Criminal Minds: Reflection of Desire

Well. We’ll just mark this one down in the “failed experiment” column, shall we?

I was going to boldly proclaim this weak, watery, silly Sunset Boulevard tribute and/or knockoff to be the Worst Episode Ever, and then I remembered that nothing can really touch last season’s “The Fight” in terms of sheer awfulness. For those who missed it, “The Fight” was the backdoor pilot for the still-upcoming spinoff and consisted of forty-two minutes of our BAU members standing on the sidelines and cooing about the awesomeness of Forest Whitaker’s team of hipper, grittier FBI profilers. It was breathtakingly stupid.

That said, this episode ain’t good. Criminal Minds, I like you a lot, but you’ve fallen off your game this season.

(Note to self: Write a script for a porn film about a horny aviator and title it Backdoor Pilot.)

A Senate page named Kelly Landis is kidnapped in DC. Her strangled body is found three days later in a Georgetown alley, her lips sliced off with a razor blade. The day prior to her murder, a photograph of Kelly, styled as a glamorous old-time movie star, was anonymously delivered to a local newspaper. In other words, there’s a super-gimmicky unsub on the loose.

The unsub turns out to be Rhett Walden (Robert Knepper), who lives with his faded movie-star mother May (Sally Kirkland, bringing the crazy), with whom he has an incestuous relationship. Rhett kidnapped Kelly, dressed her up as the character May played in her sole big-screen role in a film called Reflection of Desire, forced her to act out scenes from the movie, then murdered her when he found her performance insufficiently convincing, suffocating her with a plastic bag and stuffing a page from the screenplay down her throat.

(Oh, Robert Knepper. I try not to hold that horrible last season of Heroes against you -- really, you were one of the few bright points in a lot of misery -- but nonetheless, you’re dredging up some bad memories here.)

Kelly’s ordeal is intercut with hyper-stylized scenes of Garcia acting in a play, wearing a black bobbed wig, delivering chunks of portentous dialogue and shooting a rapist onstage. Points for trying something new, and I dig the idea of Garcia having this odd, hidden side interest in theater, but as to the execution, they cranked up the pretension level to eleven. Anyway, when Hotch inadvertently finds out about her secret life as an actor, she begs him not to tell the rest of the team, claiming she needs to keep her job and her personal life separate.

…You can see where this is going to go.

Rhett kidnaps another young woman, Penny Hammond (Whitney Able), from DC’s Union Station (which, in a bit of typecasting, is played by Los Angeles’ Union Station) and starts doing his whole old-time movie-star shtick with her. Penny, who is awesome, gamely plays along for a while, then breaks Rhett’s nose and dashes for freedom. Rhett knocks her out with chloroform and slices off her toes as punishment.

While investigating Penny’s disappearance, the team finds surveillance footage of Rhett trailing her at the train station. Since he loitered at the station for several hours while scoping out potential victims, they figure his parking permit is valid for the surrounding neighborhood, suggesting he lives in the immediate area. They theorize that he keeps the women alive for three days to correspond to the three-act structure of a screenplay, and you know what? I just changed my mind. This is a worse episode than the backdoor pilot, just on the basis of that snippet of random idiocy.

After a glamorous headshot of Penny is dropped off at the newspaper offices, Hotch asks Garcia to call a press conference about the kidnapping. He also asks her to don a blonde wig (she’s been a redhead this season) and tart herself up as a glamorous movie star first. This is either because he wants to lure Rhett out into the open by having Garcia play into his old-Hollywood fantasy, or because Hotch has a heretofore unrevealed wildly self-amusing streak. I prefer to think it’s the latter.

Worried she’ll screw it up, Garcia refuses to go through with the press conference. Hotch gives her a pep talk about viewing it as a performance, and in the process manages to spill the beans about her secret thespian life to the rest of the team. Good one, Hotch! Garcia gives the press conference, in which she claims the police know where Penny is being held.

Rhett watches the conference and panics, thinking he’s about to be arrested. He drugs Penny and tries to go on the run with her. While patrolling the neighborhood, Rossi and Hotch spot Rhett suffocating Penny with a plastic bag in the front seat of his van. They rescue Penny, though Rhett escapes. (Hotch, whom we saw in an early episode shoot someone on top of a moving train from a moving car with deadly accuracy, fires four or five shots at Rhett at close range and only manages to, like, nick his shoulder or something. Hotch is usually an unstoppable force of awesomeness, but you’d never know it from this episode. Perhaps he read the script and figured it wasn’t worth bringing his A-game for this nonsense.)

Police surround Rhett’s house and demand his surrender. Rhett emerges and goes full-tilt Norma Desmond, mistaking the police lights for the flashbulbs of an adoring public. He’s carrying May’s desiccated corpse -- May, it turns out, has been alive only in Rhett’s delusional brain. As an especially nice touch, he’s placed Kelly’s severed lips over May’s own rotted ones.

(I’m picturing the pitch meeting for this episode: “It’s Sunset Boulevard meets Psycho! It can’t possibly fail!”)

Tag ending: The rest of the BAU team decide Garcia was kidding about this whole “stay the hell out of my personal life, you pack of slavering jackals” business, and show up for her play en masse.

Did you make it through the episode? Reward yourself with this: It’s John Barrowman singing “Sunset Boulevard,” and doing an outstanding job of it. You’ve earned it.

Comments

Ingrid Richter said…
I cheated and watched John Barrowman without watching the episode! Excellent review, BTW...
Morgan Richter said…
The one upside to this episode is that I've been humming "Sunset Boulevard" all morning. Barrowman knocks it out of the park, man...
Ingrid Richter said…
Didn't you teach the "Paramount is Paradise" song to your co-workers when you were working at Paramount?

And why do both of us love Robert Knepper, in spite of his projects?
Morgan Richter said…
I did! I'd crack up my coworkers by singing it on the Paramount lot: "Hi, good morning, aren't we lucky, going to work with Cukor? Paramount is paradiiiiiiiiise, movies from A to Zukor!" Good times.

I'm downright fond of Knepper, and I have no idea why. He's oddly likable, even while playing scumbags. I've had Prison Break languishing in my Netflix queue for months...
Alicia said…
What I want to know is why you keep watching this show! I keep reading your recaps because I enjoy them, but the show sounds utterly insufferable now. (Which is sad.)
Morgan Richter said…
What I want to know is why you keep watching this show

I figured at the start of the season my bailout point would be when Paget left, because I can't stand the thought of the show without her, but if things don't pick up soon, I'll probably leave before that. We've had a couple recent episodes that were just plain stupid (this one and the Phantom of the Opera-ish Halloween one), and a couple that were gratuitously kind of nasty, and it's not much fun to watch.

Still, I really like all the characters -- I'm hanging in for them, in the (fading) hope that the scripts will perk back up.

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