Monday, November 23, 2015

CRIMINAL MINDS Season 11 - 1108. Awake - Review

Greetings. My apologies for any grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors that ensue.

I will forego a lengthy introduction of myself because I tend to digress and I don't want to lose people before I get to the review part. I tend to do a stream-of-consciousness type of reviewing, so please bear with me.

The title made me think of one of Josh Groban's albums, although I found that album to be more entertaining than this episode.

In the opening sequence, I liked that the victim was actively trying to escape. While I can understand that some victims are so overwhelmed they freeze up, it's nice to see victims actually trying to escape.

In the BAU elevator scene we get the throwaway line explaining Reid's absence (he will return in episode 11) and no one seems too disappointed that he's not there. Poor JJ looks absolutely zonked. I know that feeling well. Morgan starts in about JJ's love life in a way that I found completely inappropriate and creepy. If they had just cut it off when Tara said that she didn't think he was right, it would have been OK. Unfortunately, he continued and crossed the line of what is OK to say to a co-worker/friend in the workplace. I know that Morgan frequently crosses that line with Garcia, but we don't hear him speculating about Garcia having sex with her boyfriend. It was especially inappropriate in front of another female colleague whom JJ did not know yet. It would have been one thing for Morgan to say those things to JJ when they were alone-- and it still crossed the line-- but in front of Tara was just above and beyond inappropriate. If JJ had brought it up herself, it would be different. Furthermore, I found it insulting to Morgan's intelligence that they would assume that because he's a male he couldn't possibly think that she was tired because she has a new baby in the house. You don't have to be a parent or a female to realize that. It's part of a larger issue that I will address later.

Right off the bat, I like the chemistry between JJ and Tara. I always felt that there was a bit of an awkwardness between JJ and Blake as well as JJ and Kate. They were not a good fit. There is a familiarity between JJ and Tara that I think stems from the actresses having previously met and liking each other. I know Aisha has interviewed the cast in the past and she seemed to really hit it off with them. My only complaint would be that it seems they are a little too familiar and comfortable with one another for people who supposedly just met, but I will take the good chemistry over no chemistry that can lead to scenes that feel off.

I've read some speculation that Garcia actually went into Witness Protection, but from the conversations of the team, I gleaned that for now she is in protective custody. This is a scene that I think would have been better in the last episode. Garcia should have gone to Hotch immediately once she suspected she was a target. I'm not sure where they got the idea that there were four hitmen gunning for her or how the hitmen would even know who she was. Is it wrong that I personally would find it amusing if Garcia is incorrect and the real target is the owner of an unsanitary donut shop? Anyway, I was glad to hear that Sergio is still around (I love cats and am currently have one trying to climb on me as I'm typing this). I kind of feel sorry for Anderson having to go get her stuff. I did find it amusing how Hotch watched Garcia as she wrote her list and then she started to hand it over and pulled it back a few times. I wonder if Garcia already had a "go bag" with some clothes at the office. I hope she didn't ask Anderson to go get that black-veiled headpiece. Likewise, I hope Anderson didn't choose to bring that of his own volition. I was going to say that I like how Hotch was firm but gentle and then I realized how it could be taken out of context and certain people I know would run with that image in their heads and become totally distracted. (You know who you are!) OK, so I said it anyway.

Seeing Hotch being involved in explaining the case was nice. I started to become hopeful that he would actually get good focus and screentime in this episode. So far they have two abductions with one victim already dead. I remember that to make it an FBI case it had to cross state lines, involve children, or have assistance requested by the police. Three victims made it a BAU case (unless it involved children). I can ignore that because it seems the writers have thrown many of the rules out in recent years, but I still think about it. Oh look, someone is giving specific statistics and nobody is rolling their eyes or looking at them like they are a space alien!

They described "extreme torture." I don't know if I would classify it as "extreme" per se. There are a lot more things I could think of that could be done that I would consider "extreme." (My father worked in federal law enforcement and was sometimes involved interviewing torture victims; some of the stuff he told me about was much worse.) But, it's still torture.

Even though JJ is supposed to be over her PTSD-- a haunted look or slight shudder at the thought of the torture would have been a nice nod to her knowing what it's like and not being completely unfazed when she hears about other victims going through torture. There should be some empathy there. They showed her reacting to tortured victims in the past and it wouldn't have taken any dialog or any extra screentime-- just a facial expression or some body language to indicate that it bothered her.

