In his excellent podcast, “TV on the Internet,” Todd VanDerWerff brings up the possibility that our favorite critical darling may be a tad overrated. His point is that, because the show is all but certain to be canceled before its second season, our desire to see the show survive may be getting in the way of our critical eye, making us prone to ignore some of the problems the show has. And if it’s problems we’re looking for, “Missing Persons” shows us there are a few.
The episode follows Hank and Britt as they try and help out a kid who’s lost his memory. While it seems that the show has couched some its main serialized arc — the Lindus story — there are still emotional stories being carried over from previous weeks. The largest of which here is Britt and Katie’s relationship after Katie slept with one of her professors. Also explored is Hank’s relationship with his sister, who as it turns out began exhibiting signs of mental illness when she was in college, and is the primary reason Hank is so willing to help out this amnesiac youth they’ve run across.
This is where the problems begin exhibiting themselves. As you may have guessed, I don’t watch many (read, any) procedurals, so it’s possible that this is just a setback of the genre, but the ways in which Hank and Britt have stumbled across these more contained cases has never felt particularly organic. This time, they just happen to be in the diner the amnesiac teen has locked himself in the bathroom of, trying to remember which way he used to comb his hair. And we’re off. For two pretty aimless guys, Hank and Britt sure do have more than their share of luck stumbling across people who could really use a pair of private investigators. Too much of this becomes a little tiresome, although I can accept the criticism that, if you didn’t have this sort of thing, you wouldn’t have a show. I don’t like it, but let’s move on.
The big parallel in this episode is Hank’s relationship to this young man and his relationship with his sister, and him coming to the realization that he can’t help either of them as much as he’d like to. After hallucinating an afternoon playing with a neighbor girl, Steph realizes that she’s not getting better and decides to check herself back into a hospital. Maybe I’m missing something here, but taking Steph out of the equation feels like the show is being robbed of one of its best kept secrets, and going forward, I honestly don’t think things will be as interesting as they could have been. The stellar work of Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James notwithstanding.
It also feels like the end of Steph’s arc on the show has retroactively lowered its stakes. Especially in “Manifest Destiny,” there seemed to be the possibility that she wouldn’t stay such a passive character, but instead find some way to help Hank and Britt with… who knows what. In the end, it just never materialized, and having her there just to reveal some deep, emotional truth about Hank seems like a situation mishandled.
As to whether or not this poses a problem to the show, well, your mileage will vary, but to me it’s indicative of the fact that the show is good and not great, and I honestly don’t think I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t show up in the 2011-2012 season. I mean, we should always mourn the loss of good television, but when you really have so much other good stuff out there, I don’t mind having my plate cleared a little here and there.