Fri
Nov 14 2008 6:52am

Just because you’ve forgotten, that don’t mean you’re forgiven.

Being a review of Criminal Minds 4x07, “Memoriam,” written by Dan Dworkin and Jay Beattie, directed by Guy Norman Bee

If last week’s episode was about mothers and sons, this week’s was about fathers and sons. And specifically, about the things fathers will or cannot do to protect their sons, or avenge them—and the costs to those sons.

Still pursuing the threat of potential recovered memories from last week’s nightmare-riddled episode, Reid remains in Vegas to investigate the 24-year-old rape and murder of a six-year old boy, while the rest of the team returns to DC. Or at least, half the team does: the other half breaks into Reid’s hotel room and waits for him there, because they’re not about to let him tackle this alone. It was a nice auctorial choice to have the team members who remained behind be Morgan, the resident adult survivor of child sexual abuse, and Rossi, the character who has replaced Reid’s surrogate father, Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) (who, like Reid’s real father, got in a little over his head one day and vanished without a trace).

(I am amused that Gideon has a ghost presence in the episode: he’s quoted extensively in one of the articles about Reid that William has clipped. Also mentioned is the S1 case involving a schizophrenic train passenger who kills a security guard in mid-psychotic episode, which provides another incredibly tiny thematic link.)

Morgan and Rossi are somewhat concerned about Reid investigating the crimes of a violent pedophile who may possibly be his father, for understandable reasons, and the viewer would be justified in similar concern, as—sweeps week aside—the situation does seem imbued with serious shark-jumping potential.This writing team being what it is, however, I am pleased to report that they pulled it off, with only a little bobble on the dismount.

A great deal of the episode’s emotional freight is devoted to exploring Reid’s investment in the idea that his absentee father, William Reid (Taylor Nichols, seeming perfectly at home playing a man who is at once smarmy and pathetic and somehow still sympathetic), who abandoned his son and wife when Reid was approximately ten, may be a rapist and murderer. This abandonment left the kid more or less responsible for the household, because Diana Reid is a schizophrenic of somewhat erratic stability.

At first, Reid's team-mates attempt to dissuade Reid from the investigation, out of concern for what it may mean for him personally. Eventually, their concern shifts to whether or not Reid is pursuing a personal vendetta against his old man.

Reid, throughout, remains steadfast: he’s going to find the truth, and he’s willing to endure whatever he has to to uncover it. It’s exactly the unwavering personal courage that’s endeared the character to me over the previous three seasons, and if he has to undergo hypnosis and relive things he may have reasonably repressed, he’ll bloody well do it. It’s obvious he gets that strength of character from his mom, because she is willing to undergo the same residual trauma to find out what her son needs to know, even though the process frightens her. Her dignity as she explains why she’s delaying her meds—her claim of agency, even as a mentally ill person—was profoundly poignant for me.

In a bit of an aside, I have to say that as much as I love the character of Diana Reid, she is more than a little creepy when she’s in My Genius Son Showbusiness Mother mode. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious how Reid wound up a triple Ph.D. by age 21.

Also, it struck me that when they are talking about his childhood, and his father’s behavior, Reid’s pained question to her—“You didn’t want kids?"—is not the question she answers. She replies as if he asked “You didn’t want more kids?” and she replies by indirection. And based on his grimace, Reid didn’t miss that, either. Ouch.

There’s also some wonderful moments with the BAU “family” that point up the differences in how a functional family works, as new character Jordan Todd (Meta Golding) comes in to temporarily replace JJ while JJ is on maternity leave, and the team who have returned to DC respond to JJ’s early labor like a well-oiled and joyful machine. Garcia, in particular, was a thing of beauty with her declaration that “Young JJ is in labor!” And Hotch, the only other member of the team with a kid of his own, responds like the trained professional he is, calmly declaring that he will get the car.

I was a little terrified of the hypnosis scene—so much potential for bad Hollywood there—but they got it just right. Another public service announcement from the BAU: this is how ethical and competent hypnotherapy is performed; these are its limitations; these are the potential costs; this is how it can be used to suggest or manipulate memories. And Rossi was wonderful in that scene: protective of his colleague without being creepily paternal, which would have been exactly the wrong note given the subtext.

On some level, I’m sure Reid was hoping that his father would prove a monster, because it would help justify his own rage (Reid has, historically, quite a vile temper when he uncorks it, which is another nice undermine of the ineffectual socially-inept genius stereotype). And yet, in keeping with the traditions of CM—and this is one of the touches that makes the episode workable, rather than painful melodrama—William isn’t a monster: just a lousy dad and kind of a self-absorbed twit. But one who genuinely tried. Just, you know, maybe not as hard as he should have.

