I am afraid that "UNTETHERED" is a prime example of what has gone wrong with an exceptional TV series.
I grew up with 1970s crime shows. So many years went by without any good ones that I stopped watching current TV shows until CSI brought me back a few years ago. I came late to Law & Order: Criminal Intent, running across it only in middle-season re-runs on a local station (no cable). I found the Goren character to be one of the most original, interesting, impressive, and well-acted TV crime-solvers I had seen in years. And I liked the sharp, spunky, natural, grounded Eames. The show was a nice, professional mix of police procedural and mystery. The cast was uniformly good, the tone serious, the presentation authentic and well-paced, and the writing intelligent.
But as the episodes cycled through to the late seasons, the Goren character suffered. His sharp observations dwindled, his lines became flat, ordinary, and inarticulate, he seemed to lose focus and have less and less to do, he began to look sloppy, and he succumbed to exaggerated, cliche personality problems that interfered with his work. It did not help that the show's writing sometimes became heavy-handed in its treatment of social issues, overly reliant on trumped-up confrontations, and excessively negative and bleak, seemingly just for the sake of it.
A story that can bring together the detective's professional and personal lives can be powerful -- "ENDGAME" was a clever, intense example. But the effort to do so should not so overwhelm the series that it crowds out regular story lines (which appear to be increasingly few and mediocre) and does lasting damage to the character.
"UNTETHERED" was a hasty, obscure, cobbled-together narration of events and manifestations that never came together or made a clear point. It tried to give the impression of deep meaning but never delivered. There was too little effort at focused, insightful storytelling. The normal trappings of gritty tone, settings, and performances, and a nice job drawing the nephew's character and his interaction with Goren, only made all the more glaring the overall lack of vision and failure to develop, connect, and resolve the story lines -- bad relationship with brother (left with a clumsy fistfight), existence of nephew (left with Goren wandering Times Square), prison abuse (left -- after a confusing, unpleasant depiction of Goren in jail and an anticlimactic end to his stay when Ross and Eames simply bail him out of trouble -- with yet another cliche scene in which knuckleheaded police brass chew out the do-gooding detective).
Because the show had too little interesting to say about any of the plot lines, the story came off as little more than a contrivance to inject the disparate subplots, jam Goren into a trying situation, and push his behavior toward ever more dysfunctional extremes -- with damage to the credibility of the other regulars, too.
The writers not only seem intent on destroying a fine crime-show character by wallowing in increasingly maudlin psychological forays for no good reason (the feeling after many seasons that they may have "done it all" in terms of crime stories -- the recent "Smile" episode about fatal product substitutions did seem recycled -- is simply no excuse for disabling, unpleasant meanderings into Goren's psyche that have no valid point). The writers also fail to recognize that even if they persist in obsessing on character frailties, rather than effective story-telling, more must be done to convey what is going on inside Goren's head than simply having him look sloppy, mumble, shamble around, and occasionally strike out like a wounded animal.
I agree with the other reviews that were disappointed with this episode, and I hope the show rights itself very soon. NBC dropping the series from its regular schedule after six seasons is already a wake-up call. That a series of such high quality over so many years is still in production is a great blessing. Please do not blow it.