Criminal Minds: The Thirteenth Step

Hey, Criminal Minds? I’m dumping your sorry ass.

This has been brewing for a while. This season, we’ve had poorly-written episodes that have been sort of stupid (25 To Life, Reflection of Desire), and we’ve had poorly-written episodes that have been unnecessarily salacious (Remembrance of Things Past, Middle Man)… but up until last night, we haven’t had that perfect storm of poorly-written stupidity and sensationalism that comprised this miserable episode.

A couple of homicidal nitwit junkie newlyweds, Ray (Jonathan Tucker) and Syd (Adrienne Palicki), go on a violent rampage across Montana, shooting up convenience stores and murdering droves of people -- shooting them, burning them, beating them, even sodomizing one store clerk with a crowbar. I have a policy of not singling out specific television writers for blame, because TV scripts tend to be a collaborative effort and it’s impossible to tell what the credited writer or writers should be held responsible for. However, the only other Criminal Minds episode this particular writer has to her credit is Remembrance of Things Past, in which the team of unsubs sodomize women with electrical rods before murdering them; seriously, it’d be swell if she could come up with a script where a victim doesn’t get something shoved up his or her ass.

Syd and Ray’s exploits are all shot very stylishly, with plenty of rapid cuts and fancy camera work and lingering shots of Syd’s long legs and her crotch-skimming denim skirt, while she sucks provocatively on a candy ring and writhes orgasmically while killing people; I won’t go so far as to say viewers are meant to find Syd and Ray glamorous and appealing, but I will say that someone involved with this episode sure does.

Here’s the thing: I think extreme graphic violence in films or on television can serve an important purpose. Criminal Minds is a show about hunting serial killers, and it’d be dishonest if it shied away from showing the terrible things human beings are capable of doing. But in seasons past, the show has been very, very conscientious of maintaining an appropriate balance. The BAU team members -- all of them smart, decent people -- serve as both the audience surrogates and the moral compass of the show. We need to see their reactions to the awful events that happen in any given episode, or the violence and destruction exists in a vacuum. Here, though, our team members barely put in an appearance. They exist mainly to deliver impersonal chunks of exposition and make improbable deductions to move the plot forward. We’re cheated out of seeing their reactions to Syd and Ray’s vile spree. Factor that in with the hyper-stylized photography, and it becomes clear audiences are supposed to be getting off on the violence instead of searching for some greater conclusion in it.

Add to that: Syd and Ray are twerpy, obnoxious, repellent characters -- they’re like the living embodiment of Diesel’s “Be Stupid” ad campaign, with added gratuitous carnage -- and it’s a chore spending forty-four minutes with them, especially when our main characters get so badly sidelined in the process. The big selling point of Criminal Minds is the characters, who are cool and interesting and nuanced even when they’re not doing anything dramatic. I’d rather watch Hotch doing his taxes, or Prentiss trimming her bangs, or Rossi polishing his shoes, or Reid discussing Star Trek, than spend any time squandering brain cells on Syd and Ray.

A more minor complaint: This episode completely squanders an appearance from the awesome Deirdre Lovejoy -- Assistant State Attorney Rhonda Pearlman on The Wire -- who shows up as… I don’t even know. An agent from the FBI’s Montana field office, I think? She kind of flits through a couple scenes without doing anything significant. This violates one of my cardinal rules, for which I also came down hard on Heroes in Season Three: If you’re fortunate enough to get one of the universally-terrific cast members from The Wire guest-starring on your show, for the love of all that is good and holy, give them something to do.

(Brighter note: Lovejoy won my heart when, during filming of this episode, she started posting sneaky candid photos of Thomas Gibson on the set to her Twitter account, which I interpret as a sign of a healthy self-amusing streak. She seems like fun.)

Anyway. Ray and Syd shoot and screw their way across Montana, slaughtering more people (including Ray’s dad and an entire AA meeting), before ending up in Syd’s hometown, Spokane. Shit gets personal here: I was born and raised in Spokane, and I feel kindly enough toward it that I don’t like to see it dragged into this mess (on the other hand, I had no problem with the portrayal of Spokane in the Season Two episode “Open Season,” in which everyone had mullets and listened to loud Eighties arena rock. Fair enough. True story: Until I moved to Los Angeles to go to college, I had never heard the word “mullet.” In Spokane, we just called it “hair”).

