"The Mikado"

#MLM-213

Written by Michael R. Perry

Directed by Roderick J. Pridy

Edited by Chris Willingham, A.C.E.

Aired February 6, 1998

Summary: A killer screens his elaborately planned crimes over the Internet in a case that Frank Black links to Avatar, an ingenious serial killer who eluded capture in the 1970s.

 

  Season Two on DVD

 

Synopsis:  Three teenagers cruising the Internet come upon a "live sex" web site, where a woman wearing a white bra is tied to a chair. Behind the woman is a wall, on which is painted a number, "37122." The teenagers watch as an electronic counter at the bottom of the screen records the number of "hits" the web site has received. As the count reaches "37122," a man wearing a black hood comes up behind the girl. As the teenagers watch, horrified, the man places a machete to the girl's throat and kills her. One of the boys hits the "print" key on his computer, saving an image of the web site as proof of what transpired. 

The Millennium Group receives reports from police departments across the United States, all having received complaints from people who witnessed the alleged murder as it played out on the Internet. Frank senses that the killing was not a hoax. Using his computer, Roedecker compares the victim's picture (printed by the teenagers) to images posted on the National Missing Persons Registry. He and Frank determine that the victim was Rebecca Damsen, who used the Internet on a regular basis.

Roedecker accesses Damsen's e-mail messages, narrowing the suspects to three primary correspondents. Using a special live video link-up, Frank watches from the Group's computer room as law enforcement officials in three different cities travel to the suspects' homes. In one of those cities, San Jose, Watts and a police officer force their way into the residence of Branson Heygood after determining no one is home. As Frank watches from a live video feed, he notices the painting of a cemetery hanging on the wall. He tells Watts and the officer that Damsen's body is in that cemetery. Watts travels to the cemetery, where the dead girl, Damsen, and a boy's severed head, is discovered inside a shed. Frank realizes that Heygood was not the killer, but a victim. Inside the shed are a series of numbers, which is determined to be another Internet address. 

The address turns out to be another of the killer's home pages. This time, however, the web site contains an empty chair. Roedecker attempts to trace the signal, but it turns out the killer has somehow made the origin untraceable. The killer, however, provides a clue in the form of a number painted on the wall behind the chair: 696314. Frank realizes the number is an F.B.I. case file on a serial killer known as Avatar, who was last heard from twelve years earlier. Shortly thereafter, the killer releases another clue, this one a multi-charactered cipher, which is transmitted twice. He also places his next victim, another woman, on the web site, but is careful not to show her face, preventing identification. 

Roedecker realizes there is a slight discrepancy between the two ciphers sent by the killer. The difference turns out to be a sound file embedded in the message: "The Mikado," Avatar's favorite operetta. Frank responds by posting his own cipher, a quote from Henry James minus the last word, on a news group monitored by the killer. Avatar responds by burning the word "pain" into his victim's forehead, thus completing a misquote contained in one of Avatar's ciphers from years earlier. 

Frank realizes that another of the killer's numerical clues is the latitude and longitude for San Francisco. The Group, however, receives no help from skeptical San Francisco Police Captain Bachman, who believes that the killer is not Avatar. 

As the web site's counter edges upward, Frank realizes time is running out. Suddenly, he is inspired with an idea. The Group recreates a replica of the web page's setting, right down to replacing the victim with an identically dressed woman. This keeps the counter number on the killer's site from increasing. Shortly thereafter, the hooded figure apparently murders the girl on the "Avatar" web site and sends another cipher. 

This time, the hidden message turns out to be two web site addresses. The first is a home page containing another empty chair. The second shows the exterior door of a mobile home. Eventually, police are able to locate the trailer. As an officer opens the door to the dwelling, he trips a booby trap and is killed by a shotgun blast. Meanwhile, Frank travels to San Francisco and, acting on a hunch, winds up at an abandoned theater where a poster for "The Mikado" is displayed in the lobby. Suddenly, shot guns blasts ring out, and Frank dives for cover. Frank chases Avatar, whose face is hidden by the hood, into the shadows. He finds Avatar standing in a dim hallway, arm extended, gun in hand. But Frank notices something isn't quite right. Frank pulls off the hood and sees the kidnapped girl, with "pain" etched into her forehead. Frank realizes it was all part of a plot to trick him into shooting the girl. He also realizes that Avatar has disappeared.

 

Photographs:

- Avatar's internet death room

- An artist's rendition of Avatar

- Group computer expert Brian Roedecker

- Frank Black discovers an old opera house

- Avatar's latest victim is displayed online

- Frank, Peter, and Brian Roedecker confer

- Peter leads a camera team in the field

- Frank Black faces Avatar

 

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Trivia:  "The Mikado" marks writer Michael R. Perry's Millennium debut. Perry is the author of The Stranger Returns, a novel in which serial killer Ted Bundy returns to continue his killings years after his execution. The author attributes his position on the Millennium writing staff to his work on this particular piece of fiction. The writer, who had won an Emmy Award for an episode of NYPD Blue co-written with Steve Gagahn, would pen five episodes of Millennium in all.

