TV Series# 3: Criminal Minds

The third in the series of TV Series is Criminal Minds. For a few years when I was working out of state I used to regularly watch reruns of this crime procedural series on ION Television after returning from work. Criminal Minds featured FBI agents criminal profilers working for Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), based in Quantico. Local law enforcement agencies sought help from BAU agents for their specialized skills in tracking down criminals and bring them to justice. The criminals featured were not the garden variety, run-of-the-mill types easy to track down but generally involved people of above average intelligence who planned their kills with precision and took pride in their ability to get away with it. Many were serial killers and some of them would even leave some clues to taunt the investigators in a catch me if you can kind of dare. To add to the difficulty of the local police (where a particular crime took place) the crimes generally spanned multiple jurisdictions as they went on their crime spree. Which meant reaching out to the good folks of BAU for their expertise and help 👍

The BAU team had a team with different areas of expertise that could piece together the pieces quickly and more efficiently due to their training and experience. Some of the team members were (Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_Minds)
1) Jason Gideon, Senior Supervisory Special Agent and BAU unit chief when the series started. Gideon was widely known as the BAU’s best profiler. He had a special talent analyzing the crimes and delivering very accurate profile of the criminal/s based on evidence available. Unfortunately after a few years of deep involvement in solving crimes he suffered burnout and left the BAU.
2) David Rossi, Senior Supervisory Special Agent. Highly experienced profiler who worked at the BAU when it was originally formed, then took early retirement to write books and go on lecture tours about criminal analysis, and then returned to the unit after SSA Jason Gideon left the unit.
3) Aaron Hotchner, BAU unit chief and Senior Supervisory Special Agent for many years. This character was a bit stiff 😃 (not to my liking) but the kind of manager that has the back of his team and tries to ensure that the Agents reporting to him don’t take excessive risks or do things, in their zeal to bring justice, that could jeopardize investigations or relationship with local police.
4) Derek Morgan, Supervisory Special Agent. A bit of a hothead but with his heart in the right place. He was also often the muscle guy knocking down doors or chasing suspects as FBI agents closed in on their target/s.
5) Spencer Reid, Supervisory Special Agent. A genius with very high IQ and elephantine memory and a great capacity to absorb and understand information.
6) Jennifer “JJ” Jareau, BAU communications liaison and Supervisory Special Agent. JJ served as the communications liaison on the team to local police agencies initially, left the team on a promotion to Pentagon and then returned to the team as profiler.
7) Penelope Garcia, BAU technical analyst and BAU communications liaison. A colorful character, who was originally an underground hacker. Garcia joined the BAU to avoid jail sentence as the team thought her skills could be put to better use on the right side of law. She has a remarkable ability to hack into any system and get any information that the team needs 😄
8) Emily Prentiss, Supervisory Special Agent and BAU Unit Chief after Aaron Hotchner left the post.

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Typically an episode would start with a request from a local police department anywhere in the US for assistance in solving a crime. The team would meet quickly in a room, BAU chief would give a brief based on the information received, Penelope Garcia would have more details in astonishingly short time for the team and after a short meeting BAU chief would announce “Wheels up in 30”, meaning the team flying out in their unit’s airplane in 30 minutes! Upon arriving at the destination for investigation the team would set up office in double quick time, gather some details from the local police and the scene of crime trying to strike a delicate balance in order to not appear as overbearing while gathering facts. After the initial fact finding the team would hunker down, sift through the known facts and then deliver the most important first part of the investigation: Profile of the suspect/s to the local police! One funny part of this aspect was the uniform way the profile was delivered in each episode. Each member of the team would deliver a line about the profile developed by the team, always by turn. I used to be amused by it and think “Come on, man, it doesn’t have to be the same way all the time. It’s ok if some team members do not get equal speaking time always” 😄 Anyways the profile delivered would help narrow down the list of suspect considerably and go a long way in solving the crime! 👍

What did I like about the series? The analysis aspect and problem solving approach. Start with a wide list, analyze the pattern, connect the dots and whittle down the list to a manageable number. Not unlike support of software defects or errors: Start with a list of likely causes, look for a pattern, discard from the list causes that do not fit and zero in on the root cause! Most times it involves painstaking work and the reward is when all the dots are connected. 👌The other thing I liked is the sense of justice being served and closure for families of victims on knowing what happened to their loved ones and a knowledge that the perpetrators will be brought to justice 🙏

