Criminal Minds: Valhalla

Fix yourselves drinks and get comfortable, folks. This is going to be a long (and extra-ranty!) one.

As a ginormous storm approaches the DC area and threatens a full-scale regional shutdown, two local families are found dead under suspicious circumstances. At one crime scene, the father apparently murdered his wife and young son before setting fire to the house and shooting himself, while at the other, a mysterious gas explosion killed a married couple. Both families, we see, were actually murdered by Prentiss’s nemesis Ian Doyle and his sinister squad of mask-wearing Irish henchmen.

Meanwhile, a jittery and deeply spooked Prentiss meets with her Interpol cohorts Clyde and Tsia on a subway train and tells them about her meeting with Doyle. Tsia urges Prentiss to bring the rest of the BAU in on the case, but Prentiss shoots down the idea. Of course, in the very last episode, Tsia was adamantly opposed to involving the BAU when Prentiss suggested it, but internal consistency is not Criminal Minds’ strong suit these days. Sure, Prentiss is more than a little freaked out about Doyle’s not-terribly-vague threats against her teammates, but: a) it’s difficult to believe Prentiss would assume Hotch et al. are safer from Doyle if they don’t know he exists, let alone that he’s got them under close surveillance, and b) they’ve got the vast resources of the entire FBI at their disposal and they’re on American soil, whereas Doyle just has his cluster of masked goons. Any way you examine the situation, the BAU has the upper hand… provided they know he’s targeting them.

So in order to buy into Prentiss’s decision to keep her teammates unaware of her current predicament, even knowing that she just wants to protect them, we have to assume she’s behaving in a reckless and scatterbrained manner. The Prentiss we’ve known over the past five seasons is neither of those things.

At BAU HQ, Garcia briefs the team on the attacks on the two families, which have gone almost entirely unreported by the media -- Garcia finds one lonely online news article by a reporter named Jed Hastings that draws a connection between the two incidents, but the rest of the news is obsessed with monitoring the coming storm. Prentiss arrives to the briefing late and flustered; when Garcia teases her about having a secret boyfriend, Prentiss tears her head off.

At one of the crime scenes, Rossi notes that Prentiss isn’t her usual sparkly self and randomly suggests she join her mother in Italy for a long vacation after they wrap up the case.

I think we just got bonked over the head by a Foreshadowing Anvil.

Back at the BAU bullpen, Reid confides in Prentiss about his recurring headaches -- he hasn’t told any of the others, because he doesn’t want them treating him like a baby. This Reid-Gets-Headaches plotline can (and probably will) go horribly, horribly wrong in episodes to come, but this is a nice little scene between these two.

While searching through phone records, the team discovers the two murdered families had a mutual acquaintance, a man named Byron Delaney. Prentiss and Morgan head to his house to interview him, but Doyle gets there first and murders him. When Prentiss and Morgan arrive, Doyle and his men open fire. A messy shootout ensues, in which Prentiss wounds one of the henchmen. Knowing the man won’t survive long, Doyle, disguised by a mask, kills him, then shoots through the signature four-leafed clover tattoo on his wrist to prevent the body from being identified. He then leaves the dead henchman behind and flees the scene with his surviving flunkies.

Jed Hastings’s article about the family murders gets yanked from his newspaper’s website. When Garcia meets with Jed (Tyler Poelle) in a café to see what’s going on, he tells her the story was killed by higher-ups at the newspaper and suggests she follow the money trail to figure out why. Garcia discovers the newspaper’s powerful owner also runs a private security company, the Blackwater-esque CWS (Clearwater Securities), which employed Delaney and members of both murdered families seven years ago.

Reid recreates a sketch of the destroyed clover tattoo on the slain henchman’s wrist. Prentiss freaks out at this evidence Doyle was behind the murders and heads into the ladies’ room to call Tsia in secrecy. When Garcia walks in on her, Prentiss growls at her again, then assures her everything is fine, then babbles on and on about recurring nightmares involving dancing little girls on hilltops…

…It’s fair to say Prentiss is a little unhinged these days.

Hotch summons top executives from CWS and interviews them in a SCIF -- a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility -- inside Quantico. Note to self: Start building a SCIF inside my apartment, pronto. I’d never heard of a SCIF prior to this episode. I like learning stuff. After assuring the executives that anything they reveal inside the SCIF is off the record (man, I totally need my own SCIF), Hotch tells the CWS suits the FBI is looking for some kind of Europe-based team, the members of which can be identified by their gimmicky matching clover tattoos. The executives peg this as the hallmark of a breakaway IRA faction lead by Ian Doyle. Is it wrong that this clover business makes me think of the charm bracelet-wearing Irish villain in the first Austin Powers movie? “They’re after me lucky charms!”

