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March 2017



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criminal minds fate

i don't care how long it takes; you're not to blame

more Criminal Minds meta, this time relating to genderfuck and expressions of feminism within the narrative context of the show

Wikipedia sez: Genderfuck is a gender performance which "fucks with" or plays with traditional gender identities, gender roles, and gender presentation.

It's a particular interest of mine, and something I game with a lot in my own work. [No, you say. Really.] In this specific case, the gender-play and reversals are more subtle than you might see, and in the post-Buffy era of television might even go unnoticed by most. But I think they're fascinating, and worth a look.

There's been some media criticism leveled at the show for its use of a woman-in-distress engine as a tensioner to drive the plot. (Television shows, having limited space in which to build tension, often use a couple of shorthand metaphors for tension to engage the audience. One is Person In Jeopardy. Another is The Ticking Clock. For its A plots, CM uses both, with varying degrees of success.) Despite my well-documented shrill feminist tendencies, I'm not overly concerned by this, for a couple of reasons.

(1) the gender balance on the cast is excellent. Four men, three women. And the women have distinct personalities and lives outside of/away from the men, and friendships among themselves. Go team!

(2) I suspect there is a higher percentage of male victims on the show than in real life.

[we pause here to note that the cat has stolen my keys and is batting them around the living room.]

(3) The women [victims, bystanders, and regular cast] are granted a phenomenal level of autonomy and agency by the narrative context. Victims survive because they fight. Community members intervene in investigations and provide needed help. Sometimes, the local community deals with the problem on their own.

(4) The show consistently casts its main male characters in "feminizing" roles, and the female ones in "masculinizing" ones.

Please note, I am talking here about narrative feminizing and masculinizing, not drag or female characters who are obviously men in skirts.

Also, it tackles Daddy Issues and Mommy Issues with equal aplomb, and--occasionally--venom.

It's an interesting artefact of the episodic A narrative and contiguous B and C narratives that they become capable of addressing issues from any number of angles simultaneously, or in sequence, and illustrating various ways that things can play out. It takes any potential edge of didacticism or judgment and blunts it [the show does have a moral center, which boils down to, oh, for christ's sake, try to act like a decent and compassionate human being, would you, even when it's hard or not very fun? (I kind of blame Mandy Patinkin for this, though having seen a very few episodes of Third Watch*, I think there's a lot of Ed Bernero in that, too)]  and begins illustrating a structure for a kind of compassionate ruthlessness.

In some ways, a very Buddhist philosophy.

(Also, never seen a cop show where they work this hard *not* to shoot people. Go team.)

When I say A plot, I mean the week by week Serial Killer Of The Day plot. The B plot would be the surface character development arc, and the C plot would be the understory--the concealed character development [because they deal in contradictory narratives) and the thematic development.

Okay, anyway. Back to the genderplay.

I talked about Buffy The Vampire Slayer, above. And of course one of the notable things about BtVS is that it centered on a profound gender reversal. The primary three characters were two females and a male (which is a reversal in itself: usually it's two [or more] males and a token girl.) and the girls were the smart one and the tough one, leaving the traditionally feminizing role of Boy Hostage to Xander.

Poor Xander.

Criminal Minds has its feminized male character too. Dr. Spencer Reid is a bit effete (long hair and fingernails, propensity for lavender scarves, carries a manpurse) and intellectual. He's giddy and breathless and socially awkward and carries his coffee cup with his wrist flexed. All his hand gestures are tightly constrained, close into his body. He usually does not go out with the hard boys to bring in the bad guy at the end. He's young and big-eyed and the other characters are protective of him.

And he's Often In Peril.

The interesting thing about Reid, however, is that if he's a character who is narratively coded "female," he is one tough goddamned broad. He usually gets himself back *out* of his own peril, often by talking, sometimes by physical action. He's tied for the second-highest body count* of any of the regular cast (number one is a woman, incidentally). And he may be skinny and floppy-haired, but he's historically quite willing to hurl himself into danger, having demonstrated almost foolish levels of personal courage. (This may be changing, due to Plot Events, but nevermind that now.)

