Criminal Minds Series Finale Review: Wheels Down

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Feb. 19, 2020, marked the end of an era.

After 324 episodes over 15 seasons, Criminal Minds drew to a close with a two-part finale, Criminal Minds Season 15 Episode 9 and Criminal Minds Season 15 Episode 10.

Suffice it to say, we're unlikely to see anything like it again.

The Team Reunites - Criminal Minds Season 15 Episode 10

Criminal Minds proved that unstable serial killers could be brought into America's living rooms.

Well, at least for an hour a week. No, more than an hour, thanks to cable. No, make that as much as you could stomach, thanks to streaming.

Old Partner - Criminal Minds Season 15 Episode 9

Debuting on Sept. 22, 2005, Criminal Minds was an acquired taste.

It was one never acquired by Mandy Patinkin, who left abruptly after portraying Jason Gideon for the first two seasons.

As Patinkin explained to New York Magazine in 2012, "I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality."

Harsh, and not totally accurate. The unsubs on Criminal Minds were equal-opportunity killers, murdering women and men alike, but thankfully, few children.

After all, America has its standards.

Another Victim - Criminal Minds Season 15 Episode 9

What Patinkin needs to understand is that Americans enjoy being horrified. Monsters have been a staple of the movie industry since its beginning.

What the profilers of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit do is a form of catharsis. They put the monsters in cages, or even better, in the ground, thus restoring a sense of order, of normalcy, within an hour.

What you need to realize is that there wouldn't be Criminal Minds without Clarice Starling.

Moviegoers worldwide fell in love with Jodie Foster's psychiatrist who tried to get inside the heads of serial killers Hannibal Lechter (played by Anthony Hopkins) and Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine).

The 1991 Academy Award-winning film made profilers fertile territory for entertainment projects.

Target Practice - Criminal Minds Season 15 Episode 9

But Criminal Minds wasn't the first TV series featuring profilers. That honor goes to the aptly named Profiler, which aired on NBC from 1995 to 2000.

The reason that Criminal Minds, created by Jeff Davis, caught on with viewers was its likable characters. And Gideon.

But Criminal Minds remains one of the few TV shows featuring profilers. Now that it's done, series featuring profilers include The Blacklist, Prodigal Son, and Mindhunter (nearly a complete list.)

Compare that with forensics, popularized by the CSI franchise. Damn near every police procedural has its go-to medical examiner or forensics lab.

But unlike the alphabetical franchises (NCIS, CSI, L&O), lightning only struck once for Criminal Minds.

Undercover Backup - Criminal Minds Season 15 Episode 9

Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, which just seemed like more of the same, lasted a year. Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, which offered the promising concept of dead bodies dropping in picturesque locations, made it two seasons and produced Matt Simmons for the parent show.

Like any long-running show, Criminal Minds was plagued by cast turnover through the years.

In addition to the aforementioned Patinkin, Thomas Gibson was fired after an on-set altercation in 2016. Shemar Moore left that same year to find something creatively different, which turned out to be SWAT.

Then there was the handling of the female characters. Producers seemed to switch female characters in and out willy nilly for budget concerns until fans revolted. This meant Prentiss and J.J. missed time.

As actors left, their fans went with them, resulting in weakening ratings.

It's little wonder CBS got away with jerking around the series' fans in recent years, renewing it later and later while trying to squeeze every concession out of its producers.

Did Criminal Minds stay around too long? Undoubtedly.

That's apparent when the same crime is now being committed by the unsub's son or disciple or gardener. If you're thinking, "Did I see that on Ion last week," you probably saw the original.

But Criminal Minds is no more guilty of that than any other long-time series. Its present is bound to suffer in comparison to when it was fresh and new. Isn't that true of all of us?

Remember the TV networks' motto: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. New sets cost money. Old sets just need a touchup.

Only Departure - Criminal Minds Season 15 Episode 10

At least Criminal Minds got to go out on its own terms with this final 10-episode season.

Compare that to poor CSI, which CBS cruelly discarded after sucking all the juice possible out of it. (Wait. I forgot. There's a CBS revival in the works.) Veteran showrunner Erica Messner did an admirable job with the time she had available.

The BAU hunted down a meh big bad in Everett Lynch and dispatched him spectacularly. They also tracked some new, lesser unsubs.

Fan-favorite characters advanced, while others (Lewis, Alvez) lingered in the background.

The season was Reid-heavy. But since Spencer is the character female viewers see as their son or brother and want to protect, why not go there?

The dance to David Bowie's "Heroes" at Garcia's going-away party was infectious. And for once, a BAU party wasn't interrupted by some dire disaster in the making.

The ending was touching, as well. The team went "wheels up" on a case. Then Garcia turned off the lights in the computer room, reminiscent of Mary Richards switching off the newsroom lights at the end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Messer could have blown up the team (figuratively this time), but she didn't. Garcia is now working nearby, just a text away.

So how long until a revival is announced? CBS has the Super Bowl next year, so it would air after that?

Whatever the future, let's just enjoy the 15 seasons that have come before of this groundbreaking series.

Team Dance - Criminal Minds Season 15 Episode 9

To revisit 15 seasons, watch Criminal Minds online.

What did you think of the finale?

Who was your favorite character?

Did Criminal Minds last too long?

Comment below.

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Dale McGarrigle is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on X.

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Criminal Minds Season 15 Episode 9 Quotes

Prentiss [to J.J.] Don't worry. If given the chance, I'm making history.

J.J.: You're going to be the next director of the FBI.
Prentiss: That remains a definite maybe.