Over a decade ago ago, I wrote a post titled No more daft women! about one of my pet peeves when watching police procedural shows. While I like the detective and suspense story genre in general, one thing that annoys me is the use of a common trope and that is to have a female character, despite being expressly warned to be careful, do something unbelievably stupid that puts her life and the lives of others in danger. The ‘daft women’ phrase was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock asking “Is the woman daft?” to a screenwriter who was describing just such a development when they were working on The Birds.
But what is worse is when detectives, who should definitely know better, do something similar. I noticed this in two shows that I watched recently. In the first, two detectives investigating multiple missing persons whom they suspect were victims of a serial killer, stumble across a trapdoor covered by earth and leaves in the woods and upon lifting open the heavy lid, discover steps leading down and an awful stench emanating, suggesting the presence of decomposing bodies. So what do they do? Do they call for backup? Does one detective stay on guard outside while the other goes down? After all, the killer might be lurking nearby. No, they both climb down into the hole. If the killer had been around, all they would have had to do was simply close the lid, cover it up, and the two detectives would have joined the list of missing persons. Daft detectives.
The other story had something similar where a detective is investigating a serial killer and discovers a hidden trapdoor in the garage of a suspect. Since this takes place in a big city, it would not have taken much time to get backup there to guard the place while he goes down to investigate. But no, he goes down alone and sure enough, he gets ambushed and the trapdoor closed on him. Daft detective.
Both stories also had daft women but the one in the second story was a real doozy. A young woman is told that she might be the next victim of the serial killer and so the police put her and her child in a house with a detective to guard them. At some point in the night, the detective’s car alarm goes off and he goes to check what happened but does not return. So what does the woman do? Lock and bolt the door and call her police contacts and say that something is amiss and to send backup, as any normal person would do? Of course not, because that would be far too sensible. Instead, she leaves her sleeping child and goes outside into the night to investigate, walking into an isolated wooded area, calling out for the detective. This does not end well. Daft woman.
I understand the need for writers of these stories to create suspense. This is especially so in the case of mini-series where they like to end each episode with a cliffhanger. But can’t they do better than this? This is not creating suspense, it is just annoying. My reaction to such plot points is not to sit on the edge of my seat but to lean back and think “Oh, come on! Really?”
While I am venting, I have another peeve and that is the use of gratuitous graphic imagery. In the first story, the killer uses a knife to slash the victim’s throats. Do we really need to be shown the blood-spattered corpses with wide gashes in their necks and blood all over the place? In the second story, the killer dismembers the hands and feet of the victims. We could simply be told that. Do we really need to be repeatedly shown the bloodied stumps and the bloodied dismembered parts? Given the popularity of slasher and zombie and other forms of horror films, there are clearly people whose viewing experience is enhanced by seeing such things. But it is not clear to me that the kind of people who watch police procedurals fall into that category. They may enjoy the more cerebral aspects of the genre, the solving of the crime, rather than the visceral.