Tuesday, March 31, 2015

CRIMINAL MINDS Season 10 - 1018. Rock Creek Park - Review

Kudos to Sharon Lee Watson! Thanks for keeping us guessing all through Rock Creek Park! It's been a long time since we did NOT have an UnSub introduced right off the bat. And with his 16th outing on Criminal Minds, Felix Alcala's experienced direction kept things moving smoothly but with nuance.

THE WRITING

Casting and acting (more on them later) are key ingredients in an engrossing episode but it all starts with the writing, and I've come to anticipate Sharon Lee Watson's outings with pleasure. For me, A Thousand Suns and Amelia Porter were standout episodes in an otherwise mostly lackluster season.

Her epilogue was especially worth noting. After watching Congressman Troy and his now incarcerated mother in the prison visiting room, I suddenly re-evaluated their entire relationship, and started speculating about their future interactions. Yes, I know these are finite, fictional characters (I'm not cray-cray) but I think the hallmark of an excellent writer is when you start to imagine the universe their creations inhabit off the page, or in this case, off-screen.

For example, the formerly drug-addicted older brother Paul -- how much would it have sucked to grow up in golden Benji's shadow with Mommie dearest? There's likely more than one reason he escaped into drugs. And speaking of Dinah Troy, I can just envision her ruling her future prison wing with an iron fist: CEO of Cell Block D.

THE ACTING

When Criminal Minds casts someone the caliber of Tess Harper, it's a safe bet she will be doing more than cooing reassuringly at her onscreen son. And her performance as a modern day Eleanor Iselin allowed you to just visualize what a stifling, I mean -- wholesome upbringing her offspring had.  Like I said, more than one reason brother Paul took to gambling and drugs.

Actor Chris McKenna pulls off the balancing act of flawed, ambiguous/ambitious politician, possible suspect, and terrified husband commendably. The viewer had to identify with him while still having doubts. Too much shading in one direction or the other and it would either cause immediate suspicion or instant dismissal. If his performance had been weaker, the whole episode would have suffered for it. Plus, the prison scene at the end... well, his twitter page banner says it all.

Let's hold hands and pick a suspect: mother-in-law dearest and/or the distraught husband
(By the way, now that Congressman Troy's likely to be re-elected in a landslide, it'd be intriguing to have him back eventually, or at least mentioned, as an ally on Capitol Hill when a crucial case-related favor is needed.)

THE TEAM

The balance of screen time and activity for the BAU was good (although I still find Jennifer Love Hewitt's Agent Callahan entirely extraneous -- her scenes could have been handled by JJ without any noticeable difference). Reid's parallel storyline with the Russian mobster surveillance was not only entertaining (kudos for the return to early season visualizations!) but necessary. Bonus: Reid's Russian language abilities were acknowledged, and Emily Churchill's wry Agent Loker was a breath of fresh air.

The tag team final interrogation of Mama Troy by Hotch and Rossi, was priceless. There is a reason they are the senior agents, and there is a reason that Thomas Gibson and Joe Mantegna get top billing: experience and skill shine through from both the actors and the characters.

Dorian Loker made my day: please bring her back (or at least mention her this season and next)


THE PLOT & PACING

The multiple threads (such as double-crossing, lovelorn Russian gangsters) and red herrings (well hello, sociopathic former intern/lover) were skillfully woven in, enough to keep the viewer on their toes, but not so blatantly obvious as to make you snort in dismissal.

I didn't feel there were any excess scenes, with the possible exception of Morgan's detour into Garcia's office, but perhaps that was to either change the setting from the conference room or merely make the Morgan/Morcia fans happy.

Lessons from SE7EN: beware of gift-wrapped boxes when a loved one is missing.


THE UPSHOT

I'm going to pull a Mama Troy stunt and hold up Sharon Lee Watson as my personal golden child in front of the rest of the Criminal Minds writers. By holding off on revealing whodunnit until 00:50:00 and not 00:05:00 or 00:00:05, she kept this long-time viewer attentive and off balance. (Was it all an elaborate revenge plot by the betrayed wife? Was the one-term Congressman a Machiavellian criminal?) Gold star for the diabolical mother-son reunion scene at the end, which kept me thinking about the episode long after the credits rolled.

And lest you think Sharon was always a teacher's pet, I used to dread her early episodes (Sorry, but it's true, Ms. Watson) whereas now I look forward to her unpredictable plotlines. Keep it up!

