Review: Criminal Minds seasons 1 to 12

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The FBI’s Hoover Building, Washington DC. September 2013.

Ever since I first watched Silence of the Lambs back in 1991 I’ve been fascinated by fictional serial killers, and fascinated and repulsed by real life ones. I can’t remember when Criminal Minds first came across my radar, but I do remember resisting watching it for a while. I have only ever seen it in DVD box sets, rarely catching an episode I’ve already seen on TV. I wrote the entry on it for the 1001 TV Shows You Must Watch Before You Die, and continue to think that what I wrote on it for that book as true. It’s a solid ensemble show that gets more right than wrong, especially when you factor in the requirements of delivering 20 plus weekly episodes where the team have to solve a problem in about 40 minutes.

The strengths of the show are the ensemble cast. The Behavioural Analysis Unit are a team. They have their roles, their specialist capabilities, and because of what they see and do they bond. There is a consistency to the strains on their relationships that we see not just through the women, but the men. How they realise the ways they need to cope with the horrors they witness. The show often takes the tropes of crime fiction – the cop who fails at relationships – and explores variations on that theme. In the last few seasons, Rossi has got to address some of his past failed relationships with new insight from being more mature.

The show is not perfect.

The FBI Academy in Quantico, VA, is nestled within acres of US Marines training grounds. It’s not a place the general public can just wander into, and it’s also a fairly long drive from Washington DC. Yet, too often the characters are visited by members of the general public without prior arrangement, and often the characters zip between DC and their offices as though it’s just downtown. Also, quite a few of the characters seem to be able to afford living in Georgetown. Not entirely convinced their salaries would allow that, but who knows.

The biggest thing that never fails to make me laugh is the idea that in the Criminal Minds universe Interpol is some hot international spying group filled with Jason Bournes and James Bonds. Nope. Nope. Just no. It’s a bureau function. It enables the sharing of information and intelligence (processed information, not all from secretive sources) across international jurisdictions for local police to act upon. London is not their HQ, and it would be really difficult for the UK’s bureau to be headed up by an FBI Special Agent.

But what the show does get right more often than not are the realism of the perpetrators, the unknown subjects (unsubs), the team are called in to identify and stop. A few do exist on the preposterous end of the spectrum in terms of their dastardly abilities and focussing on our team, but most are realistic or even mundane. The team, mostly Dr Spencer Reid, provide details of where these offenders overlap with real life examples, and where they divert. The team doesn’t only advise on serial murder, they couldn’t and maintain credibility as a show. Again, while not perfect, the show manages to mostly not sexualise violence against women – a difficult balance to achieve given the statistical frequency of sexual violence by men against women when compared with men against men, or women offenders. The show is quite good at pointing out that while there can be a sexualised element to serial murder this isn’t a defining characteristic.

The show is also generally good at being sensitive about victim groups. From pretty much the start of the series, the team do not judge victims and victim groups on the grounds of their sexual orientation, skin colour, mental health, class, or profession. They do observe the relative risks evident in the cases they are called in to provide advice, but don’t preach.

One of the show’s other strengths is that it doesn’t shy away from the FBI’s history, nor the breadth and range in professionalism across the USA’s many, many police forces. The show is also pretty good on trends and how they are used and abused by criminals. Selfies on social media to target victims, bitcoin, the dark web, even SWATing have appeared in the show before they become really well-known in the zeitgeist.

I enjoy the show, but it has its faults. The 11th and 12th seasons have both seen some extensive cast changes in the team. I think for the better, in many ways. I just hope it keeps its nerve as a generally good quality FBI procedural show with a cracking ensemble cast.

A Look at Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Dead Poets Society

As my last blog post covered, I recently watched The Good Wife, which starred Josh Charles, whose other main credit was Knox Overstreet in Dead Poets Society. I hadn’t watched that film in years and had a sudden yearning to revisit it.

