Thoughts on Criminal Minds season eight part one

Over the last week or so, I’ve been watching all the Criminal Minds season eight episodes that I had saved on the DVR. I think there must have been at least five of them. I’m finally caught up with all the episodes that aired in 2012, ending with “Perennials,” after which came the mid-season break.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that the series is perhaps beginning to show its age, in that the writers are presenting even more bizarre & twisted cases for the Behavioral Analysis Unit to solve. It seems like the creators are upping the ante to try and top what they’ve done in the previous seven years. This season, for instance, we’ve seen a doctor who is kidnapping victims in order to conduct limb transplants, a hypochondriac cannibal single mother who grinds her victims into fertilizer, a pair of antisocial brothers who hijack a school bus and force the students to re-enact an ultra-violent video game, a man who believes he is the reincarnation of a slain serial killer, and a puppeteer who turns his victims into human marionettes.

That last unsub is portrayed by the underrated Brad Dourif, who excels at playing bug-eyed crazy loons. I’m genuinely surprised that it took eight years for him to appear on the series! At least when he finally showed up, it was in a role that really suited his abilities, bat$#!+ insane yet at the same time pathetically tragic.

I think one of the things that keeps Criminal Minds from descending into ultra-violent camp is that, despite the almost ridiculous nature of some of the cases, the writing treats everything with dead seriousness. At the same time, the scripts continue to feature excellent material for the main characters. On one case, David Rossi (Joe Mantegna) encounters his former Marine Corps sergeant from Vietnam who is now alcoholic & homeless. The two have a troubled, but ultimately rewarding, reunion. In the process we get to see some of what shaped Rossi into the man he is today.

The biggest change to the series is the introduction of Jeanne Tripplehorn as Alex Blake, the newest member of the BAU. In her first episode, there is an allusion to an FBI investigation that Blake was involved in which ended badly, and that she was forced to fall on her sword to save others’ heads from rolling. As a result, it’s taken her years to rebuild her career, and her assignment to the BAU is finally a major step in that direction. I would not be surprised if this was followed up on at a later date.

Jeanne Tripplehorn as Alex Blake on Criminal Minds

Jeanne Tripplehorn as Alex Blake on Criminal Minds

We’ve also seen the “will they or won’t they” question hanging in the air for a reconciliation between Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) and Kevin Lynch (Nicholas Brendon). Last season, Kevin asked Penelope to marry her, but she was unable to make that sort of permanent commitment. So instead they ended up breaking up. But as we see in this season, the two are still attracted to each other, despite their attempts to move on. I hope Kevin sticks around, if only because I’ve been a fan of Brendon since his days playing Xandar on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Besides, Penelope and Kevin make a cute couple.

There have been two major mysteries that have been slowly building up in the first half of season eight. The first is that an unseen individual has been stalking the members of the BAU, covertly photographing them, and amassing details of their cases. This figure has now graduated to replicating crimes that the BAU has recently solved. As “Perennials” comes to an end, the team begins to realize that they have a serial copycat on their hands.

The second puzzle involves Spencer Reid, played by Matthew Gray Gubler. Reid has been “seeing” a therapist via phone for several months, and over the course of their lengthy conversations, he has gradually developed an attraction for this woman. Reid wants to meet her, but she is afraid to go out in public because she is being stalked.

Presumably both of these subplots will be addressed when Criminal Minds returns later this month. I find myself pondering whether or not it’s possible that the two are connected. It seems a bit convenient that the BAU team is being tracked right at the exact same time that the psychotherapist treating one of its members is also being stalked. I suppose it could be a coincidence. After all, as this show likes to remind us, there are a hell of a lot of crazy people out there! That said, I’m also wondering if the past investigation that nearly ended Alex Blake’s career might also tie in with all of this. If I have a suspicious mind, perhaps it’s because I’ve been watching this series for too long.

Despite some outlandish premises to several of the cases, on the whole the first half of Criminal Minds season eight has been quite good. Let’s see what’s next.

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