I guess we'll all be looking at Aaron Hotchner sideways for the next little while, won't we?
This episode was probably the creepiest and most unsettling offering this season. And as such – the most interesting as well.
Criminal Minds Season 10 Episode 21 featured an unsub so brilliant and so adept at the use of chemical agents to enhance his mind control technique that no one within whom he came in contact was safe.
He came to the BAU's attention when they investigated a series of murders involving killers who suffered identical hallucinations prior to killing their loves ones.
The team realized they were dealing with a disgruntled unsub whose father was the unwitting victim of a narcissistic doctor who netted him in a witch hunt involving children who were coerced into providing false memories of abuse. The unsub's father was killed in prison while awaiting trial.
As prepared as one can be – particularly after reading TV Fanatic writer Jim Halterman's interview with Matthew Gray Gubler – the show was still a horror and surprise. This was especially true at the eerie end, with Hotch looking haunted as Rossi questioned him about what he remembered from his encounter with the mastermind.
Gubler directed this well-written gem, and it shows: the lighting, the mood and the horror were all too real. There simply wasn't a misstep in the entire hour. It was impossible not to be completely engrossed, so much so that you could forget you were watching a TV show.
The first bubble of grating angst came with the terrible sound of the hallucinated "monster". Fingernails on chalkboard could only come across as the sweetest harpist's melody by comparison.
The second jarring scene was Hotch's wicked laugh. It was at that point we knew whatever emotions he was swallowing were going down the wrong way – only we couldn't figure out exactly how. And we knew we couldn't trust anything we were seeing. Once Hotch got a good snootful of that chemical agent, and the unsub's whispering campaign began, no one and nothing was trustworthy.
At first, when Rossi entered the house with his gun drawn, I was sure Hotch (under the influence of the chemicals) was going to shoot him.
Then when he turned toward the unsub to shoot him instead, and then handed his gun to Rossi, there was relief.
But that was short-lived......because it was all planned out by the unsub exactly that way. We heard him say tell Hotch to shoot him ("him" being Rossi as he came through the door) but what did Hotch actually hear him say?
Also – did Hotch actually shoot the gun? We saw him shoot, and we saw him hit the unsub, but then Reid came in and said he got away.
We don't know. We can't know.....because Hotch is still in the mastermind's mental grip.
Then there was this, which tied it all up neatly in the unsub's favor:
Lewis: I win.
Morgan: I don't think so.
Lewis: You have no idea what I did to him. I win.
And now we have to see how it plays out, and when the ticking time-bomb will go off.
The only thing we know for sure is that Peter Lewis – the unsub – knows Hotch's greatest fear, which involves his entire team being killed. We know he will use that fear somehow.
We also know the unsub seems quite okay with being caught but we don't know why.
Frankly, I can't wait to see him again. As soon as possible, so that we get this unsettling story wrapped up, with Hotch finally free and clear.
Until then....we have to wait.
Man, oh man – what a great episode this was.
You know – it's customary to shut the TV off after watching Criminal Minds and think about something else for a while. That just wasn't possible after this episode. It's the story that keeps playing, whether you like it or not.
- The only hints we had that the shootings of Reid, Rossi and Morgan were all parts of a hallucination was the fact that no one turned the lights on, and I believe all three (two anyway) were shot in the neck.
- I'm curious to know what exactly was going through Dr. Regan's mind before she slit her throat. Especially since she told Hotch that "he" wanted him to watch her do it.
- Reid cited two drugs as being the agents for the unsub's mind control: Sevoflurane and Scopolamine. Both drugs are real and have the properties Reid mentioned. The methodology was equally logical as well. With the principal that a person under hypnosis can't do something against his nature, the idea that a hallucination can be presented as real pretty much opens the gate wide to almost anything at all. It makes sense, and is therefore more horrifying than any creep show you can imagine.
- The premise for all of the horror was grounded on the idea of "false memory syndrome" – and that too was real, back in the early 1980s. A quick search for the "McMartin pre-school trial" sums it up perfectly: a group of children were coerced into "remembering" a series of bizarre Satanic rituals, which were later debunked – although not before one person was imprisoned for five years while not being convicted of any wrongdoing.
- The creepy sibilant whispering voice used by Bohdi Elfman as Peter Lewis was perfect. Score one for the casting choice!
- I'm still trying to figure out exactly what was real and what wasn't. I may have to watch it again, just to try and figure it out. If you're in the same boat, you can see the episode again when you watch Criminal Minds online.
What are your thoughts? Did you see a twist that the review missed? What did you think of this episode? Be sure to chime in with your thoughts on this story in the comments below!
Douglas Wolfe was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He retired in 2016. Follow him on Twitter.