Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How Over-sensitivity Is Undermining Rape Advocacy

Let me preface this by saying I have the utmost respect and sympathy for rape survivors and other victims of sexual assault. I think we as a society do need to do a lot more to ensure justice for sexual assault victims, because way too many victims get their cases unheard.

However, stuff like this won't help. In fact, as Elizabeth Nolan Brown herself notes in a response piece for the Reason Foundation, it hurts.

On April 30, 2015, The Columbia Spectator, the student newspaper for Columbia University, an Ivy League school in New York City, ran an op-ed piece that detailed an account of a student who felt that passages in a poem- "Metamorphoses", by the Roman poet Ovid- "triggered" dangerous memories of an assault she suffered, and felt unsafe during the ensuing discussion of that poem. For the uninitiated, "Metamorphoses" recounts the kidnapping and rapes of Daphne and Persephone by the hands of Apollo and Hades, respectively (the latter being used as an explanation for spring and winter, since Persephone's mother, Demeter, the goddess of fertility, would agree to allow Hades to spend several months each year with Persephone, with Demeter's sadness during these passages causing her to stop plants from growing and the weather to get colder). According to The Spectator, the student felt "disengaged" from the discussion because, despite the fact that the passages caused her to relive her horrors, the professor decided to focus on the artistry behind the text, instead of focusing on the actual text itself. The student, according to The Spectator, didn't feel "safe" in the class and raised the issue with the professor afterwards, but was "dismissed" with her feelings "ignored" by the professor.

Now, I will grant I was not at the class, so I cannot verify what was said and whether or not the professor actually was dismissive of the student's concerns, and I will grant that the op-ed piece did raise some good points that some professors- many of whom are not actually educated in, well, "educating"- may need training in sensitivity. However, regardless of the context, it is apparent to me that the whole concept of "triggering" hasn't just gotten out of hand or has become counter-productive, it has become destructive to the very cause it seeks to solve- figuring out an end the rape problem.

First of all, it's very troubling that people can play the "victim card", silence their critics and essentially engage in censorship (as is what's happening here and what has happened to me in the past), stifling discussion that could be important in solving the problem. Because, let's face it- if we can't talk about sexual assault openly, how can we even begin to figure out how to solve the problem?

Moreover, where's the line where something is just "normal discourse" and where it becomes "triggering"? Rape can be committed by just about any instrument imaginable, so, in theory, just about *anything* can be a "trigger". For example, someone could be raped by something as innocuous as a pop can- do we get rid of all the Coke and Pepsi machines because they dispense items that are "triggering"?

More importantly, I can't understand how constant coddling and, frankly, "babying" victims of sexual assault helps in any way. By avoiding the problem- and not seeking a way to get past it- the victim is doing what the rapist intended, and that's get inside their head. I understand that a rape stays with someone for the rest of their lives- how can one get rid of that thought- but it's one thing to have it stuck in the corner of your brain and another to have it affect you in your daily life. The former is just a "bad memory", the latter tells the rapist they have won.

That is the heart of the matter. At the end of the day, advocacy groups seem to forget that rape is about power, not sex, and there's nothing more powerful than ensuring that the rapist has permanently entrenched themselves into a victim's cranium. Sure, the rapist might end up in jail, but they don't care- they're interested in the "hunt", and ensuring that they've devoured whatever life the victim had before. If something like that isn't enough to scare some sensibility into this nonsense, I don't know what is.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Blacklist Episode 1.12 “The Alchemist” Review

So what would you do if you’re on the run from the authorities? What would you do to disappear?

Well, tonight on The Blacklist, you’ve got your answer- how about a man that can take your DNA and transplant it into someone else’s DNA, with the other person getting killed? Since the other person has your DNA, the authorities will be fooled into thinking it’s really you that had been offed, when in reality you’ll be watching the news laughing at those incompetent fools before crying all the way to bank once you realize how much you paid for this endeavour.

…but hey…what’s the price of freedom?

The episode begins with The Alchemist doing his work. He’s got some busty blonde in his sights, and it looks like they’re going to have a fun time…but what’s this? She’s going to pass out? Dude…she’s totally into you, taking advantage of her when she’s unconscious just isn’t cool. Of course, sex isn’t The Alchemist’s goal- he needs a body where he can transplant DNA to, and this bodacious blonde seems just the right fit.

