It’s hard not to hope that The Inside will be a replacement for Buffy, especially since creator Tim Minear is connected to the Buffyverse (he wrote for Angel). This, unfortunately, is not the case, though the shows have surface similarities. Both feature petite, blond crime-fighters with “special gifts,” which they are “taught” to use by a father figure. Whereas Angel and young Clark Kent forge their own paths, TV’s gifted girls often require tutelage, with the expectation that they will eventually break free to become independent women. Each heroine’s relationship with her “watcher” is a defining element of her life. However, unlike on Buffy, the tutelary relationship on The Inside is fraught, predatory, and vaguely sexual.
Supervisory Special Agent Virgil “Web” Webster (Peter Coyote) recruits rookie FBI agent Rebecca Locke (Rachel Nichols) into his exclusive unit of the FBI’s violent crime section, where his dour team tackles cases of his choosing. Though the set-up suggests a bit of The X-Files, The Inside more closely resembles the mirthless CSI franchise in its extreme focus on grisly details.
The premiere episode opened with the discovery of a dead woman, the ninth in a series, whose face and right-hand epidermal layer have been “removed.” The victim turns out to be the sole non-white member of Web’s team, and whose death leads to Rebecca’s employment. Here, the show follows horror-film protocol by dispatching a woman and a minority in one fell swoop. Also like horror films, this opening underlines the precariousness of Rebecca’s situation: one woman has already died doing this job.
In their first meeting, Web gazes steadily at Rebecca while she ponders why the agent was killed, as she, unlike Rebecca, didn’t fit the perpetrator’s “victim profile”: young, Caucasian, and new in Los Angeles. Later, Web waits for Rebecca in the darkened apartment of the killer’s latest victim (in the same corner we saw the killer hide in), and guides her through unraveling the case. The two enter a spooky role play, with Web speaking for the killer (“They were already nothing. He could tell that the moment he laid eyes on them”), Rebecca for the victims (“He may have seen them as nothing, but that’s not how they saw themselves,” she says, seeing the dead woman’s reflection in a mirror).
Rebecca’s gift, it turns out, is the ability to see crimes from victim’s perspective. Through this gift the show perhaps attempts to undercut its own misogyny by giving the victims a voice and an advocate. Unfortunately, what stays with you is not a message of empowerment, but the “message” the killer left behind: a video of his tenth victim, bloodied, screaming, and tied to a chair. The slain women may have seen themselves as more than just victims, but we don’t get a chance to see them as anything.
Rebecca’s ability to speak for these victims comes from “inside” her own experiences: she was abducted at age 10 and only escaped after 18 months. Her victimization, it seems, makes her uniquely suited to save others, as well as invulnerable to further attacks. When the killer catches up to her, she taunts, “You gonna take me someplace and make me into nobody? Joke’s on you. I was made a nobody a long time ago.” Already broken, she acts like nothing more can happen to her.
Nonetheless, she has already been, in a way, abducted again. Web has “trapped” her for the purpose of exploiting her ability. He declares “This girl has a gift, forged in pain. And she wants me to use her.” And Rebecca is not the only person whose pain he “uses.” Rebecca uncovers that the agent’s death was a suicide (thus her “deviation” from the victim profile). She was bipolar and off her meds. “You knew her problem?” Paul (Jay Harrington) demands of Web. “I know all your problems. That’s why you’re here,” Web answers darkly. He appears to be assembling an army of wounded people, each fulfilling a specific role: Paul is “the conscience,” Danny (Adam Baldwin) the hardboiled cynic, and Mel (Katie Finneran), so far the token woman among the supporting cast. Perhaps they will learn that each of them is a brain, a basketcase, and so on.
These characters’ dull personas make it difficult to care about their implied “secrets.” Also, unlike in other crime dramas, viewers aren’t wowed by forensic science or clever twists and turns. Though the interaction between Rebecca and Web is sickly intriguing, The Inside fails to bring the genre to a new level. The premiere episode joins a long history of tales of brilliant psychopaths torturing women in creative, terrifying ways, whether the killer or boss man Web. That is something we could certainly do without.