"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

15 November 2007

Hath Hell Frozen Over?

Real Christianity out of Hollywood?

Criminal Minds astounded me last night. The team is called in to investigate crimes committed by someone leaving satanic symbols as a calling card. On the way, they discuss satanism, and Hotch and Dave Rossi (the new man, played by Joe Montegna) are cautioning the rest that such people are especially dangerous because of their belief that they are possessed by the devil’s power. Morgan says, “My mother took us to church every Sunday, and this devil stuff doesn’t bother me.” Reid responds, “Maybe the devil stuff didn’t take because the god stuff didn’t either.” Morgan, enraged, tells him, “You don’t know what I believe.” It’s clearly not a casual issue with him, much as he might want it to appear so.

At the small town where the crime has taken place, Morgan asks Rossi to speak to the priest (there’s only one church in the town) and he (Morgan) will talk to the victim’s parents; Rossi instead asks to speak to the parents himself, leaving Morgan with the priest. The priest, immediately sensing Morgan’s hostility, asks him, “How long has it been since you’ve been in the Lord’s house?” Morgan, refusing to answer, is rude to him again and again, his repulsion continually evident.

Morgan gives the priest the profile they have come up with and asks him to look at the list of church members among whom the killer must be; when the priest can’t tell him who he thinks it is, Morgan says “he is imitating faith; it isn’t real; he goes to church only because everyone else does.” The priest answers in frustration that all his congregation have “imitative faith,” all of them attend church because everybody else does, and he does all he knows how to help them understand and live real faith – again Morgan becomes angry and says, “we’re not here about you, we’re here to find a killer, and you say you can’t help us.”

Finally, the priest asks him, “what happened to you that you can be so hateful to a man you don’t even know?” Morgan tells him that “something terrible” happened to him when he was a child (he was abused by a man who was supposedly being a “father figure” to him after his father died) and he went to church every day and begged God to make it stop – and “you know what God did? Nothing – that’s what God did.” The priest tells him, “God never gives us anything we can’t handle.” Morgan replies, “Then God expects way too much of 13-year-old boys.”

Later, Rossi points out that he left Morgan with the priest as “an opportunity for personal growth,” and Morgan decides at least to apologize for his rudeness. (A nice touch, I thought – when the killer admits what he has done, the priest lunges across the table and tries to throttle him. I think this impressed Morgan.)

On the plane back to D.C., Morgan asks Rossi if all the “luck” the killer had experienced over the years – the unbelievable ways he had managed, although not intelligent at all, to evade detection for years – could suggest that he really did have some kind of “help” from a supernatural power. Rossi tells him at first not to worry about it – their job is to find the evil and put a stop to it, not to be concerned with where it comes from. But then he says, “I think Reid is right, you know – if you accept one, then you have to accept the other.”

And the almost-final scene shows Morgan in a church, sitting down in a back pew and clearly steeling himself to begin a journey home.

This is Hollywood? CM has always shown respect for Christianity; some of the villains have used religion as an excuse for evil, but this has always been pointed out as a perversion and not to do with true religion. But this – this amounts to the gospel on a popular crime show: a critique of “imitation faith” by someone trying to live real faith, an acknowledgement that God doesn’t “tempt us beyond what we are able,” a main character – a hardened, angry FBI agent – beginning a journey back to Christian faith? Hath hell indeed frozen over?!

1 comment:

Bad Alice said...

I love Criminal Minds, and this episode was one of my favorites, in part because it was able to take me utterly by surprise twice. I like the mix of mystery and action wrapped up in reflection.