Season 1 Episode 8

Cruel and Unusual

Aired Saturday 10:00 PM Dec 14, 1996 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
32 votes

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Episode Summary

Cruel and Unusual
Sam and the team investigate a series of bizarre slayings whose victims were connected to a murderer sentenced to die within days.

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  • 5 of 5 serrated blades

    This episode works on every level. I really feel like it took Profiler this long to hit its stride but creators, cast and crew have pulled off an amazing episode, without cheating, without filler, without playing unfairly with the audience. Even the scenes with Jack of All Trades maintain the mood rather than draining the energy from the episode. It’s about time for Profiler to realize it’s promise.

    From the opening sequence, the episode creates a sensation of disorientation in the midst of clarity. The camera focuses tightly on individual features, keeps those features in perfect focus – the voiceovers then create the sense of disorientation and confusion. In the opening sequence we see lips, hand, cleavage, vanity but not a whole person – even the glimpses of the dog are an angle rather than head on. This imagery continues through the episode reaching a high point in Sam’s meetings with Ronnie McDern – the tight camera focus on their motionless, almost unblinking eyes, their mouths, Ronnie’s tattoos, their faces mostly lost in shadow, glancing up at one another, heads tilted slightly away from the camera and their voices whispering above the musical score; the cadence of their voices mix and mesh, ebb and flow. The final scene between them, when Sam flatly says “From the moment I met him, he’s been trying to manipulate me,” is a brilliant moment of clarity – we realize Sam has not been taken in by his compelling presence but has rather seen what he was doing and allowed him to operate as he wished. Sam even describes him as a natural psychologist using that skill on the people around him. That moment of clarity stands in opposition to the most of the episode and compels the viewer to pay attention.

    Visually, the episode effectively keeps the actors off center in the screen. In several scenes – Ronnie’s walk to his execution in particular – the actor moves through the center of the screen without ever inhabiting it. In a number of scenes – John’s chase through the animal shelter – the actors run along the edges rather than the center of camera’s view. It communicates to me a sense of imbalance – as if the action cannot move to center of our view but remains so compelling that we are drawn fully into it.

    The scenes with the bodies and cages continue the sense of disorientation – objects snap into focus, then out, we catch glimpses of scenery, of cast, of victims all the while camera is a bit off – viewing from an angle rather than cleanly focused. The camera’s eye is both so unblinking and yet not quite right that it disorients the viewer. This episode milks iconic images to the hilt – the scene at the animal shelter in particular you see John in the middle with Bailey ahead and Sam behind – Bailey is mostly lost in shadows, turning back to look at Sam and John, John is seen more clearly, while Sam is little more than a dark silhouette.

    The procedural aspects of this episode just work. The VCTF team functions as a team – handing off information like runners in a race handing the baton to the next runner.

    Ally Walker has never looked better in the role of Sam Waters – she inhabited the role perfectly – strong, insightful, capable, communicating not a feminine softness but feminine strength.

    The episode also delves intelligently into murderer groupies and opposition to the death penalty. Sam’s explanation about the relationship between violence, masculinity and femininity feels psychologically true, no matter how disturbing. The candlelight vigil scene at the end is the second scene in the episode that isn’t disorienting – it in instead clear, focused, and again, iconic – the golden flames forming a sea of hopes against a dark world.

    Ronnie’s final scene reiterates the opening sequence – focusing on his eyes, his mouth, his shoes moving uncomfortably, then finally, his face half lost in shadow and his eye closing.

    This episode had several Standout scenes: Sam in Bed – she goes to bed, the light fades, then the sun rises, her alarm clock goes off, she hasn’t closed her eyes.

    Sam’s scenes with Ronnie.

    Bailey and John:

    Bailey: The local police . . . are pretty freaked. They’re not used to this kind of stuff.

    John: And we’re supposed to be?

    My only complaint against this episode is the scene in the animal shelter with Helen. As Helen speaks, her words are so disorienting – you know she’s not recounting real events but the character obviously believes they happened. There’s a moment when the viewer almost believes what Helen is saying about her time with Ronnie. Almost but not quite. Her sudden dash from the VCTF team is the only discordant note in the scene.

    Summary: A great episode – tightly plotted and with both mood and pace carefully maintained, visually consistent with itself, characters at the forefront. This episode sets the standard for Profiler.moreless
Ally Walker

Ally Walker

Dr. Samantha "Sam" Waters

Dennis Christopher

Dennis Christopher

Jack of All Trades / Albert Newquay

Erica Gimpel

Erica Gimpel

Angel Brown

Julian McMahon

Julian McMahon

Det. John Grant

Peter Frechette

Peter Frechette

George Fraley

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

Agent Bailey Malone

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions