Tuesday, October 13, 2015

CRIMINAL MINDS Season 11 - 1102. The Witness - Review

My hat's off to Criminal Minds writer Sharon Lee Watson and returning director John Terlesky: I totally loved this episode despite -- or maybe because -- I spent the first 5 minutes totally flabbergasted, wondering if I was going to pound my head against the wall repeatedly from severe displeasure. KUDOS, MS. WATSON!

Mr. Shaggy & Ms. Super-Prim: now does this look like a well-matched couple to you?
THE PLOT

When first we see the hapless Charlie Senarak, he is digging a shallow grave somewhere in the middle of the night. For the initial several minutes of the episode, it looked like the classic [let us reveal and explain the UnSub to the audience right off the bat] pattern I've come to know and loathe.

But wait -- it turns out to be quite the opposite, as all of the circumstantial "evidence" is explained away and instead, we watch a very beige person [to use Garcia's perfectly apt phrasing] slide over into a deep angry red as he gets get stuck between a rock [let's not forget that he accidentally killed his wife's lover, manslaughter maybe, but still DOA] and a hard place [really unfortunate timing which brings him to the attention of the FBI] -- both of which are being mercilessly squeezed against him by the true UnSub. Ouch!

To the diabolically manipulative Mitchell Crossford, Charley must've seemed like a winning Lotto ticket: someone who conveniently offs his recalcitrant brother, Theo Koutranis, AND provides a handy patsy with a plausible motivation for the sarin attack on the bus. (Nice red herring with the pony-tailed blond hurrying to catch her doomed ride, by the way.)  

THE CAST

Tim Kang as Charley Senarak - What a revelation! The only role that I vaguely knew this actor from was as a stoic law enforcement character on THE MENTALIST, a show I didn't follow.  Here, Mr. Kang got to show his range (and his rage) from hapless cuckolded husband, frazzled & unwitting murderer, loving father, and screaming maniac who's been pushed too far. He was able to keep my sympathy while at the same time demonstrating why perhaps his onscreen wife would've gotten bored and become susceptible to the machinations of the cult-raised brothers.

Also, thumbs up to Krish Ribeiro of Criminal Minds Wardrobe Dept., as well as the Hairstyling Team for selecting clothes and coiffures which effectively portray the differences in poor Charley's unraveling homelife and Ms. Perky Team Leader. Which brings us to...

Samantha Sloyan as Tracy Senarak - Ms. Sloyan is apparently styled as Super Bitch (more on the powers of the MakeUp Team later). The headshot I linked to above shows a fresh-faced actor who seems approachable, whereas Tracy (in the screencap paired with Charley) is a lying, careless, self-righteous adulterer who gives up her husband to Rossi more quickly than I'm able to snag an order of fries at a McDonald's. NICE LADY.

"Theo was...persistent." Oh, so YOUR willpower had nothing to do with the situation? I could go on and on (and on and on) about her character's unlikable qualities -- which Ms. Sloyan carries quite off convincingly but with an excellent veneer of normalcy -- but I think I've made my point. ;-)

Marisol Nichols as Agent Natalie Colfax -Was it my imagination? Or was there a certain sparkle in this SAC's eye when she rose to greet Hotch upon his arrival? Okay sure, I am TOTALLY biased in favor of our fearless BAU leader, but from their chitchat, clearly the two characters knew each other. I don't mean that they had a thing, but who DOESN'T appreciate an extremely capable visiting colleague who's also supremely easy on the eyes?

Stephen Kilcullen as Mitchell Crossford - We don't actually see a lot of him onscreen, but his voice acting was great: insinuating, dominating, calculating -- all the "-atings" you can think of that are in the handy dandy sociopath's toolkit. And well done to Mr. Kilcullen (and Sharon Lee Watson) for being able to loom over the proceedings from largely offscreen.

