Wednesday, November 14, 2012

CRIMINAL MINDS Season 8 - 806. The Apprenticeship - Review

Episode 8.06 opens in Miami, Florida in an unsavory neighborhood populated by prostitutes and gang members. We watch a wholesome looking teenager disembark from a bus, gripping his backpack straps on both shoulders.  Our assumptions are turned on their head, however, when  -- after haltingly negotiating a transaction with a working girl named Amanda, and admitting that he had never had sex before -- he quickly turns the tables and begins brutally beating the woman to death.  The attack and subsequent suffocation are observed by an unknown person from a hidden vantage point.

Switch to a daylight scene on a deserted softball field.  Morgan is trying to teach a very unenthusiastic Reid how to hit. Like Reid, I too had a very unimpressive athletic history during my childhood and adolescence, so his reluctance is completely understandable! The interlude, complete with their diametrically opposed methods of approaching a situation, brings back echoes of their brotherly relationship from seasons past. Reid tries to calculate relative velocity while Morgan advises him to “just FEEL it” which prompts a frustrated Reid to reply tartly, “I FEEL like an idiot!”

Reid is rescued by a call to Morgan rounding them up for another new case. During the team briefing, Garcia informs them that their latest UnSub appears to have graduated from several animal kills to a human victim. She notes that the initial victims were puppies.  As written by Virgil Williams and directed by CM newcomer Rob Bailey, just the sight of the UnSub handling healthy puppies later in the episode was enough to upset viewers, proving once again that the human imagination is scarier than any visual.

After the briefing we cut back to the teenage UnSub in his bedroom, disposing of incriminating clothing. He’s interrupted by someone sending him a video of the murder on his phone.  As he watches his victim screaming, his mother opens the door without knocking.  When she asks what he’s watching, he claims it’s a YouTube video.  (The combination of an intrusive, yet cringingly apologetic maternal figure is probably the subject of much analysis somewhere in profiling textbooks!)  After she retreats, he goes back to watching the video with an ambiguous expression on his face.

Better than a thousand days of diligent study, is one day with a great teacher. – Japanese proverb
After Morgan’s opening quote (an excellent choice by Virgil Williams), the BAU analyzes the case aboard the jet. There’s an amusing interlude of Rossi being trumped in serial killer bingo with Blake and JJ (instead of the usually encyclopedic Reid, another good call by the writer) volunteering contradictory examples.

After the team disperses to their assignments on the ground, Hotch and JJ immediately notice the possibility of the killer using public transportation.  Meanwhile Blake and Rossi discover from the medical examiner that the UnSub was small in stature, based upon the size of his handprints on Amanda’s throat. We then see the teenage UnSub eyeing both the puppies in the pet store, AND his female supervisor, with a disturbing expression.  A text message with incriminating photos interrupts him, and he sees an older man eyeing him with an intent expression.  The young UnSub apparently recognizes this person and unconvincingly begs off sick from work, which is when we learn his name is Toby.  Meanwhile, Morgan and Reid visit one of the locations where a dead puppy was found and correctly conclude the UnSub may be an adolescent.

We then see the morbidly amusing sign on Hal’s Pet Shop “WE LOVE (Y)OUR PETS!” as Toby goes to meet the older UnSub in the parking lot. The older male berates him for his clumsy first kill, and the discussion veers into an unnerving, but not unexpected, sexual comparison of murder to sex after Toby complains about his disappointing “first time”.    

When the scene switches back to the local police station, the team is discussing Morgan’s faith in Reid’s heretofore hidden softball abilities.  This cements the episode’s dynamic of two bizarrely similar mentor – apprentice relationships.

Although I found Virgil Williams’ first CM episode (“There’s No Place Like Home”) somewhat clumsy, each of his successive outings has improved my opinion.  With his fourth solo episode, The Apprenticeship, he finally seems to have hit a pleasing balance of a smoothly functioning  BAU quickly making accurate deductions, with an examination of the UnSubs’ behaviors and motivations. 

Although some fans may dislike a deep focus on the killers, in this case, revealing the UnSubs early on in the episode was necessary for the viewer to watch the progression (and eventual devolution) of the relationship between the two males.  We’re able to see how the balance of power shifts from mentor to protégé. (I will never look at a cheap hammer the same way again.)

I also liked the writer’s use of what I call “mirror themes” (how a topic is dealt with by the killer(s), and also within the team), a technique that has been used in past seasons, but without possibly this perverse degree of refraction: Morgan teaching Reid how to hit the ball in softball; the older UnSub, David Roy Turner, teaching Toby Whitewood how to shop for the best serial killer murder/torture accessories.