I was an undergraduate student when it first came out back in 1989. My friends and I saw it multiple times (films were cheap back then where I went to university). For all its familiarity, the two trigger points still triggered me. I rarely cry at films or TV, but Dead Poets gets me in two scenes because the film spoke to me on a profound level. It still speaks to me, but it’s different now.

Back then my wounds still bled, and I’m not writing entirely figuratively.

I went to a single-sex high school. State-run, but it had pretensions of being private and exclusive. My years spanned the 1980s when there was a bit of a backlash against the social progress of the 1960s and 1970s. None of this is clear-cut, of course, with different bits moving at different speeds. My school was ruled by a woman who insisted on being called Head Mistress – none of that gender-neutral Principal rot for her. She was enthralled by Ronald Reagan, and went to the USA to witness his second inauguration. On return she expressed her wish that Australians would emulate the US form of overt patriotism. I remember teachers had issue with her approach, and as I grew older and experienced the beginnings of friendship with some of them I learned their concern was about how she nurtured a school that excelled in all the classes that would turn unruly girls into good wife material.

Only the real world intervened, and the state curriculum ensured that we got a late 20th century education. However, I didn’t quite fit in and I ended up repeating my final year of senior high school at an independent school that I thrived in. That’s life, and decades on the pain of living it has receded.

Parts of my experiences were what made me identify with Neil Perry and his struggle to be free to explore his talent. His tragedy is and always has been that he merely stretched the confines of his life, not break it, and yet he saw death as his only way out. His talent was acting, mine writing and the intellectual pursuits of history and politics.

As a school kid, and throughout my university years, I detested public speaking of any kind. I liked to write the words for others to speak. I was called shy, but really it was introversion. If I ever do write a letter to my teenaged self, a large paragraph would be all about how I needn’t worry about that. Confidence will deal with most of it, but also I have never felt the need to just talk unless I have something to say. I am still that way.

So. Yes. I identified strongly with Todd Anderson.

Watching Dead Poets back now from the advantage of someone who has done pretty well in realising my dreams, and has learned a lot about how the world works, that shyness and introversion still resonate. Stronger, if anything. Todd’s confused, panicked bravery at the end when he confronts the Head Master to tell his teacher, Mr Keating, that he was forced to lie is an emotional punch because he is fighting so much to just speak. That and his reaction to the news of Neil’s death are the two scenes that get me every time. His normal desire to hide destroyed because of his all-consuming grief.

But, this watch I also saw the raw pain expressed by Neil’s parents.

That’s Weir’s genius as a director. The small, powerful scenes. Mostly unspoken. I think I had unconsciously picked up on it when I consciously identified so strongly with the kids. Now, as an adult, it’s undeniably there. So much depth in a short film by today’s standards.

I decided to then watch Weir’s earlier film, Picnic at Hanging Rock (the 1998 director’s cut). It’s another favourite of mine that I have watched many times, but I’ve never watched these two sequentially.

What struck me were the similarities between the two films. There are the obvious points: the strict school principals, the sensitive child who doesn’t fit in, the inspiring teacher who doesn’t fit the school’s restrictive ethos, the rebellion by the kids, the forbidden infatuation of the other by an outsider, and the death by suicide of a kid who sees no way out even though escape is arguably nearby. Both schools are steeped in British tradition in their new lands. Both films are of their landscapes, too, and hint at the past, restive human occupants that the white people blunder into. Both films are fascinating character studies, beautifully shot and underplayed, but with moments of explosive emotion.

There are obvious differences. Gender the main one, at least on the surface. Miss Appleyard’s college is run by women for girls; Welton Academy is run by men for boys. Having said that, the male world of Dead Poets Society is not particularly masculine. In fact, it questions it and pokes at it from a few different angles. Neither at the time I first watched them, nor now, did I feel any attraction to any of the characters. I identified with some, their problems and struggle to be themselves yes, but I never fantasised about any desires for them. I never saw them as sexual beings.