In other words, unlike Xander, Reid can take care of himself. And he has brother-sister and brother-brother and son-father relationships with other members of the team. [Also, interestingly, the narrative's gone out of its way to establish his heterosexuality, despite the purple scarf. He's not a faux-woman, in other words. He's a young man carrying a role in the narrative that would normally be carried by a young woman.]

I mentioned that the character with the highest body count--the most traditionally butch and aggressive character, frankly--is a woman. Interestingly, a woman named Elle. Who is the only team member regularly referred to by her first name. [There are two team members referred to by nicknames--Hotch and J.J.--both of which are based off either a surname or a set of initials including a surname. The other women (Garcia, Prentiss) and the men (Morgan, Reid, Gideon) are on an informal last-name basis, though they occasionally use first names in direct address to one another.]

Elle, in an ironicization of her name, is tough and impulsive and in-your-face, and takes on traditionally masculine narrative roles with ease. She's not male--she's definitely a woman, and on occasion gets rather irritated with her male colleagues' blindness to things that seem very obvious to her (such as why a rape victim might not want a room full of men looming over her)--but she takes a masculine narrative role.

And her eventual fall from grace is an active fall, an aggressive fall, not a failure due to inaction. In her failure of courage, she becomes more aggressive--as a male character might be expected to.

Her replacement in the team is also filling a masculine narrative role: the awkward apprentice. (She's even named Prentiss, dog help me. They like their puns.) She's portrayed as intellectual, distanced, socially awkward, a self-described nerd. We haven't had much chance to see her in a fight, yet, but interestingly, Gideon [who is the team's father-figure, and more on that later] seems willing in some ways to let her build a relationship with him that's not dissimilar to his relationship with Reid, which is to say a mentor/student or father/son relationship.

One of the ongoing thematic threads of the show is that everybody has some sort of trauma, and that that trauma is what makes them akin to the people they hunt. We've got child abuse and torture survivors, no end of Mommy and Daddy Abandonment and Approval and Control Issues (which feeds into the way everyone else on the team related to Gideon), and at least one survivor of extended sexual exploitation and rape.

The rape survivor is a man.

The obvious thing to do, of course, would have been to make that character Elle (who was the team's sexual assault expert, after all.) But then, maybe a little too predictable. *g*

And not what they're after. Because part of the fun here is taking apart stereotypes. That pretty petite woman with the long dark hair is an FBI agent who can kick your ass. The two girly blondes who giggle about cute boys are both hypercompetent women, each with a vicious intellect and well-grounded confidence. The buttoned-down guy in the suit is a loving dad and the glue that binds his team together and keeps them functioning.

[Garcia, the computer tech, was originally intended to be a male character, or so I hear. Instead, they cast a brilliant, buxom blond actress with a deadly wit, lucite earrings, and lacquered lips for the part. She is now officially my favorite character on television.)

Which brings me to another bit of genderplay. Mom and Dad. Because if the team is a family (and they are, complete with sibling spats and looking out for little brother) then Mom and Dad are the two senior supervisory agents in charge of the zoo. And again, they are totally cast against type. Because Hotch [Thomas Gibson] is a three-piece-suit and wingtips, marksman-qualified, stern, unsmiling, ambitious piece of work. And Gideon [Mandy Patinkin] is soft-spoken, manipulative, casually dressed in soft colors, with a cluttered office full of pictures of the children he's helped save.

Gideon is Dad and Hotch is Mom.

Gideon is distant, self-absorbed, biting. He's the one who withholds or dispenses praise, who drives his team to superhuman efforts, who demands everything.

Hotch is the guy whose job it is to offer moral support to everyone (including Gideon), to see that they're assigned the jobs that best suit their skills, and to run damage control. He's the emotional center of the team, and if he effaces himself so that Gideon can seem all the more brilliant, so be it. His ego is not on the line.

[From a feminist perspective, it's also interesting that the character I initially dismissed as the token cute blond, JJ, turns out to be just as tough and competent as any of the rest of the team--which, I must admit, made me reconsider my own sexism and looksism.]

