THRILLER

A show that blends cops and grave rob­bers can give even a jaded critic a mind to get with the crim­i­nal, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Graeme Blun­dell

THOMAS Har­ris’s The Si­lence of the Lambs has a lot to an­swer for: his wit and lit­er­ary stylish­ness made Han­ni­bal Lecter the most ad­mired killer in his­tory, but his suc­cess cre­ated a trail of im­i­ta­tors traf­fick­ing in sadism and un­prece­dented gore. The mas­ter of gothic crime did not in­vent the form, but he clev­erly com­bined the de­tec­tive pro­ce­dural and the psy­cho profile to cre­ate the se­rial killer genre with its dis­tinc­tive reper­tory of plots, char­ac­ters and set­tings. He was able to al­most las­civ­i­ously in­dulge his read­ers’ fas­ci­na­tion with the killer and si­mul­ta­ne­ously al­low them to re­cant the en­thral­ment. Or keep it un­der con­trol by iden­ti­fy­ing with a polic­ing pro­tag­o­nist or or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The latest en­ter­tain­ment in what has be­come al­most a generic game is CBS’s Crim­i­nal Minds and its moody team of mind- hunt­ing pro­fil­ers from the FBI’s Be­havioural Anal­y­sis Unit, which re­turns to Seven this week. Thank­fully, we are get­ting the two- parter The Fisher King , one of the best in the se­ries, in one whack.

I missed the se­ries the first time around, ex­hausted by all the vir­tu­ous gov­ern­ment law­men on cop TV briskly mak­ing ev­ery­thing right at the last minute.

I pre­fer the more jaun­diced por­tray­als of po­lice cor­rup­tion and in­ef­fi­ciency such as the long- run­ning LAPD drama The Shield .

It was my loss. Now I’m hooked on Crim­i­nal Minds , which in the US has grown from an un­sung hero to the most- watched scripted pro­gram of the past sea­son, with more than 13 mil­lion view­ers each week.

Cere­bral and oc­ca­sion­ally con­fronting, the show fea­tures the req­ui­site craggy cop tor­tured by a past case, Mandy Patinkin’s Ja­son Gideon. And Patinkin, the gifted, neu­rotic star of Chicago Hope , is great here, a man liv­ing in the shad­ows, ex­ud­ing so much em­pa­thy he looks like he’ll burst. There’s also in­tro­spec­tive heir ap­par­ent Aaron Hotch­ner ( Dharma & Greg ’ s Thomas Gib­son), flawed ge­nius Spencer Reid ( Matthew Gray Gubler), hot­shot toughie Elle Greenaway ( Lola Glau­dini), and She­mar Moore ( Derek Morgan), an ex­pert in ob­ses­sional crimes who likes to kick down doors.

Yes, I know they are all some­what stereo­typ­i­cal, but that’s what we love about generic en­ter­tain­ment, its the­o­ret­i­cal stam­pede of for­mu­laic pat­terns and vari­a­tions of the for­mu­las.

As much sus­pense thriller as po­lice pro­ce­dural, Crim­i­nal Minds traf­fics in grue­some and grisly stuff, which has in­cluded mur­dernecrophilia, a child se­rial killer and a can­ni­bal­is­tic killer who drinks blood to get closer to God.

Amer­i­can crit­ics leapt on it when it be­gan, at­tack­ing the way it seemed to take sav­agery against fe­male vic­tims to new heights and for be­ing over­run with cop cliches, but au­di­ences, fas­ci­nated by its re­con­struc­tions of the crim­i­nal sen­si­bil­ity and lapped it up.

Why does an ob­ses­sive- com­pul­sive ar­son­ist like to at­tack her vic­tims in threes? Why does a se­rial killer drown women in ho­tel baths? Why would a mur­derer hold a fam­ily hostage and as­sume the fa­ther’s role be­fore tak­ing their lives? The al­most sexy dia­lec­tic be­tween in­dul­gence and dis­ap­proval is pos­si­bly be­hind the huge suc­cess of the genre in fiction as well as on TV. And this creepy generic du­al­ity might be the rea­son for the suc­cess of Crim­i­nal Minds .

