Comic books, science fiction, fantasy, horror and other genres have a long history of asking tough questions about society and doing so in a way that allows them to come in "under the radar" and address those questions. Cycle of Violence wants to ask tough questions about society and children, it wants to engage us in a discussion about violence and abuse. We get a series of murders - in every case the victim is an abuser of some sort. Geographically they all center on a specific high school. We get an abusive husband who lives across the street from one of the students; an abusive mother of one of the students; the abusive school nurse, and finally a bully and drug dealer who tormented the students.
The show introduces us to the element of fantasy - the comic book Van Jour in which a female heroine uses a flaming sword to subdue her enemies and then places a purifying crystal in their hands to remove the taint of their misdeeds. The VCTF of course hunts down the author - living like a madwoman in a tumble down house in Virginia. Written and played like a stereotype crazy lady the author - Edie Long - gasps and grins and offers empty new agey sounding platitudes about Atlantis and crystals. Of all the creative directions possible with this character, Profile chose the one guaranteed to let us not take her or her message seriously. Further investigation uncovers a possible suspect - a student at the school; Malone and Grant search his house, find incriminating evidence (Van Jour style drawings) and take him into custody. While he's in custody the fourth victim (the bully/drug dealer) is killed. Sam comments that she doesn't think a boy would be killing Van Jour style - Van Jour's appeal is to girls. The team uncovers the identity of the killer - the boy's girlfriend - interviews her mother, reinterviews the boy, realizes she's going to kill her parents (her father abused her mother, the couple was trying to reconcile). They catch her with flaming sword in hand and her parents trussed ready to die. Sam talks to the girl, tells her that her escape into fantasy is hurting not helping her. Balley grabs the sword and everyone is rescued.
Cycle of Violence wants to ask serious questions about violence and abuse and the ways in which adults who mistreat children create adults who will commit acts of violence. To do so, the episode tried to create the mythology of Van Jour - an avenging warrior who punishes and then spiritually purifies wrong doers. It almost works - Cycle of Violence could easily be an episode that scores 10 out of ten. What holds it back is flawed execution; making the author a crazy lady undermines any of her comments about good and evil. The mythology of the story disappears to quickly, leaving us as viewers without the fantasy element through which we can connect to the episode's larger goal - namely inviting us into an exploration of what happens when children are victims of and exposed to adult violence.
Watching Cycle of Violence it's clear the creative team was harkening back to earlier episodes that covered similar ground - Victims of Victims and Birthright. The effort is laudable but falls short of the mark.
A long unproductive scene between Sam and Sharon Lesher in the middle of the episode doesn't help. We also get a couple scenes of Jack whispering oh so menacingly. Here's the problem: we're almost at the end of the season, it's obvious we're being set up for a "major" confrontation with Jack. Which bodes badly for the remaining three episodes.