How to tell “who done it” in a TV mystery

My wife and I have been watching an array of television mysteries.  As I have noted, one way to determine who the murderer is in any contemporary American television drama is to notice which character is the most religious.  He or she will almost invariably be the killer.

Since religion is often not evident at all in the TV universe, this rule will not be applicable to every episode.  But we have devised another rule:  If a guest star from any of the old Star Trek series appears in the episode, he or she will be the killer.

Spoiler alert:  In a recent Criminal Minds marathon that my wife and I indulged in last weekend (don’t ask why), three successive episodes featured the actors who played Wesley Crusher, Neelix, and Odo, all of whom provided evidence for our hypothesis.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    The killer (with occasional exception) is..
    -white male
    -religious
    -capitalist/business owner
    -gun owner
    -conservative/republican leanings
    -heterosexual
    -usually has the “picture-perfect” family life, i.e.-not divorced or separated

    This is one of the reasons I have a tough time watching cop shows anymore. More often than not, the above is your formula for figuring out who your killer is (As I said, there are occasional exceptions, but tell me the last time you saw a minority race-liberal-treehugging-bisexual-socialist/communist-antigun-single villain).

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    The killer (with occasional exception) is..
    -white male
    -religious
    -capitalist/business owner
    -gun owner
    -conservative/republican leanings
    -heterosexual
    -usually has the “picture-perfect” family life, i.e.-not divorced or separated

    This is one of the reasons I have a tough time watching cop shows anymore. More often than not, the above is your formula for figuring out who your killer is (As I said, there are occasional exceptions, but tell me the last time you saw a minority race-liberal-treehugging-bisexual-socialist/communist-antigun-single villain).

  • Carl Vehse

    J. Dean @1: “As I said, there are occasional exceptions, but tell me the last time you saw a minority race-liberal-treehugging-bisexual-socialist/communist-antigun-single villain”

    You’re right. It’s more likely those types will show up as posters on blog sites like Cranach.

  • Carl Vehse

    J. Dean @1: “As I said, there are occasional exceptions, but tell me the last time you saw a minority race-liberal-treehugging-bisexual-socialist/communist-antigun-single villain”

    You’re right. It’s more likely those types will show up as posters on blog sites like Cranach.

  • http://chriskrycho.com/ Chris Krycho

    You might find Castle a refreshing exception. The killers are often a bit more varied.

  • http://chriskrycho.com/ Chris Krycho

    You might find Castle a refreshing exception. The killers are often a bit more varied.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Not only Castle, but also the numerous CSI and NCIS productions. And all the British ones (Midsomer, Cracker, New Tricks, etc etc). And Canadian ones (Murdoch Mysteries, Republic of Doyle….). In fact, the group of shows that do that kind of thing (Law & Order maybe??) seems quite small.

    But lets not let the evidence get in the way, shall we?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Not only Castle, but also the numerous CSI and NCIS productions. And all the British ones (Midsomer, Cracker, New Tricks, etc etc). And Canadian ones (Murdoch Mysteries, Republic of Doyle….). In fact, the group of shows that do that kind of thing (Law & Order maybe??) seems quite small.

    But lets not let the evidence get in the way, shall we?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    BTW, I was responding to J Dean & he-who-must-not-be-named.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    BTW, I was responding to J Dean & he-who-must-not-be-named.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Veith, you have come pretty close to the truth on identifying the TV culprit. The rule of thumb is the recognizable “guest” actor is always the guilty party. I stopped watching a lot of mystery shows because once I figured it out it wasn’t fun anymore, my memory for faces is just a little too good. Pretty much the only ones I watch are Castle, Psych, and NCIS and that is because I like the characters.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Veith, you have come pretty close to the truth on identifying the TV culprit. The rule of thumb is the recognizable “guest” actor is always the guilty party. I stopped watching a lot of mystery shows because once I figured it out it wasn’t fun anymore, my memory for faces is just a little too good. Pretty much the only ones I watch are Castle, Psych, and NCIS and that is because I like the characters.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    DrLit21C – that is quite true, and one reason why I prefer not to watch shows were the “recipe” is very clear.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    DrLit21C – that is quite true, and one reason why I prefer not to watch shows were the “recipe” is very clear.

  • DonS

    I enjoy NCIS occasionally. I think it breaks that mold that Dr. Veith references. Criminal Minds is a really dark show, though it tends to be well written and I have watched it from time to time. Law & Order, particularly the original series, was by far the most agenda-driven procedural I have seen. I can’t count the number of Christian “wackos” that show portrayed — they had the stereotype down pat.

