While searching for a killer who murders random women in order to feel important, Frank Black attempts to work with a partner who is ill-suited to handle the intense horrors the case represents.
Jordan Black (Brittany Tiplady) is awakened by a nightmare, and is comforted by her father Frank Black (Lance Henriksen). However, Black is soon called to investigate the body of a woman at a dog pound in Portland, Oregon. Black works for the Millennium Group, an organisation which offers private investigation services and consults with law enforcement on certain types of cases. He is asked by Group member Jim Penseyres (Chris Ellis) to help a local detective on the murder case, as he is being considered as prospective member of the Millennium Group. Black believes the murder to be the work of a serial killer, and is convinced there will be a message from him on the bodies.
Black meets up with the detective, Jim Horn (James Morrison), and sees that he is a competent and experienced investigator, although his recent separation from his wife has left him distracted and on edge.
The killer murders another woman, disposing of the body in a post office's dead letter office. Investigating, Black finds a human hair with a message etched into it—"hair today, gone tomorrow"—which he takes as an indication that the murderer is lashing out at a world that he feels has treated him as insignificant. Horn's mental condition seems to deteriorate, and he begins to take the case personally, leading Black to doubt his ability.
A third victim turns up, with another message—"nothing ventured, nothing gained". A lens from the killer's glasses is also recovered. Black organises a press release in an attempt to draw out the killer, taunting his intelligence by including a falsified profile describing him as uneducated. Black and Horn feel this will tempt the killer to show up at the latest victim's memorial service. Horn attacks an innocent man at the service, believing him to be the killer; although a cross found at the memorial with "ventured" etched upon it proves the killer did attend. Surveillance footage of the service yields two leads—a local optician recognizes the suspect as a customer having a glasses lens replaced, and the killer's vehicle is identified.
Black and Horn realize that the killer will have chosen the optician as his next victim, and agree to set another trap with her as the bait. Horn, more and more unhinged throughout the case, begins imagining the killer and his van at every turn. As he and Black wait for the killer to make an attempt on the optician's life, Horn admits that he cannot trust himself to be there, and is told to go home. However, he parks his car on the route towards the trap, feigning a flat tyre. When the killer's van attempts to pass, Horn attacks him, but the police arrive in time to stop him beating the killer to death. The attack renders any evidence found in the van inadmissible in court, although Black tells him enough evidence was found at the killer's home to secure a conviction. Later, Horn asks Black how he can deal with cases like this on a regular basis. Black does not answer, but later comforts his daughter after another bad dream.
- In postal service terminology, dead letters are those mailings that have been determined to be undeliverable. A Dead Letters Office, such as the one seen in this episode, collects mail that cannot be delivered and cannot be returned to its mailer. Symbolically, this episode's title is also meant to be interpreted as a representation of the killer's self-image; the serial killer in this episode feels himself to be a dead letter figure, reduced to an aimless and disregarded man by authority and society.
- "Dead Letters" was the first Millennium script written by writing partners Glen Morgan and James Wong. The pair would eventually write seventeen other Millennium episodes, mostly in the second season of the series.
- "Dead Letters" was also the first Millennium episode that director Thomas J. Wright worked on. The director had previously worked with writers Morgan and Wong on a science fiction series they created, Space: Above and Beyond, and would eventually work on twenty-six other Millennium episodes, more than a third of the series, often directing scripts written by the writers.
- The role of James Horn was written specifically for actor James Morrison. The actor is considered one of the primary alumnus associated with the duo of Morgan and Wong and has appeared in several of their projects including Space: Above and Beyond, The Wonder Cabinet, The Others, and the feature film The One. While speaking at a convention in August 1997, he hailed Morgan and Wong as "the only poets working on television today".
- James Morrison acted in this episode after just having had an operation on his knee, which he had injured on the set of Space: Above and Beyond.
- The name of Horn's son, T.C., is a direct reference to Colonel T.C. McQueen, James Morrison's character on Space: Above and Beyond.
Cast and Characters
- Garvin Cross (Patient) previously played Red Head Kid in The X-Files episode "Fearful Symmetry" and Repairman in "Herrenvolk".
- Anthony Harrison (Detective Jenkins) previously played Fourth Man in The X-Files episode "Conduit" and Agent Riggins in "The Field Where I Died".
- Lisa Vultaggio (Janice Sterling) previously played Elizabeth Hawley in The X-Files episode "Beyond the Sea".
- Fulvio Cecere (Security Guard) previously played Aide in The X-Files episode "Little Green Men" and Priest in "Revelations".
- Garvin Cross as Patient
- Anthony Harrison as Detective Jenkins
- Lisa Vultaggio as Janice Sterling
- Rob Morton as Lewis
- Maria Louisa Figura as Cindy Horn
- Cooper Olson as T.C. Horn
- Michelle Hart as Marjorie Holden
- Fulvio Cecere as Security Guard
- Andrew Laurenson as Clown
- Allison Warren as Officer Sarah Stevens
- Ken Shimizu as C.S.T. Member
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