Beware of spoilers beyond this point!
This past week’s episode of Criminal Minds had me a bit flummoxed and so I thought I’d check in with Hathor readers and see what you all think, whether you watch the show or not. I should say upfront that CM is one of my favorite shows on television, and I’ve lauded it elsewhere for its responsible handling of issues of gender and sexuality and its (dare I say?) feminism. That said…
Episode 4.16 had all the makings of a compelling episode, although perhaps the fact that they opened with the following Camille Paglia quote should have given me pause: “The prostitute is not, as feminists claim, the victim of men but rather their conqueror, an outlaw who controls the sexual channel between nature and culture.” In any case, in this episode the unsub (“unknown subject of an investigation”) is revealed in the first scene (and in last week’s previews for the episode) to be a twenty-something woman, clearly coded as a call girl in only a lacy bra and thigh highs; she poisons her wealthy john with champagne. Cue the foreboding music and the opening credits.
Things start off pretty predictably. The BAU team, discussing their current unsub, note that a very small quotient of serial killers are female, and that they are often very discrete and able to get away with killing far more people than their male counterparts before getting caught (ah, yet another example of women being underestimated and undervalued for their skills!). Mentioning the infamous, real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos–who killed men she thought might be the type to rape her (and who was notably portrayed in the film Monster)–as a point of comparison, the BAU agents assume their unsub’s murders are also sexually motivated. In particular, they hypothesize that she chooses to kill certain clients because of some specific sex act they all like that triggers her in some way. But soon, clues reveal that the trigger for this particular violent femme might not be sex at all.
Suffice it to say, without going on and on for paragraphs recounting the plot, it’s not about sex, but instead something equally cliched. Megan (that’s the call girl’s name) has a problem with men who are…wait for it…too much like her father. Specifically, she targets wealthy businessmen who have left their wives and refuse to pay alimony and childcare payments despite the fact that they can shell out $10,000 without breaking a sweat for her services. Yes. She has Daddy issues. But it gets weirder.
In an inexplicable turn, Megan establishes a fascination with Agent Hotchner–an undeniable father-figure for the team and a man whose wife left him with their son in tow a couple seasons ago. Hotchner tries to talk Megan down over the phone, empathizing with her, but the final moments of the episode cement their connection. As Megan dies from the poison she swallowed after a confrontation with her actual father (where it’s made clear that he cares more about his reputation than his daughter), Hotchner sits and holds her hand, promising not to leave her. What a tender moment.
What baffles me is how we’re supposed to read this episode, particularly the ending. Are we meant to feel sorry for Megan–and excuse her pleasure in exercising her homicidal impulses during the early murder scenes–because she had a negligent father and only kills “bad men”? Are female criminals supposed to be pitied not condemned? (I should add that there are some sympathetic male criminals on the show, but the dearth of female unsubs across CM’s four seasons makes the abundance of ones we’re supposed to pity all the more obvious.) Is it inappropriate that I’d like to see a female unsub on the show that just likes killing people for the heck of it (or for some reason that doesn’t have to do with men!)? And what’s with the “daddy” backstory and Hotchner’s place in it?
I could go on and on, but what do you all think?