  • DonS

    I enjoy NCIS occasionally. I think it breaks that mold that Dr. Veith references. Criminal Minds is a really dark show, though it tends to be well written and I have watched it from time to time. Law & Order, particularly the original series, was by far the most agenda-driven procedural I have seen. I can’t count the number of Christian “wackos” that show portrayed — they had the stereotype down pat.

  • http://www.matthewcochran.net/blog Matt Cochran

    Usually the case, I’m afraid. Still, there are some fun exceptions out there. The X-Files, for example, had one in which the snake-handling Baptist preacher turned out to be the good guy while the tolerant mainline liberal pastor was a demon in disguise.

  • http://www.matthewcochran.net/blog Matt Cochran

    Usually the case, I’m afraid. Still, there are some fun exceptions out there. The X-Files, for example, had one in which the snake-handling Baptist preacher turned out to be the good guy while the tolerant mainline liberal pastor was a demon in disguise.

  • Suzanne

    I don’t agree. I’ve watched a lot of crime shows in my day, and have not found this to be true at all. One often finds the evidence one seeks to support your viewpoint, not the evidence that is truly there.

  • Suzanne

    I don’t agree. I’ve watched a lot of crime shows in my day, and have not found this to be true at all. One often finds the evidence one seeks to support your viewpoint, not the evidence that is truly there.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Exactly Suzanne.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Exactly Suzanne.

  • Ellen

    When I saw the episode of Criminal Minds with Wesley Crusher I wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief. Even with the beard…he just couldn’t be a killer! Sorry, Wil Wheaton.

  • Ellen

    When I saw the episode of Criminal Minds with Wesley Crusher I wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief. Even with the beard…he just couldn’t be a killer! Sorry, Wil Wheaton.

  • LEW

    I don’t watch enough TV to be able to speak with authority on this subject, but I am a great fan of the mystery genre (I am a minister and I suspect that Dorothy Sayers was right: ministers like mysteries because their underlying theme is “Be sure your sins will find you out”). My wife and I are Americans temporarily working and residing in Canada, and we have become great fans of one of the shows that Klasie mentions above — The Murdoch Mysteries. If you ever have the opportunity to see it, I commend it to you.

  • LEW

    I don’t watch enough TV to be able to speak with authority on this subject, but I am a great fan of the mystery genre (I am a minister and I suspect that Dorothy Sayers was right: ministers like mysteries because their underlying theme is “Be sure your sins will find you out”). My wife and I are Americans temporarily working and residing in Canada, and we have become great fans of one of the shows that Klasie mentions above — The Murdoch Mysteries. If you ever have the opportunity to see it, I commend it to you.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Maybe we should start keeping track. Make it a drinking game, perhaps :D

    BTW, I think the most dangerous killer would be a cop: a person who knows the law, knows police procedure, knows what is examined and how suspects are arraigned and questioned, would be the most dangerous killer of all.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Maybe we should start keeping track. Make it a drinking game, perhaps :D

    BTW, I think the most dangerous killer would be a cop: a person who knows the law, knows police procedure, knows what is examined and how suspects are arraigned and questioned, would be the most dangerous killer of all.

  • Ryan

    I just watched that episode of the X-files (watching the cops episode now…hilarious)

    Anyway, Warehouse 13 has had sever past star trek stars on recently (Kate Mulgrew, Brent Spiner, and Jeri Ryan) and I think only one was the bad guy so far (Brent Spiner) and he only ended up being a figment of one of the main Character’s imagination, more or less.

  • Ryan

    I just watched that episode of the X-files (watching the cops episode now…hilarious)

    Anyway, Warehouse 13 has had sever past star trek stars on recently (Kate Mulgrew, Brent Spiner, and Jeri Ryan) and I think only one was the bad guy so far (Brent Spiner) and he only ended up being a figment of one of the main Character’s imagination, more or less.

  • http://chriskrycho.com/ Chris Krycho

    J. Dean, something very close to that was the hook of a recent episode of Castle. It gave the episode a very believable level of tension. (I won’t go into more. Spoilers.)

  • http://chriskrycho.com/ Chris Krycho

    J. Dean, something very close to that was the hook of a recent episode of Castle. It gave the episode a very believable level of tension. (I won’t go into more. Spoilers.)

  • Michael B.

    *spoiler alert* Ever see The Last Exorcism? So there is a very-conservative Christian father who pulls his daughter out of what looks like a mainline (more liberal) church. Turns out this mainline church is a bunch of Satan worshipers.

  • Michael B.

    *spoiler alert* Ever see The Last Exorcism? So there is a very-conservative Christian father who pulls his daughter out of what looks like a mainline (more liberal) church. Turns out this mainline church is a bunch of Satan worshipers.

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