In 1994, Oliver Stone’s controversial, blood-soaked thriller, Natural Born
Killers hit theaters amid public outcry for its graphic violence, sexual
sadism, and hypocritical critique of the media’s obsession with violence and
celebrity. Entertainment Weekly ranked the film at #8 on its list of “The
25 Most Controversial Movies Ever,” due largely to several copycat killings it
On January 26th at 9:00 p.m. ET, CBS aired a particularly brutal
episode of Criminal Minds inspired by the aforementioned film. As
television programs go, it packed every bit as much sex and violence as its big
screen counterpart. But the ultra-violent episode aired without even a whisper
of controversy. (Who says media doesn’t have a desensitizing effect?) This
episode rightfully earns Criminal Minds the title of Worst TV Show
of the Week for extreme violence and disturbing sexual content.
The show opened with a young couple at a convenience store, casually wandering
the aisles, talking about their impending nuptials. When the store owner tells
the boyfriend that marriage is overrated, a blood-bath ensues. The couple,
Sydney and Ray, kills everyone in the store. On their wedding night, they
indulge in another killing spree at a second store, mowing down their victims
with a shotgun, then torching the building. A medical examiner later explains
that one victim was beaten with a crowbar as a flashback of the attack is shown,
and another victim was sodomized with a tire iron. The carnage continues at – of
all places – an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. While Ray tells the group about
how his father molested him, outside, Sydney propositions a stranger to have sex
with her. As the stranger presses her against a wall, she pulls out a gun. Ray
loses control during the meeting and shoots everyone inside. He finishes off the
stranger as he and Sydney flee.
The investigative team maps Ray and Sydney’s pathologies, and surmise that the
couple will go after their childhood abusers – their fathers – in a twisted
bastardization of the 12-step program. Sydney and Ray decide to ratchet up their
“recovery” by combining the seventh, eighth and ninth steps: acknowledge your
shortcomings, accept responsibility, and make amends. But rather than perform
the steps themselves, they force their fathers to…at gunpoint. Ray’s father
denies he had molested him, and Sydney shoots him before Ray finds closure. To
quell Ray’s anger, Sydney manipulates him sexually, begging him to beat her.
Eventually, the couple makes their way to the gas station that Sydney’s father
owns. Ray brutally beats him as the man’s young daughter watches in horror. Ray
forces him to the back room, where a gunshot is heard. The investigative team
arrives just as Ray and Sydney attempt to flee with the little girl. Sydney is
shot in the arm. A tense hostage situation ensues, ending with Ray strangling
Sydney and eventually dying in a hail of bullets.
Perhaps this televised orgy of violence would have ruffled feathers 17 years ago
when Natural Born Killers was released; but after more than a decade of
forensic crime procedurals filled with countless cadavers and sadistic serial
killers, the average viewer simply has gotten used to it. Sadly, we have become
inured to murder and mayhem, in a downward cultural slide that feels so gradual
it almost seems, well, natural.
For sex and
violence Criminal Minds has been named Worst TV Show of the Week.
Parents Television Council,
Clean Up TV Now, Because our children are watching, The
nation's most influential advocacy organization, Protecting
children against sex, violence and profanity in
entertainment, Parents Television Council Seal of Approval,
and Family Guide to Prime Time Television
are trademarks of the Parents Television Council.