Both films are really more about class and colonialism, with a culture uprooted from Britain and transplanted to two different post-colonial white nations. Both films examine class through the lens of the past; 1900 and the 1959. Both show the clash of the lower classes played out by kids who cannot control how that clash affects their lives. Neither Sarah (the orphan from Picnic) nor Neil can cope when that clash threatens their lives and dreams – for Sarah the knowledge that Miranda will never reappear and that she is destined for poverty, for Neil the knowledge that acting is forbidden him and that he is destined to a military academy to entrench him in the upper middle class.

Both films are set on the cusp of times of great liberating change, too, for each country.

Picnic is based rather closely on the 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay, but Dead Poets had an original screenplay by Tom Schulman. Weir had a lot of creative control over both films, and I wonder how many of these thematic echoes were simply just what happens or were at any time deliberate.

If you’ve not seen either film, I highly recommend both.

Review: The Good Wife

A few nights ago I finished watching all seven seasons of the Good Wife, the series that follows the path of Alicia Florrick standing by her husband Peter while scandal after scandal hits. Only it’s an image. She separates from him, and later initiates divorce proceedings. His first scandal involved him having sex with prostitutes, the second scandal was straight out corruption. All throughout other whispers of scandal dog him.

Corruption and sexual infidelity are the two strands that weave through the series. Them and hypocrisy.

There is also a lot about Alicia being a mother of two older children, and her relationships with friends, family and colleagues. Those relationships wax and wane, and part of Alicia’s growth as a character is when she realises those who are true friends or not. And oddly, both her and Peter’s mothers are shown but their fathers are absent. The series is all about the making of Alicia, both her own journey of discovery and her development as a potential politician. Eli Gold, the wonderful political strategist, gives her the image of Saint Alicia, when she’s actually not. It’s he who works out that she would be the better politician than her husband. Now that is a show I would love to see, which does bring me to the weirdness of watching this against the backdrop of real US politics. Season seven forays into a Presidential campaign. Any other year with any other campaign and this would have been safe. There’s an awkward line in one of the episodes about the unlikeliness of Trump’s success in the GOP primaries. Also, some good West Wing jokes, but it’s awkward when you know what happens. Is happening. Instead, it seemed to stick a bit with the obvious allusion to the Clintons.

I enjoyed the Good Wife, but it’s no The West Wing, or The Wire, or even ER. It’s cast – regular, recurring guests, and one-offs – lifted it from the mediocre, and there is some very smart writing to satisfy. But, binge-watching the seven seasons reveals the rhythm in which it gets stuck, and I grew very tired of the way that the same characters misunderstand the same actions by the same characters, season after season. I am sceptical that would actually be the case given how smart they are meant to be, and shown to be.

To be honest, the sex and relationships meant it dragged for me. Good to see women empowered with regard to sex, though, and I loved Kalinda Sharma for her confident bisexuality as much as her research skillz. But, I think it wandered into being a utopia of sexuality; witness how it failed to really grapple with the sexual predators that appear throughout the series. The obvious one is Peter Florrick where the show could have dug deep into this, but it went personal (Alicia’s feeling of betrayal by Kalinda, not Peter’s abuse of power over Kalinda – alluded to, but not really explored). Recurring client Colin Sweeney is creepy, actually dangerous, but Alicia is oddly impervious to the threat and the storylines were strangely humorous.

I thought the Good Wife’s strengths were the legal battles. The dealing with the different judges, and the different other lawyers, and grappling with various conundrums of the day. My disappointments were to do with when they’d raise an issue, and then skirt away from it. I was amazed it looked like they were going to really deal with corruption and abuse by the Chicago police, and it mentioned it, but then swerved away like it would be too risky. A shame. Properly engaging with these issues would have made it a truly great series.

Review: Dexter, the TV series

Ever since I first saw Silence of the Lambs, the 1991 film starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, I have been fascinated by serial killers, both fictional and real. My interest in the real murderers did turn quickly from fascination to disgust. Learning about them was one reason why I ended up pursuing a career in law enforcement, although my personal involvement has remained tangential.

