As Criminal Minds opens its ninth season, the show is seemingly continuing the trend of pushing the envelope of what you can get away with on broadcast television. The season premiere saw a serial killer force cannibalism on his victims. This included several lingering shots of a rotting head the killer kept in his freezer.
To be fair to Criminal Minds, as the show has gotten older the rest of the television landscape around it has gotten more and more violent. Just look at the eye gougings on FOX’s Kevin Bacon vehicle The Following or pretty much any of the over-the-top death tableaus on NBC’s moody and atmospheric Hannibal. When Criminal Minds started it was one of the only serial killer destinations on the dial, now it has plenty of gory competition.
Perhaps the creative team feels they need to push the envelope in order to stand out from the pack, but it can make watching the show feel like a test of how strong a stomach the audience has. While the early seasons of the drama about profilers at the Behavioral Analysis Unit focused more on profiling and implied more than it showed, the later seasons have gotten increasingly graphic in the depiction of the violence perpetuated by the killers the hunted by the BAU team.
It might be too late to demand the network and the show put the violence genie back in the bottle, but scaling up the violent content just makes the show seem as if it’s grasping at straws as it grows older. Audiences come to Criminal Minds not just to get a good scare, but also to connect with characters they’ve followed for nine years.
Perhaps it’s time for the show to refocus on the profiling work and tone down the violence. There are a million destinations on the dial now to see graphic depictions of violence by serial killers, perhaps Criminal Minds could be a place more concerned about how to catch these killers than gleeful at the violence it can get away with showing on network television.