After the blonde passes out, we cut to a scene where she’s wearing some hideous Dalmatian-inspired dress (that’s the best way I could describe it), complete with really pale skin, some thick lips and jet black hair. Oh, and she just happens to be on a jetliner, with some dude she’s never met before. Understandably, she’s delighted at this occurrence (before anyone raises a quibble, yes that is sarcasm). This man, too, is wondering what the heck is going on, since he’s been transformed into some guy with tattoos (didn’t know The Alchemist was a tattoo artist too) and much tanner skin than he’s accustomed to. However, before the two erstwhile lovebirds can realize what’s going on, they meet The Alchemist, who’s taken- presumably- the aircraft’s only parachute and launched himself out of the plane. We then pan to the lady screaming, the man being dragged out of the plane by the wind created by the door being open aloft and the pilots hunched over their chairs, presumably dead. We then see the cockpit window showing the ground getting ever so closer, leaving little to the imagination about what’s going to happen to that poor couple.

Of course, the savvy viewer will wonder why neither of the two doomed passengers ever thinks to try to grab control of the plane or why the aircraft seems to have just one parachute (how did that pass Federal Aviation Association standards?)…but then we’re reminded that this is a television show and any pretense of realism was shown the minute we turned it on.

Anyway, we then cut to the scene where the Federal Bureau of Incompetents (because the FBI on this show display the average intelligence and awareness of your local village idiot) brief each other over coffee and copious amounts of donuts (okay, I’m exaggerating…there are no donuts) about the plane crash, revealing that the pair that died were really mobsters that have been FBI fugitives for years! The viewer knows better (and, presumably, the viewer also knows that hiring someone like The Alchemist seems useless since there’s no way the FBI in this universe could catch anything other than a cold), so who’s going to be the one to show the FBI what’s really going on?

Oh…it’s you, Raymond “Red” Reddington. The only person on this show that seems to have any kind of clue about what’s going on, and maybe the only character that makes this show worthwhile…but, I digress.

We first see Red meeting with his “people” still trying to find the mole that led Anslo Garrick to the FBI headquarters back in November, with Red pulling up garbage bags upon garbage bags of shredded FBI documents, and, in a classic Red move, he gets his cronies to open each of those bags and piece every last one of those documents together. Red’s minions are understandably overjoyed at this task, but Red isn’t too concerned about their feelings toward the project- he, too, is worried about The Alchemist.

So he meets with Elizabeth Keen inside of a Church and…wait, is he wearing a kippah? So does that mean that Red is a religious man? Or does his arrogance know no bounds in that he believes he’s some kind of “servant” to the LORD in that by targeting all these criminals on “The Blacklist” he’s doing God’s work? Time will tell us…or, as I predict, this whole sequence will be forgotten and four years down the road it will all be contradicted. I don’t trust the writers of this show to be good enough to remember such details down the road when inside their own episodes they miss a lot of details…but hopefully I’m wrong.

Anyhow, Red meets with Keen and explains to her that The Alchemist has ways of manipulating DNA and the teeth of his murder victims so that they can appear to be the fugitives he’s trying to hide. Red doesn’t delve into the process much, only describing some kind of process where one’s blood is substituted for another person’s blood, which seems a bit iffy a proposition if you ask me, but for the sake of entertainment, I let it go.

This leads to the FBI to realize their mobsters are really still alive, so they fly out to Hungary (where the mobster lives) in an effort to catch him. They do that, but for some mysterious reason, decide that locating his wife isn’t important (despite her being a wanted woman too). We see the wife- in what must be the worst Hungarian accent I’ve ever heard (note to the director: the Hungarians have absolutely no relation to the Slavs (e.g. Russians, Poles, etc.)- they’re more closely related to the Turks, so a Turkish accent would have been much better)- confronting The Alchemist, understandably asking him how, despite his work, the FBI found her husband. The Alchemist decides he doesn’t have time for the wife’s questions and shoots her dead, which makes him look to be rather rash in his judgements making one wonder how he had the patience to transform all of his victims…but, again, I digress.

We then see the husband in FBI custody, talking with Donald Ressler. Ressler, as is par for the course in the FBI, is getting nowhere with the husband, who promptly asks to speak to his wife and his lawyer. A frustrated Ressler relents, giving way to the husband’s lawy…wait, what’s this? Is The Alchemist pretending to be the husband’s lawyer? The husband isn’t fooled, but The Alchemist doesn’t flinch- the husband, in a panic, asks for one of The Alchemist’s nicotine gums, which The Alchemist is only too happy to give him. It’s revealed that this gum was really a poison (which raises the question about how The Alchemist can manufacture twelve identical gum pieces and the gum package in time to meet with the mobster husband), and the husband falls dead. It’s here that The Alchemist beats an escape somehow.