There is a difference between the real and fictional. Even those real serial killers who thwarted law enforcement and criminal justice for years if not decades did so through random chance rather than cunning masterplans. The reality is they are all too human with messy psychological and physical lives – that’s not to suggest that all those with psychological problems are serial killers. Should go without saying, but I did just want to be clear.

Dexter is based on a novel I have not read that plays the game of what if a serial killer was a hero, someone who in their tarnished way actually works for good, but all the while sating their urge to kill.

The premise is as comic book fantasy as the Walking Dead.

The TV series of Dexter is a compelling on in large part because of the cast. Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan, geeky blood splatter expert for Miami Metro Homicide and the heroic serial killer, carries the part beautifully. He’s believable as someone troubled, who battles with his lack of emotion to do the right thing and act morally. His monologues, and dialogues with the image of his dead foster father and moral weathervane are a hallmark of the series. As are Dexter’s near break-downs, the spiralling into chaos. His desire to trust and love other human beings always thwarted.

The Miami Metro Homicide family are also what makes this series. They are not the most professional, do dally with corruption, but most of them want to do a good job. They are a family, complete with squabbles and changing allegiances. It’s just a shame that some of the interesting stuff happens between seasons, and for plot reasons. I’m thinking particularly of the relationships between María LaGuerta and Angel Batista.

Each series attracted some top-notch actors, including Jimmy Smits, John Lithgow, Edward James Olmos, and Charlotte Rampling in key roles in the seasonal story arcs that pits Dexter, the serial killer targeting killers who evade justice against other monsters in human form… often with monumental personal cost to Dexter, his (foster) sister Debra Morgan, and/or other members of his family, work colleagues, and close circle of friends.

And therein lies the problem I have with the series. The first year went with the big one – his unknown big brother being a rival serial killer terrorising Miami, who becomes romantically entangled with Debra, and sets Dexter up for an almighty fall as Miami’s most prolific serial killer. It’s hard, dramatically, to match that. Generally, the series does, but I do wonder about casual viewers, or those who came to it later and didn’t catch up with the box set. I suspect a lot of WTF moments, also known as a high reliance on the ‘previously on Dexter’ summaries.

It is a beautifully shot series, though not as arty as Hannibal. I haven’t looked, but if there isn’t there should be fanfic mixing up the Dexter world with CSI Miami.

There are a lot of people who are fascinated in serial killers, and in a small percentage that fascination is unhealthy. On a quick search of the internet, I wasn’t too surprised to see some individuals who committed crimes who had those crimes and their motivations linked to Dexter. A couple of real-life cases attempted to use methods depicted on the series to disguise their crimes – mostly unsuccessfully, as it turned out. The fact that there will be those viewing who will want to emulate what they see is a thing that creators of what are essentially police procedural dramas do need to take into consideration. More of a risk with documentaries, I would suggest, and while this might seem dismissive, it’s not as though people didn’t do these things before popular culture showed them. Fact is that Dexter Morgan, like Hannibal Lector, is a totally fictional character who obeys the demands of storytelling, which is not the same as reality.

All-in-all, I’d recommend the series as a well-crafted and acted drama, with moments of dark comedy and visceral – often psychological – horror.

The X-Files… extreme paranoia

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J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington DC © SJG 2013

I had just re-watched all of this rather odd little but wildly successful US TV series before they announced its brief revival last year. My thoughts on that I have copied below, taken from my previous blog-site. Most of my observations from then still stand, but some have shifted because of how the world has changed, politically. Plus, of course, there now exists six additional episodes with our old friends and tropes.

Overall, I am surprised by how fresh and lively the first few seasons still are. What caught the imagination of the world back in the 1990s still catches. It’s not until principal filming moved from Canada to California that the shine starts to dull. The Doggett and Reyes year suffers from the show drowning in its own heavy mythology. A shame, because those two characters, and Scully, are great and could have done so much. C’est la vie.

