Monday, May 27, 2013


Episode 1: Creeping Tom
Episode 2: Crimes of Passion
By: Carlos Uribe

Motive is a cop show that tries to determine why someone kills a person.

Spoilers Ahoy!

The whole idea behind Motive is in it's title. This is a cop show that's interested in motive. Why was someone killed? It's a pretty good question and it's one that can be really compelling with the right writers. Motive doesn't have the right writers. It's too much of a standard cop show to really be able to answer the motive question. It has a gimmick that sets it apart from other cop shows but that's all it is: a gimmick. It's a hook that also bites the show's hand because it actually makes the whole investigation feel tedious rather than interesting. This is because there's basically two halves of Motive. The first half follows the killer and the victim. There are flashbacks to what led up to the murder and the killer is seen reacting to the investigation. This is basically the only half of the show that is actually focus on the motive. It allows the show to develop the killer and victim more than the standard procedural but it's also a challenge to make weekly compelling characters. They're not really given enough time to properly explore it's own themes. How interesting would it have been in Crimes of Passion if the show had spent some time on the mayoral candidate dealing with election issues? The show simply sets him up as a candidate but it doesn't really do much with it other than the occasional reference. How interesting could Creeping Tom have been if it had been more interested in exploring the attraction of invisibility? We get that the killer valued being a ghost but why? It's a bit odd that his claimed motive was that he wanted to remain in the shadows but the show doesn't actually explore what that means. It's trying to be profound but only remaining on the surface level. That interrogation scene where he basically states that's why he killed the teacher is so bad because it doesn't dig deeper and because the writers felt the need to add it because the flashbacks hadn't properly answered that. Motive thinks that it can simply answer the question by stating the motive. That's not good enough: every single other cop show already does this. A show called Motive should be interested in pursuing a deeper analysis into motives.

A large problem with Motive is the other half of the show: the procedural. It's in this half where the gimmick ends up hurting the show. Most cop shows work because they're trying to answer Who? killed someone. The story structures of most cop shows are formed to effectively answer this question. Motive isn't trying to do that. It outright tells you who the killer is at the beginning of the episode. The viewer should be concentrating on trying to figure out why. The problem is that the actual police investigation part of the narrative doesn't take this into account. It basically plays out like any other cop drama only it comes out as tedious and annoying. It basically means waiting for the detectives to catch up to the audience-which can take almost the whole episode. That's basically time that is spent on the series trying to answer a question the viewers already know the answer to rather than the one that the writers are supposed to be trying to answer. Motive is a show that would work far better if it was less a mystery drama of the cops having to investigate the suspects and more as a cop drama where the detectives know who the killer is and have to prove it. The detectives should be spending a lot more time in the interrogation room to try and find the motive. They should figure out every aspect of the lives of the killer and the victim to find why one of them killed the other. How much stronger would the two episodes have been at developing and exploring the motives if the cops would actually be doing that? Motive shoots itself in the foot because it follows the typical cop drama structure when it should have created one that suited it's needs.

The protagonist of this show is named Angela Flynn. She's a detective who is pretty good at her job and cares about catching the right bad guy. She's tough-as-nails without being judgmental. Her sense of humor allows her to remain human. She's not a bad character but she's not the most compelling to build a character around. While a procedural might depend on the weekly cases as it's driving narrative force, the reason a viewer picks a show over others is because they want to solve crimes with this group. Angela is likeable but she's not a very interesting person. I could care less about her. What's worse is that her superhuman gift basically means that she never falls for overwhelming evidence. She can simply tell when a person is innocent so that even if everything points to them, she'll be convinced they didn't do it. This works for her because she's never wrong. She doesn't make any mistakes and her drive basically means she'll pursue what she believes to be true. This wouldn't be a problem if she was driven beyond hunches or if she was sometimes wrong. It's that she's a perfect protagonist who is able to catch the bad guy because she can basically smell out red herrings that ultimately weakens the show. A compelling character is one that is capable of making mistakes and that doesn't always know whether a person is innocent upon a first impression. Angela would be a much more interesting character if her drive was as much a flaw as it was a weakness. I don't mean like the politician episode where her convictions landed her in some trouble because it ultimately didn't affect the case. She needs to be able to mess up. If her drive isn't going to be a flaw then she should be able to be wrong. It would have been a great twist in one of the episodes if one of the people she thought was innocent turned out to be a killer. He doesn't have to get away but at least it would add a level of edge to her character beyond having a superpower of smelling red herrings.

The rest of the detectives on Motive are largely forgettable. She's close to her partner, Vega. He basically acts as a foil in that he's willing to let the evidence actually speak for itself. This could have been an interesting angle for the show to take but he's always wrong. He believes the red herrings are guilty until Angela is able to convince him. Vega has very little actual backbone and his role in solving cases is minimal. The rookie detective is Lucas but he primarily just gets paper and his newness basically defines him. Their boss is Boyd but he's like any other boss on police shows. He's there to add pressure but Motive never actually makes this matter. Angela doesn't seem to take him seriously which undermines any tension his authority might have wrought. The medical examiner is Betty and I think the show is trying to make her a quirky character but she felt too uninspired to land. What cop show doesn't have a quirky medical examiner? I guess television writers figure that because they investigate dead bodies, it's an easy excuse to make them odd. The final character only really appeals in one episode is Manny, Angela's teenage son. He doesn't really make an impression other than a typical teenager. None of the team really stands out which leaves viewers little reason to come back to watch this show. Angela is too perfect and isn't compelling enough to serve as a protagonist while the rest of the characters are too willing to serve in the background. I will admit that the banter between the detectives is strong: it would be greatly serviced if the characters had more of a presence within the narrative.

Motive is a cop show that tried to answer a different question but it simply can't answer it. The structure of the police investigations are too centered around Who did it rather than Why. The half of the show that follows the characters is too brief to really have any level of depth or too weak to explore motives on a meaningful level. The protagonist Angela is likeable but she's not compelling as a main protagonist and she's far too perfect at her job. The side characters feel like they're in the background rather than players on the show.

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