*Body Count (only counting fatal shootings):

Elle: 2.5 (Extreme Aggressor, Charm & Harm (split with Morgan), Aftermath)
Reid: 2 (LDSK, Revelation)
Hotch: 2 (The Tribe, A Real Rain)
Morgan: 1.5 (Charm & Harm (split with Elle); Lessons Learned)
Gideon: 0
J.J.: 0
Garcia: 0
Prentiss: 0
various Swat Snipers or armed bystanders: too high to count casually, but less than you might think


Brain squirrels.


*I badly wanted to become a Third Watch fan, but when it began airing I was living with somebody who hated cop shows, and it wasn't worth the arguments to get to watch it. I about adored the three or five episodes I saw, though.


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holly crap.

wow. you just made me imagine reid and hotch in skirts.

i love the way they ballance the masculinity and feminity in the show. none of the girls bitch at each other over boyfriends and stuff like that. they keep their woman-ness but arent overdoing it. and the guys arent overbearingly masculine, which i have to admit is pretty rare for a crime drama, although i dont think ive seen that many.

Re: holly crap.

*goes there*


Reid in hippie skirts. Hotch in a tailored 1945 number.

*dies and is dead*


I love that the women are *friends.* I mean, like, you know, real women.

It's amazing.
I'm going to have to think quite a bit about this as I watch, because I always saw my parents as quintessentially gender-roled, but if I had to pick, I see my father in Hotch and my mother in Gideon.
Interesting. To me, Hotch reads as more "masculine," by far. But his *role* is a caretaking and organizing one, and Gideon's is more authoritarian.

Hotch praises people more. And they don't freak out with relief and joy the way they do when Gideon praises them.
I just realized the thing about "North Mammon" that contradicts the (potential) seeming sexism of the scenario.

It's Lord of the Flies. With girls.

Girls with *agency.*

Ultimate disposition of unsubs (through "No Way Out")

Since Bear asked me to. *g*

Unsubs killed by BAU agents: 7
--Elle 2.51
--Hotch 2 (and 2 non-lethal)
--Morgan 1.51
--Reid 1
Unsubs killed by other law enforcement: 1
Unsubs arrested: 35 (plus the Footpath Killer)2
Unsubs already in custody: 2
Unsubs committing suicide: 3
Unsubs escaping: 1

1Elle and Morgan split the kill in "Charm and Harm."
2this is a rough estimate, because I'm not sure how many unsubs there are at the end of "Lessons Learned."

And here's the raw data:

1.1 Extreme Aggressor
One unsub taken into custody, the other shot and killed by Elle.

1.2 Compulsion
Hotch shoots the unsub without killing her.

1.3 Won't Get Fooled Again
The unsub blows himself up, nearly taking Hotch and Elle with him.

1.4 Plain Sight
The unsub is taken into custody.

1.5 Broken Mirror
The unsub is taken into custody.

1.6 L.D.S.K.
Reid shoots and kills the unsub.

1.7 The Fox
The unsub is taken into custody.

1.8 Natural Born Killer
The unsub is taken into custody.

1.9 Derailed
The unsub is shot, not killed (?), by a civilian.

1.10 The Popular Kids
The unsub is taken into custody.

1.11 Blood Hungry
The unsub is taken into custody.

1.12 What Fresh Hell?
The unsub is taken into custody.

1.13 Poison
The unsub poisons himself.

1.14 Riding the Lightning
The unsub is already in custody.

1.15 Unfinished Business
The unsub is taken into custody.

1.16 The Tribe
One unsub taken into custody (four sub-unsubs taken into custody, one shot and killed by Hotch, one knifed and killed by John Blackwolf).

1.17 A Real Rain
Hotch shoots and kills the unsub.

1.18 Somebody's Watching
The unsub is taken into custody.

1.19 Machismo
The unsub is castrated by his victims.

1.20 Charm and Harm
Morgan and Elle shoot and kill the unsub.

1.21 Secrets and Lies
The unsub is taken into custody.

1.22-2.1 The Fisher King
ORIGINAL AIRDATE 05/10/06, 09/20/06
The unsub blows himself up, nearly taking Reid with him.

