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25 December 2010 @ 06:35 pm
Criminal Minds 6x11 "What Happens at Home"  
(Or, "Bernero, I am disappoint.")

I'm a critical viewer. I enjoy the good stuff, but I itemize the bad. I've finally caught up on all of Criminal Minds, and I do want to post about what I love, but first I want to get a bit of harshness out of my system.

This episode ... ugh. And I think it makes it worse that most of it could have been helped.

My biggest objection first: Ashley Sue Seaver. Yes, yes, I know, some of you are screaming at me already — every female character is always accused of being a Mary Sue, it's unfair, I'm a bad feminist, blah blah. The thing is, I've never thought of any other female character on this show as a Mary Sue. (This show does fascinatingly positive things with women characters as extras, actually, particularly their use as primary law enforcement contacts, especially in the first couple of seasons.) Hell, the closest I see to the more common definition is Dr. Spencer Reid, who last I checked is not female. Garcia could be argued to come closest, with her distinctive hair (but that's part of her distinctive wardrobe) and her tragic past (but we didn't learn about that for years). I've never thought of Garcia as a Mary Sue; she is in fact my favorite character, by far.

Li'l ol' Ashley, though, is halfway there. I'm not accusing her of being 100% Sue, either; but boy howdy does she meet some of the criteria in spades. Let's start with her introduction: she's the bestest course-runner the grizzled trainer has ever seen! And she's doing it on her break! While she's out on medical leave! Because she left the other guy worse off than her concussion! Holy crap, give me a break. You know how to fix that? Have her be in the middle of the pack — not the best at figuring out every single randomly selected task, but doing well. You do that, and her use of her on-break time to run the course suddenly makes her determined, not Sueish. Ditch the crap about the other guy in hand-to-hand coming out worse, and you have a realistic trainee who fell victim to a realistic training accident. Two tiny changes, and she's a significantly better character.

(Look at how they contrast Reid in that first office scene, too. He's the guy I would previously have identified as having Sueish traits, but was he The Bestest Trainee Ever? No, his genius was offset by (slightly overblown) physical limitations. And those limitations are ones we already would have guessed, from his first-season troubles with his firearms recertification and on through every season since.)

The "look how speshul!" crap means that when you add the Tragic Backstory, you're even further down the Sue checklist. (With the adjustments I mention above, that Backstory could have been her motivation to be determined while average; instead, it's just another major demerit.)

The most damning element, though, has a meta angle. The show/CBS fired AJ Cook and tried to cut back Paget Brewster, to "freshen up" the series. They rightly came under fire for targeting only women in that effort. They immediately swore the motive was creative rather than financial, so that viewers wouldn't think they were trying to dump those cheaper-than-the-men-but-uppity women. That's all offensive. But then to promote little Ashley Sue, who is still a trainee, to the highly coveted BAU by converting the character from a three-episode arc to a series regular? To react to justified criticism for firing only women to "freshen up" the series by hiring a slightly younger**, presumably cheaper woman as the Cousin Oliver? That's both even more offensive and annoying. (There's a reason the addition of a new baby/child to the sitcom is considered Shark bait.)

(** For fuck's sake, Cook is only 32! But you know she's too old for Hollywood, with her 32-year-old-ness, next to Patinkin and Gibson and Mantegna. Better to bring in that 30-year-old rookie instead — that's fresh!)

So: Still-a-student Ashley, the best and toughest trainee in the class, is just so good and special she is hand-selected to join the elite BAU (Wesley Crusher, anyone?) and wield her Tragic Backstory to Save the Day. That's so Sue I can't even. The only saving grace is that Hotchner outright told her she fucked up and wasn't won over by her super-speshul wonderfulness. Yet. And she doesn't have distinctive hair.**

(** Because she's yet another generic white chick with straight blonde hair. I can't tell them all apart, seriously. It took me years to be able to tell JJ from Hotch's wife. In part, that's my own mild prosopagnosia; but in larger part I blame Hollywood's determination to impose the same standard of "beauty" on every woman within its thrall. They end up just so many indistinguishable Barbie dolls.)

So, anyway. Ashley Sue, huge strike. The second strike against this episode is the story about the puppy. Now, animal abuse and pet death are huge squicks for me; I know. But it's simply the case that inclusion of either is going to rile me up. That can be used effectively: If we don't yet know a character is evil, that's a huge honkin' sign. CM had an earlier episode in which one of the two unsubs killed cats at the shelter, and while that upset the hell out of me, it explained and illustrated the unique psychopathology of the murder scenes. (And Garcia was very upset, too.) But here? We already know her Daddy was a serial killer; we already know he banned pets and they were a "huge problem". We did not need an explicit story about his killing a puppy to know that, dammit.

And the final strike was the scene that contained that infuriating story. It's one thing to have Ashley realize that she still doesn't hate her father. That could have been an interesting insight into her character, a bit of off-kilter oddity to make her less Sue and more interesting. But to structure the narrative so that Rossi is informing her and us that no matter what, he's still her father, so of course she can't hate him?

Fuck. You.

It's okay to hate someone who gave you genes. It's even okay to hate someone who raised you. People can and do, in fact, forfeit their right to love and/or affection. Yes, even from their offspring and families. Stating that well, of course she doesn't hate him, because he's her daddy? Fuck you, Bernero.

Add to that the clumsy Mr. Exposition writing and the done-to-death Emo Music Segment (which violetcheetah called out as beyond tired, not to mention cheap and hackneyed), and this episode is just a loser all around. That's a shame, because there were tiny elements that had promise — Ashley asking Reid for more information about her own father, or the dynamics of the gated community, or the team trying to fulfill their advisory role and trust the local guy's profiling only to have that bite them in the ass. [ETA: violetcheetah reminds me of the call between Reid and Garcia as well, in which he hit an entertainingly high note and she responded in a near growl of a chuckle. So great!] I just wish those elements could have been supported by a less infuriating story.

Originally posted at Dreamwidth | Comment | comment count unavailable comments
 
 
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sings and wandersvioletcheetah on December 26th, 2010 01:19 am (UTC)
If I could take the 30-second phone conversation between Garcia and Reid -- in which his voice cracks on the high note and she immediately responds with a nearly sub-sonic "Oh-ho-ho!" -- and purge the rest of the ep from my mind, that would be okay with me.
michelel72: CM-Garcia-Joymichelel72 on December 26th, 2010 01:39 am (UTC)
Oh, how could I forget that?! That was the best moment in the episode!