Now that the entire team knows about Doyle, and knows that he’s running around DC murdering people, and knows that he poses a very real danger to anyone looking for him, Prentiss does the smart thing and comes clean to her coworkers/friends about her past history with Doyle, and how he’s been stalking them all, and how he’s trying to murder her… Oh. Wait. Sorry. No, she doesn’t. No, for reasons pertaining to keeping on this strict pre-designated course where the team must, for plot purposes, remain oblivious to whatever mess she’s in, Prentiss still keeps mum about her involvement with Doyle. Hotch asks her if she’d ever heard anything about Doyle while she was working for Interpol…

Wait. Full stop.

Let’s halt for a moment here and digest this little nugget. So Hotch knows Prentiss used to work for Interpol, and he casually raises the subject in front of the rest of the team, so it’s obvious this isn’t any kind of secret. Cast your minds back to Prentiss’s first-ever appearance, during her awkward introduction to Hotch in the second-season episode “The Last Word”: Prentiss tells him, with no possible room for misinterpretation, that she’s spent the past ten years manning a desk job with the FBI in St. Louis and Chicago. This would presumably leave her with very little time for posing as a Belgian national named Lauren while cavorting around Tuscan villas with Doyle on deep-cover assignments for Interpol, as we’ve seen her do in her flashbacks to seven years ago. In its rush to give Prentiss a big, splashy exit arc -- and I wholly agree she deserves one, because she’s awesome -- Criminal Minds deliberately and significantly changed her backstory.

Does this matter? After all, it’s not like Criminal Minds hasn’t been careless with the characters’ respective histories in the past. (Did Hotch’s father die of a heart attack, or from lung cancer? Depends on whether you’re watching “The Tribe” or “Ashes and Dust.” Does it make any sense that, as we learned in “The Fisher King,” Hotch graduated from high school in 1988? Not unless we assume he got held back a whole bunch of years, no.) While that’s sloppy, and bad, and pretty hard to excuse, it’s a lesser offense than this blatant retconning. An episodic television show needs to establish and maintain an internally-consistent universe, or it’s going to lose the trust of the viewers. Deliberately damaging the integrity of this universe -- as by changing around significant details of a character’s history -- is a catastrophic mistake.

To be as blunt as I can make it, it’s bad writing. The creative staff should know better.

Prentiss and Morgan head out to take another look at the most recent crime scene. Prentiss is prickly and snappish with him. Morgan gives her a lecture on the importance of trusting people, which I assume is supposed to be ironic, considering the source. I mean, isn’t not being able to trust anyone one of Morgan’s core defining characteristics? In “Mayhem,” didn’t Hotch refuse to recommend Morgan to replace Kate Joyner as New York City’s Unit Chief solely because of his whopping trust issues? Sure, he’s come a long way since then, but he’s not at the stage where he should be calling out Prentiss for not taking him into her confidence.

Anyway, Prentiss gets some additional information about Doyle from Tsia and Claude, which she passes along to the team: After being arrested at his Tuscan villa (which is what we saw two episodes in Prentiss’s flashback), Doyle ended up locked up in a North Korean prison for several years (?), before escaping and making his way into Russia and then on to the United States, for the sole purpose of wreaking terrible vengeance against Prentiss.

Yeah, so, this is the point where an unnecessarily convoluted plot falls off the rails and into the dreaded Bog of Incomprehensibility. We’ve got an IRA ringleader in a North Korean prison, we’ve got Prentiss in Italy posing as a Belgian national, we’ve got Interpol and a shady US-backed security firm crossing paths with Doyle’s gang, and it’s a big, incoherent mess. This episode keeps throwing stuff out there to see what sticks, dragging as many different countries into the muddle as possible, and this is only Part One; I miss my guess if Iraq or Israel isn’t randomly name-checked in the next episode.

Anyway, Prentiss becomes upset that Clyde neglected to tell her about Doyle escaping from a North Korean prison, since Sean McAllister had told her he’d escaped from a Russian prison. (Ow. My head hurts.) She somewhat arbitrarily decides Clyde can’t be trusted and urges Tsia (who also didn’t tell Prentiss about Doyle being in a North Korean prison, but whatever) to get to a safe location away from him. Tsia obeys, but ends up ambushed and murdered by Doyle.

Prentiss and Morgan are called to the crime scene. When Prentiss sees Tsia’s corpse, she hurries outside to barf. She manages to talk Morgan into swinging by her apartment on their way back to the BAU on the (rather convincing) pretext that she wants to change out of her vomit-splattered pants. At her apartment, she hastily flushes a golden ring fashioned in the shape of clasped hands down the toilet.

At Quantico, all relevant law enforcement agencies have been called in to join the massive manhunt for Doyle. While Hotch gives the briefing, Prentiss looks at her teammates one final time, then quietly slips out of the room and disappears.

End of Part One. To be concluded in two weeks, in what’s being advertised by CBS as Prentiss’s final episode, which will also feature the one-time-only return of A.J. Cook as J.J. And if the episode doesn’t end with Prentiss safely tucked away somewhere in Italy, per Rossi’s recommendation, I miss my guess.

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