Defining what makes a family is the theme of the touching Criminal Minds Season 12 Episode 6.
The obvious family ties are in the case of the week, which concerns two abductions in a small Delaware town. The first was in 1983, when the Henson twins disappeared while cutting through a cornfield. This loss of family deeply affects older brother Deeley, who many blamed for the disappearance and who became the town drunk.
Thirty years after the first disappearance, three teen boys vanish while retracing the Henson twins' last steps, and the BAU must determine the connection between the two events.
It was a solid twist when the team solved the mystery of how the Henson twins, who grew to adulthood while captives, actually abducted the three boys, protecting them according to their own warped logic.
And it was reaffirming to not only see the three boys reunited with their parents, but also to see Deeley, who blamed himself for three decades, get to hug again the siblings that he thought he had lost. All in all, a fairly upbeat episode, with no real, living villain, just a lot of victims.
But this was also about the BAU as family, and how they had to say goodbye to one of their own, Hotch.
Considering how often Hotch had been in the cross-hairs of the nut-jobs the BAU pursues, it was smart of the producers to have he and Jack enter witness protection to escape the stalking of Mr. Scratch. This also neatly brings up the fugitive serial killers that they've done little to corral this season.
The bulk of the episode was the team members reacting to Hotch's decision.
J.J.: That's a lot to process before my first cup. I can't believe he's been dealing with this for weeks and we never knew.
Reid: That part actually doesn't surprise me. He's always kept things to himself. It's just his way of protecting us.
Directing the episode, Matthew Gray Gubler created just the right touch of melancholy and remembrance, so that it was less "Goodbye" and more "Have a good life."
I applaud the choice of Prentiss as the new unit chief, as she was willing to leave London, Interpol, and, let's face it, her boyfriend behind to return home.
Prentiss: I love being here and I've really missed you guys.
J.J.: We have missed you too.
Reid: Honestly, you have no idea how much.
It was the right move to pass over Rossi for chief. He's really like the fun uncle of the BAU. Still he stood tall this episode, first comforting Garcia, who hates change. (Alvez can certainly attest to that this season.)
You'll adapt, we all will. Trust me, kiddo. I've been here before.Rossi [to Garcia]
He was also the perfect choice to hammer home the message that the BAU is a family.
It's what happens when we're not on a case that defines who we are. We stand beside one another, through good, through bad, because we're family.Rossi
The producers and writers made the best of a bad situation in this farewell to Hotch, who has lost so much through the years. He did what he had to do to project Jack. And frankly, his mental health likely will be better off in the long run without the daily exposure to psychos which he had while at the BAU.
Best of all, they left Hotch alive, so that the possibility exists for a return visit from Thomas Gibson after the wounds heal, probably when the show winds down in the not-too-distant future. In the grim world the BAU inhabits, that's a win.
So now the team ventures forward, with an old friend as the new boss and a new team member easing his way into a long-term family. It's been a bit of a bumpy transition, but, all things considered, the BAU has come out solidified on the other side.
Now it's time to go round up those fugitive serial killers, especially Mr. Scratch. They've got added incentive to bring in Peter Lewis now, since he's the one who caused Hotch's departure.
To view the new team in action, watch Criminal Minds online.
Considering the circumstances, was this a fitting send-off for Hotch? Will Prentiss be a worthy successor as unit chief? Did this transition feel organic to you? Comment below.
Dale McGarrigle is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.