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March 2017

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criminal minds reid weep

you hold him fast and you fear him not

So, because beatriceeagle is an enabler, I now have to write another Criminal Minds meta post--this one about nightmares and photographs and defeat, as snatched from the very jaws of victory....

Spoilers behind the cut, all the way through end of second season.



So, through the magic of the internets, Bea and I watched some first season episodes together the other night, and had something of a gab fest in the process.

One of those episodes was "The Popular Kids," which--if you haven't seen it--is one of the episodes that establishes one of the lovely WTF things about CM.

You see, they lose. The Knights of the Table Round spend all episode trying to find a missing girl.

They find her.

She's dead. And has been all along.

They never had a chance.

And one of the things I noticed upon this viewing was that--the major thematic/character development point of this episode is about nightmares. Reid has started suffering insomnia, and goes to Morgan for advice, afraid that if he tells the senior agents they will think he can't do his job. Morgan tells him to talk to the bosses. When Reid refuses, Morgan does it himself. (Shades of the current PTSD/drug addiction/I'll never miss another plane plotline? Heh. Yes. We plot on spirals here.)

Anyway, eventually, Gideon tells Reid that they *all* have nightmares, and when Reid confronts Morgan on a matter of betrayed trust, Morgan is backed into a corner enough to tell Reid about his own. A girl he couldn't save, one he feels responsible for. And her "...dead eyes. Accusing eyes."

Morgan also tells Reid that Gideon intervened for him. Morgan never told him: Gideon just knew. (Do I think that will be turning up again in third season? Well, I would not take really good odds that it won't. Let's put it that way.)

Which of course is what we see when Morgan enters the barn and finds the girl they could not save this time, either. It's Morgan's nightmare made manifest, and we're meant to understand that. What's subtler is that it's also Reid's nightmare made flesh--the one of racing a monster to an innocent, and never knowing if you are going to make it in time. And in this case, there was never any chance. The monster had had his way with the victim before the team ever arrived.

This gets even more interesting when it's tied in to the advice that Gideon eventually gives Reid for coping with the fear and helplessness. Concentrate on the ones you can help. (Another goddamned starfish. Story of my life.) And he gives Reid a photo he carries in his wallet, of somebody whose life he saved. And Reid takes the photo, and apparently fades off to sleep.*

Of course, that's the interesting thing. They didn't save this one. Try as they might, they cannot save them all. Sometimes all they can do is bear witness. Sometimes they are complicit in the deaths, through failure or error or just because it is, in fact, beyond human strength. You cannot get to all the starfish in the parable. There are too many of them.

And this season, we learn some other things. One is that Hotch and JJ, between them, decide which starfish the team will even attempt to save. They spare the others that responsibility, the knowledge that there are always more. They shoulder that burden.

And another is that sometimes, saving them is not enough. Sometimes the victims are destroyed by their experiences. Sometimes the members of the team are destroyed by their experiences. Sometimes the victims--or the team members--become the monsters. Sometimes they're just ruined. "She'll never be the same!"

And sometimes you snatch somebody from the very hand of death, and that somebody takes the chance at life and builds a pretty good one--and another monster comes along and takes it all away. And you are right back where you were, moving their name to the other column, wondering what you could have done better, wondering if it matters at all.

So there goes that coping device.

And the fact that it doesn't really work is set up in the very narrative of the episode that introduces it.

This all leads into another very interesting thematic spiral: the choosing of life and death. It's stated explicitly at least once, in "Revelations." "Choose who dies." And Reid bargains. He'll choose who lives.

Which the monster thinks is an irrelevant distinction, but it isn't. Reid is still being made complicit, but he's being made complicit in something different than the monster wants to make him complicit in.

Because that's what they're always doing. It's what they do every day. Chosing who lives. And they choice is always "As many as we can possibly save." Every starfish we have strength to throw back into the ocean, every pair of lungs we can blow air into. Gideon does it before we ever see him: we're treated to the story, early on, of him fighting for the life of a man who has already bled out all over his hands, continuing CPR until he has to be dragged from the body. Morgan chooses to allow two men to live who might richly seem to deserve to die--Carl Buford, and the killer in "Fear & Loathing." Reid chooses to save Nathan's life, even knowing that he might be making a choice with a terrible cost. Gideon chooses not to kill the Footpath Killer, though he dearly wants to--even snarls at him to give him a reason.

