To the point, Criminal Minds is very compelling television. Ever since The Silence Of The Lambs and perhaps long before, we have been fascinated by serial killers and the profilers who try to get inside their heads. To see evidence of the continuing trend, one needs only look toward the success of films like Zodiac and shows like Dexter. Of course, serial killers are not the only prey this FBI team pursues, but they are certainly the marquee item on the agenda. To be sure, there are equally disturbing subjects such as arsonists, bombers, kidnappers, and rapists to give the show a touch of variety, but let’s face it, it’s the killers that keep us tuned so attentively to Criminal Minds.
Let’s not take anything away from the show’s true force here. This is an excellent cast being fed brilliant scripts playing to an awesome crew. Everything just clicks on this series, and it only got better in the second year. I am truly impressed with how much these characters are fleshed out and how much we learn about them without the need of office romance. No precious show time is squandered on excessive personal life stories. We’re given just enough to bring the characters alive beyond their team dynamic, which is quite strong. Each character is constructed through the subtle nuances the actors infuse their performance with. From the moment you watch your first episode, you will find this team believable enough to care about them and their work. Surprisingly, the show often gets muddled in a ton of exposition, but somehow it’s carried off by the cast so that you never find yourself going numb with clinical information overload. Granted, the material itself is attention-worthy, but these guys pull it off no matter how interesting the information might be. Add to the stellar portrayals a writing team second to none in the industry. The support teams do everything they need to make sure these talents are never wasted.
Enter Agent Rossi (Mantegna) who is actually one of the unit’s founding fathers. Agent Hotchner (Gibson) is the often stoic agent in charge who defers to Rossi’s judgment most of the time. The team also includes young Dr. Reid (Gubler), who is a genius but lacks the necessary skills to have much of a social life. Agent Morgan (Moore) is the dynamic soul of the team, possessing an unending supply of energy to drive their investigations. JJ (Cook) returns as the public face of the team, handling liaison duties with local law enforcement and also the team’s press relations. In a command center that rivals the bridge of the Enterprise is Agent Garcia (Vangsness) who handles the computer research while the rest of the team is in the field. Together they travel to hot spots throughout the country to help local cops and feds with hard to capture UnSubs (what the team calls the criminal, and means Unknown Subject).
Going into the 8th season the cast is still pretty much largely intact. It seems that Mandy Patinkin is almost completely forgotten, and while Jennifer Jaeau’s JJ character left at one point she’s been back for a while. This season sees the arrival of a new member to the team. Big Love’s Jeanne Tripplehorn arrives as a new agent. She has had a troubled past with Director Strauss, played by Jayne Atkinson, as a recurring character since the second season. She blames Strauss for her career getting stuck in the mud and has a bit of a chip on her shoulder as she thinks her arrival at the BAU is long overdue.
The cases continue the show’s tradition of offering the most bizarre of murders and murderers. Tortured bodies stuffed into crates in an episode that guest stars Chucky himself, Brad Dourif. Another killer collects blood. Hey, you don’t suppose Dexter’s been moonlighting, do you? Another guy sews his victim’s mouth shut. Another episode features a killer who rips out the victim’s tongues. The show delivers on the gory bodies and twisted personalities.
The big story is that the show takes an uncharacteristic turn at a season-long story arc. The elusive killer is called The Replicator, and when he’s finally brought down at the end, it won’t be before one of their own falls to the killer. Mark Hamill makes a great guest appearance in the season finale as the demented killer.
Extras on the set include more of those Profiler’s Handbook features on specific episode, a writer’s round table, and a profile of the new character/actress to join the show. These extras do contain spoilers, and it’s absolutely best to wait until you’ve seen the entire run of episodes before you venture into them. There are also some deleted scenes and a gag reel.
Criminal Minds continues to impress. Yes, it’s a police procedural series, but there are several things that continue to make it stand out from the rest. The cast is brilliant and have a very powerful chemistry. It doesn’t hurt that the stories continue to be clever and imaginative, and the show does a pretty solid job of not repeating itself. Even with this season’s story arc the episodes all still work as standalone. After eight years that’s all very hard to pull off. “My hat’s off.”