Among the things I learned watching Criminal Minds: “unsub” = unidentified subject (perpetrator of crime), the word zugzwang (used in one of the episodes) which means a situation in which the obligation to make a move in one’s turn is a serious, often decisive, disadvantage, more commonly used in chess, the term “eidetic memory” which refers to ability to recall an image from memory with high precision for a brief period after seeing it only once, and without using a mnemonic device. That kind of memory would certainly help in job interview or when appearing for tests/exams 😊

TV Series# 1: Columbo – Oh, just one more thing…

With so much going on all over the world and people experiencing physical, mental, emotional, psychological and financial stress/pain thought it might be a good time to write about something light. As part of that starting a series on TV series. Based on how much interest it garners will write about other TV series I have watched that have lingered in memory. The first in this series is Columbo!

People of a certain vintage may have seen episodes of the series when they originally aired. It had a fairly long and successful run, starting in the 1970s with final season in early 2000s. For those who haven’t watched or heard about the TV series Columbo, the main character is a homicide detective/investigator who works for the LAPD and Columbo is his name. Like all famous people he goes by a single name 🙂 Unlike many other murder mysteries which tend to be whodunits, with the act being shown and the perpetrator’s face hidden/masked, in this series the viewer is witness to the act being committed by the murderer with the face clearly visible, typically at the start of the episode. The rest of the episode revolves around Columbo investigating and pinning down the killer and proving the case. In that sense it’s a “howdunit” type of murder mystery. The perpetrators generally are people who are accomplished in some field who plan their murders. On the other hand Columbo comes across as a detective who lacks a physically imposing presence and generally appears lost, absentmindedly asking questions, and always fidgeting for piece of paper or pen/pencil or some sundry objects in the numerous pockets in his coat. That coat is a piece of work: always rumpled that needed to be replaced long ago. His car is also a thing of beauty: an old car of French make with the look of something that’s been driven straight out of a junkyard 😃 All to show he is a lowly paid cop working for LAPD. Make no mistake though. What our man lacks in terms of intimidation he more than makes up with his persistence, logic, smarts and ability to lull suspects into thinking they are dealing with a dimwit who doesn’t have a clue what he is doing. Hubris leads them to let their guard down with a few overconfident types dropping breadcrumbs along the way to “assist” the clueless cop. Columbo is a man of razor sharp intellect and dogged in his pursuit of justice even if he is unfailingly polite all the time. One common tactic used by Columbo when he leaves the murderer after interview is suddenly turning around near the door and uttering the words “Oh, just one more thing…” in an absentminded way before asking a very pertinent question that shakes up the unsuspecting suspect. As the murderers sense the noose tightening around their neck with Columbo piecing together evidence and confronting them with contradictions in their recollection many do what is their wont: complain to Columbo’s superior/s to pull him off the case. In the end let’s just say Columbo doesn’t let their machinations succeed and brings them to justice. Woo hoo!
Some of the murderers even grudgingly admit when they are arrested they underestimated his brilliance and acknowledge he is very good at his job. It’s fun to watch a seemingly innocuous little guy kick much bigger ass in the end. Feels like watching an underdog triumph against all odds. I try to catch reruns of the series when I can. Watching the little guy bring justice is like seeing good triumph over evil. Seeing the familiar face is like having comfort food leaving one with the feeling all will be good at the end. Interestingly Columbo mentions his wife a lot in almost all episodes but his wife is never actually shown. Among the things I heard about and learned watching the series couple that come to mind are “dissolving sutures” – used by surgeons for stitching up after surgery, “subliminal cuts” – technique employed by makers of commercials by splicing a film in between a continuous film to subliminally influence people do what they want them to do. Could be a film showing fries or soda fleetingly which the eyes can barely see but the mind registers making a person feel like eating fries, drink soda etc. The series grows on you. My wife initially couldn’t stand the sight of a shabby looking detective who appeared lost. Over time she has gotten to like the series very much and on Sunday evenings when the rerun is on one of the TV channels she might even remind me and we watch the episode doing other work. Unlike me she even remembers memorable dialogues in most episodes and will say it correctly when the episode starts. In the rare instance she doesn’t remember the episode I pull her leg saying she is slipping and becoming like me 😃 The methods used and evidence produced by Columbo most likely will not work in the real world but who cares? For the 2 hours the viewer can watch with the confidence justice will finally be served by the little guy who will go wherever the quest for the truth leads him. In the final analysis that’s all that matters 🙂