Recently, I was watching the eleventh season box-set of one of my favorite crime shows—Criminal Minds. Because I do not want to recap a ton of details, I will offer a brief explanation of the show: featuring fictionalized members of the B.A.U (Behavior Analysis Unit) as they hunt serial killers, the show quickly gained a mass audience following the show’s skillful balancing of tension, drama, humor, and gritty detective work in a well-written package. Now spanning over two-hundred episodes, the show appears to show no sign of stopping. Whether you are a fan or foe of the series, however, this post will focus not on its merits as a television program but rather its adhesion to the Arthurian canon.
Prior to season eleven, I had never considered crime or cop dramas to have any pretension to the Arthurian legend. However, something in this season of Criminal Minds changed this for me.
The episode—“Derek”—which forced me to reconsider featured Derek hallucinating of his father as he endured torturing. Flashing back to his youthful days as a fifth grader, Derek remembers a night where his father read him a passage from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (a story which this blog is presently exploring as a ‘Let’s Read’).
In the context of this episode, what is being conveyed is a collision of policing and knightly (Chivalric) duty—up to the fact that when, later in the episode (and spoiler alert), Derek’s father is shot and killed while trying to save a woman from a mugging.
At first, I was a bit peeved at such a flagrant association—it seemed cheesy, and just a bit too hokey. But once I thought about it some more, it made sense; after all, Arthurian literature is, by its nature, a literature which served to legitimate the aristocratic order and normalize sexist relations under an oppressive and exploitative regime of accumulation. Naturally, its modern counterpart would be crime-police dramas: all of the hallmarks are there, from authority adoration to the idea of an elite group of persons, mostly men, who predominate in society thanks to their regulatory power.
So this lead me to think it through with concerns to Criminal Minds a bit more thoroughly. If the show was, in fact, an Arthurian adaptation, then how would we see the concept disseminated?
Well, for one, the so-called ‘Roundtable’ is in full focus; when the team listens to Penelope Garcia at the start of each episode as she describes the case which they will be investigating,
everyone sits around a literal roundtable. But, perhaps this is too easy—tables, after all, are round for many practical reasons. Let’s explore a bit deeper.
What about the knights? It seems that if we were to assign our present cops personas with our medieval ‘cops,’ then who would be who?
Obviously, it seems as though Aaron Hotchner would be King Arthur, being the team leader and all. Rossi would seem to be Rossi, being the long-time detective who made the idea of the B.A.U possible, he would fit in well as King Arthur’s greatest knights. Garcia, meanwhile, after a quick gender switch, fits in well with Perceval: she is far removed from the bloodshed of the field and due to her removal, safe inside the F.B.I headquarters. Repeated several times to be like the team’s guardian angel, she is removed as though she is in heaven, like the saintly Perceval. If a Morgan le Fay character exists, it is not until late in the series with this most recent eleventh season, where we see the introduction of a notorious female killer who lured runaway teens to her half-way house from hell. Alas, other than these character associations, I would not know how to proceed, since this is all merely the result of a day of quick brainstorming.
More to the point, however vulgar such associations appears at first glance, I feel that the central idea of the Arthurian legend being re-worked into the concept of crime-cop dramas, is something which holds a great deal of research potential. Thanks to the class and social realities of each set of texts, there clearly is a bridge connecting the two. To what degree, however, is yet to be determined, though.
Perhaps I will look into this connection for the future, but perhaps not; I am not a huge fan of cop worship programs and tend to only watch so much television in a year. But, there is a purpose in exploring the central tenants of various cop-crime programs, so left to a steady hand with plenty of time, there is room to grow, and hope for my future gaze.