Criminal Minds is sometimes hard to watch when the story involves an Unsub who is torturing innocents. It hits way too close to home when we see one or more of the BAU team members being subjected to it.
Criminal Minds Season 9 Episode 14 was titled "200," as it marked the 200th episode of the series.
Expectations for this installment were high. And I can say for sure that it met them with flying colors.
For starters, it was a smart move to make the focus of this milestone episode all about the BAU and not some nameless Unsub.
I'd be tempted to say that it was a treat to see Prentiss again - and Strauss, even though she appeared only in flashbacks - were it not for the gravity of the story itself.
We've been teased throughout Criminal Minds Season 9 about JJ and Cruz's secret, which was finally revealed. We got to see JJ's back story, covering the time she took a hiatus from the BAU (in real life, AJ Cook was let go from the show, then brought back). And it was believable.
It explained too how she grew from being a communications liaison officer to a profiler, as she had to hone her skills in finding a way to reach the Afghani captive woman in order to obtain terrorists' intelligence and identification.
Too bad she didn't realize she was working with monsters.
Writers will never go wrong in expecting their audience to come along for the ride and figure out certain truths for themselves, with minimal guidance and few clues.
One important such clue outlined the theme of this episode, which was found in this quote, from Hastings to JJ, upon her arrival at the U.S. Operations Camp:
Don't get comfortable. This place changes people. I can't imagine what it'll do to someone like you.Hastings
He was, of course, referring to himself. And perhaps Askari.
Maybe Askari and Hastings weren't the only monsters in this story. They had adopted the techniques of their enemies when interrogating their captives, and in the process became monsters themselves. Yet, the State department - and in particular, Undersecretary Rosemary Jackson - also exhibited a monstrous outlook, willing to see JJ and Cruz as necessarily expendable in their zeal to discover the traitor in their midst.
Jackson never directly answered Hotch's question: So Agents Jareau and Cruz get written off?
He got his unspoken answer, though, and he ran with it, knowing the State Department was not going to lift a finger to help. If that isn't monstrous, I don't know what is.
The hallmark of the BAU team, the thing that makes the show compelling and brings us back week after week, is the unstinting commitment and love they have for each other.
It's the reason Hotch wouldn't back down to the Undersecretary, and it's the reason the team tried to pull out all stops in their efforts to find JJ, including accessing files they weren't supposed to and getting unauthorized access to S.C.I.F. (Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility).
What a relief to find out that Cruz wasn't a traitor, but instead had JJ's back. He's a true stand-up guy, and makes for a great replacement for Strauss.
- The details that went into the story were impressive, right down to the use of "Blackbird" as a code known only to JJ and Prentiss - used at the perfect time.
- The version of the song"Blackbird" was sung by Sarah Darling. It was released as a single.
- It was disappointing to see Garcia having to resort to using Pig Latin in order to get a message to her team. The State Department - who should have been on their side - might have otherwise scuttled the BAU's chances of rescuing JJ and Cruz.
- Also: no one in the State Department knows Pig Latin? Maybe there's another subtle message there too, in response to the Undersecretary's jab about the BAU's "course hands".
- While the need to make the 200th episode memorable is understandable, it seems this story could well have been stretched over a few more episodes. All of the elements were there: international intrigue, the heightened drama about JJ being kidnapped, the whole three-year back story.
- Criminal Minds returns in two weeks, with an episode entitled "Mr. and Mrs. Anderson".
What did you think? Did the 200th episode live up to your expectations? What did you think about seeing Prentiss and Strauss again?
Were you satisfied that the amazing story began and ended in this one episode, or would have preferred to see it lengthened over a period of a few episodes?
Douglas Wolfe was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He retired in 2016. Follow him on Twitter.