Season 1 Episode 3

Dead Letters

Aired Friday 9:00 PM Nov 08, 1996 on FOX
out of 10
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78 votes

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Episode Summary

Dead Letters
Against the initial resistance of the Group, Frank travels to Portland, Oregon, to investigate a murder at an animal shelter. He meets with Jim Horn, a profiler and candidate for the Millennium Group. But Horn is distracted by his imminent divorce, and there is tension between him and Frank. When the killer strikes again, Horn is losing control, and Frank not only has to catch the killer who leaves grisly messages on his victims, but he has to contend with Horn as well who is more than ready to stop the murderer with terminal prejudice.moreless

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  • Frank is called to Portland when a Parking Enforcement Officer is found mutilated. The group wants to pass on this case, but Frank believes the killer will kill again and has before. Frank works with a local man the group is considering for Millennium.moreless

    This episode stars James Morrison as James Horn who is a very troubled man. Like Frank he has spent his life investigating brutal crimes. The problem is it has all become too much for him. He sees his two year old son in every victims face. This creates problems for Frank who understands and tries to work around him.

    Horn is where Frank had been a few years before which is why he is so understanding of the man. You can see from the beginning of the episode that this man was going to be trouble in the investigation. Horn doesn't just want to catch the perpetrator but he wants to punish him personally.

    Frank does his usual professional job and believes there are cryptic written messages being left by the killer. No one believes him, but eventually they find gray hairs with writing on them. These hairs are human taken from another person. Written on them are things lie Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow, and Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained. Frank gets the idea of upsetting the killer by putting in the paper that he misspelled venture (ventere) and that the killer must be a person of lower intelligence. This goads the killer into showing himself and that eventually gets him caught.

    We never really learn much about the motive of the killer except from Frank's pretty detail description from his observations and feelings. This episode is about Horn and his obsessions. In a way it takes away from the story but in the end that was the point. We can learn more about Frank by seeing James in this episode. What happens to men who do this job and allow it to get to close.

    Another thing we learn is that the victims must be stupid in general. The nurse who is alone in the dark garage goes over to help some man standing in the dark when she is obviously nervous about being alone in the dark garage. Of course then she gets killed. Between James Horn's character and that nurse I believe that's when they lost me in this episode.

    Morrison does an excellent job as he does in all his performances. I would have liked to really understand the motives of the killer more or at least got some validation of Frank's ideas, but there wasn't enough time with the rest of the story.

    Good acting, a little convoluted in the story, but not a bad episode in general. I do hope the stories become more focused and go in a different direction than the last two.

    Thanks for reading...moreless
  • Shoulda Used E-Mail...

    Dead Letters is an interesting episode which gets under the skin of both Frank Black and a Millennium Group agent-in-waiting who finds himself becoming completely wrapped up in the case of a serial murderer.

    What we are given insight to in Jim Horn is somebody who has obviously let the horrific murders seen on the show take over their mind, resulting in a serious loss of control and leaving them vulnerable to attack. There are obvious parallels between Jim's relationship with his son and the relationship between Frank and Jordan, with Jim being somebody who lets his family invade his work life, imagining that a killer's victims could easily be those close to him.

    Despite the interesting parallels and metaphors, I couldn't help but not enjoy the character of Jim Horn. I don't know if it was the writing or James Morrison's performance, but the dialogue for his character seemed unrealistic and slightly forced. I usually love the writing of Glen Morgan and James Wong but there were some moments in this episode that it just didn't come together.

    The serial killer of the week was probably the nastiest so far on the show, with dismembered limbs and brutal beatings all over the episode. Sadly, the insight into the mind of the killer, unlike the previous two episodes, wasn't elaborated on as much as it could have been, leaving the murderer without a name, much of a motive or, with the closing scenes, much resonance.

    Director: Thomas J Wright

    Writers: Glen Morgan, James Wong

    Rating: Bmoreless
  • A very dark story.

