Friday, October 2, 2015

"'Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me" is the 21st episode of the second season of the supernatural television series Millennium. The episode was written and directed by Darin Morgan, younger brother of showrunner Glen Morgan. It was his second script for the series.

The episode had some incredible guest stars: Bill Macy, Dick Bakalyan, Alex Diakun, and Wally Dalton.

A group of demons convene in a doughnut shop to tell stories about how they tempt and damn human beings. What they don't realize is that each of their stories seem to include a mysterious figure who can see them for who they really are -- Frank Black (series star Lance Henriksen). The episode is a "Frank-lite" one, in which the series star barely appears. However, it advances a great deal of the show's mythology.

The episode received a nomination for a Bram Stoker Award for Best Screenplay.

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During the cold open, someone is shown delivering newspapers. One newspaper lands in a bird bath. Another in some bushes. Another triggers an automobile alarm. Another hits the lawn-statue of an angel, and severs its head.

Four elderly men arrive at a doughnut shop late at night. The fourth to arrive is the newspaper deliveryman, who has been purposefully disrupting the neighborhood. He throws the remaining newspapers in the trash.

The audience sees that each of the men is really a demon in disguise. The newspaper deliveryman, a demon named Abum (Dick Bakalyan), deliberately antagonizes the lone teenager (hot Canadian actor Austin Basile) staffing the dougnut shop. The boy retaliates by secretly urinating in the coffee pot. When Abum drinks his coffee, he realizes instantly what the boy has done -- and is thrilled that he got the boy to do something so sinful.

One of the demons, Blurk (Bill Macy), complains that modern man has little originality or imagination. "Not like the old days," he moans. Blurk tells the story of how he was hitchhiking recently when he was picked up by a young kid, Perry (Stephen Holmes). Perry showed an interest in serial killers -- particularly Johnny Mack Potter (Michael Sunczyk), "the most prolific serial killer in America" and who always left a bobble-head devil doll behind as a calling card. Blurk encouraged Perry to become a serial killer and break Potter's record. Blurk even assisted Perry with his first few kills (the demons laugh heartily after one of Perry's victims, a Satanist, calls on Satan for help). But Perry never moved beyond preying on tramps and prostitutes, and Blurk got bored. So he helped the police find Perry: An arrogant Blurk drives past the scene of Perry's latest kill and drops a bobble-head devil on the pavement. Frank Black is assisting the police, and picks up the doll. As Blurk drives past, Frank sees Blurk in his true, demonic form. The clue leads the police to Perry (who had long corresponded with Potter). Perry is easily convicted and imprisoned. Blurk tries to induce Perry to hang himself with his own underwear, but the attempt fails. Perry is finally given a cellmate -- Johnny Mack Potter, who immediately murders Perry to reclaim his record. Perry dies while seeing a bobble-head devil nod at the foot of his bed...

Blurk wonders if "that man" saw him in his true form...

Another demon, Abum (Dick Bakalyan), bemoans the fact that it just seems too easy to tempt people to commit horrific crimes. Abum tells the story of Brock (Bill Mackenzie), an obese man living in a shabby, one-room apartment. Brock cuts himself shaving, his tie is tied too short, his fast-food meal is terrible, and his dead-end night-job as a toll booth operator at a parking garage is mind-deadening. Even when Abum induces him to go to a strip club, Brock is so emotionally dead that he cannot really sin lustily there. The last straw is when Abum adjusts the traffic signs so that they are confusing and senseless. Impersonating a police officer, he gives Brock a ticket. Frank Black comes out of a nearby business, and sees Abum -- in his demonic form -- leaving behind traffic tickets. Frank stares in amazement... That night, Brock commits suicide by leaping out his window. He becomes happy -- only to realize, just before he dies, that now that he's happy his life is worth living.