Even when he cannot save Johnny, Gideon stays and comforts him, as Reid stays and comforts Tobias, whom he has been forced to kill. (That killing is another example of a choice of who lives: in that case, it's Reid. Reid chooses to live, and to accomplish that, Tobias and Raphael and Charles must die. [meta on why Raphael must replace Reid here.] Notice the first thing Reid says the second time he's offered the choice of who dies is "Me." And Raphael won't accept that choice. Because Raphael has to cause Reid to fall so that Raphael can take his place. And choosing self-sacrifice is not a fall.)

And that's another answer to Prentiss's question--What's the difference between us and the monsters?-- and the reason for Elle's fall as well. Elle chooses who dies.

That's the monster's choice.

Not the hero's.

Which brings us to "North Mammon," of course. In which the victims are forced to choose who dies, and it comes down, again, to a choice of who lives. The girl who kills, in the end, does so in self-defense. She chooses to live. And so we can forgive her, on some level.

Even if she can never forgive herself. (As we can forgive Reid for institutionalizing his mother, because he did it to save his own life; as we can forgive Morgan for burying Carl Buford deep and never saying a word, because he did it to save his own soul. And yes, others paid the price. Because, as Stephen Sondheim reminds us, no-one is alone. Everyone's actions affect someone else. And sometimes you will never know who paid for what you did. Or, in Morgan's case, failed to do.)

Which brings us to the Fisher King question, the big thematic statement of the second season. "The only important question is: can you forgive yourself?" Can JJ forgive herself for all the people she has to choose not even to try to save? Can Reid forgive himself for--despite appearances and all his gifts--not, in fact, being superhuman, but in the end just a man? Can Morgan forgive himself the boys that Buford raped, exploited, or murdered? Can Gideon forgive himself... well, everything? For getting Elle shot, for getting Rebecca Bryant killed? Are the times he gets it right, and his boundary-breaking saves a life ("What Fresh Hell," "The Fox," "Broken Mirror") enough to pay for the times when he pushes too hard and somebody pays?

What about the times when nobody could have gotten it right? "We did everything we could."

That need for absolution runs through the whole thing. It's a wound of the mind. A wound only you can find, and only you can heal.



*But notice who the guy with his eye on the ticking clock is in "What Fresh Hell," two episodes later. Reid has not forgotten his nightmare, or the dead eyes of the girl in the barn. He knows he's racing a monster. "Believe it or not, we're already late in the game."

Comments

What about the times when nobody could have gotten it right? "We did everything we could."

This seems, to me, to be one of the Big Engines driving the series- that they keep on doing everything they can knowing that everything they can cannot ever be enough to completely stem the tide. It's not 'who breaks in the face of this truth?' but 'when do they break and how are they broken?'.

Fall down seven times, get up eight. If the only choice is whether to die on your knees or standing on your own two feet, does that choice still matter? The team's answer seems to be Yes. Especially then, it still matters. They go down swinging for the fences.

It's starfish all the way down, isn't it?

Yes.

And it's also... the end is not the end. You are not down until you are dead. And you're not dead until you stop kicking. That goes for the victims as well as the team.

Gideon broke before we ever saw him. Reid broke under torture, in front of our eyes. Just like everybody does.

Everybody begs in the end. We know. We've had it proved to us, on the skin of somebody we care about.

But: You're still here. He's not.

Or: It matters to that one.

They have the guts to keep pushing their moral compass up against the real world, in all its inadequacies, and say, "Fine, it doesn't work. Show me something better. *Please.* Show me something better."

I have no idea how this damned thing stays on TV.
Well, hell. It's possible you are brilliant. Nearly as much as the CM writers. Man those guys are amazing! Thanks for this.

I spent the afternoon making jewelry. An wonderful green and silver and crystal necklace with earrings to match. And 2 pairs of earrings to go with the necklace I made earlier because I couldn't decide which was better. Guess who leaves for Bead & Button -- the biggest consume bead show -- tomorrow? I wonder if there's time to make the dragon necklace. Probably not.

