frank Black has checked in to recalibrate after his bumpy ride through Millennium. His Millennium Group entanglements led to the death of his wife during the series, and when Mulder and Scully find him, he’s embroiled in a custody battle with his former in-laws over his young daughter. He’s so burned out, he won’t even look at the case file they dangle before him.

With New Year’s Eve inching closer, Scully and Mulder—doing that “working separately while coming to the same conclusions” thing they did so well—realize there’s indeed a doomsday plot afoot... and it involves zombies, starting with the reanimated corpses of the four recently deceased FBI agents-turned-Millennium Group operatives, who volunteered for this duty as part of a plan they believed would hasten the end of the world. Holmes Osborne (Donnie Darko) plays the loner who serves as their necromancer, performing the ceremonies, digging up the bodies, and muttering Book of Revelation verses under his breath. All seems on schedule until he’s forced to turn one of his zombies on a cop who has the misfortune to detect the human biohazard he’s hauling in the back of his truck.

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Naturally, both Mulder and Scully have their own close encounters. “He was dead, and then somehow he wasn’t!” Scully groggily recounts to Skinner; the “rules” of these creatures are a little murky, but fortunately it seems this particular strain of shambling corpse won’t transform attack victims unless they die as a result. (They do, however, succumb to headshots, as George A. Romero decreed.) As for Frank Black, he steps up when it counts, providing the agents with a profile of the necromancer so incredibly accurate it’s not really a surprise when we realize he knows exactly who Scully and Mulder are looking for. In fact, he knows exactly what’s at stake—that Millennium Group, man!—and ultimately decides he’ll stand for the forces of good and help prevent, you know, a Y2K zombie apocalypse.

Fans of Millennium might have longed for another season of the show to really wrap things up, but at least they got to see Frank reunite with his daughter in a moment that’s sweet even without the context of three seasons of a completely different TV series. (“Millennium” was directed by Thomas J. Wright, who also helmed nearly a third of Millennium’s episodes; it was co-written by Vince Gilligan, who famously went on to create Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.) Even sweeter, though, are the final seconds of the episode, when Scully and Mulder watch Dick Clark on TV and share a spontaneous kiss to ring in the new year. “The world didn’t end,” they realize, and whether they meant 2000 continued without an undead uprising, or planet Earth kept revolving even after Scully and Mulder had a romantic lip-lock... well, the answer’s a little of both, perhaps.

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The X-Files is available for streaming on Hulu.


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