Criminal Minds marathon–seasons 3 through 7

14 Oct

Most people reading this blog have probably seen at least a couple of seasons of Criminal Minds, but in case you just happened to wander in without previous knowledge and would like to retain your innocence, beware: what follows is chock-full of spoilers not just for the specific seasons in the title, but for the series as a whole.

Also, most of the show is pretty graphic and most of the victims of the violence are women. Just as it happens in real life.

Read on at your own risk.

I had mentioned before that I was saving to purchase more seasons of this show. It so happens that between one thing and another thing, and several of the sets being heavily discounted at different points in the last few months, I’m now the proud owner of the first seven seasons.

I hoarded them for a while–not in small part because I acquired them out of order. Just as I can’t read series out of order, watching them like that is pretty much out f the question for me. But finally, all of them were chez aztec and within reach of my greedy little mittens.

Cue binge watching.

The balance after watching a couple–or three–episodes together every so often over the course of a few weeks is that I still enjoy the premise–or gimmick, if you are feeling cynical *cough*–and most of the characters. I’m once again saving my pennies (and rewards points–thanks, evil empire amazon) to get the next couple of seasons the next time they are on sale.

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I like a lot of things about this show, even after Mandi Patinkin left at the very beginning of Season 3. Plus I must say that I liked how that was handled within the show–the letter addressed specifically to Reid,  the voice-over, the last glimpse of Gideon as he goes walkabout… Well done and within character for Gideon.

The character of Spencer Reid, the social inept genius, continues to be a favorite, as is Penelope García, hacker extraordinaire. As I’ve long been a fan of Joe Mantegna, I had no trouble with the introduction of the David Rossi character in episode 6 of the same season.

I believe I’m not alone in saying that my favorite episode of this season is the ninth, “Penelope.” Oh let me count the ways! There were several excellent episodes in Season 3–“Damaged” comes to mind immediately–and I like how snippets of the different characters’ backgrounds are woven into the different episodes.

Many viewers, I’m sure, would prefer that the entire focus of the show was on the different cases, and I do understand this point of view, because it was precisely the procedural aspect that originally drew me to the show. However, in real life who we are inform how we perceive the world around us, and therefore it makes sense that who the profilers and other agents are informs their own work. So I’m okay with this aspect of the show–for the most part. (Read: for some characters.)

For example, I really liked how Reid’s childhood memories, as well as his parents’ behaviour, relationship with each other and with Reid, are used to set up and solve the case both in “The Instincts” and in “Memoriam,” during Season 4. In that same season, I absolutely adored Jason Alexander’s turn as the psycho of the week–and his scenes with Joe Mantegna are simply amazing–in “Masterpiece.”

I also like the story arch with Aaron Hotchner and the Reaper, and how it picks up little bits and pieces that have been seen throughout the series so far: Hotch’s struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with his family, his separation and eventual divorce, etc. I liked how the writers balanced feeding the viewers bits of Hotch’s ‘obssession’ with the Reaper.

For this storyline, all the mentions in other episodes, from the Reaper’s attack on Hochner until the heartrending “100” in Season 5, were both organic and generally brief–a line of dialogue, a forty seconds glimpse here and there through nine episodes. The big exception would be the first episode of the season, “Nameless, Faceless.” All of the hints about Hochner’s life and problems up to this point and between this episode and the conclusion of the story arc are fairly subtle.

So far, mostly good stuff indeed. Until Season 6, where I was getting ready to give up.

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First, someone up in the feeding chain fired A. J. Cook, who plays Jennifer Jareau. Now, while this didn’t seem to me a pivotal character up to this point, her character’s departure seemed to me more forced–i.e., less well written into the show’s universe–than that of Gideon/Mandy Patinkin three seasons earlier.

Then we have the drawn out Prentiss-Doyle story arc.

Let me begin by admitting that there is something about the actress playing Prentiss that really puts me off. I have no idea why, so I’m chalking it up to chemistry. This dislike intensifies whenever the backstory in the episode is about her. So you can imagine that when half the season is devoted to her, as Season 6 was, I got just a lil’ cranky. Add plot holes large enough to drive a train through…

Yes, Prentiss is supposed to be in her early thirties and to have started training with Interpol when barely out of college, if not before. But still, it seems there’s too much to cram in too few years, and clashes with the original backstory as presented in Season 2. If she’s been with the FBI for ten years, working primarily in the Middle East (there’s much to do about her knowing Arabic), where does her time undercover for Interpol fit in? Personally, I doubt such agencies trade/loan each other agents like students transferring from one school to another.

But even worse than the inconsistencies–and oh boy, that’s saying something, as I’m a nitpicker for those–is just how much airtime was devoted to the Doyle-Prentiss crap. At least three times, the entire intro and the entire closing scene of other episodes was devoted to it, what with the meant-to-be foreboding ‘previously on Criminal Minds’ plus flashbacks and shit.

So, out of the what? 42 minutes of actual show, at least ten are taken with what is basically a static storyline.

