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.
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:
- JJ and Cruz are working on a case that they can't tell anyone about.
- Rossi stuffed a black guy in a locker when he was in high school, at the behest of his fellow baseball team players.
- Lyle saw his dad kill a man when he was five years old.
- Charles is a castrate.
- 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.
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?
Douglas Wolfe was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He retired in 2016. Follow him on Twitter.