Normally, I’d say this is another case of FBI tomfoolery but in this instance it is justified- The Alchemist likely has forged documents allowing him to fake being a lawyer and since the situation really doesn’t call for a thorough background check, The Alchemist can slip by undetected. Still doesn’t excuse the other errors the FBI seems to make on a routine basis on this show, but at least for once one of their mistakes is an understandable one.

Meanwhile, back at the FBI headquarters, the investigation on who the murdered victims really are reveals that the blonde (identified through bone marrow records, which casts further doubt that this “blood exchange” method of The Alchemist could really work) met The Alchemist through a dating website. The FBI’s resident technical analyst, Aram Mojtabi, explains that although the dating profile doesn’t reveal his actual name, it reveals his actual face, which is forwarded to the agents in Hungary.

Ressler sees that the “lawyer” he let in was really The Alchemist, but it’s too late- the deed is already done. The team then digs a little bit more into The Alchemist’s online alias, revealing that he’s really an estranged father to a daughter and a wife that seems awfully terrified of him. The kicker? The daughter, a young girl, just recently got diagnosed with diabetes, which you can bet will come back up once the show is finished.

Despite this nugget of info, Keen and Ressler don’t find much, digging through The Alchemist’s lab but finding nothing but a sheet of plastic paper with some random numbers on it. That’s either crafty of our criminal, or sloppy. I go with the latter- clearly this guy isn’t meticulousness enough to bother cleaning his lab out thoroughly, since you’d think a serial number (as that’s what the sheet of paper clearly is) would be something important to keep hidden.

Then again, maybe our Alchemist is savvy, since our hapless agents run around in circles in their minds trying to figure out what the numbers mean- we hear Ressler posit that these could be part of a bank account serial number. Seriously Ressler? How’d you get your badge? Since when is a bank account serial number printed on a white, plastic-coated, strip of paper in thick black font?

It takes Red- who seems to know crime fighting a lot better than the people actually tasked with crime fighting- reminding Keen about her job as a profiler (which she should have some mastery over after five months on the job) to figure out what the audience already knows. Since The Alchemist is a “lab rat” according to Keen, that serial number is part of a serial number for a microscope The Alchemist bought, which is evidence enough to get an arrest warrant out for him.

The Alchemist is already planning his next move, having invited a young blonde woman out for a “casting call” that we all know is fake. This woman, showing her superior intellect, thinks it’s a wonderful idea to take a ride from a man who only informs her that the call has been relocated- she does nothing to verify that this man actually works for the studio that she’s supposed to be auditioning for.

(Which raises another question- did the actress not drive to the event? Why couldn’t she use her own car to get to the new location?)

Predictably, the woman is on the gurney, affixed with black hair, pale skin and drugged beyond recognition. We then cut to a scene where the aspiring actress is found dead next to a body of a young girl, both shot. This time, Ressler and Keen know right away exactly what’s going on- The Alchemist has kidnapped his family and is on the run- so they try desperately to find him before it’s too late.

How do they find him? Remember when I said the diabetes diagnosis would come in handy later? Well, Aram, ever the intrepid one, informs us that the daughter’s insulin pump has a radio transmitter on it, useful for if it ever gets lost. They use it to locate the family, who stopped at a gas station just outside of town. The result is a standoff with the SWAT team and the now cornered Alchemist, and despite Keen trying to intervene and negotiate the peaceful surrender of The Alchemist, the SWAT team still manages to shoot the criminal in the back. It’s still possible that The Alchemist could live through the bullet wound, though, so perhaps not everything is lost for Keen.

Keen manages to get a list of all the criminals The Alchemist made “disappear”, which she passes on to Red. Red, without looking at the list, puts it into his pocket, which surprises Keen. Red informs her that he’ll have a look at it later, but right now he has “some business to take care of”.

It’s here where we see Meera Malik, alone in a room with Red. Red’s men had figured her out to be the mole based on piecing together the documents the FBI discarded, and Malik believes that Red is meeting her to kill her. The episode ends before we find out her fate.