Which in turns makes the actual episode of that week not just shorter but a lot less interesting. The writers and producers sacrificed the complexity of the individual investigations in order to build the denouement up. I learned later that the whole build up was because the actress was leaving the show and this was a way to write that into the show.

I know it worked for plenty of viewers, but it definitely didn’t work for me. Would it have worked if the running thread was for Hotchner or Rossi? Perhaps, but I still think less is a lot more when trying to intrigue people who already are into what you are selling. It’s the same concept as showing v telling in a novel–we were told the same things a few too many times, while pretty much nothing was shown to happen.

There were, however, some truly excellent episodes during this season. I think “Into the Woods” has some of the best children actors in a long while. The only jarring note in this episode was the hospital family reunion. Honestly, after what those kids survived, a storm of tears while cringing to their parents would have been a million times more believable than “happy, happy” smiles and hair tousling. “Coda” was also good, though it was also short-changed to make room for more Prentiss-Doyle noise.

The last two episodes in the season, “Big Sea” and “Supply and Demand” had rather good psychos-of-the-week, though their motivation wasn’t, I think, as well explored as with other good villains. (If that makes sense, heh.)

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Season 7 saw the return of Prentiss–for my sins–and of JJ, which was actually good, as they integrated the character a lot better into the team. More FBI agent, less Lt Uhura (i.e., giving press conferences and generally dealing with the media was pretty much all she did before this season, even though we had seen back in Season 3 that she could kick ass and take names–see her taking a head shot through an inch thick glass door at the end of “Penelope”).

(Did I mention I love that episode? 😀 )

There are a couple of intriguing episodes this season. While I found the premise for “Dorado Falls” too contrived, I liked “Painless,” I really liked “Hope” with it’s slightly ambiguous ending, and I particularly enjoyed the twists in “Self-fulfilling Prophecy.” The last two episodes–technically, a two-part episode, “Hit and Run”–were very well done, and I really liked that Will got a good chunk of screen time. For a while there he’s been basically worth a couple of lines of dialogue, if not a mere reference by JJ or another character, so it was great to seem him as an actual person with a life of his own.

There were two stories with themes I wish had been explored with a bit more care and depth: racism and xenophobia in “A Thin Line,” and the seduction and sexual abuse of young boys by adult women in “I love you, Tommy Brown.”

However, there are a number of things about the show that I’m finding increasingly annoying, so future watching will have to be one episode at a time.

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First off, the Doyle-Prentiss arc highlights the fact that the show’s writers are not all that careful about keeping track of all the little hints of personal backstory they dropped in previous seasons, so while we occasionally have little confirmations (how Morgan brings up his own father’s murder during the “Prince of Darkness” double episode, for example), it’s jarring when someone who previously showed knowledge of something is now asking questions about that same thing.

Another trend I’m not liking is the increased chases and shootouts. The BAU is not necessarily a field team, and while they probably end up on the ground during critical investigations, I sincerely doubt they chase every. single. suspect. they profile correctly. I blame this on the writers using the Morgan character as both eye candy for women and as hero material for men.

I would also like to see at least a couple more episodes where they don’t catch the bad guy–it doesn’t have to be quite as involved as the deal with The Reaper, but say, coming across the guy from “Into the Woods” at some point in the future? It would add a lot of realism that is, I feel, sorely needed.

Which bring me to: involving the BAU in other things they wouldn’t naturally be involved with undermines the whole “reality based” side of the premise. I understand that the whole point for the writers is to highlight these characters, but I honestly believe that this could be done a tad more realistically. The most egregious example of this was during “No Place Like Home” (aka the tornado episode). In order to have the team in on the climax, and yet getting them all through intact as a tornado touches ground less than 25 yards of where they are standing (like morons, frankly), shelter magically appears right behind them, and the teams manages to close the (flimsy as balsa wood) door after stopping to watch the unsub being sucked up. Because that’s what you do while running for your life.

Cue me ranting “come ON!” over here.

Another issue that bothers me more and more is the composition of the core team. Have you noticed that the replacement characters are pretty much place holders for the original actresses’ physical type? Elle Greenway quits, Emily Prentiss come in. Longish-haired, athletic looking brunette. Out goes JJ, in comes Seaver–straight blonde hair, delicate facial features, slim body type. Out goes Prentiss, in comes Blake–yeah, you guessed, another brunette, same body type. Out goes Blake, in comes *drumroll* Kate Callahan! Another brunette! Who apparently wants to be the one to shoot the unsub in her very first case with the team.

Seriously, people?

Where exactly is the diversity here? Morgan is the only person of color–the only Hispanic/Latino thing about Penelope García is her name. The rest of the team, and most of the agents populating seats and acting as background decoration while in the Quantico office are also white. I’m not sure if this holds true of the actual BAU, but it seems to me that the writers–who themselves are more etnically/racially diverse than their own show–could do something about it.

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The show is starting its tenth season this October, and I certainly hope the most annoying trends can be reversed at least enough that the actual analysis of the cases takes the lion share of the episode. That’s what attracted me to the show, and I have a feeling that was what gained it its earlier popularity. Here’s hoping.

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