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Criminal Minds Review: Secrets and Skeletons

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What does a false accusation, a false confession, a broken water main and four skeletons have in common? 

A powerful and sad story about race relations in Virginia in the 1960s, according to the latest Criminal Minds.

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Criminal Minds Season 9 Episode 9 gave us a true mystery, which gave the BAU a run for their money. This was not a case where they could profile the Unsub and then follow the bread crumbs to the killer.

For starters, they had the killer in custody almost immediately. What they had to do was figure out which of the three detainees did the deed - and why.  

Frankly, it's episodes like this that keep me interested and invested in Criminal Minds. Plots such as this one presume audience intelligence and curiosity without a hint of patronization.

Missing was the wild-eyed twist of a surreal Unsub whose motives are completely outside of the bounds of anything normal or predictable. Instead, this arc involved a believable criminal with a powerfully believable motive. This, unlike so many Criminal Minds episodes was real. There wasn't even a typical victim in danger, waiting to be rescued by the BAU.  

What's more, the case was based upon a true to life dynamic, back in the 1960s when inter-racial dating was not only frowned upon, but dangerous. 

It's rare to feel any sort of sympathy for the Unsub, but in this case - well except for the murdered women - it was hard not to at least empathize with him. You can understand how someone who is attacked for something he didn't do, and then castrated for it, can put a guy a little off of his game.

Of course, the racial tensions of the day had everything to do with the severity of the attack - a fact that ate at Charles, starting from the moment of the incident, and then carrying right on through to the present day when he imbued that sense of anger to his son.  

One can only imagine how a five-year old boy, witnessing the killing of a man by his dad, might cause him to grow up a tad warped. His anger - as evidenced by his kicking the neighbor's dog to death, among other things - is open and out of control. Whereas his dad's is secretive and nuanced.

Speaking of secrets, I counted at least five secrets in the show. Starting from the beginning, they are:

  1. JJ and Cruz are working on a case that they can't tell anyone about.
  2. Rossi stuffed a black guy in a locker when he was in high school, at the behest of his fellow baseball team players.
  3. Lyle saw his dad kill a man when he was five years old.
  4. Charles is a castrate.
  5. Lyle isn't Charles' biological son. (Which sort of follows)

The saddest aspect of the case is that things could have been different, had there not been so many secrets. How could a kid get castrated without there being an open record about it? He and his wife lived together for at least 35 years and hid that from everyone, including their son.

Then there's the issue of mental illness. Charles knew his son had emotional problems and, rather than dealing with them through therapy, he worked him hard, night and day so that he wouldn't have time to think about his issues or do violence. 

Charles: You think slave had Prozac? No. They went got out there, they worked.
Rossi: So if your son has mental issues, you think he should just push through them.
Charles: You're damned right.

While realizing that the greatest danger in therapy lies in the revelation of secrets - and that this would be a prime motivator to keep his son away from such treatment - there is a macho element in there too. It's a sad notion that prevails among many men, even today: that one can "push through" any mental problems without medical intervention.  

Rossi's sad revelation of peer pressure in high school came as a bit of a shock to us - and especially to Derek Morgan. I think it's safe to say that he didn't actually pee on the guy. 

Rossi: Look.
Morgan: You don't have to explain, man.
Rossi: No, you don't understand.
Morgan: A locker? Really? You took a leak on the guy?
Rossi: I was working him, Derek.

Still, though, he feels guilt for what he did. And he knows full well that the peer pressure of the time doesn't absolve him of the act. Even if he didn't take a leak on him, keeping him in a locker all night went way beyond the usual for high school bullying. And the racist aspect of it was particularly troubling.

Note that the haunting song playing at the end is also the episode's title: it's "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday.

What did you think of the episode? If you were a juror at Charles' trial, how would you view him? What sort of sentencing does a brutally attacked and castrated man deserve? 


Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
  • 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 3.8 / 5.0 (52 Votes)

Douglas Wolfe is a staff writer for TV Fanatic Follow him on Twitter


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@Douglas Wolfe
So rather than work Charles by expressing his hatred for black people he makes up a random story about physically attacking a person and then humiliating them by urinating on them. A bit random. If he had gone into more detail as to why he had this hatred for the person that made him commit such as vicious act, would that not have been more believable than then putting it down to peer pressure. Also isn’t it a bit farfetched that he creates a story to work the unsub, creating a situation where his peers would now pass judgement on him, as there is no clarity if the story is true or not. It's a little patronising not only to the unsub but the audience as well.

@ Dan

He didn't make up the story he made up the peeing on the guy part. The voice at the end when he was looking in his locker makes it clear that something definitely happened. Rossi isn't racist. Everyone would have done the same thing back then! Its just like bullying you join in with the bullying so you dont get bullied yourself. Rossi showed real regret on what happened and I think its always gonna be hard for him to accept what he did. I think this episode gave us more insight into his history, character and regrets.
All in all this was a realistic storyline about how bad it was back then.


This was an interesting case and could have been a good episode apart from the Rossi storyline. Why the writers felt they needed to add this in is crazy. One by one the show seems to want the audience to dislike its characters. First Hotch and the haley and reaper situation and now Rossi. The story they wrote for him was unacceptable and now you feel a real dislike towards his character. What he did to his classmate was outrageous.


It is interested that TV fanatic have claimed that this episode wasn’t patronizing, do they even know what content to use this word in? The CM writers write a story on racism and make Rossi the focus area rather than Morgan. This week episode could have used this story to intensify Morgan character but instead they use Rossi. Are the show writers really saying that Rossi past action would not have effect Morgan and Rossi relationship? The show brings in an element of where one of the other characters is a racist and then brushes it under the carpet. Rossi act was disgusting, and it does not matter if he did it in his youth. The fact of the matter is peer pressure is a cope out, as no one can make anyone do anything. After finding out about Rossi past, this would have caused tension between Morgan and his relationship. The only line missing was from Rossi was saying to Morgan your all right it’s just the rest of them. Out of interest it would be interesting to know when did Rossi feel remorse for his actions? Straight after he did it, a week later or while he worked this case?

@ Dan

You must be rather young yourself, if you truly believe that "no one can make anyone do anything." People make other people do things they do not want to do all of the time. Peer pressure is a dreadful thing, especially amongst the young, who desperately want to fit in. I did things I did not want to do until the day I retired. And it took until I was over fifty for me to get secure enough in my own mind to ignore peer pressure entirely. It was totally believable that Rossi would have succumbed to it as a teenager.

@ Sue Ann

People who blame their actions on peer pressure are pathetic, and use the excuse as an escape goat to blame other people for their actions. From an early age children are taught the difference between rights and wrong and even children know when they are doing something wrong. Everyone has a choice in this world, either you do what is right or you don’t. It was Rossi who pushed the boy in the locker and then urinated on him. It was Rossi who chose to urinate on the boy as nobody else can do that for him.

@ Dan

So you firmly believe he peed on him? We disagree - as I mentioned in my review. I think Rossi was playing Charles. I think he stuffed him in the locker, maybe for all night or not. Did you see when he told Morgan that he was working him, how Morgan lost some tension?

@ Dan

You obviously haven't watched this show long. Morgan was the center of a racially motivated episode. One where he had went home to Chicago and was arrested for murder and the lead detective had it in for Morgan from the get go and from the time Morgan was a kid growing up. You also obviously didn't watch this episode because when Morgan and Rossi talked, he told Morgan he WAS PLAYING the suspect when he said he urinated on the guy and you didn't see Rossi's face at the end when he walked down the corridor to the restroom. He was and is remorseful for what he had done. Like the reviewer said, this episode added another layer of depth to Rossi's character.

@ Terrie

What layer that, that Rossi is a racist? If Morgan were the centre of the case he would have been appalled by what Rossi had done. It is human nature that people pass judgment on hate crimes. Rossi act was a hate crime as well, and as they say a leopard never changes his spots. Did the writers state what made Rossi do a vicious act to toward another human being or is that not irrelevant to his layer?

