'Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders': TV Review

Darren Michaels/CBS
Xenophobic trash.

This 'Criminal Minds' spinoff shamelessly mines fears of international locations and foreign cultures.

Moving on from the prevalent misogyny of the original Criminal Minds, CBS' new spinoff Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders is a pure distillation of xenophobia. A shameless combination of international b-roll and Trump Era paranoia, Beyond Borders stands as a compelling argument for building that wall around Mexico and not stopping until it contains and protects the entirety of our fragile, fragile nationhood. 

In short, it sounds like there could be a huge audience for Beyond Borders, CBS' second attempt to build a franchise around the long-running hit Criminal Minds, though you can be forgiven for having repressed Suspect Behavior and its 13-episode run in 2011.

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders is essentially an inversion of the Criminal Minds formula, which has been dedicated to the horrors lurking beneath American banality, the terror of the everyday. For 250+ episodes, Criminal Minds has let viewers know that every seemingly benign shopkeeper or school teacher could have a killing room in their [mostly "his"] basement and that anybody [mostly "women"] could be the next victim. One of the things the show has done most successfully is lure recognizable actors, usually performers best known as likable or bland types, giving them the opportunity to play dark and twisted. 

So if Criminal Minds is about distrusting the recognizable and mundane, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders is about the fear of the unfamiliar, the fear of the other, the fear of the foreign and of foreigners. There's little harm in the Criminal Minds formula, because that show's viewers aren't going to suddenly stop going to the bowling alley or the grocery store or their church just because they saw a pin-setter or a bagger or a pastor trussing women up in dark spaces. It's fairly easy to get the cautionary lesson from Beyond Borders, in which visiting a different place becomes a recipe for abduction, human trafficking or organ harvesting. The MO of the typical Criminal Minds unsub is usually an internalized psychoses of some sort, but in both episodes of Beyond Borders made available for critics, the unsubs were fueled by something cultural, something specifically alien to our Western culture. On Criminal Minds, unsubs are aberrations, but on Beyond Borders, they're products of their non-American environments, lurking in wait for tourists, young tourists, as their parents huddle at home in misery.

Subsequent episodes of Beyond Borders may vary the formula, but I can only draw conclusions based on the representative episodes I've seen and those are what CBS has chosen to lead with.

Premiering on Wednesday, the first Beyond Borders episode available for critics focuses on two young American women, working at a farm in Thailand, who find themselves kidnapped and sobbing within the opening eight minutes, which has always been practically the Criminal Minds default setting. The second episode moves to Mumbai where a young American guy attending an EDM festival blacks out and wakes up in a slum missing his kidney. In both instances, we learn that this kind of thing happens somewhat frequently, but the local authorities are either too backward or too overwhelmed or too invested attending to their own people to help tourists, so the FBI's International Response Team is sent in. Team America!

Leading the IRT squad with the gruff authority that has made him CBS' go-to star for third franchise installments is Gary Sinise, playing Jack Garrett, a name that probably came from the CBS Procedural Lead Name Generator. He's accompanied by superficial cultural expert Clara (Alana de la Garza), daredevil-y Matt (Daniel Henney) and caustic former coroner Mae (Annie Funke). Back at Quantico, Monty (Tyler James Williams) consoles nervous family members, does social media research and communicates with the rest of the team via the most reliable satellite or cellphone service ever.

Like the mothership, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders alternates between scenes of pure, gut-level manipulation — a dark-skinned Indian threatening a blue-eyed tourist child, a fearsome Thai tribesman with piercings growling at a shivering damsel — and stagnant scenes of characters sitting on airplanes or in squad rooms spitballing theories and saying "unsub" over and over.

Countries tend to be established with stock footage, but then Beyond Borders was shot locally, because if you're going to deal with an international location in the most superficial way possible, you don't want to be feeding money into their indigenous filmmaking industries. In both episodes, arrival in the foreign countries is accompanied by a fortune cookie proverb from said country, Clara giving a lecture on the obstructionist religious and ethnographic behaviors in the country and the introduction of domestic cops who are invariably chauvinistic and have single lines of dialogue to explain why they speak perfect English.  

Early permutations of the CSI and NCIS franchises were just about geographical variations, but CBS' new spinoff ethos seems to be "Things we can do to scare your grandma." CSI: Cyber may not last long enough to permanently keep elderly relatives off of the Internet, but the dismal Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders may be perfectly timed to tap into the nativist rhetoric of the election cycle.

Cast: Gary Sinise, Alana de la Garza, Daniel Henney, Annie Funke, Tyler James Williams
Creator: Erica Messer
Airs: Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET/PT (CBS).

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