I like the second movie more each time I watch it. There’s an odd moment in it when Scully and Mulder are in the Hoover Building, flanking a portrait of then President George W. Bush. The X-Files theme tune echoes, and they give each other a weird little look. Then knowing, now…

I watched the first two episodes of the 2016 season close to its transmission. I enjoyed them, but work got in the way. I bought the DVD, and then decided to watch the whole series again. Glad I did. I do wonder how comprehensible five episodes of the six would be to the more casual viewer, even with the voice-overs and flash-backs.

The exception – ironically given the in-jokes – was Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster. Great fun, silly, and caught the essence of the brilliant stand-alone stories of maximum quirk from the first few seasons. It’s also a good tale, imaginatively told, with some fascinating characters.

The first and last episodes of the run top and tail it all, and when watched during the first sixty days of the current presidency of the USA is bizarre. I mentioned in my blog below my thoughts on how the shift in real-world politics also affected the show. My thoughts have sharpened on this.

Most of the X-Files aired during the Bill Clinton administration. There were conspiracies and lies, just as there had been during other presidencies, which is what the show picked up on and ran with. People believed some of what was depicted in the show. I remember smart people at my work who bought into the ‘based on truth’ advertising campaign way back at the start. I talked this over with a friend recently, and they observed that the series caught that comforting type of conspiracy theory where ridiculous things are believed of the government because while presenting a punching-bag to hit at, it simultaneously reassured them that the government was competent.

The 2016 season was made and aired during the end of the Obama presidency; eight years of bonkers conspiracy theories, but not a lot of actual scandal. An interesting shift in the socio-political zeitgeist that the first and last episodes gleefully dive in to play. The role of the internet in airing huge and whacky conspiracy theories and ‘fake news’ is poked at, as is the problem of how to work out what is true and what isn’t.

And now we are in a world where during the first days and weeks of a new administration the lines between rumour-mongers, partisan propagandists, and conspiracy theorists and official announcements by the Executive Branch are short. Congress – both main parties, by the way – is also playing these games, but the sound and vision of the White House communications is deafening and blinding those others through sheer volume and boldness. What was obviously planned in an amusing little TV SF show to push boundaries to extreme possibilities mere months ago now looks woefully timid.

I enjoyed my re-watch. I will always have a soft spot for the show, and I am glad they made the 2008 movie and the 2016 episodes. Only one episode truly stood out, though, which makes me ponder just how bankable nostalgia is on a sustainable basis. By the way, by bankable I don’t just mean money; I include the emotional and intellectual investment by viewers and fans.

I’ll end this with a small observation I spotted this time around: the X-Files traces the history of the mobile telephone. At first they are rare, car-bound (pretty much) bricks. The models our heroes use change each season, but most of the show’s run came before cameras became intrinsic to mobile phones. I can’t remember where I heard this, but someone has observed that the number of UFO sightings has decreased as the number of phones with cameras and internet connections increased, with a fairly obvious assumed causality between the two phenomena.

The X-Files, re-watched, re-assessed, & re-analysed

Posted originally on 5th January 2014.

When I was in Washington DC in September 2013 I was lucky enough to visit the FBI’s J Edgar Hoover building (pictured above). As a fan of a fair few fictional depictions of FBI agents (Clarice Starling, Dana Scully) it was a highlight of my visit.

On my return to London I decided to watch the TV series I like set in DC. I had the West Wing and the X-Files to choose from, and I plumped for the X-Files because someone had pointed out it was twenty years old.

Twenty years! Gosh. I remembered watching it when I still lived with my parents in their new house in North Sydney. Friends David and Kyla were about the only other folk I knew who watched those first few episodes on its first run on Aussie TV; they because of the links to Kolchack the Night Stalker me because it was like Project Bluebook and had the FBI in it. People picked up on it on its second run, if my memory serves me correctly, and then Australia went nuts about it. Seriously nuts. Gillian Anderson visited and got mobbed. It rated highly, and it was the first ‘genre show’ that got discussed by people not into sci-fi and all that at work. Well, so far as I was aware, at any rate. Though some work colleagues of mine had believed the line about the stories being based on truth and thought it was a series of dramatised documentaries. Oh, dear.