Another side story in this episode sees Keen’s husband- Tom- get frustrated with Liz’s lack of commitment to the marriage, starting to take things into his own hands. During a baby shower where Liz reveals that she won’t take maternity leave- which, despite agreeing to it, is a sign for Tom that Liz isn’t interested in the marriage, a notion that gets Liz understandably upset- Tom meets “Jolene” (an alias for a person we saw earlier was someone Red was keeping tabs on), who tells him that the two of them need some “spice” in the marriage. She tells him about a photography exhibit where an artist takes pictures of married men while she has sex with them, which Tom founds outrageous. Tom is intrigued by this woman, so, despite his insistence that a photography exhibit isn’t a thing the Keens would go out for, he tries to make Liz go to this exhibit anyway. Liz promises another idea for a date, but, after several failed attempts to have that date- because of her work- Tom decides to go to the exhibit alone, and the storyline ends with Liz bringing home Chinese takeout to an empty house.

Part of this side story has Ressler reconnecting with his estranged fiancé, with his coming to terms with her impending marriage to another man. He can’t stand the thought of them together but he doesn’t want to be selfish, so he tells her that he’s happy for her. However, in a twist that gives Ressler a happy ending, his estranged fiancé tells him that ever since she saw him in the hospital she couldn’t stop thinking about him, so she ended the engagement with the other man. Ressler is flummoxed but delighted, and the two of them proceed to have a happy dinner.

The Good:

-Despite having very weak material to work with, Diego Klattenoff did very well as Agent Ressler. He’s come a long way since the pilot where he was wooden and stiff, as tonight he brought out the emotional nuances that brought his character to life. If only he could get some decent writing.
-Amir Arison was again his quirky self as Aram Mojtabi, proof that he should promoted to series regular soon.
-James Spader, again, was excellent, as his ability to humanize what must be the world’s most vile criminal amazes me. What really shone for me tonight was the kippah, and here’s hoping the show doesn’t shy away from the religious reference- there’s so much narrative potential in having Red be a devout religious follower because it opens so many new perspectives onto the character
-Ryan O’Nan did a good job as The Alchemist, making him smarmy but purposeful as well. You could tell that, despite his questionable morals, The Alchemist still had human motivations, and that was to eventually rebuild his life and rebuild his family
-I did like, despite the fact that “Elizabeth Keen places work over her family” is a clichéd storyline (but, unfortunately, way too common in real life), at least we’ve got an interesting variation on it. Tom is obviously going to stray from Liz, but this won’t be some random affair- Jolene wants something from him, if not from Liz as well, and I’m curious to find out what that is.
-Also, given the above, it’s great to see a law enforcement worker- Ressler- reconnect with his significant other, instead of losing it as so often happens in shows like this. At least The Blacklist shows that it wants to give its characters happiness, even if it is just fleeting.

The Bad:

-Spader, for all his good works, wasn’t featured that much in this episode, which is a shame. Red is really the only reason this show is a hit, and while I like that Keen and Ressler got more of a spotlight tonight, the show cannot forget what drives it.
-Usually, I like Elizabeth Keen because Megan Boone brings out the nuances in her character and makes her a lot more rounded than the writing makes her out to be. However, tonight Boone was flat and it showed. Since Boone and Klattenoff were expected to carry the load tonight, Boone’s average performance was noticeable, derailing the episode a bit. The frustrating part is that both actors have shown that they can rise to the occasion if need be, so hopefully the next time Red gets a reduced role in the episode (which hopefully won’t be for a while) they’ll be up to the task
-I wonder about the mechanics of the crime on tonight’s show. While I do know that DNA can be manufactured and altered, I’m not sure the way The Alchemist does it would work in real life. While I get that he doesn’t likely care about the survival of the substitute, simply substituting someone’s blood for someone else’s blood would cause noticeable complications in the skin (if they have the wrong blood type) and would likely be counteracted by the new blood created by the bone marrow, creating more complications physically. While I appreciate the fact the show at least tried to explain the crime, this may have been a case where “less is more”, with the explanation for how it works being some kind of “novel” project only The Alchemist knows how it works, especially considering that, story-wise, The Alchemist’s motivations were far more interesting
-The bumbling FBI…yeah, this criticism is getting old, but how many times must I suspend my disbelief watching people who are supposedly educated make the dumbest of mistakes? The FBI doesn’t have to be the one solving the crimes, but it would be nice to know that, every now and then, they display the competency that is expected with a job like theirs

The Questions:

-Still not sold on Ryan Eggold’s participation. Tom Keen always seemed to be nothing more than a peripheral character on the show, and, up until now, his presence really didn’t add much to the episodes. Having said that, now that he’s got a meaty storyline to follow, I’m willing to give him a chance to see what he can do on the screen.
-Meera Malik: I don’t like the thought that she’ll be offed, so I’m hoping she gets the Aram treatment and we find out that she’s been framed too, since she’s too good a character (and Parminder Nagra too good an actress) to discontinue. However, if the show does go that route, I hope Malik leads to the real mole, because I’m not sure how much more misdirection I can take.