 

"The Mikado" wasn't the first story that Perry pitched for the series. His first Millennium script, a story entitled "Dirty Snowball" involving Brian Roedecker and a suicide cult watching a comet, was rejected by executive producers Glen Morgan and James Wong. The character of Brian Roedecker was a favorite of Perry's, however, and he plays a prominent role in this episode, his last appearance on the series. Perry focused on contrasting Roedecker with the show's professional investigators. "Frank and his colleague Peter Watts are accustomed to dealing with the macabre, so as a viewer you think they're much cooler than you are," Perry explains. "They don't have to flinch; they're tough guys. What I like about Roedecker in this episode is that he becomes an advocate for the audience. Roedecker is able to express the revulsion, the tears, that Frank has to constantly hold back. For the first time, Roedecker has a chance to see this is what Frank and Peter do all the time. It makes Frank seem grander because, if nobody in an episode reacts to the gruesome and macabre things that are around, they don't seem so terrifying."

 

Michael R. Perry reveals the inspiration for this episode by explaining, "I got the idea for 'The Mikado' by hearing about Jennicam, the first girl to put herself on netcam 24/7 in the spring of '97. Now there are thousands." It is thanks to the writer's insistence, in fact, that the webcam transmissions seen throughout the episode are presented in a realistic manner rather than in realtime, a common inaccuracy in television representations.

 

Perry was also interested in exploring the yet unrealized ramifications of internet related crimes. "I wanted a crime that no police department would have jurisdiction over," says Perry. "Who's going to go after it?  Ordinarily, if there's a murder down the street, the city is going to take care of it. That's how our entire society has been built. With a murder that isn't tied to a physical place, this guy can go on forever, unless there's a Millennium Group. That was the sport of it. It also has the great beginning for a mystery.  It's articulated by Frank, who says, 'We don't know who the victim is; we don't know where the crime scene took place. We don't have any crime scene. We don't have any evidence except for a blurry print-out.' That's such a tantalizing beginning. Avatar cut Frank off from what he naturally does; this also has to do with the demonizing elements of the internet. It's both a character and a thematic element, because 4,000 people per hour are logging on, hoping to see this girl die. The dehumanizing aspects of mediated communication, the internet in this particular case, are a sub-theme, and it ties in to how Frank, being cut off from being in a real place, can't do what he normally does. That was a fun thing to play around with, and it works for both plot and character."

 

Avatar, one of Millennium's most terrifying and memorable villains, is nearly identical in all respects to the Zodiac Killer, the infamous slayer who claimed responsibility for seventeen murders in San Francisco and northern California between 1966 and 1974. In the first draft of Michael R. Perry's script, in fact, Avatar was the real life Zodiac Killer. Like Avatar, the Zodiac Killer was never caught.

 

Clearly, since Frank Black is not stalking Zodiac in "The Mikado," Avatar underwent a number of name changes during the writing process. Network executives, despite Perry's wishes, insisted that the character could not be identified as a real world serial killer. Co-Executive Producer Ken Horton fought with the network in an effort to maintain the blurring between fiction and reality that Perry had intended but, ultimately, the network demands were met. Zodiac thus became Omega, adopting a new, fictional moniker. Lance Henriksen's endorsement agreement with the Omega watch corporation, however, made this name equally unsuitable for the prodution. Ultimately, the show's staff decided that the character would be known as Avatar.

 

Michael R. Perry recorded an audio commentary regarding "The Mikado" for Fox Home Entertainment's DVD release of Millennium: The Complete Second Season.

 

Death Toll:  3

 

Title:  "The Mikado" is named for the Gilbert and Sullivan opera favored by the sadistic Avatar. The opera tells the story of Ko-Ko, a tailor sentenced to death who is then made Lord High Executioner of his village in an effort to defy the harsh law of the Mikado, the Japanese Emperor. Frank hears one of the opera's themes, "Behold the Lord High Executioner," during the episode's thrilling climax.

 

Soundtrack:  

"Behold the Lord High Executioner" by Gilbert and Sullivan

 

Starring:

Lance Henriksen as Frank Black

Terry O'Quinn as Peter Watts

 

Guest Starring:

Allan Zinyk as Brian Roedecker

Greg Michaels as Captain Bachman

Dawn Murphy as Special Agent Tully

Jonathan Bruce as the Haveford Man

Gillian Carfra as the Web Girl

Harrison R. Coe as the S.F. Officer

Micah Gardener as Brandon

Rachel Hayward as Angela

Eileen Pedde as the "PAIN" Victim

Tony Sampson as Anthony

Bobby Stewart as Sergeant Collier

Justin Wong as Danny
 

Production Credits:

Production #5C13

Music by Mark Snow
Production Designer Mark Freeborn
Director of Photography Robert McLachlan
Associate Producer Jon-Michael Preece
Consulting Producer Chip Johannessen
Consulting Producers Darin Morgan
Co-Producer Robert Moresco
Co-Producer Paul Rabwin
Producer Thomas J. Wright
Co-Executive Producer Ken Horton
Co-Executive Producer John Peter Kousakis

Executive Producer Glen Morgan

Executive Producer James Wong

Executive Producer Chris Carter

 

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