    I liked this episode a lot. We find out more about Franks 'gift' and how it can damage the family. Frank asks the griup to put him on a case because he feels that the killer will kill again. While investigating Frank realises that the killer is writing messages on the victims clothing. With this new information they try to fustrate the killer because he spelled a word wrong by saying it in the newspaper. Before long Frank saves the day. But he is asked the question 'how do you do it Frank'. But he does not reply. We now know that Frank had troble accepting his gift. This was a great early episode. Its a shame there are not so many episodes like this in the series. Overall was well written and exciting.moreless
  • One of the more memorable episodes of season one.

    "Dead Letters" is, for me, one of the more memorable episodes of season one. That's not to say it's one of my top favorites, but even after I first watched the DVDs a couple of years ago, this episode was one I always remembered. The plot concerns a serial killer who kills seemingly random women because of his frustration with the world. He feels like the world has reduced him to a number and left him insignificant. He cuts his victims into pieces and leaves messages written on hair. My favorite aspect of this episode was the character of Jim, who's being considered as a new member of the Group. Recently divorced, Jim is under a lot of stress and his work begins to get to him. He takes every case personally and sees the victims as his loved ones and the killers as monsters. In the end he snaps and goes after the killer and beats him almost to death, and his actions render the crime scene inadmissable in court, but thankfully there is enough evidence at the killer's home to prosecute. All in all a well done and engaging episode. The writing was very good and the overall episode was better than the previous one, and guest star James Morrison gave as excellent performance.moreless
  • We get some more insight into how the Group, and Frank, operate...

    In this show, Frank finds himself in the role as mentor to a potential Group candidate, Jim Horn (played by 24's James Morrison). Frank sees a lot of potential for good in Horn, but also sees a self-destructive tendency and overpersonalization of the work. For Frank, recovering from his own breakdown, Horn represents someone who needs to be helped to spare him from a fate Frank has already suffered.

    The killer in this one is one creepy guy...who else would take the time to write taunting messages to the police on a SINGLE strand of hair? We also only see fleeting glimpses of him hunched over his workbench, keeping him mysterious and unknown, so when we finally see him take a victim, it is all the more chilling.

    Also good family dynamics in this one. I love Frank telling Jordan that he knows enough about bad dreams to keep them from her. The family aspect was something I missed in Season 2, and it's very strong in "Dead Letters."moreless
Chris Ellis

Chris Ellis

Jim Penseyres

Guest Star

Ron Halder

Ron Halder

The Killer

Guest Star

James Morrison

James Morrison

Jim Horn

Guest Star

Brittany Tiplady

Brittany Tiplady

Jordan Black

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (1)

    • The Killer leaves two messages on the bodies of his victims. The first is "Hair today, gone tomorrow." The second is "Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained."

  • QUOTES (7)

    • Frank: He needed one lens replaced -- the left lens?
      Janice: Well, that I don't remember. But what I do remember is that he was getting all weirded out.
      James: Weirded how?
      Janice: I guess his glasses got a little lost in the shuffle, so I asked him for a service slip number and he gets all sweaty, and his eyes got real weird. So I went back, I asked the technicians, maybe they had seen them. And I guess they were in the tray right behind me but all the trays are marked with the customer's name on it. And he starts going: 'I have a name! I have a name!'

    • James: I thought it was the guy. We all did.
      Frank: What if it was, James? Is bouncing the subject's head off the hood of the car going to do anything to change all the other murders that will occur today?
      James: Come on, Frank! Some guy cuts your wife and your daughter into eight pieces and you just stand there and you read him his rights?!
      Frank: He hasn't killed our wives or our families and he's not going to. If you make every one of these personal, you'll go insane and that's from having been there, James.
      James: I get so far into the heads of the killers and the victims.
      Frank: You haven't got there at all.
      James: Don't you tell me where I am!
      Frank: You put them in your head.
      James: I keep reliving... what it's like to be cut in half... or four... or eight.
      Frank: This isn't about you, James! The whole thing... what's going on out here... it's about us! Me, you... the killer and the victim.
      James: I can't help but take this personally. Another person is going to die, horribly. Because I s-... we screwed up. I-... we did all this for nothing.
      Frank: No, we didn't. We handed out 30 pins from the hospital charity to be placed here. There's 31. We wanted one taken, but one was left. He was here.