Virgil Williams also proved that even after 8 seasons of murder and perversity, CM can still push our buttons:  showing healthy puppies in the hands of a psychopath was enough to cause more than a few fans to yell in dismay, even though on set, I am sure those dogs were treated with more care than the human performers.

The only quibbles I had was with Toby's pacing and a late revelation.  It was a little implausible that he ramped up from serial animal murder over the course of 6 months to 3 human victims in 3 nights, but I’m willing to put that down to both the influence of Turner, and the timing demands of an hour-long crime drama. 

The other information that was quickly introduced and dismissed near the end of the episode was that Toby had had a sister (sister?! WHAT sister?!) who’d been raped and murdered in front of him during a carjacking three years earlier.  Apparently, he’d admitted to his mother that watching her repeatedly assaulted and then bludgeoned to death had excited him. While this would explain her cringing interest upon hearing screams emanating from his phone, it doesn’t explain why none of this background popped up on Garcia’s checks, or why he apparently never received any counseling! Although the team concludes it was a single-event imprinting, that’s still a major plot bomb to drop 50 minutes into the show!

Photo courtesy of @CM_SetReport

The main guest actors, Harrison Thomas (Toby) and @MatthewLillard (David Roy Turner), gave excellent performances.  I usually find recognizable guest stars distracting (with their previous professional “baggage”) but in this case, thumbs up to Matthew Lillard for immersing himself into the role of Turner.  Although Lillard may be best known for his role as Shaggy Rogers in the Scooby Doo movies (or “Scream” or “Wing Commander”), he has also been cast in “Trouble With The Curve” and “The Descendants”, two mature dramas. So his outing here as Turner was understandably compelling. As Toby noted, watching his character watch Toby with hungrily glittering eyes was fascinating.

In fact, I found David Roy Turner a much more sympathetic character than Toby.  If you ignore WHAT he was teaching the younger man, watching HOW he taught him was…quite fraternal / paternal. After being caught red-handed with Toby’s body and erstwhile victim #4 (Toby’s supervisor), watching Turner’s decision for suicide-by-BAU was convincing but NOT melodramatic. Kudos to Lillard!

On the other hand, Harrison Thomas’ character of Toby was quite irritating. If there was no mentor around, his illegal career would’ve been even shorter than it was. (Probably Rule #1 in the Serial Killer Handbook: Do not abduct your boss after they fire you.)  I’m not sure whether it was his physical appearance (a cross between a pudgy young, not-so-bright  Edward Norton and  Shia LeBeouf) or his actual performance, but I really despised him, without respecting him the way I do most of the other UnSubs. While it’s true we’re not meant to identify with Toby, his sullen teenaged attitude throughout the episode made it quite satisfying when Turner strangled him after his unsuccessful rebellion.

The director, Rob Bailey, has a solid history of episodic TV.  Erica Messer’s tactic of pairing new-to-CM directors with experienced CM writers seems to be paying off.  This outing had good pacing, with a smooth flow, and an outstanding performance by Lillard. 

The only minor points I had were the locale and that the other BAU team members besides Morgan and Reid, (and Rossi and Garcia) are indistinguishable.  Even Hotch almost faded into the background!  Granted, the episode was clearly focused on Reid and Morgan, and the BAU has 7 team members (not all of whom wear fuschia), so when you have 43 minutes a week to wrap up a complex case, it’s always going to be a zero sum game.  Which could also explain why, with exception of the bright aqua pet store building, it was not a very Miami-esque setting.

However, these are all minor nitpicks.  All in all, this was a solid episode that I thought was well-written and executed. Thumbs up!

Despite my earlier comment about self-contained episodes, the season-long UnSub stalking the BAU does pop up at the FBI – Secret Service softball game.

The entire BAU (including Henry LaMontange and Jack Hotchner) comes out to the game to support Reid.  This leads to a hilarious slow-motion scene of Spencer at bat, during the bottom of the 9th inning, with 2 outs (naturally), and the FBI is 1 run down (of course), with Morgan on 2nd base. No guesses as to what happens, but it WAS heartwarming to see Morgan’s genuine joy for Reid.
The greatest good you can do for another, is not to share your own riches, but to reveal to him, his own. – Benjamin Disraeli. (spoken by Reid)
Nothing like a stalker (who we find out is also killing victims in Dallas, in the manner of The Silencer) taking pictures of the happy BAU members to rain on our parade.  Stay tuned!


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