Criminal Minds: Today I Do

Get your act together, Criminal Minds.

I know you’ve got a lot of well-publicized behind-the-scenes drama taking place right now: fired actors, new characters, upset and increasingly vocal cast members, contract disputes, shady statements from your parent network, and a wholly ill-advised and unwanted new spin-off series that seems to be cannibalizing your resources. Yeah, that all stinks, and it probably makes for a rocky work environment. Criminal Minds staff writers and producers, you have my sympathy.

Still, while all that might (or might not) be something of an explanation for why the scripts this season have been so tired and/or silly and/or sloppy and/or sensationalistic, it’s not an excuse. You’ve been on this rapid downward trajectory for well over half a season now, and it’s ruining the show. Raise your game.

This is a pallid, lifeless, repetitive episode, and while it’s far from the worst we’ve seen lately -- it’s no “The Thirteenth Step” or “Reflection of Desire,” in other words -- it’s not worth devoting much time to recapping in detail. So in the broadest possible strokes: The drowned body of a young woman, Gail, is found in a lake, her hands and feet smashed with a mallet. Another young woman, Molly (Californication’s Rachel Miner), has disappeared and is suspected of being the unsub’s next victim. The unsub is a self-proclaimed and uncredentialed self-help guru named Jane (Rebecca Field), who befriended both Gail and Molly and inserted herself into their lives under the guise of helping them with their respective emotional and mental problems -- Gail had been hospitalized for depression, while Molly has both a history of eating disorders and a long-term abusive boyfriend, Lyle (Joshua Leonard).

Jane keeps Molly chained up in a house for several days, all in the name of administering some tough-love treatment for her problems. When Molly tries to escape, Jane smashes one of her knees with a hammer. To prove to Molly that Lyle is no good for her, Jane lures Lyle to her house and seduces him, then shows Molly their sex tape. She also then keeps Lyle captive as well; when Molly and Lyle try to overpower her, Jane beats Lyle to death. Jane tries to drown Molly in a lake, but the BAU team members, who uncovered Jane’s identity by combing through security camera footage of the hospital where both Molly and Gail received treatment, arrive in time to arrest Jane and save Molly.

…Wow, that was a tedious and no-fun recap. Very sorry about that. I will only offer the following excuse: It was a tedious and no-fun episode, and as a result, I’m in a tedious and no-fun frame of mind.

In the ongoing Prentiss-related subplot, Prentiss talks to an old friend/former coworker named Tsia (Siena Goines), who currently lives in France, and passes along Sean McAllister’s warning about the mysterious Ian Doyle’s escape from prison. Tsia seems unconcerned at first -- she reassures Prentiss that “Lauren Reynolds,” which appears to be an alias that Prentiss used at Interpol, is presumed by everyone, Doyle included, to have been killed in a car accident. Later, though, Tsia freaks out when another mutual friend/former coworker named Jeremy dies under suspicious circumstances. In a panic, she calls Prentiss, who advises her to leave France immediately. Meanwhile, Doyle (Timothy V. Murphy) arrives by private plane in the United States and is whisked off in a town car.

It’s a lazy episode, so I’m going to follow its example by finishing up my analysis by using the classic crutch of the lazy writer: bullet points.

·Jane makes for a good unsub -- she’s somehow cheerful and menacing and clingy all at once, cast from the same mold as Kathy Bates in Misery. Molly does a nice job as well; neither Fields nor Miner has anything to be embarrassed about here. But there’s too much time spent on Jane and Molly, and their scenes are repetitive and dull. Their screentime also comes at the expense of the regular cast members, who once again are all given little of substance to do and are relegated to standing around spouting clunky bits of exposition. Criminal Minds has one of the strongest ensemble casts on television, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at recent episodes.

·This episode squanders an appearance by the always-great Corbin Bernsen, who has a small, cliché-riddled role as Molly’s father (he begins the episode in denial about his daughter’s eating disorder, and, after Rossi chews him out a bit, ends it by tearfully assuring her that he loves her and is going to work at being a better father). As with Deirdre Lovejoy’s appearance in “The Thirteenth Step,” as with Kyle Secor in “25 to Life,” we’ve seen too many very good actors spinning their wheels in underwritten roles this season.

·Rachel Nichols has now been added to the opening credits as rookie agent Ashley Seaver. Seaver does contribute some valuable information to the investigation -- she uncovers Molly’s eating disorder, with the strong implication that she might have had her own past personal battle in that area -- but the show still doesn’t seem to know how to incorporate her naturally into the team. Apropos to my comments at the start: No matter what the circumstances of Nichols joining the cast might be, now that she’s officially part of it, it reflects poorly on the show if she’s not used to her best capability.

·Hey, is Hotch even on this show any more? He’s been sort of lurking in the shadows for the past several episodes, contributing very little of relevance. Criminal Minds: Underestimate Hotch at your own peril. The entire cast is great, but he’s your MVP. This is the guy who can elevate a subpar episode with a single snarky line delivery (“Paradise,” for example, is a pretty miserable excuse for an episode, but darned if I don’t think fondly of it just for Hotch’s deadpan comment about having Garcia drug-tested). Use him.

I’m tired of being crabby and curmudgeonly about the show. I’d much rather be able to sit here and make good-natured wisecracks about the team. I want it to get back on its feet, and even with all the backstage turmoil, I don’t think it’s too late for it to recover -- if they just start putting more time and care into the scripts, they can get back on course by the end of the season. But it’s getting close to the point of no return. Much too close.

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