The Verdict: B-

It was a good episode, all things considered. A lot of kinks still need to get worked out, as the writing is still subpar but, at least, the staff have still shown to be competent enough to have a “sum of its parts” be entertaining despite its flaws. I do also like the narrative potential of Tom-Jolene and it’s great that, for once, someone in law enforcement is reconnecting with their significant other instead of losing them, and, with Malik being involved, the Red vs. the U.S. government arc seems to be in full swing, so there’s lots to look forward to on the second half of the season.



Thursday, January 16, 2014

Criminal Minds Episode 9.12 “The Black Queen” Review

For years, Criminal Minds has teased us on Technical Analyst Penelope Garcia’s past, not so subtly mentioning that the world’s “hacker extraordinaire” struck a deal with the FBI allowing her to walk for her crimes if she would work for them. It was a novel concept for the FBI at the time, as ever since Behavioral Analysis Unit Chief Aaron “Hotch” Hotchner made Garcia an offer she couldn’t refuse, the FBI recycled the ploy to hire other great investigators, such as Neal Caffrey (White Collar), Raymond “Red” Reddington (The Blacklist) and Patrick Jane (The Mentalist).

It’s an unorthodox method for recruitment, but hey, if it works…

Anyhow, the opening scene hints at why Garcia was picked- Hotchner tells her that many of her online attacks were virtuous in nature, indicating that she had a sense for justice and would be a great fit in the FBI. Garcia, who acted in a cold demeanour meant to portray how she was different back then, defiantly told Hotchner that she’d “think about the offer”, and, upon seeing Derek Morgan, tried to get under his skin by nicknaming him, although Morgan is unmoved.

The scene then cuts to the present day (since we know that Garcia did, in fact, take up the job offer), where someone doing her best Karen Walker impression is leading a seminar in the FBI about appropriate language in the workplace, with highlighted phrases being the same very phrases that Morgan and Garcia use to banter with each other. Uh oh…did someone report our bashful duo? The nerve…

Garcia, as you can predict, is flustered by this turn of events, although Morgan appears rather unmoved. However, before our Karen impersonator can continue her verbal takedown of Garcia, Hotchner rather coldly interrupts her to whisk Garcia away to a case in San Jose, California that only she seems to know about. The Karen impersonator implores Garcia to stick around, but Garcia, only too happy to leave, knows that her job comes first, so Garcia rather meekly joins Hotchner in what our favourite geek assumes will be the longest elevator ride in her career.

Of course, by this point the savvy viewer will think that since the Karen impersonator’s slides seem too specific to Garcia that the person of interest in the team’s latest case was the one who really provided the information to the FBI, and, as we see in the episode, this seems to have been a deliberate choice.

After the usual war room discussion and the plane ride (the team sure sounded bored in flight) we meet Sam Russell (Erik Passoja), who was convicted of murdering prostitutes ten years ago and is again a person of interest when another pair of prostitutes had just been murdered. Russell contends that he had nothing to do with it and was coerced into a confession by the lead detective who played to Russell’s drug abuse by promising him better drugs. Armed with this information, the team confronts said detective about his interrogation method, forcing the detective to admit that he had actually coerced the confession. The detective refuses to help, though, threatening to call his union should he get into further problems.

The sequence wasn’t totally useless, as Russell reveals that Garcia’s old online collective, known as “Star Chamber” (an obvious take on “Anonymous”), has been active online in their attempts to clear his name. They’ve gone so far that they managed to hack into the San Jose Police Department’s system and steal the case file, forcing the team to profile the leader of Star Chamber- Shane Wyeth (Paolo Costanzo)- in order to win the file back.

It’s not an easy task, since Wyeth’s intentions for the case was to draw out Garcia so that he could manipulate her into rejoining his team- it’s why he passed the sexual harassment information on to the FBI in the first place. Garcia, already uncomfortable with the thought of being on the case (with Wyeth’s shenanigans causing her to doubt that her banter with Morgan is appropriate), seems to almost suffer a nervous breakdown at the thought of having to meet with Wyeth. Morgan, though, remained cool and collected throughout the ordeal, reassuring Garcia that Wyeth is merely playing a game and teaches Garcia how to recognize his manipulative tactics. This calms Garcia, who gains the confidence to readopt her old persona in a bid to infiltrate those pesky Stars.