But whatever the answer, Reid will keep pushing until he finds out what really happened. Sometimes, this pushing has unintended consequences. The scene in which Diana attempts self-injury as an escape from the memories he’s pressing for her to relive is some profoundly excellent physical work on the part of both actors. I’m really quite awed by the quality of performance in this show, and the fact that it consistently goes unremarked by industry awards is a miscarriage.

Also interesting is the fact that Reid keeps pushing for that truth, even when the evidence starts vindicating the man he hoped it would condemn. It’s been a thematic underpinning of the show since day one that we save everyone we can—even the monsters, when possible, and we don’t condone vigilante justice. So when it becomes clear that somebody killed the actual child molestor, and that William Reid knew something about it, it’s not just that Reid wants to pin something on his dad. It’s also that over the past three seasons, we’ve seen the team repeatedly backing down would-be vigilantes and lynch mobs, and we’ve seen vigilante justice go terribly, terribly wrong.

So William and Diana were accessories after the fact to their neighbor’s murder of a suspected child molestor. And it’s made plain in the episode that the case against the accused child molestor was circumstantial at best, based on evidence leaked to the victim’s father by a friendly cop and the creepy feelings of a mentally ill woman. This is not, in other words, enough of a case to hang a man on. And everybody involved has been living with that, and the repercussions of their silence, for twenty-four years.

At first, I thought the ending was a little too pat, that what occurred was not significant justification for William’s actions and that Reid’s forgiveness of him was a little too easily given—because the fact that William is not a killer does not erase abandonment. And then I thought about it more, and I realized that Reid struck a bargain with his father—he said, “Make it up to me,” and William did.

And that, furthermore, what broke the marriage was not just the knowledge, necessarily, that Diana had witnessed a murder that went unreported, but also Diana’s increasing lack of stability in the wake of the trauma of what she experienced. William was weak, yes. And it was an incredible moral failure to leave his mentally ill wife in the care of his ten-year-old son. But the resolution doesn’t attempt to excuse that: it just relegates it to history. “What’s done is done,” Diana says, and she’s the one who gets to pronounce sentence on her husband.

So Reid accepts it. Everything is not all better. Everything is still broken.

But what’s done is done. We take life on the chin, and we move on.

Which is to say, Reid returns to his family of choice, to find that in his absence there’s been a new addition—JJ’s son Henry—and that JJ has made the sense of family considerably more formal than it was before, by naming Garcia and Reid as Henry’s godparents.

Criminal Minds airs Wednesday nights on CBS at 9 pm. The lyrics quoted as the title of ths post are from the Sara Lov cover of The Arcade Fire’s song, My Body is a Cage.

7 comments
Jo Leigh
1. Jo Leigh
Thanks for your wonderful interpretation of 407. The writers on this show do one thing better than almost any other show writers - write as if they expect their audience to be intelligent and thoughtful. We are rewarded for our attention and given the opportunity to build character from the subtext. Damaged characters who struggle to do right but are humans first. They show over and over that each of us continually reform our character based on shadows and dreams of a past that is manufactured for self defense, not some objective truth. That we are all unsubs until tested with the hard choice.
Jo Leigh
2. ClaireC
One quibble: I'm pretty sure Reid *did* say, "You didn't want more kids," but he swallowed the "more". (The captions include the more, too.)

His reaction, though, can be explained both by the idea that his mom made a sacrifice to have him (by suspending her meds), *and* by his imagining what it might have been like to have had brothers and sisters, and a dad, and maybe not being the sole focus of his mom's obsession....
Jo Leigh
3. burger_eater
I enjoy reading these posts more than watching the show.
Elizabeth Bear
4. matociquala
ClaireC--If he said it, he swallowed it enough that I didn't hear it either time I watched the ep.

Captions are not always the world's most accurate source--I used to work for a media monitoring service, so I have some firsthand experience of how much they can suck--but it's definitely possible that I missed the correct line, and which does change the conversation considerably.
Cora Buhlert
5. CoraBuhlert
I just wanted to thank you for your great write-ups of Criminal Minds, both here and on your livejournal. In fact, your recaps were the reason why I decided to give the show another chance, after being underwhelmed with the first two episodes I watched. And I'm glad I stuck with it.
Jo Leigh
7. Cf33
Hm. Seeing Reid's own reaction to having kids (he doesn't seem to really consider it when JJ asks him in... 4x05? I think?) and extending on the fact that he knows these kind of disorders are hereditary, I guess it's hard for me not to empathetic with Diana's choice of not having any kids (at all, if that is what you were trying to say above and) beyond Reid.
I can see how it would pain Reid to hear that she didn't want a baby (him), but, well. I guess he doesn't really hold it against her anyway, or he would have given us more to work with, maybe?

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