I like Millennium. I really do. But this episode . . . yeesh.
In the 90's, stuff like the Gnostic gospels, Nag Hamadi library, and Merovingians were all the rage with pretentious, quasi-educated bible-study dropouts. These subjects also provided popular fodder for contemporary fiction, usually with not-very-good results.
This episode is Millennium's attempt to address the issue, and it just flat out sucked at it.
Mistake #1: Don't do an episode without the star of the show. OK, yes, actors need vacations too. But there aren't many shows that can get away with filming an episode minus the main character, especially if that character commands the entire series. A show with an ensemble cast like the A-Team, Star Trek, or Desperate Housewives could do without someone once in awhile, but doing Millennium without Frank Black makes about as much sense as doing "Chuck" without Chuck, or "Magnum, P.I." without Magnum.
Mistake #2: If you must do an episode without the star, DON'T MAKE IT A PLOT EPISODE. This should be a no-brainer, but sadly, it wasn't. Several events that were at least moderately important to the series' main plot arc happened during the episode, and Frank Black wasn't there to see them. I suppose we can all imagine Peter, Lara, or Catherine filling him in on the details later, but that's weak storytelling.
Mistake #3: When addressing religion in a TV show, don't assume that all your viewers know as little about specific religions as you do. Most Protestant faiths don't pray the Hail Mary, use rosaries, or keep statues of saints lying about. And yet the characters in this episode clearly weren't Catholic. So . . . what were they? Santeria? Voodoo? Reformed Christian Wiccans? Throw me a line here, Mr. Director. I'm drowning in this pile of pseudo-religious mystical "spirituality" you've cooked up for us.
Mistake #4: Gnosticism in general makes for bad storytelling. For one thing, the "Jesus made a baby" nonsense is a stupid story idea. It's at least mildly insulting to Christians (and a few other faiths), even when it's placed squarely in the realm of fiction, and besides that, it stinks of conspiracy theory. Of course many viewers, including myself, enjoy the occasional conspiratorial silliness. But this particular theory has about as much believability as the Freemasons blowing up Jupiter (yes, that was a real conspiracy theory in the late 90's).
But worse than that, gnosticism is creepy, what with all the secrets and sacrifices and confusing texts and misanthropic goddess-worshiping proto-feminism. And this episode has those things in spades. It makes it very hard to care about characters that are so clearly disconnected from normal experience. There are very few touchstones of understanding with the teenage girl, or the mysterious drama teacher, so that when bad things happen to them, you can't feel grief or the power of human suffering -- they seem barely human as it is.
So I'm chalking this episode up to poor planning, poor directing, and the general zeitgeist during which it was made. Missing star, missing plot, missing sense of reality.