A third demon, Greb (Alex Diakun), argues that it's humanity's tendency toward Puritanism that is their downfall. He tells the story of one Waylon Figgleif ("figleaf"; played by Dan Zukovic), the head of censorship at a broadcast television network. Figgleif is shown zealously censoring a TV show script, becoming highly agitated. Just at that moment, Greb shows up in the middle of Figgleif's office as a pint-sized demon, who dances to a Black Flag song. Figgleif begins to have a nervous breakdown. Figgleif leaves work and parks on the street -- encountering the same confusing parking signs that Brock did. The signs soon morph into language ridiculing the rules about swear words that the network censors must enforce. Figgleif begins to unravel. He goes to a strip club (the same one Brock went to), and goes crazy when he sees breasts, vaginas, and buttocks. He's thrown out. The next day at work, Greb shows up as the pint-sized demon again. Figgleif declares this a sign of his insanity. Greb says that there's only one thing to do: Shoot everyone. Figgleif grabs a gun and rushes onto a nearby soundstage where a man and woman are pretending to conduct an autopsy on an alien body. Figglief shoots two actors portraying aliens, and then shoots himself in the head. Hours later, Frank Black is investigating Figgleif's crime, and sees pint-sized Greb standing on the soundstage watching. Greb, realizing he's been seen in his true form, flees. A few weeks later, the network runs footage of Figgleif's rampage as a When Humans Attack! special.

Abum scoffs at Greb's claim that "that man" saw him in his true form.

The fourth demon, Toby (Wally Dalton), is convinced that "that man" can really see demons in their true form. Toby tells a story about how he'd become depressed about his job, and how damning humans didn't have the same zest it used to. While at a strip club (the same one Brock and Figgleif attended), an aging stripper named Sally (Gabrielle Rose) approaches him. Toby sees a devil tattoo (almost identical to Potter's bobble-head devil) on her stomach. Toby tries to get Sally to sin, but Sally turns out to be lonely and compassionate. She senses Toby's immense sadness, and befriends him. The two begin to date. They make love, watch late-night TV together, and dance at a laundromat. Toby even decides to allow Sally to see his true self. She still loves him. But Toby realizes he's abandoning his devilish duties. He leads Sally to believe that he is going to propose. Instead, almost weeping, he insults her as fat, old, and unloveable and tells her that he's met someone else. He leaves. Sally commits suicide.

As Toby is questioned by the police, Frank Black shows up to help. He sees Toby in his true, demonic form. He, too, realizes how sad Toby is. Frank shakes his head, and says, quietly, "You must be so lonely."

At the doughnut shop, each demon is quiet. Each of them realizes what a sad, lonely thing they are, and that Frank has spoken the truth. One by one, the demons get up and leave.

Abum is the last to leave. He straights up as he prepares to exit the shop. He turns, and reveals his true demonic form. He praises the shop's coffee, and leaves. The terrified teenager stands, frozen in place, and drops a bearclaw on the floor.

* * *

The episode deliberately included a large number of pop culture references:
  1. The boy urinating in the coffee pot refers to a famous "hidden camera video" which aired on a Fox program a year earlier, in which a worker retaliates against his colleagues by pissing in the coffee pot in the company kitchen.
  2. When Brock uses the "Ab-Roller", this mimics a popular Ab-Roller television advertisement then running on late-night TV in the U.S.
  3. The confusing parking signs mimics an episode of TV's Funniest Videos and Practical Jokes, a then-popular show running on NBC hosted by Ed McMahon and Dick Clark. In one episode, a practical joke is played on a movie star by putting up confusing, illogical, senseless traffic parking signs and then having a "police officer" (an actor) give the movie star a ticket with a massive fine.
  4. Figgleif's aggressive censorship of the script pokes fun at Fox Television's Broadcast Standards (censor). Writer Darin Morgan had penned The X-Files episode "War of the Coprophages", and Fox had demanded that every use of the words crap, shit, feces, urine, pee, piss, or poo be deleted.
  5. The dancing demon refers explicitly to an episode of the hit Fox show Ally McBeal, in which Ally (whose biological clock is ticking) has repeated visions of a dancing baby in her office.
  6. The alien post-mortem refers to a Fox TV special, Alien Autopsy, which purported to show (mostly grainy) footage of a secret U.S. government autopsy on a "grey" alien at Area 51. The two doctors conducting the alien autopsy look suspiciously like Fox Mulder and Dana Scully from The X-Files. Even the theme music to the alien autopsy show they're filming sounds like the theme to The X-Files.
  7. The title of the Figgleif rampage, When Humans Attack!, is a direct reference to a Fox TV series of specials titled When Animals Attack. These specials were notorious click-bait of their era.
  8. The episode's title refers to Matthew 16:23. Jesus has predicted his death, but his disciple Peter demands that Jesus do something to avoid this. Jesus rebukes him, saying, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's." The Millennium episode title appears to refer to how Frank Black has already conquered temptation and evil, without even knowing it.

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