Once she’s in there she sees Wyeth, which causes her to crack a little before she regains her composure. She then starts to playfully seduce Wyeth, leaning in to almost kiss him before being distracted at the last moment by Wyeth’s buddy, Ethan (Jesse Heiman). The portly, unkempt Ethan then receives a surprise when Garcia declares she’s going to kiss him, and reacts with as much glee as you would expect a nerdy computer hacker would get when he receives a kiss from a beautiful woman. After making Ethan’s, um, life, Garcia gets down to discussing business with Wyeth.

This is where Garcia really starts to crack, something that Morgan- listening outside in a truck to the wire implanted on Garcia’s dress- gets frustrated with, since there’s nothing he can do to help. Wyeth, ever the slimy one, confronts Garcia about all that “babygirl” stuff she does with Morgan, revealing, finally, that he planted the information with the Karen impersonator, and proceeds to denigrate her by chastising her for allowing Morgan to “infantalise” her. Garcia, doing her best to keep her cool, tells Wyeth that she’s not sleeping with Morgan although Wyeth- having already gotten inside Garcia’s head- is unfazed by this statement.

Later, back at the police station, you see how unhinged Garcia is by the case, as Morgan has to spend some time soothing Garcia and once again reassure her that Wyeth simply wants to get inside her head. Morgan also tells her that, as a narcissist, Wyeth will eventually overplay his hand by trying to get Garcia to do more work for him- Garcia realizes this is an opportunity for the team to gain valuable information, so she gets excited at the prospect. A few minutes later, we see Wyeth starting a chat with Garcia which eventually does lead to Wyeth overplaying his hand- so Garcia turns the tables on him and makes solving the case into a game- both the BAU and Wyeth will compete to see who can solve the case first, but in order to do that, the BAU needs the case file so that both can start on the same footing. Wyeth falls for the bait, handing over the case files immediately.

Meanwhile, the case gets a new victim when a blonde-haired prostitute is drugged and stabbed like the other victims were. The investigation in her death reveals that she called frequently to a burner cell phone and deactivated her numerous digital messaging accounts except for one account where she received E-Mails from the UnSub. This seemed to be a deliberate action by the UnSub to ensure that he wouldn’t get caught, however, armed with the case files from the previous victims, Jennifer “JJ” Jareau reveals that the person who sent those E-Mails was none other than Russell himself. The proof? Russell had, in his rosary, locks of hair that he took from his victims, evidence needed to prove that he had, in fact, committed the crimes in 2004.

That resolved the storyline of the old murders, but what about the new ones? The team had figured that Russell had a partner, and here the partner is revealed to be John Nichols, who is none other than Wyeth’s right hand man. Nichols, it’s revealed, used Wyeth to deflect the blame from Russell (and maybe perhaps think that Wyeth was the criminal all along) but the team wasn’t fooled, getting to the Stars’ headquarters just in time before Nichols could kill Wyeth by drugging him like he drugged the prostitutes. There are a few moments after Nichols’ arrest where Wyeth lays motionless, not reacting to the drug injections Dr. Spencer Reid gives him, but Garcia- who happened to come along- realizes that Wyeth was just playing a game and got him to wake up when Garcia taunted him by telling him that the BAU had won the competition.

The episode then ends with Garcia and Morgan getting into a SUV and driving back to the police station, but not before Garcia starts telling Morgan a story behind one of her nicknames. Proving that Wyeth was no longer affecting her and that, even though the rest of the FBI seems to think her banter with Morgan was weird, the playfulness she has with Morgan is consensual and fun, she tells Morgan that she’s going to tell him the story in the most sexually charged way that she can, eliciting an appreciative smile from Morgan.

The Good:

-Nice seeing Costanzo, who’s probably best known for being one of the “combatants” in Kraft Dinner’s commercials featuring two roommates feuding over the last bowl of KD. Costanzo also played the role of Wyeth perfectly, being incredibly smooth and easy going with just enough smugness for effect. Too often actors go over the top portraying narcissists, so it’s nice seeing a subdued performance.

-Passoja also did a commendable job as Russell, being very believable in first fooling the audience in believing he was innocent and later in crying once his guilt was revealed.

-Good on the show to create their own online collective instead of simply defaulting to Anonymous. While obviously done for legal reasons, the decision allowed for more creative freedom and is a refreshing change of pace from shows that invoke Anonymous because they’re too lazy to create their own “bad guys” (I’m looking at you The Good Wife)

-Morgan and Garcia were excellent in this episode, as their chemistry really shined. I know there are quite a few fans that are tired of their banter but I always found it playful and consensual, so I never had a problem with it- and this episode was the first in a long while where the two of them actually got to play off one another. Here’s hoping for more in the future.