Here is where they started to lose me a little bit. The characters were all talking and trying to get a bead on the Unsub based on the victim's injuries. It may all seem like good profiling unless you listen to the words that are coming out of their mouths. There are no signs of sexual assault, but they start to assume that there is sexual gratification from beating and burning the victim. On what prior examples are they basing this? Usually they associate stabbing with sexual gratification/substitution for sex due to impotence because it involves penetration. There was no penetration here, so the sexual motive seemed to come out of nowhere. Then they say the level of violence suggests that it's personal? Again, upon what prior examples are they basing this? They have had even higher levels of violence that were not personal. Oh, wait, it's revenge-- no, they are surrogates-- no, he's testing to see how much they can endure... I'm thinking, WTF? Is the kitchen sink next? It just seemed to me like they were throwing out random ideas that were amateurish and not in the manner of experienced, knowledgeable profilers who actually knew what they were talking about. This is one of the things I miss about having Andrew Wilder writing for the show-- he knew how to profile. He attended forensic seminars and actively studied how the police worked. Even with a former FBI profiler currently on the show, we are still not getting the same level of good profiling and detective work that was present in the earlier seasons. This just seemed like people spitballing without actually having any real knowledge. I don't know how the writers come up with the profiles, but what I think they should do is explain the victimology, injuries, and only the info that the team would have to Jim Clemente and have him come up with a profile for them. Did I mention that they never even established whether or not both victims were kidnapped by the same person and that both were being subjected to torture? They just assumed so because it was in the script. For all they knew, maybe the second guy was recovering from an alcohol binge while hanging out with some hookers or something. They don't know, and it's too soon to jump to such conclusions.

When I saw the victim outside, I was cheering for him and hoping that he would get away. Then I was confused because I couldn't tell if he'd been recaptured and the person in the helicopter was the Unsub or if he'd been hallucinating. I was very disappointed to see theUnsub's face before the opening credits. I prefer the mystery and like to find out who the Unsub is after the team has identified him/her.

I was dubious about the "no caffeine" thing for JJ, but then I looked it up and found that breastfeeding women can safely consume 300mg of caffeine (roughly one cup of coffee) per day. Too bad Reid wasn't there to point that out to her.

I found myself irrationally distracted by Garcia's hair bows. I couldn't focus on her face or what she was saying. Good thing there are sites that do full transcripts of the dialog, so I was able to read it later.

Then we get to the speculation again. Now, this part I'm OK with because they were trying to find out if these men were specifically targeted and possibly stalked, despite seeming to have almost nothing in common. This is part of the real profiling and I like it.

I liked Agent Webster (the pretty woman they met at the police station). Initially I thought she was a police chief until I went back over the dialog and saw that she's an agent.

I liked the second victim's wife, Mrs. Coleman. She had the right level of emotional angst. Looks like she's as sleep deprived as JJ. I thought that JJ showed the right amount of sympathy and she seems to genuinely care. It's like having the old JJ back and I'm glad.

Wow, the guy was never away for more than two days in 20 years? That's a little hard to believe, but I guess anything is possible.

I barely get cellular service out where I live and I don't know much about tower hopping, but I do know that if my local tower is full then I just don't get service. I have no idea whether or not the tower hopping thing is true-- I would guess that the phone would have to be in range of the tower in order to hit it. I'm not sure if this was just a plot device to delay the team, or if the Unsub did something to cause it.

When Morgan suggested that the Unsub might be ex-military as an explanation of the torture, I admit that I felt a bit of umbrage at the thought. In addition to serving in law enforcement, my father also served in the Army. He had manuals on interrogation techniques and torture was strictly prohibited because it was inhumane, but was also an ineffective method of gaining accurate information. It was far more likely to yield false information. That said, I don't know what the current rules are for the military. It just felt wrong to me. I was actually relieved when the coroner suggested that all the Unsub had to do was use Google to find torture methods. I wouldn't be surprised if that is what the writers for this show do. They discuss the eyelid stapling and I think that would be rather difficult to manage. Glue or tape could have worked as well, and been easier to use.

I do like that they are still trying to figure out what the Unsub was trying to accomplish. Absent any messages from the Unsub, I don't think their speculation at this point is inconceivable. At least the wanting information idea makes more sense than the sexual gratification suggestion. Unfortunately, this speculation then segues to the Unsub and more unnecessary torture porn. I find that it is just better to tell us the aftereffects rather than show us the torture in progress. Leave that to the imagination and it is creepier than actually seeing it.

