Criminal Minds Review: "The Thirteenth Step"

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"The Thirteenth Step" was a grisly, intense and disturbing episode of Criminal Minds, even by the high standards set by the CBS procedural in each of those categories.

What could have been a cliched plot - law-breaking, madly-in-love couple on the run from the world - was uniquely done and well-executed, however. Not to mention frightening.

Perpetrators Sydney and Ray are both in AA, but they've already broken "The Thirteenth Step," an unwritten rule for not becoming romantically involved early in sobriety.

The consequences proved fatal for anyone in the Midwest who got in their way.

Crazy People on the Run

To the extent that two guest stars can make an episode, Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights' Tyra) and Jonathan Tucker (The Black Donnelleys) did so as Sydney and Ray.

Both were terrific as the troubled couple “working the steps” in a murderous, drunken spree so terrifying you grew nervous, shaking whenever they came back on screen.

The original, Criminal Minds-style spin on the oft-repeated Bonnie & Clyde saga was AA, and the examination of the couple's past as they took on the hardest steps (7-9).

Suffice it to say, the program didn't turn out as planned for these two.

Bastardizing the 12 steps in haphazard and delightfully devious (for them) ways, the twosome stole the show this week, commanding our attention much more than the BAU.

Palicki, who we loved on FNL and the unfortunately-axed Lone Star, showed real versatility, innocently toying with her candy ring-pop one minute, bashing heads in the next.

This show can be over-the-top melodramatic at times, but this week it felt anything but. Seen through the eyes of these crazed companions, the violence served a purpose.

From the moment we met Ray at his AA meeting, you knew it was going to go horribly wrong. Shooting up the entire room was just the beginning of their downward spiral.

The grip of addiction is stronger than people realize, and Reid's observation that they were "working" on 7-9 gave the team an insight into the twosome they were tailing.

Adrianne Palicki on Criminal Minds

Having become completely unhinged, Ray and Sydney turned the AA principles around by trying to force people - their abusive parents, namely - to make amends to them.

When they're eventually cornered, Morgan uses psychology to turn them against each other, and fittingly for this episode, the climactic scene was as frightening as it gets.

After freeing the hostage, Ray lays Sydney down in the store, kissing her with passion, with the kind of false elation they'd shown all night. Then he chokes her to death.

"The Thirteenth Step" practically gave me nightmares, a testament to how harrowing and real the characters seemed, despite the bizarre, made-for-TV circumstances.

In the night's brief subplot, Prentiss meets Sean McAllister, who had been trying to track her down. He tells her that Ian Doyle has vanished from prison. He’s off the grid.

Emily asks if he’s headed there and if she’s in danger. Sean says they all are. Presumably this blast from the past will be revisited. Think the show will kill off Prentiss?

Also, Reid and Seaver ... anyone see the connection there?

What did you think of last night's Criminal Minds? What moments stood out to you the most? Share your thoughts by leaving comments below.


Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.1 / 5.0 (79 Votes)

Steve Marsi is the Managing Editor of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Google+ or email him here.


I do not watch any TV any longer because of PURE Garbage shows such as Criminal Minds and the likes, as I was at a family gathering recently and they had it on in the background, and I just could not believe what I was unwillingly seeing, as it is shows such as these that just give the mentally unstable much greater resources and ideas to commit "The Perfect Murder" and it is just So Sad what Hollywood will stoop to for the Almighty Dollar! What a Real Shame this Once Great World has very Sadly Become!


este episodio me encanta y es muy claro al momento de explicar porque ray y sid actuaban asi


That was the best episode i've ever seen. Really, i thought it was great. I'd like to see more episodes like that.


while I agree this episode was ultra violent, its based on true stories. Bonnie and Clyde, and Charles Starkweather and Carol Fugate. I dont know why people are complaining, all you see on t.v now is sex and violence. I mean they show movies like the Hills have eyes at 9:00 p.m on saturday nights! If people are that sensitive to it, change the channel! Also, if someone is stupid enough to be inspired to commit crimes based on what they watch on t.v it just proves they were screwed in the head to begin with!


The idiots at CBS have completely ruined a great show, first they got rid of JJ now they are getting rid of Prentiss (Possibly killing her off). I for one will not watch it if Paget Brewster leaves. For once listen to the viewers and not some dipstick in the office.


This show has given me the regrettable need to stop watching Criminal Minds. The violence and sexual content was over the top and inappropriate for primetime. I watch the show because of the acting and chemistry between the main characters. There was very little of that in this episode, with the two "Bonnie and Clyde" characters dominating the show. The level of violence and hyped-up hackneyed script seem to be escalating which indicates that the writers are either getting tired or the show is slipping in ratings. The actors deserve better scripts.


Loved this Episode. Pissed that they plan on KILLING off Emily. Pissed they took out JJ too... Not sure if it will be worth watching anymore.... and if they bring ELLE back I definetly WONT watch.. I sooo disliked her and was glad when she left!


This was a great episode! Extremely dramatic.. The way it was filmed and edited impressed me!
I see the connection between Reid+Seaver, but loathe it.


TV reviews typically centre in on plot and entertainment value, with acting secondary, and all other aspects of a production almost insignificant in comparison. To that extent, I have to say that the camerawork in this episode was top-knotch, and technically "The Thirteenth Step" just might be one of the best-made TV episodes I've seen this year. The editing stitched together that harrowing, "nightmarish" effect that you mentioned, coupled with those close-up shots of Palicki's killer eyes. Mainstream TV needs more episodes like this one. My only worry is the level and nature of the brutality in this episode being shown so soon after Tucson. Without a doubt this incident is going to be riding - either consciously or subconsciously - in the back of the minds of most viewers, and I fear that that real-life event is going to negatively impact the reception of this fictional depiction, written, filmed and completed months before Tucson even happened. But c'est la vie.


Actually I liked this episode, although I didn't actually notice Seaver was there, to be honest. I hope there is a large Emily story arc, but if they kill her off, I'm done. I want to watch a show with decent female characters and Seaver doesn't count.

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