Anyway, I watched all the episodes and the two movies. I didn’t watch the Lone Gunmen series interspersed with the season of the X-Files that they should be. Not too much of a problem, that, although I did have to look up the plot synopses to make sense of one X-Files episode. I love the Lone Gunmen, by the way, just was one of a few underwhelmed by their short-lived series.

Things that struck me were just how good the first few seasons are. Then it seemed to get a bit lost in its own hype, and while I don’t think the quality dips there is a change and it becomes less enjoyable, somehow. Not bad, just missable. That’s roughly when the filming moves from Canada to California, so way before Doggett and Reyes get assigned. I think it’s because it loses a quirky sense of humour and takes itself and its own mythology way too seriously.

Given that it was mostly filmed in Canada those first few seasons get DC amazingly well. Obviously the production crew had access to interior shots of the Hoover Building, and external shots would have been easy. The geography made sense, and many of the first set of tales took place in the states close by to DC. I was also rather impressed that places that looked like the DC, Maryland or Virginia locales were used, too. I don’t think there are too many series that would bother if they didn’t need to.

And I loved all the little jokes about how much the X-Files unit costs the FBI in travel expenses.

I know there are a few reasons put forward by various, including Chris Carter and the production crew, about why the X-Files suddenly dived in popularity. I think it was partially that they ran out of stories after nine years, without having to recycle the same old. Also the bizarre paranoia thing about the US government and crazy conspiracies got a bit weird with real-life. Without ducking off into a history lesson, the fact is the USA is no different from any other country or political system in that in order to keep the status quo ‘safe’ there are steps that need to be taken that run counter to that system and its beliefs in its own status as ‘right’ or ‘most ideal’. Hoover pioneered many of those techniques with the early days of the FBI, and he and the Bureau weren’t alone. And, yes, of course they run the risk of being hooked up to a political ideology, and running rampant. There are well-documented cases of this, which makes for fertile ground to sow and reap great stories. In the early Bill Clinton years this all made sense. It wasn’t real, well not excessively so, so we could have some fun with the idea of a global conspiracy hiding aliens.

What fascinates me is just how George W. Bush’s presidency made it impossible to have fun with all this. Why? Because it became too believable. And I don’t think Barak Obama’s presidency is one where having a bit of fun with preposterous government conspiracies is viable for a TV series. Too many people believe the nonsensical – ‘birthers’, UN spoiling to attack the USA, ‘Obamacare’ having ‘death panels’ as a medical treatment strategy…

Yeah. The X-Files was a product of its time.

But, the X-Files was a lot more than just the conspiracy arc. The last time I watched the series (just before the second movie came out) I was really struck by how good many of the standalone episodes are. The oddball in particular. The ones where we never know just what it really was that caused the murders, or disappearances, or whatever it was our FBI Special Agents had to investigate. This re-watch confirmed that for me, and I still adore War of the Coprophages, Humbug, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose – just to name a few.

I hadn’t noticed the recurring insect people arc until this time.

One of the things that makes the X-Files enjoyable to re-watch are the characters. Despite neither Duchnovy or Anderson being particularly lively, both bring their characters to life, and their characters are pretty cool. There is character development, particularly with Scully, and by the last few seasons she’s rather weary in her shouldering responsibility for Mulder’s mission in life. Her reaction to loving him is fascinating. Anderson grew, I think, as an actor during the nine years she worked on the series and performs the role an increasingly assured but subtle way. And, hurrah, the writers didn’t screw up her characterisation.

Mulder is the main character, though, and even when he’s off hiding in the last few seasons his mark is indelible.

During the last year or so I’ve been reading up on Jungian theory and Meyers-Briggs. Yeah, that stuff that certain management and HR gurus like to whitter on about. Unfortunately, a lot of that stuff gets it wrong, which leaves it open to a lot of (justified) attack. However, those attacks were so obvious that Myers-Briggs warned against mis-using it… If only people would read original texts. Even read the stuff from those trained in it – some of whom are trained psychologists! (By the way, any critique that starts off with or includes that Myers and Briggs were ‘housewives’ betrays itself as lazy at best and also sexist.)

