Criminal Minds

18 Oct

A very long time ago–I must have been eleven or perhaps twelve years old–my siblings and I used to visit my father oh, once or perhaps twice a month. Such visits often involved very little time spent actually with him, and a lot of time finding something to read to be quiet and let him nap.¹ The good news is that there was always something to read, and that all five of us are voracious readers.

One on such occasion, I found the book An Autumn of Terror: The Crimes and Times of Jack the Ripper.² Published in 1965, it is quite outdated in its methods of study, and yet, both at the time it was published and when I read it, it was pretty much cutting edge in how it looked at the evidence and the inferences it made from it.

I have since been pretty interested in how we look at serial killers.  For decades, the general public (and most governments) have liked to pretend that serial killers–and psychopaths in general–are rare. An aberration that can be explained away as something that only happens when circumstances are just so.

Funny, but I never agreed with this view. Call me a cynic, but there’s too much violence in the world for me to believe it.

And then, while I was in my mid twenties, I found a copy of Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crimes Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker and devoured it–gruesome descriptions and all.

So, while I don’t spend countless hours reading true crime stories³, there was no way I was going to pass up the show Criminal Minds–no way, no how. The fact that Mandy Patinkin (the amazing Iñigo Montoya himself!) was going to be the lead in an ensemble cast was just the most delicious chocolate icing on an already extremely tempting crumb cake.

This week, while postponing deep cleaning my house (I need a hazmat suit) because a) my mother is coming for a week on Thanksgiving, and b) if I could, I would put off procrastinating, I am indulging in a marathon view of the first two seasons.

And here is my extremely brief and biased review: the show hits the ground running and then it gets better as we go on.

The first season was slightly rocky, detail wise. For example, in the episode Unfinished Business, we see different members of the team casually handling items that are clearly potential evidence, thus tainting the investigation. By the end of the season, though, a lot more care is taken in showing the characters following proper procedure. The crimes and criminals are always suitably shocking and gory, but the focus is rarely on the blood and guts of the crime scenes–the focus is squarely on the thought processes of the profilers. By the second season, we have extremely intense episodes, such as North Mammon, which is terrifying because of how accurately it portrays human nature. Given appropriate motivation, people do the most terrible things.

The show is firmly situated in the present. Not only is technology, weaponry, etc. correct, but current events–both political and economic–often play part in the investigation, even if tangentially. As an example, in Lessons Learned, three characters travel to Guantanamo to interrogate a Ghost–a prisoner who only exists in CIA classified terror records. Questions of torture (aka, interrogation techniques)  and how they fail to elicit credible information from prisoners, along with the loss of privacy for the sake of a false sense of security (I am a firm believer that They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. by the way) are brought up, if in a fairly throwaway fashion.

I love the characters and I enjoy their interactions tremendously. My favorite, to no one’s surprise, is Spencer Reid, the young prodigy who holds a couple of doctorates, is afraid heredity will prove true and he’ll end up schizophrenic in a few years, and has trouble relating to most people. I enjoy Reid both as a very human and flawed character and as a vehicle to provide a lot of information to the audience in a relatively short space of time. Like Hermione in the Harry Potter books, he’s our Encyclopaedia of all things psychopath.

One of these days, I will have accumulated enough reward points in my amazon visa card to purchase the third season. I am pretty sure that, despite the fact that the lead character leaves the show in the first episode and that, for about a fourth of the season, the team is one person short (it wasn’t until episode 6, About Face, that Joe Montegna joined the cast), the quality of the writing, the acting and the production, are likely to have continued improving.

If not, I’m sure I’ll find it in me to rant about it here at some point 😀

*

One final kvetch: a few years after leaving the show, Mandy Patinkin commented, that he “never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year.” I ask you, you sign on to portray a character based on John Douglas, and you don’t think there will be extreme violence towards women featured in most, if not all, episodes? Just what kind of research for the role did Mr Patinkin do?

* * *

¹ Huh. This sounds worse than it probably was. He was depressed, an insomniac who, when he managed to sleep, would be woken by the slightest sound–and I mean, the slightest sound, even across walls and closed doors. Ears like a bat. And so, he did nap in the early afternoons, pretty much for as long as I remember.

² This was, by no means, the most “age inappropriate” book I read during one of these visits. However, I find it interesting that, although I also found a lot of adult fiction (more erotica than outright porn, though), this is the book that has stayed with me for over 35 years. As in, I still have that copy.

³ The few I have read, I found poorly written. I don’t want the focus on the lurid details or the writing to read like yellow journalism when I read about criminals. Instead, I want to know how the investigators saw the evidence, how they thought, how they extrapolated, in order to find the criminal and stop him/her/them.

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4 Responses to “Criminal Minds”

  1. heavenlea27 18/10/2013 at 9:03 AM #

    AL, I too am new..ish… to the show. I have seen seasons 1 and 2 and a good chunk of 3 but as it is with all good shows (even after being relegated to the cable tv), the season was stopped (no reason given) and by the time I realized they had restarted, most of the remainder of the season was gone. Anything to make way for more reality **crapola**.

    But anyway… I too love the way the show focuses more on the who and why rather than the end result of the why. Having said that, I’m a fan of CSI for the reason in that they show the gross bits and work backwards.

    You and I seemed to have picked up on the same thing – tainted evidence. Many a show I’ve watched and thought ‘hey, aren’t you supposed to have the geek squad in to photo and bag stuff first?’ but in the grand scheme of things you tend to overlook it. Makes me wonder if that’s what does happen in real life when you see on the news how yet another scumbag has been found not guilty on a technicality.

    I don’t know about a fave character as such but Spencer is kinda cute in a geeky way. Sometimes I want to slap Garcia and Derek can be too cool sometimes with his ‘baby girl’ bit but overall, the characters gel well enough and still have enough quirks to keep them from being perfect. Just like real people. Mandy was great in his role and from the little I saw of season 3, Joe seems to be taking a little while to blend in. Maybe it’s just me.

    I don’t ever recall trying to read this genre of books (my one attempt – Helter Skelter – turned my right off and gave me nightmares for months), even the fictional ones but now that I’m a little older, I might just give it another shot. Even if it does make me sad to think that there are actually people in the real world just like the characters in the book.

    I’m not sure I hit the point of your post but I wanted you to know that you weren’t alone – in binge watching favourite shows or liking the genre. I hope you get to season 3 soon. You can tell me what happens lol.

    Oh, and while I’m at it, can I borrow the hazmat suit when you’re done? I’m rearranging the front room and it’s not pretty 🙂

  2. Lori 18/10/2013 at 9:16 AM #

    I read Mandy’s comment also and took it a little differently. I guess that he was thinking there’d be more variety shown because crimes against women are often used as titillation.

    I haven’t watched the show and would say that growing up with an actual sociopath for a parent disinterests me in how lawless minds think. But I agree with the sentiment that there’s a real fascination in learning the methods of how something works. West Wing was my fascination for years in seeing how the White House actually ran.

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