2.2 P911
The unsub is taken into custody.

2.3 The Perfect Storm
The unsubs are taken into custody.

2.4 Psychodrama
Hotch shoots the unsub without killing him.

2.5 Aftermath
Elle shoots and kills the unsub.

2.6 The Boogeyman
The unsub is taken into custody.

2.7 North Mammon
The unsub is taken into custody.

2.8 Empty Planet
The unsub is taken into custody.

2.9 The Last Word
The unsubs are taken into custody.

2.10 Lessons Learned
The unsub is already in custody. Morgan shoots and kills one sub-unsub; the rest are taken into custody.

2.11 Sex, Birth, Death
The unsub is taken into custody.

2.12 Profiler, Profiled
The unsub is taken into custody.

2.13 No Way Out
The unsub walks away.
Names, oh hell, names.

Jason sows dragon's teeth and calls up myrmidons.

Aaron builds idols.

Gideon destroys them.
And more.

Jennifer = Gwenevere, Greenaway is the Green Knight, Morgan was le Fey, Penelope waited for her warriors to return, Spenser wrote the Faerie Queene...

Aaron is Moses' older brother. Jason was an adventurer.


It never stops.
I agree with absolutely everything you said. Gideon and Reid are SO Mom and Dad it's funny. In "Fisher King," when Elle gets shot, in "The Boogeyman," when they have their little conference on what to do about her... I somehow imagined Gideon more like Mom, though, in some ways, although you've made me rethink that a bit. He's the one everyone looks to when they're afraid everything isn't ok; he's their source of reassurance. If he's happy, they're happy, if he's depressed, they're sad and worried. Just like a Mom-kids relationship. He is more like the Dad, though, in that he withholds like a son-of-a-bitch. He is the King of Withholding. And he doesn't like to share his own emotions or traumas with anyone except Hotch (another reason why I was so crazy about that scene at the end of "Jones"; Gideon opening up to someone else, specifically, someone towards whom he feels particularly affectionate and protective).

Hotch as Mom...yeah, in certain ways he is more involved in the sagas of the team members' lives, sort of like a Mom asking "how was your day?" And they go to him with their problems. And the scene in "Fisher King" when Hotch shows up in the Jamaican prison to rescue Elle and gives her his jacket has a distinctly "Mommy's gonna make it all better" feel to it.

Gideon is more judgmental and more likely to fly off the handle. I especially love the scene at the end of "Blood Hungry" when Garcia complains to Hotch about Gideon and expects Hotch to straighten him out :D

So yes, emotionally and figuratively, Gideon is the Dad. But it's funny because he seems much more accessible than Hotch, whose whole body language screams "don't fuck with me." But Hotch is really the one who fusses. Hee.
Yes. Gideon, in fact, withholds so much that the other team members conspire against him. (Reid telling Morgan that Gideon said nice things about him; Hotch sending Garcia flowers "from Gideon.")

Also, you notice that Gideon shores Hotch up no matter what. (And vice versa.) They drop the ball on the kids sometimes, but they are always right there for each other.

(Gideon following Hotch out of the room in Revelation; Hotch coming to fetch Gideon from the bathroom; Gideon is the only one who gets to see Gideon when Gideon is doing his freakout litany of "you did the right thing."; the end of Distress; the end of Psychodrama; etc etc etc.)
I'm wondering just what having men in female narrative roles and women in male narrative roles does to the fanfic. I'm finding it really hard to imagine slashing these characters. Which could just be a failure on my part. Does anyone know of a repository of CM fanfic? Or shall I start trawling the web?


There is slash, and lots of it. I also find it profoundly unlikely, however. *g*

But, yanno. I'm not everybody.

Reid is apparently the fandom's Little Black Dress. (He looks good on everybody.)
[Garcia, the computer tech, was originally intended to be a male character, or so I hear.

