...when the screen takes over...

Profiling “Criminal Minds” and Getting Out of It

After a marathon of Criminal Minds from season one to ten, all I could say is this: thank goodness for “Answer Me 1988”! I need the laughs and humanity. I just wanted to get out of the gloomy and depressing atmosphere the show has cast upon the world.

First and foremost, It soon became apparent that the mind needed recalibration. Innocent words have been marred. The mind would conjure a crime-related “Criminal Minds”-style association whenever they are mentioned. It is almost a torture that I cannot help thinking of their use in the show whenever I encounter the words house-cleaner, trophies or souvenir.

I reckon this recalibration needs a lot of hard work.

 

Victimology: The Audience, C’est Moi!

Of course, “don’t we all like crime busting detective flicks?” would be my response to the inquiry into my marathon-watching. But upon digging deeper, I thought I wanted to know how the BAU has grown. After season three, I haven’t watched it as much as before, just whatever happened to be found playing on TV.

The marathon started out of a curiosity from an article or quiz at Buzzfeed, ‘Can You Guess The Season Of “Criminal Minds” Based Only On Reid’s Hair?’. One thing led to another, I found myself binge-watching season one to ten of “Criminal Minds”, and billed a Spencer Reid(‘s Hair) Expert by the quiz. Yay!

Behaviour Pattern… or formula

The show, somehow, has established a pattern or formula, which has sadly become a fixture in later seasons. It is roughly in the following sequence:

  1. an intro to the “terror of the week”
  2. then a case comes to the BAU desk, the roundtable crime fighters brief the case. And then “Wheels up in 30!” says Hotch.
  3. opening quote
  4. little chats and sometimes another briefing occur on the jet plane. Most of the time, Reid will impress with his memory, statistics, and analysis
  5. set up desks and what-not at the destination, get acquainted with local law enforcer.
  6. puzzle-solving game and the chase for “criminal of the week” begins
  7. flashes or sequences of the unsub doing tortures
  8. a profile is delivered
  9. body count may increase; persons may be missing as next potential victims
  10. the profile is updated
  11. then come a breakthrough on the case; cross-check with Garcia’s data highway, and voila! “We’ve got an address!”
  12. stop the body counter; save potential victim; apprehend the criminal, dead or alive.
  13. team goes home on jet
  14. final quote
  15. epilogue

There are variations in its executions, of course. The cases don’t necessarily come in the form of invitations from or consulting for other jurisdictions. An episode can start somewhere in the middle or end and then uses flashback to lay out similar map. However, there used to be more interesting storytelling in earlier seasons. Some of them are season one’s “Derailed”, in which BAU’s Elle Greenway along with other train passengers were held hostage by a paranoid schizophrenic, and season two’s “Riding The Lightning”, in which the BAU interviewed a married couple sitting on death-row for serial murders.

One (2005)
70%
Two (2006)
73%
Three (2007)
73%
Four (2008)
70%
Five (2009)
70%
Six (2010)
60%
Seven (2011)
60%
Eight (2012)
50%
Nine (2013)
50%
Ten (2014)
30%

Seasons’s coolness level

Very often, the real gems in this show are the stories of the week and the guest stars who are carrying them. Some stories and characters that stood out are from episodes “Riding The Lightning”, “The Big Wheel”, “Haunted”, and “The Lessons”.

Another layer of stories develops around the BAU team. Each has his or her own stories, motivations, and aspirations that get addressed sometimes, whether as side stories, related to the “crime of the week” theme, or arc of the season. These elements are unveiled in a way that the audience see the growth of the characters. This is, I think, the main draw for the show: the audience want to know, come to care about each one of them, and wish for their happiness or “happy ending”.

This brings in the issue of casts and characters of the series and BAU team throughout the seasons.

The Evolution and Devolution: The Team Dynamics and Its Stressors

Characters and casts coming and going in a tv series is normal. What matters is whether the departure of a character, the integration of new character, and the change and dynamics in their relationship believable. “Criminal Minds” has its share of changes as well, some of which may have worked against it especially when each role’s strengths and weaknesses have been well established. Moreover, the audience have grown attached to them.

The original team consisted of profilers Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin), Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson), Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore), Elle Greenaway (Lola Glaudini), Doctor Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), media specialist Jennifer “JJ” Jareau (A.J. Cook), and a technical analyst/hacker Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangness). Each had their roles in the team that helped them solving the cases and each has quirks and uniqueness that made the characters and their relationships interesting.

Hotchner, Rossi, Reid, JJ, Prentiss, Morgan, and Garcia at the end of the video conference.
— image via IMDB, ©CBS

In season two, Greenaway left the BAU in pretty bad term. Her leaving made room for a new character Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster). In the beginning of season three, Jason Gideon resigned and chose to disappear, leaving a goodbye letter addressed to Reid. Later in the season, Dave Rossi (Joe Mantegna), Gideon’s contemporary, joined the BAU. These characters set up the constellation for most of season three, four and five, with Agent Jordan Todd (Meta Golding) sitting in for JJ while she was on maternity leave. Between season six and season seven, Prentiss and JJ went out and came back in a rather “unexpected” manner, reeking of the real life’s drama’s budget cut. Prentiss left again, for good (maybe), at the end of season seven, leaving behind big shoes to fill.

