What a thought-provoking and intense Criminal Minds episode! As much as I was looking forward to seeing this one, I didn't expect it to be quite so aching and poignant.
While Criminal Minds Season 10 Episode 11 gave us the case of frozen bodies found floating in a lake, the investigation served as a support for the two real stories:
- JJ's emotional suffering because of her trauma suffered a year ago when she was brutally tortured
- The examination of a cult.
The opening scenes in particular were riveting, as we got to see JJ in her raw element, lashing out at her demons through her sparring exercise. And again later, as we witnessed her trying to process her pain in the gym change room.
The camera work on the latter was intense, stark, even brutal. We saw JJ as a shadow of herself - and as dark as it was, there was a harsh beauty to it.
I like how they worked those scenes and was reminded vividly of what AJ Cook had to say about it during our TV Fanatic interview this week when she said: I love it when we see our characters "put down their capes" - as they say - for a minute and just act like a normal human being and cope; when they deal with it like a normal human being would.
This was no superstar "I can handle anything" JJ. This was a JJ who seemed to be struggling - and failing - to handle the anguish of her torture and pain from a year ago.
In short, this was about mental health, and it served as a welcome revelation of how everyday people can sometimes falter. Yet they, like the would-be heroine in the BAU, are expected to pick up and pretend nothing's wrong.
I admire what the writer and cast has done with this storyline. Even the positive and upbeat Reid couldn't resolve her issues, despite his keenness to do so. Like so many of us, he really thought his love for his friend would see her through - and he was so dismayed and bothered when he realized that just wasn't true. The last time we saw him at a loss for words and stumbling was when he lost his girlfriend two years ago in Zugzwang (Criminal Minds Season 8 Episode 12).
Even at the end of the show, there was still a big question mark. There was JJ, arguing with the imaginary Tivon Askari, who bluntly told her he was going to ruin her life. The subtext was: these memories have the ability to destroy her.
And he/JJ was right: they most assuredly do have that destructive power.
The question is: will she recover? I mean, we know that she said "NO!" to the ghost of Askari, but....is it enough to just say it? It seems to be an open-ended question with no real answer in sight.
I think that's by intent. In real life, these issues are never that cut and dried.
The other target of that storyline had to do with labels. Specifically, society's penchant for wanting to put a label on everything. Reid's assertion that JJ was merely suffering from PTSD was blunt in its naivety: what you're going through is textbook.
It makes me wonder what patients who've been diagnosed with PTSD think about this. I can only imagine that some would applaud this take on what they're going through: and that, as JJ said, no one can really know what it's actually like, all labels aside.
The other part of this episode was the exploration of the cult, and how seemingly intelligent people get sucked into them so completely.
The team's explanation of the science behind it - where targets are deprived of proteins while being fed sugar and electrolytes, all to reduce the person's ability to make sense of anything - truly explains the horror of the trap. I thought that the age of cults was mostly over, but according to the BAU in this episode, two million Americans today are in cults that keep themselves under the radar. I have no reason to doubt this, given the fact that they generally do good research before putting stories together.
Some of the facts presented are actually well known. Such as the knowledge that most cults are headed up by sociopaths who target people based on their vulnerabilities, and work to subsume cultists' desires only to satisfy the needs of the leader.
This brings back vivid imaginations of the Branch Davidians with David Koresh, which was comprised of adherents who were highly educated; people who went to their deaths on his behalf.
The bright spot among these stories was a scene near the beginning, when Kate questioned Reid's expert memory and expertise. For a while there, they all appeared like siblings, giving each other grief, refusing to fist-bump, and forming alliances - like when Hotch offered Reid his own fist after Morgan refused him. I'd like to see much more of this.
- Kudos again to the show for presenting such a great example of the pain some people go through on a regular basis
- Once again, AJ Cook has provided a performance to make us forget that we were watching a TV show. Her anguish, especially viewed through the eyes of Reid, took us to that place of empathy. It was well done.
- Grant Show was the perfect choice to play the sociopathic cult leader Colton Gran
- Did you notice the banners on display in the cultist's "church"? They had banners to signify "Unity" "Trust" "Suspend" "Spirit" and my two personal favorites: "Level Up" and "Forever" - which I think should be combined. Seems like he took his cue from a console game.
What are your thoughts on this episode? Do you think JJ's "conversation" with Tivon Askari has started her down the road to healing, or is she just fooling herself? If you need a refresher, remember to watch Criminal Minds online and then let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Douglas Wolfe was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He retired in 2016. Follow him on Twitter.