The Bad:

-Seems to be a recurring element with this show, but why do they need so many characters? It only seemed like Morgan and Garcia really did any work in this episode, with the rest of the characters- notably Hotchner, Reid and JJ- getting token moments of work (moments that could have been condensed into, say, one or two characters). Rossi and Blake were almost totally irrelevant.

-While I like how the show finally addressed the “workplace appropriateness” of the Morgan-Garcia banter, I’m not sure I like how it was framed solely in the context of a case- something like this should have been organic, perhaps actually coming from “Bob from payroll”. I was fine with the resolution of the storyline being at the end of the episode- because I don’t think it’s a storyline that can go beyond more than one episode- but framing it the way the show did made it seem like the banter is irrelevant, when, likely, it wouldn’t be allowed so openly in most workplaces.

-Pacing was very slow, as it seemed like there was about 40 minutes of exposition and maybe three or four minutes of action. The case wasn’t that complicated- the writer, Breen Frazier, really should have gotten to the point.

-Perhaps he wasn’t available, but wouldn’t it have been nice if Kevin Lynch (Nicholas Brendon) had made an appearance? In an episode about hackers and Garcia’s love life, shouldn’t the former love of Garcia’s life have been involved in some way? If nothing else, a “love triangle scene” with Lynch, Morgan, Garcia and Wyeth would have been hilarious.

The Questions:

-Only one thing I was iffy about, and that’s how this episode handled Garcia’s past. This could also qualify as a criticism of the episode, since I didn’t think they revealed enough about Garcia’s hacker past, but I place it here because I realize there’s still an opportunity for the show to expand on it later. I liked learning about Garcia being “The Black Queen” and that she had virtuous motivations behind her attacks, but I would have loved to have known how she got involved with hacking in the first place. Sure, Wyeth was her mentor, but we don’t know if Wyeth was the one that introduced Garcia to this world in the first place. I also wonder, since Wyeth had a sympathetic side to him, could Wyeth eventually become a love interest for Garcia later on in the series?

The Verdict: B

It was more about the “sum of its parts” here than the episode as a whole. The Garcia/Morgan moments were gold, and seeing the hacker world was very interesting. However, too much of the team were ciphers, and the storytelling was incredibly laboured with too many twists and turns. Still, it was a good effort, a nice start to the New Year and makes me anticipate Episode 199 next week- meaning the landmark “200” is not that far away.



Saturday, January 04, 2014

Review: Elementary Episode 2.12, "The Diabolical Kind"

That was an interesting start to the New Year.

After the show dragged its feet through the muck of trying to contrive a scenario where New York Police could have some kind of beef with Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), we’re treated in this episode with the return of Sherlock’s No. 1 enemy, the nefarious Jamie Moriarty (Natalie Dormer). Tonight, a little girl gets kidnapped from wealthy parents, being held for an unconscionable ransom of $50 million. It sounds like your rudimentary kidnapping…until Holmes hears the voice of the caller demanding the ransom- it’s none other than Devon Gaspar (Andrew Howard) the very lieutenant who posed as Moriarty on the phone in Episode 1.22, “Risk Management”. Moriarty is involved? What could she possibly want out of this?

Predictably, at first everyone’s just a little bit skeptical of Moriarty’s motives- after all, she’s a master criminal, adept at the art of manipulation and cunning, a fact that hit too close to Holmes after the Irene Adler mishap. The episode begins with this part of the narrative intact, as we find out that Moriarty’s been moved to a shipyard under the care of federal agents, where she’s free to continue writing letters and engaging in her favourite pastime of painting (complete with a wonderful picture of Joan Watson (Lucy Liu)). Moriarty, it seems, has been asking for a lot of favours from the federal government, which the government seems too happy to give her since they feel like she’s an important “asset”. Given that Moriarty’s personality would make Narcissus blush, it’s no surprise that Moriarty milks the government for all she can, and tonight it seems like Moriarty is continuing this trend, hoping to rope Holmes in along the way.

Holmes isn’t fooled, though, and deduces that a series of numbers found in the crime scene are some kind of a code that Moriarty planted. At that point, Moriarty’s gravy train crumbles in the light of Holmes’ exposition, as the federal agent that’s taking care of Moriarty decided that she has to wear her locator bracelets even when she’s inside her cell. Moriarty complains about this, telling the agent that the cuffs make it hard for her to paint, but the agent rightly tells her that if she hadn’t abused the government’s trust they wouldn’t need to place the cuffs on her in the first place. It’s here where Moriarty reminds the agent about how much smarter she is than he is by pointing out that she’s devised 17 plans to escape the shipyard, six of which involve shimmying out of the bracelets by cutting herself. Then it appears like Moriarty is putting the plan in motion by taking a handkerchief and strangling the agent assigned to her care.

