There are very few “procedural” shows I watch and enjoy – really only NCIS, and even lately I’ve been finding it more mundane than usual. It’s often hard for me to get into shows like NCIS: LA, Law & Order SVU, CSI: [Insert City Here], because they all feel like the same show with the same characters, just different faces.
(Maybe that’s why they do so well in the ratings. People think they’re watching the same show. I digress…)
I’ve seen a handful of episodes of Criminal Minds in it’s five year run, and always found it to be typical (read: boring) procedural fare. Not to say it’s not well written; it is, but so are all the similarly themed shows. They just tend to be less character-driven, focusing more on the crime at hand, often with a gimmicky approach.
I had no intention of really ever watching another episode of Criminal Minds until I learned that one of my favorite television actresses, Rachel Nichols (The Inside, Alias) would be guest starring in a multiple episode arc, beginning with this past week’s “What Happens At Home.”
Part of me was a little nervous about watching it, afraid that the writers would fail to give Nichols weighty enough material to carry, turning her into just another TV equivalent of a manila file folder. My concerns were abated within the first five minutes as we learned FBI cadet Ashley Seaver was herself actually the daughter of an infamous serial killer whose help was being enlisted because of her unique perspective.
I was thrilled to see Nichols given such a luscious role because, with few exceptions (NCIS‘ Ziva David and SVU’s Olivia Benson), the majority of crime-drama characters are just so cookie cutter, with lifeless back stories.
Nichols took my breath away. Her performance was effectively subtle and perfectly conveyed the layers of pain, guilt, and rage that exist within Seaver’s damaged but resilient psyche. I appreciated that she didn’t wrangle the killer herself, which based on her training performance earlier she clearly could have, but instead faced him down on an emotional level, attempting to appeal to his fatherly side. It made the impact of the scene so much more powerful and proved Seaver’s strength lies far beyond her physical prowess.
I also appreciated that Seaver still holds on to her father’s letters and expressed to Rossi the difficulty she has in accepting her inability to hate her father. If she truly abhorred her father, which would be completely understandable at this point, this would signify a deep-seated emotional shutdown – something I do not want to see happen with this character. As emotional beings, we often have trouble reconciling our feelings no matter how absurd or ridiculous they may seem. Maybe I’m just talking out another orifice, but this detail, for me, only intensifies her humanity and makes her all the more interesting a character.
The sight of Seaver’s blood-spattered face as she walked slowly to the car, stopping only briefly to gaze upon the killer’s daughter, apparently reliving her own trauma, was heartbreaking. I admit, I had a tough time not shedding a tear right along with her. Bravo to Ms. Nichols for translating these emotions without even a hint of overacting. Her gift for nuance adds lustre to a character that is quite different from the typically wooden procedural archetype.
As long as Nichols continues to be a featured character, I’ll be keeping Criminal Minds on my weekly watch list.