    • James: I don't know, Catherine. Maybe it's because T.C.'s been taken out of my everyday life. Or... he's two now and he's becoming a person, you know? But I can't... these murderers... before they were a... fascinating, psychological, societal puzzle. Most I could even feel sympathy for them because of their horrible lives. But now... when I walk into a crime scene, all I see is my little boy's face superimposed on the victim. And... and these... killers can't be simply cases or psychological anomalies anymore. They're just... monsters. Just monsters.

    • Catherine: They play well together.
      James: Yeah. It's great to watch them, huh? They have no idea. Things we see... things we know are out there. I hope I'm not screwing him up... I never ever dreamed at that perfect moment that... my time with him would be regulated by petitions, attorney retainers, orders of the court... that mother, father and son would become nothing more than a case number... that as a father, I risk adding nothing to his life. I could become nothing but... face covered in gray tape.
      Frank: When I read Dostoevsky there was a passage, something like: 'There's nothing more sad than a life that ends and no one knows or cares.' Hair today, gone tomorrow. The subject is angry that his life will go unnoticed... that he will have left nothing. The hatred of himself is directed toward the world which has held him back because it objectified him... reduced him, reduced us all to universal bar codes. We are animals in a caged shelter, controlled by dog catchers. The gray tape makes the victims look like how he feels -- faceless -- a dead letter lost at the post office. He's killed before... when he was young... most likely a female prostitute, after an early setback... a girlfriend, a job. He sought out a woman that wouldn't turn him away. The solicitation increased his feelings of nothingness and so he killed her before sex. My guess? He was never caught. He got away with it. Subject has felt guilt ever since, angered at a world that should have punished him but didn't. The murder, however, was the most significant event in his life. He's returned to this place, to the event. He wants nothing more than to be stopped. But he will do everything in his control to remain significant.

    • James: You profiling me? You got that look like you're profiling me.
      Frank: No, James. Just wondering what's wrong.
      James: Sorry. My wife and I are going through a separation and, uh... I had to disconnect the fax line out at the house and the phone company... Man... they can make you feel like a worthless ass.
      Frank: Sorry to hear about your wife. I see you have a kid... Me too.
      James: That's my boy, T.C. He just turned two.
      Frank: I've never been separated, but I hear it's rough.
      James: Yeah... this work... makes things hard, you know.
      Frank: I've been there.

    • Frank: What's the matter, honey?
      Jordan: I had a bad dream.
      Frank: Oh... come on... Everybody has bad dreams.
      Jordan: Why?

    • "For the thing I greatly feared
      has come upon me.
      And what I dreaded
      has happened to me,
      I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
      I have no rest,
      for trouble comes."
      ----Job 3:25,26

  • NOTES (3)


    • Character Name:

      James Morrison's (James Horn) son in this episode was named T.C. This is a reference to the character James Morrison played in Space: Above and Beyond, Lt. Col. Tyrus Cassius "T.C." McQueen.

    • The Killer: It's just... my glasses fell off when I tried to shut the door with my arms full and I can't... don't worry. I'll find them. Thank you.
      The scene in which the killer cons a woman into helping him, a seemingly weak man, carry a large package into his van, is a tribute to a similar scene in the Thomas Harris novel-turned-film The Silence of the Lambs. Writers would later pay tribute to Harris a second, and unfortunately final time, in the last two episodes of the series.

    • Penseyres: Others think we should wait... applying the Holmes criteria defining serial killers involving three victims with a time period between murders of at least 30 days.
      This is most likely a reference to the work of Ronald M. Holmes, a real-life psychological profiler.