As Patinkin said re­cently, ‘‘ If I had to guess what it is about hor­ror that is ap­peal­ing to such a mass au­di­ence, it’s how it’s just a hair away from their own think­ing.’’

There’s plenty of lovely dread­ful­ness in the twist­ing labyrinth of The Fisher King .

While on their sep­a­rate va­ca­tions, each mem­ber of the BAU re­ceives a clue, in­clud­ing a sev­ered head, a 1963 base­ball card and a trail of

aber­rant

hu­man

be­hav­iour,

Moody team: From far left, Crim­i­nal Minds stars Matthew Gray Gubler, Thomas Gib­son, Lola Glau­dini, Mandy Patinkin and She­mar Moore blood along a ho­tel hall­way, from a me­dieval­ist psy­cho­pathic killer chal­leng­ing them to save his next vic­tim. As they at­tempt to do so, they find them­selves as vul­ner­a­ble as any vic­tims they’ve met, the shock of their de­fence­less­ness un­do­ing each of them.

This is a show for view­ers who love clues, codes, ci­phers, puz­zles, al­lu­sions and rid­dles, and the ref­er­ences are al­most end­less: Gil­bert and Sul­li­van, Chaucer, Schu­bert’s The Trout Quin­tet , Terry Gil­liam, Stephen King’s The Shin­ing and Stan­ley Kubrick’s movie of it, In­di­ana Jones , and even me­dieval writer Margery Kempe, who also wrote about pil­grim­ages and per­se­cu­tions. The Fisher King of the ti­tle, pos­si­bly our killer, is a char­ac­ter from Arthurian leg­end, usu­ally a pro­tec­tor of the Holy Grail, an ab­stract and enig­matic sym­bol among many. He is al­ways wounded in the legs or groin, a king in per­pet­ual tor­ment.

On the way to de­duc­ing this, our de­tec­tives dis­cover a mur­der vic­tim al­most dis­sected by an Ex­cal­ibur- type sword, a mes­sage writ­ten in blood on the wall above: ‘‘ Here thy quest doth truly be­gin.’’ Greenaway isn’t im­pressed. ‘‘ So we’re look­ing for Shake­speare,’’ she drawls.

The show is fond of softly spo­ken lit­er­ary quotes that usu­ally open each episode, wist­fully de­liv­ered in voice- over by a char­ac­ter, a source of to­tal ir­ri­ta­tion to some crit­ics but of plea­sure to this jaded TV crime ad­dict.

It’s not un­til part two of The Fisher King that French philoso­pher Michel Fou­cault is in Gideon’s head with some post- struc­tural­ist ad­vice on how to catch killers.

‘‘ The de­fects and de­faults of the mind are like wounds in the body,’’ a quiet voice mur­murs as the pro­filer slumps at his desk. ‘‘ Af­ter all imag­in­able care has been taken to heal them up, there will still be a scar left be­hind.’’

The lit­er­ary flour­ishes are fun, but what I en­joy about this show is the high- en­ergy, fast­paced, old- fash­ioned thriller kind of sto­ry­telling and its ex­plo­ration of the psy­cho­log­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion of ter­ri­ble things.

The writ­ing is crisp and tight and, de­spite so much nar­ra­tive to cover, sur­pris­ingly seam­less and, the way good crime writ­ing must, it turns on an al­most ab­stract em­pha­sis on the twists and turns of mys­ti­fi­ca­tion.

As Dorothy Say­ers wrote in her Om­nibus of Crime way back in 1929, it may be that in mys­tery sto­ries the reader, or viewer, finds some brief cathar­sis or purg­ing of their own self­ques­tion­ings. ‘‘ Th­ese mys­ter­ies made only to be solved, th­ese hor­rors which he knows to be mere fig­ments of the creative brain, com­fort him by sub­tly per­suad­ing that life is a mys­tery which death will solve, and whose hor­rors will pass away as a tale that is told.’’

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