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The typical police procedural positively runs on the notion of the cops either hunting the criminal and solving the crime (despite the bad guy's efforts to evade detection), or better yet, stopping the criminal before they are able to culminate the crime, saving the putative next victim through their detectional heroics. But there are occasional episodes in various series wherein, despite the dramatic efforts of the fictive cops portrayed, in the end their work turns out to be all for show, as the turnout of events is pretty much what would have happened had the cops sat home and watched soap operas instead of digesting public resources through the chase.

There are two scenarios which I am especially concerned with here.

Scenario I: Criminal plots elaborate kidnap/murder/heist, integral part of such being that it culminates in his own capture or death. Exemplary of this is the movie Seven -- for all of the heroism displayed by the detectives played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, the end result -- the "capture" and killing of Kevin Spacey's sin-themed psycho (which is not really a capture at all, as he walks into the police station and surrenders himself). That, it turns out, is all part of Spacey's plan, as is being on the receiving end of a bullet to the brain pan. On a small-screen scale, there's an episode of Criminal Minds which featured a man who kidnapped three high school girls and kept them locked in a cellar for several days (all the while, the team frantically tracking down leads to his whereabouts); finally, the kidnapper instructs the captives: they must select one among them to die, and the other two must kill the third -- with sledgehammers. Do the cops solve the crime in time to prevent this death? Nope, but they do find the two surviving girls.... because the kidnapper drops them off in the alley behind the police station. But, at least, they're able to figure out who the kidnapper is (not hard, once the girls, who have seen his face, have been essentially handed over). Which, naturally, he expected. When they get to his house, he's sitting in the cellar with the remaining body, calmly awaiting the arrival of the authorities. The "Criminal Minds" super-brilliant FBI team wasn't needed to solve this caper at all -- had they never shown up, things would have gone down just the same, except maybe the bad guy would've had to sit in the cellar a wee bit longer.

Scenario II: Criminal's elaborate plot is thwarted by the intended victim; cops, having slaved away the day to figure out the whole thing, show up just in the nick of time to.... clean up the mess left behind. Where this happens in films, it's usually because the struggle of the victim is the actual focus of the film. Maybe the investigators will even show up just as the victim is preparing to wreak revenge upon her captor (yes, it's just about always a "her" in these instances) and talk her down from exacting rough justice. Another Criminal Minds episode highlights this case. Two brothers have been nabbing stranded motorists and hauling them out to Idaho deep country, there to hunt them like The Most Dangerous Game with bows and arrows. But, while the law enforcement types are still trying to piece together the modus operandi at play, the hunter-killers' latest victim has already turned the tables on them -- gut-stabs the younger brother in a way that will very shortly turn out to be fatal; then goes up a tree to launch herself A-Team-style at the older brother. Oh, and she stabs him too, clearly causing injury, and totally could have killed him with a few more plunges of the knife (if television was logical), but instead runs away. Fortunately the team shows up just then to kill the would-be-hunter. Except, seeing as how he's already been stabbed, while his victim remained pretty much unscathed, he'd not have been able to keep up with her anyway, while she could have doubled back anytime to finish him off. All they succeeded in doing, for all their efforts, was moving up the time of death for the last brother standing.

Where these sorts of plots happen in episodic crime-solving television, it's usually a way to throw a bit of a twist into the episode. The crime scene readers still get to show off their chops, following the clues to track down the bad guy. But once there, they either find the bad guy sitting over his dead/dying victim, asking, "what took you so long?" or they find the victim sitting over her dead/dying bad guy, posing the same query.