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Motive “Out of the Past” Review: An Abhorrent Gift That Keeps On Giving

By on July 27, 2013
(L-R) Louis Ferreira as Detective Oscar Vega. Kristin Lehman as Detective Angie Flynn (ABC/Kharen Hill)

(L-R) Louis Ferreira as Detective Oscar Vega. Kristin Lehman as Detective Angie Flynn (ABC/Kharen Hill)

By Catherine Cabanela 

Vancouver paediatric surgeon Dr. Monika Harper, AKA Bosnian war criminal and Serbian counterspy Djerica Simonovic, has a lovely family, a beautiful home, and a knack for wielding a hypodermic needle of paralysis and a scalpel with which she cleaves impurities out of the gene pool.

With seamless portrayals and chilling flashbacks, this week’s Motive episode revisits a centuries old conflict and takes us on an uncomfortable ride into a world without conscience in ‘Out of the Past.’ Twenty years ago, Hank Cousineau (Chance Kelly of House of Cards, Fringe) was stationed in Bosnia on a United Nations peace-keeping mission when Serbian troops massacred over 8,000 Muslim men and boys in what has since become known as the worst crime on European soil since WWII.

Dr. Harper, convincingly played by Svetlana Efremova (Body of Proof), was surreptitiously stationed in Bosnia as a paediatric surgeon. In reality, she was a Serbian doctor reporting to the Army with orders to eliminate Muslim youths who came into her care at the hardscrabble war-torn clinic in Srebrenica. Cousineau developed a casual familiarity with Harper until he suspected her true mission and went into a tailspin. Honorably discharged from the army for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he returned home to be haunted by the face of the woman with a coliseum of skeletons to her credit for the next two decades.

Motive then brings us to present day Vancouver where Cousineau, now the cantankerous proprietor of a convenience store and a long-time sufferer of PTSD due to his discovery in Srebrenica, recognizes Harper from a photo on the cover of The Metropolitan Post.

Detectives Flynn and Vega encounter the victim in the store’s back office. Harper, now a very successful paediatric surgeon and oncologist, paralyzed Cousineau with succinylcholine (a muscle relaxant used to facilitate tracheotomies) before calmly sitting in front of him, carefully cutting his throat and then watching him die. Flynn deduces almost immediately that this crime was all about the kill—‘There was eye contact and intimacy. This was up-close and personal. Whoever killed him wanted to watch him die,’ she observes. Now, I ask you, if that doesn’t cause you to shiver involuntarily, what will?

What further convinces Flynn that this was a personal act is the fact that nothing has been taken from Cousineau’s shop—not the contents of the cash register; not the lottery Scratch ‘N’ Win tickets. Nothing. Also, she notes that Cousineau took matters of security into his own hands without the backup reinforcements of security cameras or alarms—he had but one wooden baseball bat hidden below the counter. This was a man who had already been to hell and feared nothing, not even the extortionist thugs who terrorized the neighborhood shopkeepers. When he recognized the face of Dr. Harper splashed across the front page of the newspaper, he began to fearlessly take matters into his own hands by gathering intel to prove Harper was indeed the Bosnian war criminal, Djerica Simonovic. With a man such as this as the target, the kill would have had to be well planned and flawless, the killer—cold and calculating.

Cousineau photographs Harper’s now beatific life: her taking a break at work; her husband and child at the park; herself laughing with her child. Using a cigarette addiction as an eerie metaphor for murder, a flabbergasted Cousineau confronts Harper as she and her son unload groceries from the trunk of their car:

“The only way to quit is to imagine yourself the kind of person who never picked up a cigarette in the first place. Just flip that switch, move on with your life in a new way.”

–Just as she has done. Not so fast, people. Then, he makes a not-so-veiled threat against her son:

“You’ve got a beautiful family. Why do you get to have that when so many don’t? And your son there, what if someone took him?”

 More involuntary shivering.

Flynn (Lehman) and Vega (Ferreira) find Cousineau’s camera and the parking receipts from his parking lot perch across from the hospital and begin to unravel the backstory shared by the peace-keeper and the paediatric surgeon and uncover their shared occupancy in Bosnia in 1995.

When confronted with her crimes in front of a husband paralyzed with incredulity, Monika Harper, neé Djerica Simonovic, defends herself and we learn of the other side of the coin of injustice. As a child, Harper had watched her own mother and aunts raped, murdered, and shot down in the fields by Muslim terrorists.

“These people you call victims (the Bosnian Muslims) we call enemy,” she spits when confronted by Flynn and Vega.

“How could you kill so many?” Cousineau asks her as he sits paralyzed and about to die. Her response:

“You chose to be a soldier. I did not.”

 Wow. That hits you right between the eyes, at least it did for this reviewer.

In watching ‘Out of the Past,’ one cannot help but feel empathy for the innocent victims of the atrocious crimes of war. There is no answer, no justice, no reparation large enough to compensate for what has been ripped from them and forced upon them. This is universally true in all countries, among all peoples, and throughout all of history.

Against the backdrop of this tragic crime are Angie Flynn’s interactions with her son, Manny (Cameron Bright), when she finds him leaving the house on yearbook picture day wearing a new shirt. In duplicate across the front of the shirt is the ubiquitous and iconic image of Che Guevara, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary who has been both revered and reviled for his leadership in the Cuban Revolution. This is a man who did many noble things, but who also  wrote in a letter to Luis Paredes López that, unequivocally, —The executions [of our enemies] by firing squads are not only a necessity for the people of Cuba, but also an imposition of the people.”  

When Manny proves ignorant of the meaning behind the image and asks Flynn to tell him about it, she refuses, forcing him to conduct his own research, and showing us once again that she is, indeed, a conscientious mother who wants her son to think for himself. In the end, Manny reveals that he changed his shirt before the photo was taken because:

Manny: “Turns Turns out it didn’t fit me”

Flynn: “I thought the size looked just fine.”

Manny: “Yeah, you know what I mean.”

Some cute interactions between the characters:

Flynn: “Hey, Bets, how was your weekend?”

Dr. Betty Rogers (Lauren Holly): “Long story. Tears. Not mine.”


Vega, after having to play the tough guy: “You gotta do that bad cop thing one of these days!”

Flynn: “Bad cops are always hotter! (laughs) Know what would be hotter?”

Vega: “I do.”

Flynn: “Say you’re gonna run those license plates for me!” She grins.

Vega: “That’s not what I meant.”

In Motive’s August 1st episode, “Undertow”, a post-graduate student has blunt force trauma to the head, but was killed by asphyxiation by a man who will stop at nothing to conceal his motive for murder.” So – what was the motive? You’ll have to tune in THURSDAY, August 1st (9:00-10:01 p.m., ET) on ABC to find out!