I wonder if this was because Paget Brewster and Lola Glaudini had got their feet in comedy that Elle and Emily had their own unique signatures. They both had the right timing and reaction that their scenes felt alive. Elle and Emily had got the street smart and played the perfect banter with Morgan and Reid on the field.

What came next is a string of Elle and Emily “Surrogates” (borrowing their term). I began to think that the position is jinxed like Harry Potter’s Hogwart’s DADA teacher post! It’s jinxed!

I actually like Ashley Seaver (Rachel Nichols), who briefly came in midway season six. I found the almost perpetual sadness and undertone emotion she emanated charming and befitting her background. There was an invisible burden from being the daughter of a serial killer. That, plus being a junior agent fresh out of the academy, had the potential to introduce interesting stories and conflicts. She can be the pair of fresh eyes both in cases and in looking at the BAU. I’d like to see what she could have learned from other members. Too bad she transferred to other unit (read: the show pulled her out).

In Prentiss’s absence, came Jeanne Tripplehorn as Alex Blake, PhD. A number of sites state that Blake served as a mother figure to the team. There is also an impressive background story about her: like Reid she was recruited by FBI from young age; friction with Strauss because of a previous case; a deceased son; estranged from her father and brother; and a husband with similar academic bend. I like her cool in many situations. With all these experiences, I would think should she be shaken by anything, it would be the worst crimes she faced at BAU everyday. But no, she kept her cool. So it felt quite out of the blue that she would react emotionally to the event that preceded her departure: Reid’s getting shot. Of course, the show needed a way to explain her departure.

Came season ten, came Jennifer Love Hewitt as agent Kate Callahan. This became a disaster. I did not, could not, believe Callahan as an FBI agent, even more as a seasoned FBI agent. Not even for a second. She was playing her other character that did not belong in tough hardcore crime fighting unit. There was only one look she had for every occasion. This issue became more apparent when the team had to go to the field to make an arrest, complete with gun and vest: the hair and the default look didn’t budge even in the face of peril and terrible things. A mark of tough girl, you say? I’d say a mark of bad acting.

The latest attempt, in season eleven, to fill in the shoes of Elle and Emily is a forensic psychologist Doctor Tara Lewis, played by Aisha Tyler. There are already efforts to get close and personal with her, but the problem still lies in the ‘told not shown’ approach that also plagued other characters. So far Lewis has not impressed much but not offended or disappointed either.

Anyway. These attempts just bring home the point that Emily Prentiss and Elle Greenaway are ones of the kind (and perhaps irreplaceable). Why not just do a different approach? Keep the team one man or woman short but have guest characters like Ashley Seaver and Jordan Todd? It worked.

The Remaining Questions

Oh, I had a few!

Inverse Reid Effect

“Did you join a boy band?” Hotch

How long has Doctor Reid been in the BAU?

Missing Doctor Reid

Did he really join a boy band?

As the season goes, it seems that Doctor Reid’s “growth” is observed in his ability, or the show’s, to get a date or a love interest. Not that I mind. But I long for the original Reid, being interested in the behaviour sciences and put himself in the front lines of expanding these fields. I miss the Reid who gets toe to toe, or eye to eye, in interrogations and interviews with various difficult unsubs and criminals. I began to dislike the show when it put Reid simply as exposition device to sprout statistics, show off his superhuman intellect, or have epiphanies that give the cases breakthroughs, instead of him pursuing the knowledge and pushing science that drives the BAU.

I get it. I understand the appeal of Matthew Gubler playing Doctor Reid to certain demographic. But I don’t think his original interpretation of the character would harm Reid’s position in fans-land. He instilled coolness and quiet strength to Reid’s insecurities and vulnerability. The socially awkward genius was endearing. No need to turn him into a magnetic metro-sexual man who scored a home run in baseball game. But you’ve got to question whether fandom plays into Reid’s growth. When Reid received more votes in an episode about a man in a psychotic break dealing with flashes of repressed memory (Haunted, season five episode 2) than said man (Sean Patrick Flannery), it’s hard to dismiss the suspicion.

Please come back, Doctor Reid.

The Six Million Dollar Mystery

This is serious. For me, this is the biggest mystery of the show:

 

Who is piloting the jet?

 


Is this the end of “Criminal Minds”? Maybe. At least for me, it is. Hotch should have climbed the Bureau’s leadership ladder. Morgan should probably lead a field unit of his own somewhere. I’d like to see Garcia bossing around and nurturing new tech talents. For one thing, the BAU, as a unit and as a team, seems stunted and frozen in time. Too bad.

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