Anyway, my take on it all is this: it’s a theoretical model through which to try to explore / explain the different ways in which people understand the world, which manifests as personality. It’s based on models and ideas that have existed for millennia (yes, really). It’s being refined all the time as understanding grows, particularly in relation to physiology. But, it’s a difficult area. I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I’ve never had formal training in it. I do know that it doesn’t pretend to be a series of robust experiments, and it is susceptible to confirmation bias… but, it’s a tool that I’ve found useful in terms of understanding why I react the way I do and why it’s different to other people’s reactions. I’ve also found a bunch of folk, amateurs like me, who like exploring this stuff. Key word being ‘exploring’, there, not ‘believing in’. And part of that exploring is playing with it.

So… just doing a quick Google and it seems that there are some folk out there who argue Mulder is an INFP or INTJ, and argue against anyone who ‘types’ Mulder as an INTP. Well I think Mulder is an INTP… and it’s not wishful thinking. It was a continuing series of ‘OMG, that! Wow. He is so INTP’ as I watched the whole series.

I’ve been ‘typed’ professionally by different people – first time in Australia, second and third times in the UK – over the last 20 odd years. I’ve consistently come out as INTP. To spell out the letters to those of you who are probably thinking ‘WTF?’ – I’m an introvert (meaning I need to re-charge in quiet), intuitive (meaning I use my imagination to take in the world rather than my five senses), a thinker (meaning I consider logic over consideration of people) and a perceiver (meaning I keep my options open). That’s my four letter combination out of sixteen possible permutations.

For many, that’s enough. For others there is a slightly more complicated but ultimately more rewarding approach to do with functions and how they appear in the use stack.

Okay, a little diversion. The idea is that these are all preferred ways of taking in and interpreting the world. They are not the be all and end all. The common analogy is handedness – most people are either right or left handed, but if their dominant side was incapacitated in some way can use their other side. Some people are genuinely ambidextrous. So, in the Myers-Briggs world this translates most easily for those who are extroverted / introverted – plenty of introverts can extrovert (and vice versa). If you’re interested, Susan Cain’s book is rather good, as is her TED talk. Easy to search for 🙂

Function theory operates a fairly simple formula which looks at what the sixteen letters represent, asks whether the Sensing/Intuition and Thinking/Feeling pairs are extroverted or introverted and what order they come in – there are four preferred and the remaining four are what becomes dominant when I’m stressed.

For me as an INTP my function stack are, in order: introverted thinking (Ti, meaning I think and analyse obsessively – cannot switch it off, feel better when my brain is working on complex problems); extroverted intuition (Ne, meaning bouncing around from possibility to possibility); introverted sensing (Si, meaning I have a pretty good encyclopaedic memory of things that have happened before); and extroverted feeling (Fe, meaning I care obsessively about what other people think). The below brief explanation summarises it beautifully:

Ti: *masterminding* So, lets find a concise explanation for how this works…
Ne: *extremely excited* IDEAS! FROM MARS! On x and y and z and what about sigma??
Si: *serious and knowledgeable* Well, previous experience tells us that….
Fe: *worried* I do hope nobody minds…
(It’s from some folks on Tumblr – © 2011-14 Red Striped Alibis)

The higher up the stack, so the theory goes, the more developed the process is. The lower down the less developed. They all work together, too, with their varying levels of development. And all that is affected by personal experience, growth, etc, which is why we are none of us clones. But, it is scary when you discover other people who think and feel in ways similar to you, and even scarier when they’ve had similar experiences growing up despite being in different countries – not all English speaking.

Okay, enough about me. What about Mulder?

If he’s INTP then he is Ti, Ne, Si and Fe.
If he’s INFP then he is Fi, Ne, Si and Te.
If he’s INTJ then he is Ni, Te, Fi and Se.

So, what does that mean?

