If a Title Could be a Sound You’d be Hearing a High-Pitched Squeal Right Now

Sunday night was a night I’ve been waiting for for a very long time because it marked the return of my favorite incarnation of the Law & Order universe: Law & Order: Criminal Intent (L&O:CI). Yes, I think Vincent D’Onofrio is a sexy man and I’ll come clean with the revelation that I totally have a girl crush on Kathryn Erbe. But neither of those are the reason L&O:CI is my favorite of the franchise; I also think Christopher Meloni is a sexy man and girl crush on Mariska Hargitay, both on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. So what’s the big deal with Criminal Intent?

It’s all about Detective Robert Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) and, to a lesser extent, his partnership with Detective Alexandra Eames (Kathryn Erbe) for me. I’ve said before that the relationship between Mulder and Scully on The X-Files must have influenced my love of Criminal Intent and I think if you’ve ever watched both series you know the partnerships bear more than just a passing resemblance (minus the fact Goren and Eames aren’t romantically involved).

Side by side comparison of the characters bring this into sharp focus. First, the male characters:

Robert Goren:

  • Quirky
  • Considered to be brilliant but eccentric
  • Has an unorthodox investigative style
  • Has no qualms with bending the rules when he feels it’s warranted
  • Very intuitive

Fox Mulder

  • Also quirky
  • Also considered to be brilliant but eccentric
  • Also has an unorthodox investigative style
  • Also has no qualms with bending the rules when he feels it’s warranted
  • Also very intuitive

Yes, the lists are exactly the same but that’s because the characters are so similar. Personality-wise they could almost be twins. One major difference: Goren comes off as a little more insular, though I think a lot of that comes from the fact that he isn’t relegated to a basement office which means we see more of how he handles social situations.

Now we’ll look at the female characters:

Alex Eames

  • Independent
  • Initially wary of her partner
  • Fiercely loyal once she gets to know him
  • At first finds Goren’s style disturbing but quickly learns it’s just part of his process

Dana Scully

  • Also Independent
  • Also initially wary of her partner
  • Also fiercely loyal once she gets to know him
  • Also finds Mulder’s style off-putting but soon accepts it as his process

Same thing goes here as for the men. The obvious difference is that Scully is more scientifically analytical while Eames looks at things like a cop.

Criminal Intent started out focusing more on the point of view of the criminal than either of the other two Law & Order‘s that are still on the air. We knew very little back story as far as the main characters went and, for about the first four years of the show we don’t really learn a whole lot. We know Goren’s mother is schizophrenic, but we don’t really get a sense of what that means to him. We know Eames’ husband was a cop killed in the line of duty but we don’t see how that has affected her both personally and professionally.

EamesThe fifth season brought two changes: The addition of a second set of detectives that alternated each week with Goren and Eames (I’ll talk about those two a bit later), and a greater push toward more character driven storylines. In the episode “In the Wee Small Hours” (a two-parter) – one of the best in the series in my opinion – we are treated to a fantastic performance by Kathryn Erbe as a distraught Eames confronted with her one-time request for a new partner, a request she never told Goren about.

By the end of the fifth season it was becoming clear that Goren and Eames were not just partners, but they weren’t romantically involved either. The first episode in season six bore this out when Eames was kidnapped, sending Goren out of his mind and almost over the edge. Similarly, we catch a glimpse of how Eames reacts when Goren becomes increasingly agitated at being pulled away from his ailing mother on a holiday because of a case (#608 “The War at Home).

GorenSeason seven started off with a bang, literally, as Eames’ husband’s old partner is shot while providing protection to a murder witness. This brings up a whole other side of Eames and we finally get a glimpse into how her husband’s death nine years before (1998 ) has affected her. Goren’s life is turned upside down when the nephew he never knew he had contacts him out of desperation from a correctional facility to tell him about a prisoner who died from mistreatment (#709 “Untethered”). Goren pursues the case on his own and, due to the writer’s strike, we are left wondering what will become of him when the Chief of D’s makes his decision when the rest of season seven starts to air.

Which is were we picked up last night. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but I was really quite surprised in the direction it took. We also got to see more of how the dynamic between Goren and Eames works when she realizes he hasn’t told her about a very major situation he’s gotten himself into. Also, there is a scene that is very reminiscent of another scene from the season three episode “F.P.S.” As a matter of fact, they are almost identical. I’ll let you watch both episodes and see if you can spot the similarity.

USA Network has been using the descriptor “Characters welcome” for a good while now and with Criminal Intent‘s move to USA I think it’s pretty safe to say the character driven plots with a more intimate look into the lives of the detectives will continue to be the norm. This is something I’m actually looking forward to.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved how the show started, but there are only so many “of-the-week” type episodes that you can watch before you get bored. Character development either seems to stagnate or ends up as a deus ex machina when the case plays to some before-unknown experience of one of the detectives. At this point I want to see where they are as people; where they came from, where they see themselves going, and how that affects who they are.

Now, as far as the addition of the second set of detectives in season five, I was not what you could call happy. I’d say internally my reaction was akin to those X-Files fans who heard David Duchovny would be out of the picture for at least half of season eight of The X-Files; I was angry that I wouldn’t be getting my Goren fix in every episode and was convinced I would hate whoever it was coming in. But I sat down and watched Detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth) with his first partner Carolyn Barek (Annabella Sciorra) and discovered it was not at all bad.

LoganIf you’ve watched the first few seasons of the original Law & Order you’ll recognize Chris Noth and his character, Detective Logan, who was sent to Staten Island following a very public assault on a politician.

I haven’t gotten to watch much of the first five seasons of the original show, but I did like what I saw of Logan. His style involved a lot of gut instinct with old school detective work, a style that hasn’t changed on Criminal Intent.

BarekI had a hard time reconciling Annabella Sciorra with her character Barek for one reason: She was Gloria Trillo on The Sopranos and she did a really, really good job with that role. By the end of the season I was able to see past that and actually started to enjoy Barek’s place in the Law & Order universe when she was replaced by Detective Megan Wheeler at the beginning of season six, no explanation given.

WheelerThus began my dislike of Wheeler (Julianne Nicholson). Initially she really bothered me, though I couldn’t really tell you why. But yet again, by the end of the season I found myself really growing to like her character. She’s a fantastic counterbalance to Logan’s more fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants personality and has kept him in line (in some cases keeping him from losing his job). She also has the added advantage of giving us a younger take on things, where Logan’s view is marked by the cynicism of his years on the force. Then of course at the end of season six Wheeler heads off to Europe for who-knows-how-long and we see Logan staring after her like a big sad puppydog. Cue Detective Nola Falacci in season seven.

FalacciI never really did “get” Falacci (Alicia Witt), but I’m sure a lot of that was due to the writer’s strike cutting into the season and the fact that I knew Wheeler would be back (Julianne Nicholson was just on maternity leave). I do have to admit it was kind of funny to see the roll reversal that happened when Logan realized he had to step up and keep Falacci in line, a role he had never before played as he was usually the one who needed to be kept in line. As of next week Wheeler makes her return which means I will never get the chance to really decide if I like Falacci or not. At this point the character really only evokes a reaction of “Meh” from me.

I’m really excited to see where USA takes this series. These are characters I care about and a large reason for that is that in the last couple of seasons I’ve gotten to see them really grow as people, a direction in which USA will continue to push. And, let’s be honest here, I definitely won’t object to more of Goren; Vincent D’Onofrio is a sexy man, after all.