"Force Majeure"


Written by Chip Johannessen

Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Edited by G. Richard Potter

Aired February 7, 1997

Summary: An enigmatic character haunts Frank Black and the Millennium Group during a strange case involving planetary alignment, genetic cloning, and a man in an iron lung.


  Season One on DVD


  Full Transcript Available


Quote:  "You can remember, a single deluge only, but there were many previous ones." —Plato


Synopsis:  A sudden hail storm sends students at Washington Polytech scrambling for cover. But one of the students, Lauren, wades through the downpour as the hail changes to rain. She approaches a teaching assistant who has taken cover in a breezeway. Lauren reaches for the woman's cigarette-and suddenly bursts into flames. 


Frank travels to Washington Polytech where he interviews the teaching assistant. She describes her classmate as "mutant brilliant." The T.A. points out a set of armillary spheres, a model of the seven innermost planets of our solar system rendered in brass. She states that the Millennium Group member who interviewed her previously, Dennis Hoffman, thought he would be interested in the spheres. When Frank exits the room, he meets the mysterious Hoffman. He intones that on May 5, 2000-the day in which the seven innermost planets will align for the first time since the Great Flood — our planet will be ravaged by a cataclysmic event. He also believes the catastrophe will be preceded by abnormal weather patterns. 

Watts tells Frank that Hoffman first approached the group years earlier during a cult investigation. He believes Hoffman is somewhat odd but harmless. Watts uncovers evidence proving Lauren is not her parents' biological offspring, yet, there are no papers documenting her adoption. 

Cheryl Andrews performs an autopsy on Lauren's body. When traces of an accelerant are discovered, the cause of death is ruled as self-immolation. Andrews discovers an astronomical symbol carved into the flesh on her thigh. The mark is a symbol for conjunction, or alignment. When another girl, Carlin, a dead-ringer for Lauren, commits suicide by diving into a waterfall, Andrews discovers a conjunction symbol carved in her thigh as well. The women, it is determined, are identical twins born seven years apart. Andrews describes a technique used to create identical cattle in which a fertilized egg is divided multiple times in vitro. The technique produces twenty copies. Frank believes that someone, like Noah preparing for the Great Flood, is breeding identical offspring in preparation for May 5, 2000. 

A tip from Hoffman leads the Millennium Group to The Atrium at Pocatello, Idaho. Someone had made telephone calls to each of the twenty girls from a secret room in the Atrium's basement. The Group tracks the building's designer to a large remote house, and discovers the girls inside. 

Despite Frank's objections, a police lieutenant, fearing a Jonestown-like massacre, places the girls in protective custody and loads them on a bus. Meanwhile, the girls' father, a man confined to an iron lung, explains his reasons for creating perfect children for the next millennium — to preserve what is good about humanity and remake the world in his own image. He reveals that he telephoned Lauren and Carlin and told them he was dying and wouldn't make it to the other side. Shortly thereafter, both girls committed suicide. Later, a power outage stops the iron lung, killing the man. 

The bus driver, it is revealed, is also one of the Iron Lung Man's offspring. Police find the bus abandoned. The girls have vanished and Dennis Hoffman with them. Later, Frank realizes the Atrium is built on giant shock absorbers, and is itself a kind of ark. He knows where they will be on May 5, 2000.  


- Frank Black flips through a photo album

- Dennis Hoffman approaches Frank's jeep

- A stubborn and determined Dennis Hoffman

- Dennis Hoffman elaborates on his theory

- A gathering of eerily similar sisters

- Frank and Peter, on the case

- A cloned brother among the sisters


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Media Review:  "The deterministic elements, religious allusions, melancholy mood and gratuitous gore made me a viewer for life. In addition, themes of human impotence and isolation, underscored by the cold and detached view of Black, endowed the program with an unmatched intellectual flavor. Overall, when the show centers on the main point, the approaching apocalypse, as it has in the new year, it is one of the best programs on television." —Kiran Nandalur, The Michigan Daily


"'Force Majeure' is like nothing else we've seen on the show this far. There's no sexually tormented serial killer, although young women do die. There's no ponderous rush of Bible quotes, no debating over the true nature of evil, no cops decrying the sad state of modern morality. For once, we have an episode that's more driven by plot than by theme, and, even better, that plot is sort of kind of pretty much batshit insane... The episode is just odd enough to be distinctive (Carter is wearing his Lynch on his sleeve even more than usual), and, beyond the pleasure of the series finally stretching its legs, it's nice to have a storyline that doesn't just exist to lecture us about how we're all going to Hell... This is absurd, eerie perfection. It doesn't need to make sense. Nightmares rarely do." —Zack Handlen, The A.V. Club


"Laying the groundwork for the entire mythology that will start to spring forth toward the end of season one (and go gonzo in season two), this bizarre tale of cloning, conspiracies and catastrophes is superb. It may not make much senseand frankly, even after the show’s entire run it is still not very well explainedbut the enigmatic visuals (man in an iron lung, a group of identical children) are very atmospheric... Complete with a creepy, calm turn by genre mainstay Brad Dourif, this is one of the series’ better apocalypse-inspired episodes." —Bill Gibron, DVD Talk


Trivia:  While the planetary alignment of May 5, 2000 was an actual event, during which the six innermost planets of our solar system aligned, the predicted cosmic catastrophe associated with it never came to pass. The same celestial alignment will not to occur again until the year 2675. Coincidentally, May 5, 2000 was also Lance Henriksen's 60th birthday.


Brad Dourif, the guest star who brought the exasperating Dennis Hoffman to life, starred alongside Lance Henriksen previously in the 1994 thriller Color of Night. Like Henriksen, however, the actor is best known for his roles in cult horror films. Dourif has appeared in such films as One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Dune, Body Parts, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. His vocal talents may be more widely recognized than his face; Dourif provided the voice for the serial killing doll Chucky in Child's Play and all of its sequels.


Death Toll:  2


Title:  "Force Majeure" is a French term literally meaning "superior force," an event or effect that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled. In legal terminology, force majeure clauses excuse a party from liability if some unforeseen event, disaster, or other "Act of God" beyond the control of that party prevents it from performing its contractual obligations. Here, the title is a direct reference to the catastrophic and inescapable devastation Dennis Hoffman and the Iron Lung Man anticipate on May 5, 2000.



Lance Henriksen as Frank Black

Megan Gallagher as Catherine Black

Brittany Tiplady as Jordan Black

Terry O'Quinn as Peter Watts

Guest Starring:

Brad Dourif as Dennis Hoffman
Morgan Woodward as the Iron Lung Man
Timothy Webber as Sheriff Camden

CCH Pounder as Cheryl Andrews

Mitch Kosterman as Lieutenant
Sarah Strange as Maura
Kristi Angus as Lauren/Carlin
Peter Hanlon as Manager
Cindy Girling as Myra
Phillip Mitchell as Uniform #1
Merrilyn Gann as Carlin's Mother


Production Credits:

Production #4C12

Music by Mark Snow
Production Designer Mark Freeborn
Director of Photography Robert McLachlan
Associate Producer Jon-Michael Preece
Consulting Producer Ted Mann
Consulting Producer James Wong

Consulting Producer Glen Morgan
Co-Producer Ken Dennis
Co-Producer Chip Johannessen
Co-Producer Frank Spotnitz
Co-Executive Producer Jorge Zamacona
Co-Executive Producer Ken Horton
Co-Executive Producer John Peter Kousakis

Executive Producer Chris Carter