Monday, April 11, 2011
Criminal Minds and the Unraveling Sanity of Trauma Survivors
When it comes to nightly prime time viewing on the major broadcast networks, the Mrs. and I frequently tune in to the forensics-focused mystery/crime drama shows. We always enjoy a good whodunit and given my preference for giallo and slasher films that place an emphasis on the unknown, it's nice to see how much more elaborate murder mysteries have gotten on these shows since the popularity of CSI. (Even NCIS, which usually focuses on matters of political intrigue, has its fair share of knife-wielding maniacs, such as in last week's episode "Two-Faced".) Come to think of it, I can't imagine why slasher fans in general wouldn't be happy with prime time TV the way it is now, because I don't remember this many psycho killers and mangled bodies appearing during the nightly 8 to 11 programming block since X-Files, Millennium and Profiler were on the air.
That said, last week's episodes of Criminal Minds and its spin-off Suspect Behavior delivered a pair of tales that were not about serial murders, but instead about the broken psyches of trauma survivors. In the Criminal Minds episode "Hanley Waters", the BAU team is sent to stop a killing spree in Florida committed by Shelley Chamberlain (Kelli Williams), a mother who lost her child in a car accident the year before and her life--and sanity--have been fragmenting ever since. In the Suspect Behavior episode "Night Hawks", the Red Cell team investigates another spree killer in Oklahoma, a man named Leonard Keane (William Sanderson) whose son was a serial killer.
Neither of these episodes dive into the dizzyingly disturbing psychological depths that Dexter does, but they both added an extra dimension to the tragedy of murder and wrongful death that these shows usually lack--namely, the lasting burden that comes from surviving such deeply personal anguish. Both Williams and Sanderson give compelling performances as parents whose worlds are rapidly falling apart from the inside out; of the two episodes, though, Suspect Behavior's story involving Keane is particularly harrowing, a story about a father struggling--and failing--to come to grips with the fact that he unwittingly raised a monster. Even though these episodes are not supernatural dramas, they define what it truly means to be haunted, if not cursed.