This season on Criminal Minds, we saw the replacing of Emily Prentiss with Alex Blake.
Elsewhere, Reid fell hard for a woman he never met, only to see her get killed at their first face to face encounter; while Erin Strauss got murdered and we witnessed a series of death scenarios re-enacted by a criminal mastermind who was himself a member of the FBI.
Unlike other procedural shows, Criminal Minds decided to end its multi-episode arc on the final episode, instead of carrying it through to the next season.
And with all that build up, now it's time to take a look back at Criminal Minds Season 8 and assess it accordingly...
Best Episode: I would have to say the very last two-part episode pretty much stands above the rest. Of course since the last hour was devoted directly to the team itself, in its fight against The Replicator, it was an easy choice to make. Anything involving the back stories of any of the regular characters is usually welcome and compelling, only if for no other reason than we invest so much into them. The writers have written these characters such that we care for them, and it matters to us what happens to them. For the most part anyway.
After a nearly full season of watching the Replicator attempt to play the team to his own ends, it was cathartic to watch Rossi ironically utter the final word the Replicator would ever hear: Zugzwang. And then to see the Replicator perish in an explosion meant for the BAU.
Worst Episode: Hands down, "The Lesson." Even though we're used to seeing troubling stories on this show, this one stepped over the line by portraying a woman's limbs being forcibly moved out of their sockets. I called it "torture porn" at the time, and I stand by that, even after learning that the actress who played the marionette was actually double-jointed. Nevertheless the scene was beyond jarring; it seemed perverse and unnecessary to the plot. Criminal Minds has been able to portray such violence before without actually showing it. This episode lost all sense of nuance.
Best Character: My vote for this one is Rossi. All through the season he has been keenly aware of troubled team members like Reid and Strauss, and has worked quietly behind the scenes to help them get back on their feet. The team is generally good with each other in this way, especially since it would be almost impossible to hide much from a gang whose occupation is to identify and profile behaviour. In fact, there have been a few times when Hotch proved his team's ability in the face of scorn by "reading" the person casting doubt on the BAU.
Rossi's empathy with fallen veterans in "The Fallen" stands out as remarkable as well.
Worst Character: It's impossible to describe any of the team members as bad, because the ensembles seems to work well together. There is one character I would describe as weak at the moment, and maybe that's a perception thing more than anything else: Alex Blake. There is nothing wrong with her, exactly - it's just that she hasn't yet made enough of a mark to fit well with the team. I think it'll happen - she just needs to establish some sort of history with the group, and that can only come with time. In this season we learned that she had a history with Strauss (which no longer matters, Strauss having joined the choir invisible), and that she is a linguistics expert, happily married to a doctor. She seems to care for Reid and there's the beginnings of a strong bond between them.
She's no Emily however - and that's probably part of the problem. It's not her fault, nor the fault of the writers or the actress who plays her. It's a problem of perception. Viewers didn't like it when Prentiss left, and I think they unconsciously expected Blake to fill her shoes. She can't, obviously - which is why she has to make her own mark on the team.
Best Scene: My choice for this was the heartbreaking scene in "Zugzwang," when the Unsub (played by Michelle Tractenberg) shot herself and Maeve in the head. It was an awful scene, but it exposed Reid completely, as he hung his head in agony and tears. I don't think I've ever seen such a moving scene before: Reid lost her before he got a chance to have a life with her.
Worst Scene: The limb dislocation scene in "The Lesson." Enough said.
Biggest Surprise: I had no idea Rossi had been so firmly in Strauss' corner in her battle with alcoholism. That alone revealed so much about the man, and his ability to stay below the radar when being selflessly helpful. It was good to see.
Hopes for Season 9: I don't know if the writers can do much else with Criminal Minds, except keep exploring and advancing the back stories of the series regulars. I'd like to see Reid get a new girlfriend. It's early yet, so soon after the loss of Maeve, but then again: this is a make-believe world, so there's no reason why they couldn't get him together with someone.
I'd also like to see Garcia and Kevin get back together. Maybe. And we need to see more of Hotch's son and girlfriend, as well as JJ's family. It looks, too, as though Rossi's going to have a love interest this coming season, so we can watch for that as well.
Now it's your turn. Let us know what grade you would give Criminal Minds Season 8 and let us know your thoughts about all of this in the comments!
Douglas Wolfe is a staff writer for TV Fanatic Follow him on Twitter.