Yes, on the commentary on the DVD for Extreme Agressor they talk about that and she was. Also, Hotch was originally written as being a blond haired, blue eyed Mormon. *blinks* They changed it for Thomas Gibson.

And I have to say, I love reading your CM meta, it's always so interesting!
All I can say is, yay, Thomas Gibson.

*g* I'm glad I entertain at least part of my audience!

I love having an ongoing show that can keep the brain squirrels happy, and people to talk to about it.

They are fucking annoying little beasts.
*Grins slyly* You know, they must be about to release the first season of Third Watch, because it's possible to reserve it on Netflix, now, if you'd like to try watching some, sometime.

These characters like to try to camouflage themselves, don't they? Hotch is the den mother, yet he wears the suits and those shiny wingtips (probably a holdover from his lawyer days, but possibly a deliberate decision on his part, given the message of power and control that the suit sends). Gideon is the deliberately molding mentor and father-figure and I bet you anything that he chooses to affect the softer clothing and the occasional near-Reid sweater precisely for the disarming effect that kind of outfit has on people. And we know that Reid can really crank up the nervous, stammering, unsocialized, too intelligent for his own good geek routine when he feels it's necessary for the job. I bet he's made a conscious decision to wear those clothes, too, for the extra armor they offer, so people will see him as less of a potential threat. How cool is it that on a show that so skillfully pulls off so many instances of genderfuck that at least some of the characters apparently find it useful to screw around with people's expectations and assumptions, regarding appearances and behavior?
Very cool. And yes.

Elle also used being small and pretty to make people underestimate her. As does JJ.
Huh. I've noticed the Mom/Dad dynamics, specifically after Hotch washed the wall in FK2 - just because he actually thought of doing it.

I find it a bit amusing, though, that the man with the iron mask - the one who rarely ever gives away the slightest hint about how he feels to any of his team members - is the Mom.

If he's the Mom, though, his attitude towards Emily Prentiss might be the one of an insecure mother towards a new foster-child, one that they've been told can be aggressive and/or difficult. He just doesn't trust her.

Also, how does Hotch cope with being the Mom at work and the Dad at home? Can he deal with having two families? He is, after all, the only one that has this situation. Gideon has a son, but before Blood Hungry, he obviously hadn't talked to him for quite a while. (Again, in this situation, Hotch convinces him to call, knowing that it would be good for both Gideon and his son.) Is the family Hotch has at work too demanding for him to keep up with the other one?

Also, I believe that Gideon was the leader until Boston, and Hotch was promoted after that. Now, they have the same rank, but formally, Hotch is probably the boss. Although when Prentiss shows up, Hotch asks Gideon whether he as approved any transfers, so maybe they really are joint team heads. I don't really know.

Finally: THANK YOU for pointing out that Hotch's ego is not on the line. It's so true!
Yes, the most alpha male of the lot is the team's emotional caretaker. That's brilliant.

And they make it believable.

I think Hotch is doing better at balancing his family after "Lessons Learned." Quiet little resolution there--but one of the lessons was the one *he* learned.

Hotch and Gideon as mom and dad

I love the relationship that these two have with each other - they know what each other is thinking without having to talk about it and Hotch shores Gideon up in such subtle ways.

I agree about Gideon being dad and his praise/censure being what the others are waiting for. His distance has annoyed me in the past - it seems to suit his position now, but I wanted more warmth from him.

And Hotch is so much the mother of the team and nurtures and notices them like a mother would. Hotch doesn't miss anything, and keeps the family together, putting himself last to allow his family to thrive. And you are right about the gender aspect here - he has this most female of roles whilst having the appearance of the alpha male.

(Jason Donovan was an eighties pop star, big hit in Australia and the UK. CM would have been laughed out of town over here for having a main character called that)

I admit I felt the same about JJ which is probably why I resented Prentiss at the start - I was concerned that JJ would disappear back into the background with a new female character coming in and she had just started to get interesting.

