Criminal Minds: Coda

Sammy Sparks (Skyler Brigmann), an autistic ten-year-old boy in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, plays a classical piece on the piano. This is intercut with a montage of our BAU members going through their morning routines -- Reid walks to work with a book on migraines tucked under his arm, Hotch helps young Jack get ready for the day. It’s a fitting start for a case that will hinge upon the importance of routines. More, with just these fleeting nods to past developments in the lives of our characters (Reid is now plagued with crippling migraines, Hotch is now raising a young son on his own), it’s already clear we’re in better hands in this episode than we’ve been for much of this season.

…My standards for this show are so very, very low these days. Throw me a few scraps of decent character development or intra-episode continuity, and I’m pathetically grateful.

While Sammy continues to play the piano, his mother, Alison (Jessica Lundy), struggles with a shadowy figure in the background. A spray of blood splatters Sammy’s face from some unclear burst of violence behind him. Sammy stops playing and wipes off his face. He looks at the smeared blood on his hand with nothing more than idle curiosity. Later, he shows up at his elementary school, lunchbox in hand, his face still splattered with blood.

Back in Virginia, Prentiss grows nervous and twitchy about the possibility that the mysterious Ian Doyle is out to kill her. Before getting into her car, she checks underneath it, then steps back and starts the engine remotely. She then has a clandestine meeting with her former Interpol cohorts Tsia, whom we met last episode, and Clyde (Fringe’s Sebastian Roche). It’s all very secret agent-y, with more than a faint whisper of absurdity: They sit close together in an open public area, not looking at each other, and carry on a conference about Doyle in hushed tones on disposable cell phones, which they toss immediately after hanging up. Prentiss wants to bring in the BAU to track down Doyle, but Clyde and Tsia shoot down that idea.

The New Orleans police ask the BAU for their help with the Sparks case. Sammy’s parents, Charlie and Alison, are both missing, and blood was found in their home. There’s been no ransom demand, and Sammy is non-responsive to their attempts to ask him about the attacks on his parents. Though it’s technically not a BAU case -- it seems to be a straightforward kidnapping -- the police think profilers might have a better chance of getting information out of Sammy.

The BAU goes over the case details en route to Louisiana. In the back of the jet, Reid rambles on about Doctor Who, and Seaver bluntly lets him know he’s boring her. Hmm. The show is facing an uphill battle to get viewers to like and accept Seaver, given the controversial circumstances of her addition to the cast, and I’m not sure having her snub both Doctor Who and Reid in one fell swoop is the best way to do that. Sure, the rest of the team hassle Reid all the time for his love of geeky minutiae, but Seaver hasn’t yet earned that right. The scene strikes a bad note.

Overall, though? This episode isn’t bad, especially by the greatly lowered standards of this season. Chasing a kidnapper instead of a serial killer is a nice change of pace, and it’s good to see the team attempt some actual, like, profiling, instead of standing around aimlessly waiting for Garcia to solve their case for them. Also? With the exception of the opening scene, the unsub doesn’t make an appearance until twenty minutes into the episode, which leaves more time to devote to the team. If given a choice between spending time with the unsub and spending time with Hotch and the gang, I’ll pick the team every single blasted time, no question.

Charlie and Alison Sparks own a music store, which, like many other businesses in this oil spill-devastated area, is on the rocks. They recently took out a large bank loan, which the BAU thinks might be motivation for a robbery. While Hotch and Morgan examine the crime scene, Seaver and Prentiss head to the music store, and Reid and Rossi try to interview Sammy.

Garcia, meanwhile, tracks down Sammy’s nearest family member, who happens to be his father’s sister Lizzie. By the way, Garcia appears to be wearing a pair of cat ears, for no special reason apart from the preposterous cuteness factor.

Reid and Rossi don’t get very far with Sammy -- he keeps scrawling what looks like the letter “L” on a sheet of paper -- so they consult with his teacher, Ms. Rogers (Dharma & Greg’s Mimi Kennedy), for ideas on how to break through to him. From her, they discover that Sammy learns how to do his daily tasks by adhering to a firm schedule based on a series of pictures in a flip book. Ergo, he headed directly to school at the appropriate time, even after his parents were attacked in front of him, because it was what his book instructed him to do.

