Criminal Minds: Middle Man

Three exotic dancers are found dumped in an Indiana cornfield after being raped, beaten, and strangled by multiple assailants. All three women were abducted from their workplaces on a Friday night, tortured over the weekend, and murdered on a Sunday. A fourth woman, Stephanie (Cherilyn Rae Wilson), is still missing.

Back at Quantico, the Behavioral Analysis Unit reviews the case file on their shiny new iPads, which come courtesy of Garcia. Reid, who remains stubbornly old-school, leafs through a hard copy of the file instead. It always seems vaguely improbable that a genius in his mid-twenties would be a die-hard technophobe, but it’s one of his established character traits, so let’s roll with it.

The team flies to rural Indiana and meets with the local sheriff, Jeff Salters (Robert Newman), who immediately gets on Hotch’s bad side by implying the women were asking for their grim fate by working as strippers. Hotch responds by calmly ripping him into a pile of shredded cabbage, all while somehow managing to maintain his soft-spoken and almost deferential demeanor. Hotch is an awesome force of nature.

The unsubs turn out to be a nasty trio of college students: the dominant leader, Michael (Steve Talley), his loyal sidekick Chris (Michael Grant Terry), and new recruit Scott (Jake Thomas). The episode devotes a whopping lot of screentime to watching these three rape and terrorize Stephanie, who spends most of the episode sobbing and pleading for her life while blindfolded and handcuffed to a pole in her underwear. Hey, Criminal Minds? Knock it off. We get it -- they’re bad guys. Four weeks ago, we had another episode (“Remembrance of Things Past”) that featured long, indulgent scenes of bound and scantily-clad young women getting tortured, raped, and murdered. Obviously, we need to spend enough time with the unsubs to set up their complicated pack dynamic -- Michael is the primary instigator, with Chris and Scott as more reluctant participants -- but once that’s established, there’s no plot-necessary reason that viewers should see more than one scene of Stephanie being abused. We see several.

Prentiss and Reid hit the strip club where Stephanie worked and interview her coworkers. One stripper defensively asks Reid if he has any problem with her occupation. Vaguely bewildered by the question, Reid replies, “I’m from Las Vegas.” Aw, Reid, never change. The schedule of the killings -- they started in the fall, and the victims are held over weekends -- leads the team to conclude the unsubs are college students.

DNA found on one of the victims is a match to the unidentified culprit in a series of rapes in Louisiana. The team theorizes that the same pack leader -- i.e. Michael -- worked with two different accomplices in Louisiana before killing them both and moving on to Indiana, where he formed his current pack.

It turns out that Chris and Scott were both (somehow) unaware that Michael was murdering the women after each weekend of rape and torture. After seeing a news report on the killings, Scott doesn’t want anything more to do with this, so Michael orders Chris to beat Scott to death with a baseball bat. Chris obeys, thus demonstrating his loyalty to the pack leader.

Scott’s body is found. He’s soon identified as a student at a nearby college. Garcia searches through student records to find any that match the profiles of the two remaining unsubs. The likeliest candidate is Chris, who turns out to be Sheriff Salters’s son, whose extensive juvenile criminal record was sealed and erased by his father.

Hotch confronts Salters about Chris. He accuses Salters of badly abusing Chris as a child, thus making him more inclined to hang out with alpha-male ne’er-do-wells like Michael. I don’t think much of this episode as a whole -- for the most part, it’s well-traveled territory -- but the Hotch-Salters scenes are all pretty bang-on. Hotch, who has an established low tolerance for parents who hit their kids, somehow still manages to treat Salters with compassion, while Salters, beneath his angry bluster, slowly begins to realize that: a) his kid is a bad egg, and b) it might be at least somewhat his own damn fault.

While going through Chris’s school records, the team discovers both Chris and Scott were kicked out of the same fraternity… as was Michael. Having identified the third unsub, they swarm Michael’s place, where they find Michael and Chris holed up with Stephanie.

A huge, messy standoff ensues. Prentiss negotiates with Chris, pointing out that Michael killed his accomplices in Louisiana and was undoubtedly planning on killing him as well. Michael goes to shoot Chris, so Salters shoots and kills Michael. Chris tries to shoot himself in the head, but Salters pegs him in the arm, then arrests him and rescues Stephanie.

Denouement: Hotch gives Salters a few gentle parenting tips (mostly along the lines of “don’t beat your kids, jackass”), then shakes hands with him and jets off into the sunset.


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