Definitely my favorite scene with poor Charley.  Who HASN'T wanted to yell at pushy people? ;-)


THE TEAM

So far, I am liking Dr. Tara Lewis' calm, professional demeanor. Aisha Tyler's portrayal of her as someone with unflappable poise, as befits a mature agent able to handle a high pressure on-the-job interview (who can still roll up her sleeves and find common ground with deeply disturbed killers) makes a welcome change from Jennifer Love Hewitt's endlessly perky FBI jailbait Agent Kate Whatserface (Hey -- she was jailbait: that was Agent Kate's job... and yes, I've totally forgotten the character's surname).

Once again, the writers seem to be creating more of a rapport between Reid and the new, older female agent (shades of Jeanne Tripplehorn's departed character!) [Mother figure issues? Why would you say that? Just because Diana Reid is a permanent resident in a sanitarium...] If the powers that be continue to INSIST on foisting another cast member on us, we could do soooooo much worse.

Please stop gilding the lily, as Ms. Tyler is perfectly capable of carrying off a matte shade lipstick with pizzaz.
My only quibble with the otherwise promising addition of Dr. Lewis is the ultraglossy lip gloss the makeup team has decided is her "look" -- I find it highly irritating to be distracted by it in every scene with her character, the same way TVs in restaurants drive me nuts: that is NOT the reason I'm present, but my eyes keep focusing on the bright, shiny object. BAH! It may sound like an odd gripe to have, but I'd like to concentrate on the scene's actions, emotions, or dialogue -- not on the urge to beg Dr. Lewis to wipe her mouth and apply some matte shade of lipstick like every other female BAU member [most of the time*], for heaven's sake! (Yes, I'm shallow -- sue me. But let's also remember that the ubiquitous HDTVs common in most households are MERCILESS.)
See? No shiny lips on Agent Colfax but shiny -- even in profile -- on Dr. Lewis.

THE VERDICT

While I was a bit underwhelmed with the season 11 premiere episode (and in fact, have not finished watching the last 10 minutes -- sacrilege, I know) THE WITNESS blew my socks off! Re-watching it to take notes for my review was no hardship at all, and in fact, was lots of fun :-)

Like the Project Runway judges I now try to approach episodes on an "unidentified" basis, where I don't know the team behind each episode. That way I don't bring certain expectations with me when I watch the episode initially. I also try to diligently avoid any and all spoilers beforehand. In this case, my spoiler-free, "blind" viewing policy paid off handsomely. GO, SHARON, GO!