JJ continues to be exhausted and I wish Hotch would pull her aside and see if she needs a nap. She could have gotten a little shuteye at the station while he or another team member went out to do some legwork. Someone else could have gone to the hotel with Rossi while JJ got some rest. I have chronic fatigue so I can empathize with her on the feeling totally exhausted thing. I think the practical and responsible thing would have been for the team members to give her support and let her get some rest. She's more useful to them if she's rested. I didn't like the camera technique at the hotel-- it moved around too much.

I'm a bit confused about the timeline and how long ago Steven disappeared and how long the hotel room has been vacant. If it has been more than a day, isn't it possible that the room was rented out to someone later and that person could have set the clock? A simpler way would to have established that he asked for a 1:15 am wake-up call. Just because he wears a uniform every day does not mean he never has to worry about wardrobe choices. He probably changes into more casual clothes when he's off duty.

So then they go on to speculating it was about road rage. At this point, I would think that maybe the eye stapling was because they weren't looking and nearly got in an accident with him or something. But that still would not explain the level of torture. Now they figure that there was no stalking and the victims were random. The cars are missing, so they assume that he was a hitchhiker. It was nice to hear Morgan reference an actual case with a hitchhiking killer. That makes more sense. I also like that they showed the visual of the hitchhiker flagging someone down. I wish more of the Unsub scenes would be done in this manner-- where the team is speculating and we see it through their vision of what happened rather than actually seeing the torture happen before the team finds out.

For a moment I thought that somehow the victim had knowledge of something he'd kept secret and he'd finally told the Unsub and been let go. I was relieved to see him back with his wife. When she pulled out the gun, I realized it was another hallucination. I just assumed the Unsub was drugging his victims. Poor guy. At least the bullet to the head was a swift end. I realized that a third victim would have to be grabbed so they would come in at the right time to rescue him.

Minor nitpick, but since when does JJ decide it's time to deliver the profile? I think that is Hotch's job. It would have been nice if she'd been discussing this info with the entire team and not just one person. I know that the cast all have different schedules, but if they are told they need to be available at certain times, they should be able to get them all together for scenes like this and then have Hotch or Rossi decide that it's time for the profile (since they are the senior agents).

The profile delivery had me scratching my head. They jumped back to the sexual arousal thing for which they had no basis and it just seemed extremely off to me. As far as I know, they never established that the guy derived any sexual pleasure from these acts. There was just absolutely NOTHING to support that supposition. I found myself again wishing that Andrew Wilder was still writing for this show, because I think if he'd been in the room when this story was pitched, he probably would have said something about the sloppy profiling. This isn't profiling, it's bull$#itting. The PTSD thing just came out of nowhere.

When the Unsub gave the third victim something to drink, I assumed it was laced with a hallucinogen. Then it became clear that the Unsub seemed to be looking for a specific person and he thinks the victims are that person-- but they were all different ages, body types, and appearances. Wouldn't it make more sense for him to be going after people who actually look more like the particular person with the tattoo? Again we got more unnecessary torture porn.

"Garcia, run our profile against the HSK database." Uh.. What exactly is she supposed to run? What parts? In the past she's asked for more details to help her narrow things down. That just seemed like lazy writing to me.

JJ coming up with the idea of caffeine being used actually made sense because she's been thinking about caffeine. That said, wouldn't caffeine levels have shown up in the blood results from the autopsy though? This was info they should have already had.

The ear thing with blood coming out reminds me of something they did in The Princess Bride-- only this is not at all entertaining. I really don't find torture to be the least bit entertaining. It bores me.

I have to confess that I am not a big fan of children. I much prefer the company of cats. The little girl was cute, but for some reason I found her extremely annoying. I think that "You are my sunshine" song sounded awful. At this point, I guessed that the little kid was missing and probably dead. "Hey, daddy. You're my sunshine" and I think I threw up in my mouth a little bit. I wish they had dialed it back and not had it so cloyingly sweet. I'm such a curmudgeon!

So Garcia found the report of the missing child and did not notice that the kid had been found dead. First of all, the father probably would have been under suspicion. They would have been all over him and his car to look for evidence of foul play. And it would have been in the report that the kid was found dead. I think they either would have assumed that the man with the skull tattoo was either a fabrication to cover for the father murdering the child, or an actual person. This part of the story was actually interesting to me because there was some mystery. What happened to the child? How did the killer get her out of the car?

