‘Stalker’ Review: CBS Drama Does Not Hate Women, It Loves Torture

Stars Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott cannot save Kevin Williamson’s newest series from itself

Stalker cbs review
Richard Cartwright/CBS

The first two minutes of CBS’s new crime drama “Stalker” are horrific.

An innocent woman is taunted, tortured and murdered by a masked man whose only desire is to see his victim writhe in agony and fear before she dies at his hand. Making matters worse, the attack is so realistic and gruesome that it feels like the show’s writer and executive producer, Kevin Williamson, is reveling in the brutality. Little is left to the imagination as this twisted scene plays out not on cable or the big screen but broadcast television.

Sure, one could argue that other primetime series such as “Criminal Minds” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” dabble in what is best described as torture porn. But there is something especially nihilistic about “Stalker,” which debuts Wednesday, and the way it handles violence against women.

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While some are calling Williamson (the “Scream” movies and “The Vampire Diaries”) and his new procedural misogynistic, a more apt description would be affliction addicted.

Williamson — who gave viewers a glimpse at his darker leanings with “The Following” — doesn’t appear to hate women. Instead, this show gives the impression that he simply loves seeing people, particularly women, victimized. For instance, an assailant attacks one woman not once but twice in the same horrendous manner in the pilot.

The exception, of course, is star Maggie Q. She plays Lt. Beth Davis, the head of the LAPD’s threat assessment unit. Her backstory involves being stalked but the tough talking, crime fighting lady that audiences meet is nobody’s damsel in distress. She even manages to come to the rescue of a man who is being stalked.

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If anyone can pull off this sort of machisma, it’s Q. She was tough as nails on “Nikita” and she’s just as steely on “Stalker.” The actress even manages to weave a little vulnerability and humor into her portrayal. Her chemistry with costar Dylan McDermott (“The Practice”), who plays her subordinate Det. Jack Larsen, is also one of the series’ strong suits.

But there is only so much Q. can do and despite her best efforts, “Stalker” is designed to scare women witless and before long, viewers will likely see her character Beth fall victim to stalking once again.

There are also elements of “Stalker” that will make male viewers question if they could ever be driven to obsession and preying. Take McDermott’s character. He is more than competent enough and he even spots a few crucial clues that help take down the bad guy. Jack also has a few less-than-noble ways and that’s what drives his back story. This guy is not wrapped tight but is he a stalker? Viewers will discover that answer with time, too.

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That is if they tune in. Although “Stalker” airs after “Criminal Minds,” the freshman offering is a lot more bleak than its 10th season predecessor. For viewers who are sick of all the ways women are violently attacked on TV, this program will either be cancelled and usher in a return to the less is more approach or it will serve as a harbinger of the gratuitous cruelty that has yet to come.

As for the cast, in addition to Q. and McDermott “Stalker” also stars  Mariana Klaveno, who played a stalker vampire on “True Blood” and Erik Stocklin. He costarred as an obsessive patient on “Mistresses.” Seriously, was there a casting call requesting actors who have played creepy predators in the past? Victor Rasuk (“How To Make It in America”) is one of the few supporting actors who doesn’t share that distinction.

Make no mistake, stalking is scary business. What is even scarier about “Stalker” is that the show all but celebrates it.

“Stalker” premieres Wednesday, Oct., 1, at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.