@ Dan

Your still not understanding the point. ROSSI WAS PLAYING THE SUSPECT HE DIDN'T URINATE ON ANYBODY. Now, Did he lock the boy in the locker all night long? He admitted as much and said he wasn't proud of it. A person can change. But the y have to want to and realize things they are doing are wrong before it can happen.


WHAT!! This episode was either "ignorance" or fox "racist". What a way to separate people?? Hello, this is 2013. Who wrote this ignorance episode. Anyways, it's my last time to watch - - I'm out.


Only problem with the episode is the times are all wrong. If the found bodies were in their 30's when they were killed, and they have been in the ground for 10 years, how could the son have killed them? They weren't in his class because he is 30 now. He would have been 10 years younger. Lyle and MaryAnn couldn't have been in the same class.

@ Julie

Lyle is 40 now.


Agreed - very UN Criminal Minds - but it kept my attention to the very end.
I remember seeing the title for this episode and thinking - a) it will have racial undertones and b) if they don't play Billie Holliday's Strange Fruit - they would be missing a golden oportunity to do so.
Learning that Rossi had peer presure and that he might not have handled it the best way only adds depth to his character. Rossi is the guy who fixes things. (JJ"s wedding, Strauss' good-bye, etc.) I don't think we've heard the end of this incident in his past - it will be interesting to see what the writers do with this.

@ guest

"I remember seeing the title for this episode and thinking - a) it will have racial undertones and b) if they don't play Billie Holliday's Strange Fruit - they would be missing a golden oportunity to do so. " They got the name of the title from the song. Very disturbing episode, and it puts a shadow on Rossi.


My view at his trial would vary, depending on whether the specific trial for which I was a juror was for murdering the men, who presumably were two of the six who castrated him, or whether it was a trial for murdering the women, who presumably were just white. I figure the murders of the men, under the circumstances, were fair. They deserved it. Those of the women were not, and for those, I would convict him. It may be Biblical "justice", to punish sins of a man onto his children several generations down, but it is not fair, and it is not right. It is no more fair to kill women for being white than it was to castrate him because of a lie, or for any other reason. I do agree that it was a very un-Criminal-Minds-type episode, but I found it fascinating. I remember those days, and I hope that the country leaves them behind soon. We haven't yet, and it seems there is always another minority group to oppress, but perhaps we are learning. I think the actor playing the killer was absolutely brilliant.


"It has gotten so much better, but like Faulkner wrote, the past is never dead, it is never even past. " It has gotten much better because power comes in numbers not because many people have changed their attitudes in Virginia, especially southern Virginia. Many people think it is the immigrants who make a difference in the political change. May be in the long run. At present immigrants cannot vote whether they are legal or illegal does not matter in this regard. It has changed because of climate change (Katrina) and changes in DC (gentrification). Now there are 50,000 more African American households in Virginia, most of the new additions coming from Louisiana and DC. And the difference between Cuccinelli and McAuliffe was 55,000 votes. Gentrify DC and put the blacks in VA and gentrify Atlanta and Savannah and send the blacks to Florida...the southern whites will never have power at the national level again!!


The story has resonance if it happened in your family which it did in mine in the 1950's. A race-based lie caused a family death in the south. I was surprised and slightly shocked that the subject matter was tackled in such a forth-right manner. The mother knew of her husbands rage and her son's mental issues, she just denied the outcome. Race relations in this country will never completely move forward until everyone moves from denial of what was so commonplace - 3,000+ unsolved hangings of black men that Billie Holiday sings about in Strange Fruit. It has gotten so much better, but like Faulkner wrote, the past is never dead, it is never even past.


This wasn't one of their better episodes in my view and yes, indeed, this season is different from last. Racism is a hot button issue that isn't going away and is still alive and well today no matter if anybody believes it or wants to address it. How long is it going to take for the team of behavioral profilers to figure out that JJ and Cruz know one another? How long before we know what case they worked together?