Interesting that the show has gone to such lengths to establish Reid as a heterosexual character - in contrast to his appearance and imperiledness (new word?)

Re: Hotch and Gideon as mom and dad

Well, they're very interesting in presenting an apparent character stereotype and then undermining the heck out of it, aren't they? I mean, in your standard show, the Hotch and Gideon relationship would be kind of cheaply antagonistic, and we would be meant to take Gideon's side.

Gideon would be the brilliant maverick, rule-breaker, guy in opposition to authority; and Hotch would be his *foil.* The stick in the mud.

Here, they're a team. Complements. And it's *Gideon* who we always wind up kind of wincing over, and when somebody gets *hurt*, it's either because of Gideon's brashness/arrogance or because Hotch gets slapdash.

Contrast, of, NCIS, which establishes the same dynamic between Marc Harmon and his boss, except Harmon *is* the brilliant maverick andt he narrative is always on his side; and his boss's carefullness is presented in a very formula way, as restrictive and maybe cowardly.

I really enjoyed reading your meta and now I'm really, really unhappy I cannot reply appropriate because I don't know how to put it into words (I know the German ones, but not the English... :-D).
So glad I finally found some people who also "analyze" CM and not just "watch" it...
CU sindee
Well, your English is bound to be better than my German, so please feel free to comment. (It can be practice!)

We'll sort it out with pidgin and pointing if we have to.

That was simply brilliant; terrific analysis of the show's gender roles. Most points have been commented upon already, so I'm just going to mention one: JJ.

Like you, I initially took JJ as the token blondie who's there to look pretty. And although she didn't turn out to be exactly that, her character was rather pointless the most part of Season 1.

But then the writers did something I never thought they would: they actually made her into a "real" character by showing us that she's just as flawed and human as everybody else, and just as tough and determined as the others.

The writing of this show is downright excellent, and I think JJ's character is a perfect example of this. While they could've simply ignored her and given her a few random scenes per episode, they didn't. Instead they played this gender game with her as well and succeeded in turning her into an interesting and three-dimensional character.
Yeah. She started *really* firing for me in "Riding the Lightning," and she has some good bits earlier, but it's... the scene where she carefully fixes her long, blond hair before going to talk to the serial killer who murdered girls with long, blond hair that really nailed her for me as so much tougher than she lets on.

And then the scene in "The Popular Kids" where she completely bamboozles Reid and Morgan with a freaking camp counselor ghost story, has them leaning forward in their chairs--the second time I watched that, I suddenly clicked, and went, OH! She just fooled two FBI profilers.

For a joke.

And she had them *going,* too.

And then we keep seeing that, over and over again. Her smarts, and her edge, and her ability to wrap just about anybody around her thumb.

The characterizations are just so insanely good.
Having now mainlined through ep 2.4, I agree with most of what you said. Hmmm, am now waiting for what happens with Elle.
You will know soon. *g*

(Currently, the rest of us are waiting for What Happens To Reid.)

What do you disagree with?
Something else that jumped out at me watching Reid with his brandy glass in "Jones" (heh) was that it wasn't just another chance to show how Reid handles the juice like a pro. Because that brandy? That's Truman Capote's dressing-gown.

As in: it's one of the things Reid hangs on to that gives him class. It's the thing that says, "Everything else about me might scream 'awkward dork,' but with this, I can be elegant." The particular choice of drink in that scene was deliberate - it's not just slugging back the gin out of a tumbler to keep the wiggins at bay. It's a talisman, and it significantly raises the stakes in that exchange because it's not just the self-medication he's being asked to sacrifice. It's an issue of identity.

(Which, once again with the genderfuck, because that sort of affectation is usually so strongly associated with gay men. And I gotta love any ongoing narrative that keeps pulling the trick of "This guy? Not who you think he is. Nope, not that either.")
You are very clever.

And yes. Yanno, I get the feeling that Ethan and Reid have been drinking together for a *long* time.

Probably since before Reid was legal. *g* It's Ethan's assumption that Reid knows he has a drinking problem, and his first suggestion is "Let's get a drink," after all...
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