There were posts from Solitude on various forums that said the substory involving the man with the tattoo would have actually made a more interesting main story. I agree with her on that. I mean, wouldn't a child abduction have been on the BAU's radar too? Or even before these cases? Wouldn't they have looked up all of the abductions in that area as part of the routine investigation?

I'm glad that the third victim actually made it out of the room on his own. Again, it's refreshing to see victims take initiative and try to survive. That said, I'm not happy with how things ended. Especially since it seems that Hotch and Rossi sort of disappeared for long periods of time.

I will preface this by explaining some things. I used to do weightlifting and martial arts. I loved Xena: Warrior Princess and read comic books with kick@$ heroes (male and female). I'm a bit of a nerd. CBS tweeting about the #girlpower irritated me. I'm all for #girlpower when it is combined with #believability and #CommonSense. The "girl power" *within reason* is fine. In fantasy shows and comic books, I can have enough suspension of disbelief about the heroines being able to take down guys twice their size in a heartbeat-- because those mediums are not based in reality. Plus the characters often have some sort of metahuman qualities or superpowers.

Criminal Minds is a show based in a slightly more realistic world. The characters should have relatively normal or believable human limitations. I know the show does some cheating with the jet and team being involved in takedowns, but I still would like for the show to make sense in terms of which team member does what. In this case, I did not find it believable that Hotch would send the two female characters out to apprehend the Unsub by themselves (and the cops-- but we know the cops very rarely get the takedown). Hotch is not an idiot and everyone could see that JJ was exhausted-- that is not someone you should be sending out in the field to apprehend an armed and dangerous perpetrator. Hotch, Morgan, or even Rossi (or any combination of the 2 or 3 of them) should have gone. It was especially reckless to send JJ with Tara because the two of them just met and Tara appears to have less experience in combat situations than the rest of the team. It is more productive to send a team member with someone they know and trust. JJ just met Tara, and while she heard good things about her, she has never before been out in a dangerous situation with her, nor would she know how Tara was going to act.

Position of JJ and Tara during the shooting and bulletholes in frontal windshield.
Tara telling the guy to think of what his daughter would want made me roll my eyes. What if the kid had been a vindictive little brat? That line just didn't work for me. Then when the Unsub started to move his truck forward (there was no one in front of him and he was not actively threatening anyone) they just opened fire and killed him. I might be rusty on current procedures, but from what I recall, it is *not* OK to open fire on someone who is not actively posing a threat. If he'd been trying to run people over or if he'd been waving his gun at people, then it would be OK. They should have tried to shoot his tires before shooting him. The guy was clearly delusional, although I admit that I couldn't bring myself to feel sorry for him considering what he did to his victims. Death was probably a mercy, but it should not have gone down like that. Also, why were there bulletholes in the front windshield as if someone had fired straight in from the front? Tara was behind the truck and JJ was off to the side. I didn't see any blood on the windshield, and if the guy had been shot from behind, there would be blood spatter. As Barbara said to me, were these the magic bullets that killed JFK?

Cut to the scene on the plane and poor JJ couldn't sleep. So Rossi and Morgan decided to help by mocking Reid. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery-- but that is when it's not done in an insulting or derogatory manner. This came off as derogatory to me. The information was actually useful-- it's the same thing my doctor told me about electronic devices. But it seemed they were doing it more to make fun of Reid. Now, if they had done that and JJ's response was to smile and say "Spence is right" and put her phone down, it would have been fine. Instead, JJ is asleep and they said it worked like a charm. The message here is that Reid is boring. It bothered me because there just seems to be a sense of nerd-shaming on this program. If another character says something cerebral, nobody even blinks. When Reid does it, he gets looked at like a space alien and people roll their eyes. Last week, the girl lamented that the party she went to was not awesome because it was full of nerds-- as if nerds would be incapable of having a fun party. You'd think that in this day and age the bullying/shaming of nerds wouldn't be so prominent. Curiosity, intelligence, and thirst for knowledge are things that we should encourage. Instead people attach a sense of opprobrium to it. It's seen as abnormal and uncool. It's one of the things that has gotten worse on the show over the last few years and it is one of my pet peeves.