Meanwhile, Alison Sparks shows up at her local bank, withdrawing ten thousand dollars from her savings account. She tries to close out her account, which has a balance of over forty grand, but the cash-strapped bank doesn’t have enough to cover it. She heads out to the parking lot, where the unsub, a bankrupt local fisherman-turned-delivery man named Bill Thomas (Lew Temple), flies into a rage. He tells her she’ll need to get more cash if she ever wants to see her husband alive again. Bill takes Alison to a check cashing place, where she’s able to get him another twenty-five grand, but by the time they return to his fishing boat where he’s keeping Charlie Sparks chained below the deck, Charlie has bled to death from a gunshot wound inflicted when Bill kidnapped him. Alison is naturally devastated; even Bill seems genuinely contrite about this.

When Sammy’s Aunt Lizzie arrives to take temporary custody of Sammy, Reid and Rossi get her permission to take Sammy back to his home to see if revisiting the crime scene might trigger some reaction that will help them identify his parents’ attacker. Sammy immediately plops himself down at the piano. Reid sits behind him and starts plunking out scales, which prompts Rossi to exclaim, “I didn’t know you could play!” Scales, Rossi. Scales. Reid modestly replies that he doesn’t play, really, but music is closely linked to math. I repeat, he’s plunking out scales.

Sammy launches into the same classical piece he played when his parents were ambushed; he takes Reid’s hand and helps him to pound out the same notes. To his credit, Reid does a pretty impressive job of following along. Maybe they should have shifted Rossi’s super-impressed reaction about Reid’s piano prowess to a few lines later in the script?

While Sammy and Reid bond at the piano, Lizzie has a nice chat with Rossi about how she’s estranged from her brother and thus barely knows her nephew. Rossi, with the air of someone with close personal experience on the issue, talks about the challenges presented by caring for someone with autism. While glancing through Sammy’s flip book, it occurs to him that Sammy communicates through symbols, not words. Ergo, the “L” that he’s been repeatedly drawing isn’t a letter -- it’s a representation of the clock hands for three o’clock, which is the time he arrives at his parents’ music store after school each day.

Prentiss and Seaver examine the surveillance tape from the music store for three o’clock on the day of the kidnapping. On it, Sammy enters the store and immediately starts playing the piano. Bill Thomas arrives shortly thereafter and delivers packages to Charlie and Alison. The team makes a few of their customary wild leaps in logic, which as usual turn out to be 100% correct, and accurately peg Bill as the unsub.

Morgan and Reid head for Bill’s boat. Cornered by the FBI, Bill gives a distraught Alison his gun and tries to goad her into killing him -- he’d do it himself, but his kids won’t get his life insurance money if he commits suicide. I’m not 100% clear on policy terms, but it’s probably a fair guess they won’t get any money if he dies while in the commission of a felony anyway. Alison is initially reluctant, but Bill finally talks her into pulling the trigger. Morgan and Reid swarm the boat and find Bill dead and Alison sobbing over Charlie’s body.

Back in Virginia, the team members fall back into routines: Morgan and Garcia settle in with popcorn to watch movies together (cute!), Hotch tucks in his sleeping son (cute!), Rossi and Seaver play video games in his office (random! but sort of cute!), and Reid buys himself a keyboard (freaking adorable!).

And Prentiss sits on a bench outside in the dark by herself for a couple of hours, sipping coffee and looking tense and glamorous. The mysterious Ian Doyle plops beside her and addresses her as “Lauren.” (Prentiss: “I’ve got a Glock leveled at your crotch.” Prentiss, as always, rocks.) Doyle makes a series of vague threats against the rest of the team members, each of whom he identifies by name and clearly has under close surveillance. Aha! This is promising! Glad to see that Prentiss’s oddball swan-song plotline is finally going to hook up with the main story. It’s all been sort of fitfully interesting, this cloak-and-dagger stuff with her mysterious (and improbable) Interpol past, but it’s high time to start incorporating the rest of the BAU into it. Doyle cheerfully tells her he’s going to kill her soon, then gives her a gold matchbook emblazoned with a shamrock and quotes a little Balzac at her. Evil though he may be, this Doyle character is going to blend right in with our quote-spewing BAU members.

Diminished expectations are working in Criminal Minds’ favor, because, unremarkable as it was in many ways, I liked this episode.

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