‘The literalness is nowhere near as horrifying as the empty space where the body was, where the ground is stained with blood. That allows me to [imagine] every tortured victim throughout history in this empty arena. This piece is a metaphor for hate, insensitivity, torture. When this show operates at its highest plane, it’s as a window into man’s inhumanity to man. And the question is — why?” –Mandy Patinkin (actor portraying Jason Gideon)

The era of the police procedural continues to grind forward. A network already dominated by 3 brands of C.S.I. (not to mention other procedurals such as Without A Trace and Cold Case) which invariably clashes with NBC’s 3 brands of Law & Order (or Conviction or you get the picture). Cashing in on the popularity of movies like Seven, Saw, and Hannibal Lector (Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal), Criminal Minds carves out its own niche among the procedurals genre by focusing on serial killers. Airing opposite cultural phenomenon Lost, the show has managed to become a breakout hit in its own right.

Criminal Minds centers on a crack team of profilers: burn out-cum-mentor, Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin); his ever-brooding number one, Special Agent Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson from Dharma & Greg); the resident genius and socially clueless Dr. Spencer Reid (Marrhew Gray Gubler, The Life Aquatic); requisite hot chick Elle Greenaway (Lola Glaudini, The Handler); requisite hot guy, Agent Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore of The Young and the Restless); and computer oracle Garcia (Kirsten Vangsnees). Executive-produced by Ed Bernero (Third Watch), the show doesn’t stray far from the mold in terms of quick cuts and gruesome close ups. However, C.S.I.Criminal Minds focuses on the “why?” instead of the “how?” of a criminal. The psychological motivations of the unsubs aberrant behavior. By the end of each episode, you understand exactly how the evil was nurtured and formed before it was unleashed.

Our culture has a fascination with serial killers. Even pre-romanticization with the character Hannibal Lector, the serial killer has been long mythologized. Caught up by the charming face evil often wears or a simple fascination with the brutality we are capable of inflicting upon one another. Call it sin or our nature, it’s like we realize that there is something fundamentally broken about us. Sometimes this brokenness evidences itself in ways both sick and criminal. Evil has many guises, yet there are those who have to figure out the pattern of brokenness.

Horror deals with the total depravity of man. Sometimes this comes out as wrestling with the theme of man having a darker nature to resist, restrain, or kill (with such archetype monster tropes such as the werewolf or Mr. Hyde). In fact, the modern day serial killer has become the natural incarnation of man’s capacity for evil.

“In my experience, evil is not a cultural phenomena. It’s a human one.” –Jason Gideon

A trope that depicts the dark side to our nature, serial killers specifically remind us that evil death is all around us in the form of each other, lurking in the ordinary. The horror at the core of the show is about fear, an attempt to get a cathartic release from dealing with what scares us – be it the unknown or ultimately, our fear of death. Criminal Minds is about real, undeniable evil. The commonplace evil that we do to one another. It delves into the terror that only a thin line separates a normal housewife from being a serial killer, the fact that any of us could be pushed over that edge. That we are all capable of evil. Once we are confronted with this evil, someone has to face it, track it down, and stop it.

We, the viewing audience, can’t seem to get enough of how good pursues evil. We want to know why. The “why”s of life haunt our lives: Why do bad things happen? Why this person? Why this victim? Why do unsubs (investigator jargon for “Unknown Subject Of An Investigation”) do the things that they do? Each episode is part morality tale, whether dealing with serial killers on death row, a chemist who poisons employees, a serial arsonist, or a cannibalistic killer who drinks blood to get closer to God. An evil comes to light, a pattern is detected, the circumstances that shaped the evil are studied, and the evil is confronted.

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others we become disguised to ourselves.” –Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Criminal Minds is a show about those trained to stare into the abyss of evil for a living. Mandy Patinkin’s temperamental gravitas carries the show, though we aren’t sure whether or not his Method acting style will lead to a breakdown or him suddenly leaving the show (Chicago Hope anyone?). It’s taut, suspense thriller plots keep viewers coming back for more.

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