I know it's too late in the season for my words to have any effect this year, but there's always season 11. Stop doing Show & Tell, Criminal Minds writers -- we're not second graders. If the audience is clued in long before the BAU, it all boils down to waiting for Garcia to pull a name out of her magical, silicon hat. It's not very interesting for the viewer if the audience feels like they're smarter than the heroes. Mix it up and keep us uncertain. Otherwise, we might as well go watch our DVDs of seasons past.


~~~~Chaucer

8 comments:

  1. Indeed, a respectable review; you highlighted all the amazing features of this episode and Sharon Lee Watson's genius writing as well as Felix Alcala's suspenseful, experienced directing. I just feel, IMHO, that you might have been a bit too negative. I hardly feel that this season has been "lackluster." In fact, there have been many memorable episodes, such as "X," "Boxed In," "Hashtag," "Nelson's Sparrow" and "Lockdown" have all been extremely memorable episodes in addition to all three of Sharon's episodes which you noted: "A Thousand Suns," "Amelia Porter," and "Rock Creek Park." Also, this extremely creepy recurring unsub first introduced in "X," then given a really creepy agenda, presumably tied to the online trafficking ring in "The Boys of Sudworth Place" (not one of the better episodes but enough plot twists to make it good and the B plot was awesome). In fact, the only episode I would classify as lackluster would be "Burn." (the unsub's storyline, not Garcia's)

    This is only my opinion though, you are entitled to your opinion just as much as I'm entitled to mine; I'm sure there are people who disliked a lot more than one of this season's episodes... then again, some people view the show much differently and have much different expectations than me. That's a result of how extremely dynamic this show is. I guess I'm just trying to say that when reviewing an amazing episode like this, I would expect a lot more optimism. Rather than criticizing Sharon's previous episodes, I would've commended her for how much she has learned and highlight how well she has taken what she's learned and used it to gain such a grasp on this show. But nevertheless, you did this episode its well-deserved justice. For that, I commend you. Can't wait for "Beyond Borders"!!!
    Long Live CM!!!!

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  2. Great review Chaucer! You touched all the high points of this episode. and agree 100% with 'show and tell' that the writers have been doing, hopefully this will change next season and we will have more episodes like this one (and 'Boxed in', 'A Thousand suns', 'Amelia Porter', 'Lockdown', 'Nelson's Sparrow') in season 11.

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  3. Chaucer, I too echo CMRT's view that you touched on all the high points of a great episode; most importantly, not knowing who the true unsub was until late in the episode. Sharon Lee Watson is truly talented at this and her gift, fairy dust, magic, whatever needs to be spiked in a LOT the of the rest of the CM writers.

    That said, I agree with SCMA; I don't see S10 as a total bust. Has it been as earlier seasons? No. But IMHO, Nelson's Sparrow alone could be the redeeming grace for the whole season as it is now in my Top Ten of CM episodes. Then add all the ones that SCMA has listed and I too can't throw S10 to the curb. In addition, I'm also looking very much forward to "Beyond Borders". Unlike the first spin-off, I have total buy-in. However, I'll be the first to admit that comes with a total Gary Sinise fan. However, given the promo pics posted here by the ever alert, wonderful CMRT staff, I'm getting more than anxious to see this episode.

    But to things that really matter at the moment. Great review Chaucer!

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  4. Great review Chaucer. I agree so much about stopping making it the unsub show and showing the unsub from the start. This episode was full of twists and turns right up to the end and it would be great to have more like this. For me, Sharon Lee Watson seems to be the only one of the current writers who really gets the show and the characters - except for that excellent collaborative effort of Kirsten Vangsness and Erica Messer. Season 10, while not a return to the glory days, has been a huge step up with at least half the episodes as mentioned above being very solid - only a few real stinkers such as Burn, The Forever People and The Boys of Sudworth Place.
    Let us hope this upward trend continues if we do actually get a season 11. I hope we do get another CM season with most of the main cast intact because I have already checked out of the spin off I'm afraid.

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  5. Good review. I liked this episode, and although I don't worship SLW as some do, i can rely on her to use the canon well, write for balance in the storyline, and have interesting unsubs/backstories. I found her Agent Lokar an interesting character, and a much more plausible potential love interest for Reid, and I hope, going forward, TPTB will bring her back (in an episode written by SLW, please), and forget the badly wrought (though nicely acted) Agent Einstein. Oy.
    I don't think 10 has been a bust, but it sure has been a rocky road; several highs and a bunch of lows with some "hmmmmm…." interspersed. I hope they come back with eleven, but i would wish for the bottom 3 writers to take a break that lasts the rest of CM's tenure.

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  6. I agree 110% about the Hotch/Rossi interrogation. Proof of their expertise (both the actors' and their characters') is always welcome. While I admit I've never hated a single CM episode, this season my favorite is Nelson's Sparrow. I'm looking foward to the spin off, and fervently hoping for a Season 11. And 12, 13, 14....

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  7. I agree with the review! Except I would have liked to see more of Kate(JLH), but of course she had more focus in the last eppy, so I get it.

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  8. i don't want to see more of Callahan next season or episodes, i have enought this season. I want to see more TEaM

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