Syd and Ray kill Syd's father, hostage drama ensues, Ray strangles Syd, then gets riddled with bullets and sees a dying vision of an angelic Syd, bathed in golden light, beckoning to him, which is pretty much the crappiest thing that’s ever been on television in the eighty-four years since the world’s first broadcast.

Oh, and in the sole interesting thing that happens in this episode, Prentiss meets with a shadowy man from her past, Sean McAllister (Angus Macfadyen), who tells her that someone named Ian Boyle escaped from prison, and Interpol can’t find him. A visibly shaken Prentiss asks if she’s in danger, and McAllister replies, “We all are.”

I'm done. Over and out.


Ingrid Richter said…
It's sad to see bad Criminal Minds episodes :-( I love the earlier seasons...
Morgan Richter said…
It's frustrating. The past five seasons were flawed, but pretty strong overall, and the show was always centered firmly on the BAU. This season, there's much more focus on the unsubs and the awful things they do, and less focus on the interactions amongst the team members. Since the unsubs are always less interesting than our regular characters -- less smart, less well-developed, less human -- it makes for a tedious and distasteful viewing experience. Factor in some extraordinarily uneven writing, and it's just not worth watching, despite that great, likeable cast.
Anonymous said…
I watched this episode, and stopped halfway through.

Apart my impression to watch a bad copy of Tarantino`s, my main issue is why the girl kept sucking and licking at her big, fat ring.
Was that supposed to be a phallic device or something?
Morgan Richter said…
Hi, Veronica! Horrible episode, wasn't it? Definitely sub-Tarantino (or sub-Oliver Stone). I think we were supposed to find her sucking on the candy ring to be all sexy and provocative (much like her writhing orgasmically when she'd kill people), but it just seemed flat-out stupid. I'm too old and grouchy to waste my time watching dumb, cruel teenagers doing dumb, cruel things.
Anonymous said…
Hi Morgan!

Sorry I missed your birthday. I wanted to send you a gift, but I am afraid I lost your address,plus my copy of Charlotte Dent,when I formatted my laptop. I`d like to have them both back,please!

I decided that I am gonna use the sentence :"...and she licked the big, fat ring" whenever I see a lady acting with cheap sex appeal.
Morgan Richter said…
Oh, no! Veronica, I'm sorry about your laptop woes. I'll send you an email.

"...and she licked the big, fat ring"

Heh. I love it. Nothing against Adrienne Palicki's performance -- I think she was probably doing exactly what she was directed to do, and what the script told her to do -- but it was such an incredibly cheesy, flimsy, exploitative role, ring-sucking and all. That poor actress.
Anonymous said…
That`s the drama of being an actor : it`s rarely your fault when the fina product sucks, but you get all the blame.

As a certain actor with terrific cheeckbones well knows....

(I`d love to watch him licking a candy ring-pop, though.)
Morgan Richter said…
As a certain actor with terrific cheeckbones well knows....

Oh, yes. I think Sendhil Ramamurthy's career (and his phenomenal cheekbones!) has finally recovered from those awful final seasons of Heroes, but yes, he sure took a lot of blame for an awful lot of bad writing.

I'm not much good at judging actors -- I can tell when someone's noticeably bad, or noticeably good, obviously, but that's about it -- but I've got a pretty good ear for bad or good writing. From that standpoint, I thought this episode was a disaster -- shallow and derivative. If I'd wanted to watch Natural Born Killers, I would have rented Natural Born Killers.
flightline said…
I thought I was the only one who has noticed the increasing mediocrity of this show, which used to be my favorite.
Many Patinkin had the foresight to quit.
Morgan Richter said…
Flightline, yeah, I'm starting to think Patinkin was just ahead of the curve when he broke his contract and quit the show. The quality has taken a nosedive lately, and at this point, I'm not sure it's going to recover. Too bad. When it was good, it was very good...
TaurMe said…
I haven't seen the latest episodes but judging by this season's standards, I'm pretty sure I'll be disappointed.

Sigh. I used to love this show.

I regret complaining about the later seasons of Psych. :\

Love your blog, esp. the fact that you mention Lassie's awesomest moments (I <3 Tim Omundson!)
Morgan Richter said…
TaurMe, I'm so crushingly disappointed with the most recent episodes of this show. If it was just the occasional weak episode, I could shrug it off and expect it to return to the usual high quality sooner or later. But... it's becoming a pattern, and at this stage, I'm not sure it's going to recover.

Love your blog, esp. the fact that you mention Lassie's awesomest moments (I <3 Tim Omundson!)

Thank you! I love Lassiter. Omundson can crack me up pretty consistently every episode.

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