If he’s INFP then he values and considers importance, beliefs and worth first; interprets situations and relationships and picks up meaning and interconnections to other contexts; then reviews and recalls past experiences and seeks detailed data; and then segments and organises for efficiency and systematises his thoughts.

If he’s INTJ then he foresees implications, transformations and likely effects; then segments and organises for efficiency and systematises his thoughts; then values and considers importance, beliefs and worth; and then experiences and acts in the immediate context.

Yeah, I don’t think he’s an INTJ at all. Most of the time he’s in trouble because he hasn’t foreseen the implications of what’s going on. His acting in the immediate context is usually because he’s a trained FBI agent. He’s clearly got Ne in his stack, and fairly high up, too (‘extreme possibilities’ is his thing, after all).

What about INFP? Hm. Maybe. But I’m not sure he puts other people first ahead of his quest for the truth.

Regardless of whether he’s INTP or INFP – two of the stack are the same for both, it’s the primary and last ones that are different – and their placings do have an effect – he’s consistently driven to find out the answer to the mysteries presented, and contrary to an idea that pops up when people summarise the characters from the X-Files, he doesn’t automatically plump for the paranormal. In fact, he spends some of the series actively rejecting the idea of the aliens running everything (against Scully and against the evidence, arguably).

I think it does boil down to whether he’s driven by the need to analyse or the need to consider people’s beliefs.

The West Wing

I find politics fascinating in large part because it reveals so much about human nature. Our expression of our political beliefs betray how we view the world. To be clear, I’m not talking about political party allegiances, but actual politics. Meaning the struggle for power, and how it’s used (and abused), and how we acquiesce to those with power and those institutions and systems built to protect us from the worse excesses of it.

I also relish well-written, acted, and delivered drama. Best with a healthy dose of clever humour.

It’s obvious, but I adore the West Wing because it delivers on both.

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The White House, September 2013 © Sarah J Groenewegen

I had wanted to re-watch the West Wing a few times since my first visit to Washington DC in September 2013. Other TV shows demanded my attention more, and I had a tonne of work to do in both my day job and writing. Anyway, I promised myself I would watch it on my second – longer – visit to DC last year. Both times I was there was for work, by the way. Usually a rare opportunity so I feel doubly blessed for the experience. I smiled at the familiar sites that I had gotten to know through my visits.

I am always blown away by how fast out of the box the West Wing was – the first episode sets the pace, the style, the characters and situations deftly. No, brilliantly. It really is a masterclass in how to do it. I had to remind myself of when it first went out; the real-world events of Syria that is driving so much world politics now features, woven seamlessly into the fictional narrative of a fiercely intelligent (geeky) yet clumsy (okay, a nerd) President. Oh, referred to as POTUS when only a handful of people knew what that term meant.

I skipped the special episode that they made in commemoration of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. I watched it at the time of first broadcast when it fit in the political zeitgeist; now it interfered with the story arc.

The fifth year of the show dips in quality. Creator Aaron Sorkin’s gift at writing sparkling wit is what’s missing. The characters, situations, and delivery are all still high-class, but the particular type of humour. It recovers a bit in the last two years of the show, which gains a bit of confidence again – hey, we can deliver what Sorkin did.

Real-world politics is the lens through which I watched it over the last few months. Particularly pertinent for the last year when we are now in the throes of what must be one of the most peculiar US Presidential elections in history. I like the world of the West Wing because the Tea Party never made an appearance. The GOP have reasonable, intelligent, gifted people in it and working for it. They are a credible balance, even with its extreme edge (who are centrists when you compare them with almost the entire crop of the real-world ones).

On a far more positive note, I enjoyed the Santos-Obama feel. When talking about it with a friend last weekend, he mentioned that Jimmy Smits (who played Democratic nominee Matthew Santos) had modelled his performance on the young senator from Illinois.

If you’ve not seen it and you like well-written drama, do give it a go.  I was astonished as to how little it had aged, although – thankfully – we have advanced a bit in terms of combatting sexism as sometimes appears when characters interact and aren’t called out for it.