* [every other one, except Garcia of the pink CV paper... Garcia is superhuman in her cyber skills, but pretty much the antithesis of a professional woman in a large, formal organization. WHAT! Am I wrong?!?]


~~~Chaucer

8 comments:

  1. Great review Chaucer! I may not agree as I didn't like that episode much but I can see why you did :)

    I agree with you about Dr.Lewis, is a much better addition than Kate who I did like but do not miss at all.

    I did watch the Mentalist from time to time and Mr Kang never much registered with me but he was a revelation in this episode. He did show range that I never saw on The Mentalist.

    Good point about Reid, whenever they have added a female character they have given him a rapport with the new, older newbie.

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  2. I have to say I'm glad you liked the episode.... I can not be that generous.... From start to finish there was way way too much Charlie.... Again this episode felt like the 'red-herring' was telling the story rather then the BAU figuring it out and guiding we the viewers through their process. Maybe if we hadn't seen Charlie burying the body in the first scene... Or if he hadn't found the body at the cabin or if they hadn't spelled it out on instant messenger that he was a murderer there could have been more suspense to the episode.??? I'm not sure what could have been done to save this one?

    I do agree Kang was excellent in this episode... and the 'wife' should have been the one he offed.. Cause she was just unlikeable...

    The episode felt forced.. there wasn't fluidity to it IMHO.. and that I blame not only on the writing but on the directing and editing too...

    One big gripe I had was that once again Hotch remained in the station with very little to do.

    I did like he scenes with Reid and Lewis and I too feel she's a nice fit to the show....

    I hope that this will be the only 'blip' in Sharon's otherwise stellar writing... However, this episode felt a lot like A Thousand Suns with the whole 'possible terrorist attack turned run of the mill psycho using mass murder to achieve non-terroristic goals'.


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  3. Hi, Barbara - Well, the team did foil the UnSub's eventual plan to sarin-gas the entire FBI building, which would have been a classic (and gruesome) homegrown terrorist attack.

    And now that I've finished watching THE JOB, I'm off to comment on Merlin's review :-)

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    1. Its amazing how different people's perceptions can be. As Jason Gideon said (In Season 2, Episode 10 "Lessons Learned") "There are no absolutes when it comes to the human mind." Personally, I loved this episode. I just want to say, Chaucer, that this is the best episode review I've seen in a long time (besides, Mr. Scratch). You explained the plot so well, most likely clearing up any confusion people might have had (its great when a reviewer can do that with an episode) and you loved this episode for all the same reasons I did! (minus the no-spoiler policy) But you went into such great detail - the bitchiness of the wife, the devolution of Charlie and where his actions were justified - as well as covering the interesting points of the episode's plot and what certain characters brought to the table. (Reid and Hotch were both excellent)

      This will be the third year in a row where Sharon's first episode involves a mass casualty-event and is epic, but I also give Sharon a lot of credit in this case for writing an episode using a structure that is completely out-of-left-field for her, pulling it off incredibly, and for showing us how she can work well with so many of CM's directors. This season, so far, is pure awesomeness IMO; Reid is so much more involved, he and Hotch both look amazing and bad ass, Tara Lewis fits in wonderfully and brings an interesting addition to the show... I could go on! I go back to school in January (my DVR will get quite the work-out with CM and Beyond Borders) so its so nice to be able to enjoy the first leg of this season during my off-time. However, I hope JJ will be the one to leave. Keep Morgan!
      Chaucer, thank you for the amazing review (and good taste in CM material) Sharon Lee Watson and John Terlesky have made the last week of my life amazing (just as Breen and Glenn did the week before)
      Bring on "'Til Death Do Us Part", written by the extremely talented Karen Maser, first time writing for Criminal Minds, huge step up from Janine IMO, paired with Joe Mantegna behind the camera for what looks like a creepy and interesting episode!
      Bring on the rest of Season 11 and LONG LIVE CM!!!

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    2. Hi Chaucer... Yes I know... and I had plausibility issues with that also... But at least on to the next episode and hopefully bigger and better things..... :)

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  4. A wonderful, well-written review Chaucer. You demonstrated a great understanding of the episode. Like Barb though, it doesn't change my low opinion of this episode. I was greatly disappointed with SLW's script. I've come to expect so much better from her.

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  5. Garcia and problably Reid are the antithesis of men and women working

    for FBI organization. Thanks to them the show is very enterteinment. This is a show, remember

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  6. Have to say that I liked the idea, the plot in itself, how everything devolved out of a coincidence - that some may think is far-fetched, but in real life there are worse far-fetched ones, - but I didn't like one bit how Sharon overused Charly to tell us his story, when in fact and without adding or detracting any part of it, using the team more and better would have given us a much more compelling, edge-of-the-seat episode.

    I said it already in the comments post for this episode, but I need to repeat it.

    Imagine this same episode, with the exact same plot and guest characters, but:

    - without the 1st scene where it's disclosed that Charly did murder someone and tried to cover his tracks,
    - without the blackmail instant messages where he's called a murderer,
    - and without Charly seeing the corpse when he goes to steal that computer.

    We would have had a truly "beige" man caught in a personal problem blackmailed for reasons unknown, and worse, who follows his blackmailer's orders. From there, the team should have been allowed to discover every bit of evidence needed to tell the whole tale, the team should have been the one to guide us through each discovery until the full tale was exposed.

    No question the guest cast was another win for the show, they were all perfect for their characters. No question either that I hadn't paid that much attention to Lewis' lip-gloss and now I won't be able to fail to notice it #ThanksChaucer #Oops

    Yet, we don't watch for the guest characters, whatever their role in the plots are, but for the team being smart, caring, harried, confused, brilliant and utterly professional. If you tell me what I don't need to know before the credits, why should I care about the rest of the episode? How do I not get bored before the 1st commercial break? Why can they get that we've watched - and kept them on the air - for 10+ years FOR THE PROFILING AND THE TEAM?

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