Criminal Minds: What Happens at Home

Three women are strangled to death in a gated community in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Apart from the residents, no one entered or left the community around the times of the attacks. The community inhabitants are all extremely similar from a demographic perspective, making it difficult for the Behavioral Analysis Unit to whittle down the pool of possible suspects.

Straight off the top: This is a strong premise. Too many episodes this season have tried to jack up viewer interest by featuring either an overly-gimmicky unsub (Reflection of Desire: “He keeps the women alive for three days to correspond with the three-act structure of a screenplay!”) or a gratuitously sadistic one, complete with too many salacious rape/torture scenes (Middle Man, Remembrance of Things Past). The result has been a cluster of uniquely silly and/or off-putting episodes. Here, the writers smartly de-emphasize the unsub and place the importance on the unique setting of the attacks -- a high-security gated community with a contained suspect pool -- thus giving the team a chance to use their clever, clever brains to unravel the case. This is a flawed episode in many ways (notably, the team members don’t use their clever, clever brains and indeed blunder their way into finding the unsub), but it’s a step in a better direction.

Hotch and Rossi decide they need a fresh perspective to bring their number of suspects down to a more manageable size. Cut to plucky young Agent Ashley Seaver (Rachel Nichols) zipping around an obstacle course at Quantico, getting her Clarice Starling on. Rossi pulls her off the course and brings her into the BAU to talk with Hotch, and my goodness, they’re piling on the Silence of the Lambs parallels a little thick, aren’t they? Seaver’s father was Charles Beauchamp, aka the Redmond Ripper, who murdered twenty-five women in North Dakota when Seaver was a kid, until Hotch and Rossi finally tracked him down and captured him (Rossi, in reference to Seaver now being an FBI agent herself: “Kind of makes you feel old, doesn’t it?” Hotch: “No.”). The profile of the unsub in the New Mexico killings suggests he’s a family man; Hotch and Rossi think Seaver’s first-hand knowledge of being raised by a murderer will give them some insights into the behavioral patterns of the children in the gated community, which might help them locate the unsub.

…Why, yes, this is a contrived and unlikely way to incorporate young Seaver into the elite BAU. I’m guessing the controversial shakeups to the regular cast, both those that have already taken place and the ones still to come, are at least partially motivated by CBS’s desire to lure in that coveted younger demographic; hence the addition of a young, fresh character to the show. Here’s the problem, though: To state the obvious, the BAU is not 21 Jump Street, and youth is not an asset. By the very nature of what the team does, it should be comprised of seasoned, experienced agents. Making an exception for young Reid is fine -- he’s a super-genius! he was hand-picked as Gideon’s protégé! -- but making another exception for Seaver weakens the premise of the show.

That said, Seaver appears to be a likeable enough character, and Nichols did a fine job in this episode. If she ends up sticking around for the duration (which is not yet a done deal), her presence is not going to damage the series.

The team, plus Seaver, jets off to New Mexico, where they meet with lead detective/community resident Felix Ruiz (Alex Fernandez) and set up headquarters in a model home. Ruiz and his officers, plus the community’s security chief Harvey Brinkman (Scott Subiono), present the BAU with meticulous files on the community residents. Ruiz has already whipped up his own surprisingly accurate profile of the unsub. He’s even interviewed all sixty-four possible suspects.

(The almost-creepy efficiency of Ruiz and the weird hyper-vigilant vibe of the gated community as a whole are nice touches. It’s a shame the episode doesn’t quite live up to all the abundant promise of the premise and the individual elements.)

The BAU conducts a town meeting at a local church, ostensibly to discuss the murders but really to give Seaver a chance to observe the interactions of the families. While Hotch leads the meeting, Seaver relays her impressions to Prentiss and Morgan. Hey, Morgan is sporting some really… interesting… facial hair this season. Shemar Moore is one of the more attractive men on the planet, but damn, between the shaved head and the sculpted eyebrows and those odd little lines running down his chin, somebody needs to wrestle the clippers away from him.

Seaver dredges up a couple of relevant tidbits from her childhood: Her father, who rarely showed anger and who was highly protective of her in public places, would often buy her gifts and would never let her own a pet. Prentiss and Morgan duly add this information to their profile.

Meanwhile, while the meeting is taking place, someone breaks into another house and strangles another woman.

Prentiss goes off with Brinkman to determine which community members own pets. Left to her own devices, Seaver, who has been a sharp cookie up to this point, decides to violate Hotch’s order to stay out of the investigation. This is where Seaver and I part ways: I don’t think you could pay me enough to disobey Hotch. For someone so soft-spoken and so fundamentally nice, he gets scary pretty fast. She strolls off to visit Drew Jacobs (Kenneth Mitchell), the husband of one of the victims, plus his young daughter Heather. She babbles on to Drew about how she wants to apologize on behalf of the unsub’s family, explaining that she knows how much guilt they must be feeling. This would probably be disconcerting enough for Drew under any circumstances. Since he is in fact the unsub, it’s made doubly so.

Hotch, concerned that Seaver has wandered off by herself, calls her. Realizing she’s trapped with the unsub, Seaver manages to pass a coded warning to him. Drew attacks her with a knife, but Hotch charges to her rescue and shoots him.

On the jet back to Quantico, Hotch bawls out Seaver for going off on her own (on the grand spectrum of Scary Hotch Moments, it’s pretty mild, though it’s probably enough to make Seaver think twice about deviating from his instructions again). Then Seaver and Rossi have a conversation that lasts for about forty-three minutes, in which Seaver rambles on about how her dad once killed a puppy she brought home, but she still can’t bring herself to hate him, even though she refuses to read his letters or visit him in prison, and wow, it’s a really long, slow, meandering scene. Criminal Minds has these weird pacing problems sometimes, where there’s far too much time left over post-climax, leading to these odd, disjointed, drawn-out denouements. Sometimes it’s fine -- some of the very best little character moments have taken place on the jet post-case -- but I’d much rather watch Reid cheat at poker, or Prentiss and Morgan mock-complain about the lack of chilled Cristal, than listen to this dreary business about Seaver’s troubled past.

Not a bad episode, though. Whether it’s temporary or permanent, welcome to the show, Agent Seaver.

Comments

Myrthe said…
What I think is really stupid in this episode is "I wasn't allowed to have a pet. HOTCH! HE HAS NO PET!"

That's again oversimplification, which happens an awful lot in criminal minds (one of the season 7 episodes was literally "why is this ad on page F4?" Man, perhaps because there was no relevance of any page and they had to pick one? No, of course not, there's a whole chess game involved) - or it's overthinking, however you want to call it - does everything have to be meaningful?

But that pet-thing is oversimplified, I think. Just because the Beauchamps couldn't have a pet doesn't mean that automatically no serial-killing daddy allows one.
Morgan Richter said…
Ugh, Myrthe, yeah, that part was pretty dauntingly stupid. I try to cut Criminal Minds a little slack at times by assuming we're seeing just a shorthand version of their investigations out of necessity, which is why we see the BAU making badly oversimplified and/or over-thought deductions, but that one is indefensible. It's just dumb.

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