Sophisticated Psychological Warfare

'Law & Order Criminal Intent: The Seventh Year'

by Marco Lanzagorta

13 August 2012

The basic premise of Criminal Intent is grounded on the concept of social inequality.
cover art

Law & Order Criminal Intent: The Seventh Year

US DVD: 26 Jun 2012

Arguably, Criminal Intent is by far the most intriguing of the series that make the Law & Order franchise. Leaving aside the complexities of trials and lawyers, Criminal Intent focuses its narrative on the motivation and psychology of violent criminals. Featuring the clever mind games played between detectives and delinquents, these TV series managed to become brainier than the standard police procedure drama.

Taking place in the iconic New York City, Criminal Intent follows the skilful police work of detectives Robert Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Alexandra Eames (Katrhyn Erbe). As members of the prominent `Major Case Squad’, Goren and Eames investigate crimes and felonies that involve important persons such as politicians, artists, celebrities, industry tycoons, Wall Street executives, and all sorts of wealthy people.

From this setup, the problematic social dynamic of the show is clearly established. Indeed, the basic premise of Criminal Intent is grounded on the concept of social inequality. Just consider, crimes performed against important and influential people are labeled as ‘major’ and appear to require preferential treatment. Furthermore, in several episodes we are informed that the governor and high ranking politicians demand the swift solution of a crime committed against their friends.

But then again, it’s important to remark that in spite of such a thorny starting premise, Criminal Intent does not appear to have an elitist view of violent crime. Indeed, most episodes reveal that the culprit was another prominent member of the upper crust. As such, the show’s political ideology drifts away from class conflict towards the unrealistic sense of privilege and entitlement felt by the high society. At the end, the nefarious criminals are always caught, regardless of their place in the social order. However, Criminal Intent never explores if these powerful people are actually convicted of their crimes in a court of law.

As such, the main theme of the series is the intellectual work done by Goren to solve a variety of violent offenses and misdeeds. Savvy with his library card, Goren is often seen reading books related to the convoluted crime that he is trying to solve. As a proof of his superior intellect, Goren performs a sophisticated kind of psychological warfare on the suspects. And perhaps the most delightful part of the show is when Goren uses his knowledge of the criminal mind to confront the criminals in really amusing and unexpected ways.

In this regard, Goren is somewhat reminiscent of the legendary Sherlock Holmes, the granddaddy of modern detective stories. Relying more on wit and less on forensic technology, Goren is able to solve intricate plots by analyzing minute details in the crime scene. By episode’s end, he’s always able to trick the culprits to incriminate themselves or make a confession of their devious actions.

Unfortunately, season seven of Criminal Intent was not the best of the entire series. Despite the success of the first four seasons and the good chemistry between the leading actors, it was decided by season five to alternate between two teams of detectives. The second team was made of detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth) and a parade of female companions including Carolyn Barek (Annabella Sciorra), Megan Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson), and Nola Falcci (Alicia Witt). But sorry to say, Logan is not as bright, sharp, amusing, and enigmatic as Goren.

That being said, season seven features a few truly memorable episodes. For example, in “Smile”, Goren and Eames are involved in a conspiracy that goes from a pedophile dentist, to a disgruntled FDA employee, to a greedy Wall Street corporation. And then, in “Vanishing Act”, the detectives are confronted with what appears to be a good magic trick gone wrong. Indeed, a magician is buried alive for 30 days, but his dead body suddenly appears in the magic show of a colleague of his.

Other engrossing episodes include the involvement of a dilapidated rock star in “Reunion”, a nefarious terrorist cell in “Depths”, a foreign political martyr in “Assassin”, a crooked law system in “Courtship”, arrogant plagiarizing writers in “Self-Made”, dishonest amateur boxing in “Ten Count”, brutal vigilante justice in “Neighborhood Watch”, and a day care center to die for in “Please note we are no longer accepting letters of recommendation from Henry Kissinger”.

However, “Frame”, the season finalé, is likely to have disappointed the hard core fans of the series. Indeed, this episode features the long awaited return of Goren’s most deadly nemesis, the bright but wicked Nicole Wallace (Olivia d’Abo). Perhaps best described as a female version of Hannibal Lecter, Nicole is as intelligent and resourceful as Goren. Unfortunately, in this episode she is on screen for only a couple of scenes, before being dispatched to the afterworld by someone close to Goren. What a disappointing end for such a mesmerizing and pivotal character!

For the fans of the series, as well as for those interested in high quality police procedural dramas, the seventh season of Criminal Intent has been released in DVD by Shout! Factory. The video and audio quality of the episodes is very good. However, there is an unbelievable goof in the DVD set cover. The cover states that the seventh season ran in 2008-2009, when in reality ran in 2007-2008. Still, such an amusing mistake does not demerit an otherwise top-notch presentation of the series. It’s quite unfortunate, however, that there are no extra features to be found in this DVD set.

By all means, Criminal Intent should rank as one of the best police series in the history of TV. Featuring an amusing and clever detective, most of the time Criminal Intent offers interesting and intelligent plots. Even after repeated views, this show remains enigmatic, engrossing, and suspenseful. All things considered, this DVD set is widely recommended.

Law & Order Criminal Intent: The Seventh Year


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