And I still need to find 750 words to set down.

MKK
Hee. It all sounds LOVELY! I just scraped out 800, after one hell of a day.

Now I pack, and then fall over.
How to lose, and not just how to lose well.

And how to live with incomplete victories. You know, the kind we get in real life.

And yanno, I think it may be helping save mine.
I guess this is why I like to watch these characters on TV. They do a job that would completely break me in about two minutes flat. A job that by definition you can never get completely right, ever. And I let people's problems with my work bother me? Get over yourself, self, and get back to work.
I like it because it presses up against really complicated stuff and doesn't back down or make it easy.

That's kind of awesome.

Also, awesome icon.
The nightmares is an interesting one. I bet JJ's are canine in form.

But they are going to be about failure and the fears of failure. Not getting there in time, getting it wrong. The victories are always overshadowed by the defeats and every victim is a defeat. They can't prevent the bad stuff from starting, they just have to hope to finish it quickly before too much hurt is caused.

And no matter what anybody does for Reid in the next series, no matter how many hugs etc, they won't be able to take that essence of hurt away. All he can hope for is to find way of carrying it.

Grim stuff. But compelling grim stuff.

A friend and I discussed CM and escapism - he wants to be entertained, but he is getting sucked in by the last few eps shown here (Profiler Profiled and No Way Out.) I do wonder what he is going to make of the next two.
The cool thing is it manages not o be escapist while not being unbearably grim, and I think that's why it's so compelling.

Television tends to either fall to one extreme--the one where the good guys always win--or the other--where the world is gritty and dark and there is no moral compass and no honor. And the CM production team is managing to present an unwinnable universe ("You can't kill fast enough to keep up") that is also moral.

It doesn't matter if you can't win. It doesn't matter than you can't possibly save everyone who needs saving.

It doesn't absolve you from trying, and it doesn't absolve you from being as decent as you can be under the circumstances. And there are people who will be disappointed in you if you don't do the work (the absolute approbation with which Gideon says, "This was a *human being*" to the girl in "The Popular Kids," or the way Reid reacts to people who won't stop and look at the photo when the team is canvassing. He's *offended.*), and if you forget that all the other people struggling through life around you are human too.

Even the monsters.

Which doesn't mean we can't defend ourselves from them. But it means if we kill, we kill in compassion, because we choose to live.

Because we're better than they are, dammit. There is a bright line.

Even though you cannot win.
Good post!

The Footpath Killer did die - in the LDSK episode (1.06), Gideon talks to Reid about needing a gun to kill someone and says: "Footpath Killer... he had a shotgun to the back of my head. I'm here, he's not."

Geez, I'm such a CM nerd.
That doesn't mean he's dead. It means, in that case, that he's in jail, as far as I can tell.

Gideon doesn't pull the trigger, that we see. In fact, we specifically see him *not* pull the trigger. (Just as we specifically see the Gun fail to discharge in the cold open to Revelations. Because this is Our Show, and not those Other Shows.)

Nerds are welcome in BAUland.
I know I'm late to comment - I hope it's still alright to add my own two cents worth.

This is pretty much why I keep telling people they need to watch this show - it manages to be one of the most intertextual with its own episodes and meta-friendly shows I've ever come across, period, while also being staggeringly true to life/the real world, all while captivating us with compelling characters we learn about mainly by watching them parse the lives of others and react to the tragedies the job presents them with on a (semi)regular basis. If there's a show out there that's more devoted to exploring what it means to be human and that line between keeping one's sanity and humanity intact or becoming one of the monsters, I've yet to find it.
I just kind of keep saying, "See, if this was one of those Other Shows, (x) would happen here. But since this is My Show, it's more likely to be (y) or (z) or... well, (q), I didn't think of that."

So I'm so very green when it comes to CM things and occasionally watch episodes but I've been thinking about some of the things you and others have said about Arthuriana and the plane vs. The Plane.

Could the plane be their version of the Round Table?
Well, they have a Round Table. Literally.

But yeah, the plane is absolutely thematically significant.