Serial killers are a big boon for crime procedurals, especially those designed in the traditional vein of The Player. Serial killers are a way to establish a threat that can’t be taken down in the course of an hour, usually predators who’ve spent years in hiding, killing patiently and with a creepy, specific set of rules for killing/taunting the police/generally being a weirdo. They’re designed to push protagonists to their darkest places, often by putting people from the hero’s family in harm (or killing them). So when “The Norseman” gets dispatched a mere fifteen minutes after being introduced, it’s no surprise this story has literally no impact on the world of The Player, whatsoever.
The Norseman himself isn’t even an interesting character for a Halloween episode. He has about two lines justifying why he murders two people a year, cutting off their hands and heads and engraving designs in their skulls, and they’re both “because the deities demand it.” There’s some nonsense about him following a Norse calendar, a fact Cal couldn’t figure out for 20 years, and Cassandra solves with an algorithm in about eleven seconds – and then the guy goes and kidnaps Alex’s niece, who decides to visit and just so happens to be in the apartment of the security consultant with the worst personal security on the planet.
The Player can’t even give us a satisfying final showdown: some choppy shots of Alex dodging The Norseman’s cartoonishy large blade, and then the fight just ends! Mr. Johnson walks in, high off his fun little reunion phone call with some random judge and a little cocktail with the FBI agent – and the bad guy just stops, lets the two of them leave, and then gets murdered by Johnson in an extremely disturbing fashion nobody really seems to care about (Johnson essentially “pulls a Norseman” on The Norseman, putting his head and hands on a table next to some other skulls).
Nothing about it has any sort of dramatic impact, or “scare” appeal, right down to the ridiculously fake-looking tattoos The Norseman covers his face with, to tell ‘the story’ to the ‘deities,’ even though those drawings are supposed to be written on the skulls of the dead. But logic is not a factor here, not in how he has a pre-swallowed tool ready to escape lock up, not in how he is able to pick up the one specific folder he needs to find Kane’s niece, and not in how The House wants nothing to do with changing the odds of the game to help Kane, even though they spent last week’s episode gaming their own system, with Johnson’s involvement and all.
Instead, “The Norseman” opts for cheap thrills and unsatisfying plot twists to move the overarching story along, all of which land with the same limpness as the serial killer story. Johnson has a video of Kane’s wife in Miami! The FBI agent has mad immunity! Kane kind-of-doesn’t-really tell Cal what he’s been doing! The Player keeps trying to thrown in these random moments to trigger narrative momentum, but they’re all either too vague or laughable to land, thanks to the absolute lack of character and pathos underneath all of these ridiculous stories, beyond “I must save my wife!” and “I’m a bad guy who does kind of good guy things!” (which is the default characterization for every single character on this show, save for the actual killers). In short, “The Norseman” is loud and lumbering, like its main antagonist. And like the apparently-Viking inspired killer it features, the episode is a completely forgettable and pointless hour.
[Photo credit: Brandon Hickman/NBC]