…but wait…there’s more!

Holmes decides to crack this code, and see what message Moriarty is really trying to send. He then realizes the code firmly established that Moriarty is actually the missing girl’s mother, having agreed to be a surrogate for the other mother due to her infertility. Holmes realizes that Moriarty wasn’t actually behind the plot to kidnap the girl- no, this was all a plot by her lieutenant to get back at her. Moriarty, then, hatched her escape plan just so she could save her daughter, which she does by the end of the episode, but not before bringing Holmes and the rest of the NYPD to take her back to prison once her deed was finished. It’s revealed at this stage that the agent Moriarty strangled wasn’t actually killed- a choice made by Moriarty- and that Moriarty invited Holmes to the scene just so she could share a moment with him. Moriarty, it seems, wants to know how to care for and about people, a skill Holmes seems to have picked up and one she’s hoping to learn. It’s a genuinely touching moment, leading to what appears to be an “almost kiss” by Moriarty and Holmes as a result.

In context, the whole episode got to be appreciated in a different light- the little girl gave Moriarty a purpose in life, and, having discovered it, Moriarty hoped she could learn how to give up the life of crime and start doing good for a change. Of course, given Moriarty’s history of manipulation, it’s hard not to think that even this show of kindness and a pursuit of happiness is not just another Moriarty ploy- but the ending felt so genuine and Moriarty showed uncharacteristic vulnerability that I tend to lean on the “real” side. I guess we’ll see what happens at the end of the season.

The Good:

-Natalie Dormer. She had a lot of fun playing Moriarty and it showed, as she invigorating and charismatic playing up Moriarty’s characteristic smug snake style. Dormer also showed great range in giving Moriarty an emotional depth we hadn’t seen before, and her chemistry with Miller was on full display. If Dormer became a series regular (on this show or another), I’d support it- she’s earned it.

-Tonight, aside from seeing Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) struggle to steady his firearm, we didn’t see much of the contrived storyline of “Sherlock vs. NYPD”, and thus the characters behaved normally. I hope this means that the NYPD arc becomes just a blip, or, at worst, its inherent faults get fixed so it becomes more palatable- because when the characters act naturally, the story shines.

The Bad:

-The pacing for the first quarter of the show was slow and awkward. I get that there needs to be exposition but sometimes I’d wish the show would just “get to the point already” instead of dithering.

-The girl’s “adoptive” mother- and, for that matter, the girl herself- wasn’t used enough. Shouldn’t we at least have been afforded a scene or two where the mother is curious about her daughter’s fate, and shouldn’t we have seen Moriarty at least emote over the daughter she helped rescue?

-In the autopsy scene, we hear Captain Thomas Gregson (Aidan Quinn) try to piece together the crime and exclaim, “does this make sense? Does any of this make sense?” I might have understood the lines early in Season One when Gregson was just getting started in Holmes’ crazy world, but he’s worked with Holmes for almost two years now- he should be expecting the cases to be strange. Since he didn’t play much of a role solving the case, lines like this make Gregson look stupid- and he’s a far better character than that.

-It would have been nice if the reveal of Gaspar was left near the end of the episode, or at the very least until his name was actually mentioned. Although Gaspar had made brief appearances before this was the first time we learned his name, and being a voice on the phone gave him an air of mystery- seeing him before knowing his name removed that mystery.

The Questions:

-While I like how Moriarty has been given depth and seems to be a “grey” like Holmes is- Holmes has evil in him, while Moriarty has goodness in her- I’m not sure if I like the idea of Moriarty eventually becoming a “good” character, or even getting involved in Holmes in some way. Rob Doherty, the creator of the show, has done nice work in challenging what we’ve come to expect from the Holmes mythos, but I’m leery about how a “good” Moriarty would play, given how synonymous Moriarty is with evil. Still, the show has done wonders challenging ideas before, so if they do decide to make Moriarty “good”, I’ll wait until it plays out to pass judgement on the character.

The Verdict: B-

A good start to the year. It’s not one of the series’ best but it was still an entertaining hour and opened up some new plot twists to explore; and it made far more sense than the nonsensical NYPD vs. Holmes plotline we’ve had to endure lately. Hopefully the show can build from here.