When I found out from friends who are savvy with social media that Matthew was off set for all of October, I knew that meant he would have little to no screen time in this episode (and no screentime in episodes 9 and 10). At first, I was somewhat glad because Kim Harrison has admitted that Reid's voice is the hardest for her to write. She has also indicated that she thought Reid was not responsible and not mature. When it comes to writing his dialog and behavior, she is the worst of all of the current writers. I think we can add that she may think he's boring. I guess that explains why she can never use him well if she has his character totally wrong and doesn't even find him interesting. I was hoping that Reid's absence in this episode would save him from further character assassination, unfortunately, the only two references to him in the bookends were insulting to him. Once again, he's the butt of a joke that is not even funny.

In this one, Reid was away and the first thing they did was criticize his texting abilities. Yes, it's fine for him to suck at texting. I suck at texting and I sometimes just turn on voice command to dictate the text. Just the line alone would not be a problem for me if it were not part of a continued trend of character assassination of Reid perpetrated by the writers. I would have hoped that the team would say at some point that they missed Reid and/or hoped the situation with his mother would be resolved soon. In her absence, JJ was called "awesome." In his absence, Reid was considered inept and boring.

I admit that I was slightly annoyed that Hotch wasn't shown to have figured out that there really was a man with a tattoo and that he didn't decide to investigate or say he would keep in touch with the police in that area. He's been at this much longer than Tara, but she is shown to have more insight than him and I don't like that. I will touch on that more later on.

Jumping to the very end with the man with the tattoo knocking on the window-- I would not have rolled the window down if I'd been that lady. I also don't know if I would have stayed there. But I thought it was rather creepy and interesting. Again, that story would have been more interesting than the main story. I do hope they actually follow up on it at some point.

Moving on to my afterthoughts. This episode was a prime example of sexism at work. Many people tend to think sexism only means discrimination against women, but in this case it was the discrimination against men. In an interview a few years ago, Erica Messer said that she couldn't stomach violence against women so often. The large pool of female victims was blamed on misogyny (when in fact it was because statistically females are the more common targets), and to counteract these accusations, they went overboard with a growing misandry. Instead of portraying the female victims as real human beings instead of fodder and equalizing the contributions of the male and female team members, they now have more male victims used as fodder-- and sometimes those victims are given pasts or traits that try to justify their victimization as being somewhat deserved. Furthermore, the male team members have been shown as less intelligent, less effective, and given less screentime than the female team members. The male characters are now being shown as disposable. When JJ had to take leave, they made a big deal of saying she was awesome and how much people missed her. When the actor with first billing on the show consistently gets less screentime than the one with second-to-last billing, there is a serious problem with the writing.

One of my pet peeves is the common trope that in order for a woman to be considered equal to a male she has to be better than the males. She has to be the better shooter, the better fighter, the smarter one who is almost always right, the perfect mother, the one everyone praises as "awesome," and basically this unrealistic ideal of a woman is what I find demeaning to real women. The subtext is, that if a woman can't do everything, then she is inferior or weak. It makes it hard to relate to the characters when they are too perfect. It sends the message that being a normal human being with real flaws and feelings is not acceptable.

Now, I know that some of the elements of the episodes are dictated by the showrunner, so I can't blame Kim for all of it. From everything I've heard from crew and fans who have met her, she is extremely sweet and kind. It sounds like she is a nice person. Unfortunately, being nice does not make one a good writer. Her writing is sophomoric and I find she does poorly at writing team characterization, dialog, and profiling. This story suffered from the aforementioned BS profiling as well as too much torture porn and a prime story that should have been the secondary one. Now, I don't think Kim's writing is completely without merit. This episode did hold my attention and I think she is able to craft interesting characters and dynamics when writing for completely new characters that she created. I think she would do well writing for another show or even genre where she gets to create new characters each time and doesn't have to write for existing core characters. I think she'd do well on something like The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone where she could have creepy characters in one-shot stories. Her episodes just don't seem to fit on Criminal Minds for me. Since she does have some good ideas, I think she could benefit from having a co-writer to help her. If CBS would ever invite Andrew Wilder back, I think he'd probably be able to help her a lot with her weak areas and allow her to flourish in her strong ones.

Despite the lack of Reid (which was not the writer's fault), I still somewhat enjoyed this episode. I know many people hated it, but I have seen much worse. If I had to give this episode a grade, I would say it is a C-.

~~~~Sesquipedalian (Guest reviewer)