Criminal Minds has just started it’s 10th season. It’s easy to see why the show’s been so successful; a top notch cast, relentlessly smart and dark writing, a literary streak a mile wide (If you’re a Pseudopod fan and you watch the show? Well done, you’ve found where I borrowed the Quote of the Week from) and a colossal willingness to view the crimes at it’s core as tragedies for everyone involved. Like a lot of legacy shows it’s cast list reads like a who’s who of all time greats. Unlike a lot of legacy shows, it’s shown a constant willingness to pull the rug out from under it’s characters and viewers alike.
Which brings us to Season 10 and a new feature. Every week, my friend Vic Linde and I will ask and answer a question each about the episode. Welcome to Criminal Thoughts.
This week’s episode, ‘X’ was written by Glenn Kershaw and directed by Erica Messer.
X – 10.1
So, Vic, what do you think about SSA Callahan?
Vic: It was really smart to have her transfer in from an area where she isn’t going to be shocked by everything she sees but she’s also not an ‘old hand’. It skips over the showing-the-newbie-the-ropes nicely. She’s also gorgeous. I enjoyed the fact that they cleared up a little of her home-life but not all of it.
Her interactions with each of the different members of the team showed that the writers and producers have learnt (now that we’re in Season X) how to introduce new characters.
Alasdair: I absolutely agree. I know there was a lot of grumbling about Jennifer Love Hewitt being brought aboard and I remain confused as to why. She’s a rock solid actress with a lot of presence and the ability to work to the level of her script, whatever that may be. I watched pretty much all of Ghost Whisperer and she was consistently really good in a show that at times was neither consistent or good.
Also, just for a moment, stop and think about just how glorious a Ghost Whisperer/Supernatural crossover would be.
Anyway, I really liked her for the exact same reasons you did. She’s smart, she’s switched on and she’s completely irreverent in a refreshingly normal way. That led to some really fun interactions with the established cast too.
Vic: It hit me while watching this episode that they have handled Morgan really well – we know that he’s a flirt (Cat/Dog depending on whether you are Garcia or Prentiss) but he never ever puts on that face when he’s with his female co-workers. Morgan was really great while talking to Kate about battle scars and I love that competitive and slightly irreverent side to him. And the subtle nod that they joke and talk openly about their physical scars which have healed so that they don’t focus on the emotional scars that might not be so cleanly dealt with.
Alasdair: Exactly. It’s a really sweet moment that also does something a lot of shows try but few succeed at. JJ’s off hand ‘tortured, last year’ reference, as well as Morgan’s litany both tie back to a line Callahan has at the start. Her query about how she takes 3 months to bring in one person whilst the BAU does a serial killer a week is oddly very sweet. It’s a nice way of hanging a lantern on the slight absurdity of the show and the BAU’s work rate at the same time as positioning Callahan very much on the viewer’s side, or, crucially, the newbie viewer’s side. It plays a little like the traditional ‘bigger on the inside’ gag with new companions on Doctor Who but, here, works a lot better.
Likewise I really enjoyed her interactions with Dave. Given how rocky Dave’s interactions with female characters were when he was first introduced it’s really nice to not only see how he’s changed but also how comfortable they are around each other. The nature of Callahan’s previous work means she’s had some very similar corners knocked off to Dave and as a result the pair’s slightly world-weary viewpoints blend perfectly.
Vic: They have also done a really good job of tying her in to the show by linking us back to that Piano Man karaoke episode (was it done first on Criminal Minds or on Castle?). One thing that I did miss? The references to Dave’s books. I would have thought there might have been a comment from Kate on that one.
So, Alasdair, exactly how many limbs would you trade on the black market to get Paget Brewster back on the show?
Alasdair:…I don’t really use my left arm for anything anyway…Plus, well…I do suit carbon fibre…
Seriously though I miss her so very, very much. It’s always fascinating when a show makes it this far because you start getting eras. We’ve had the Elle Greenaway (With added Jason Gideon!) era, the Blake era and in the middle of that, Emily Prentiss. Easily the most interesting foil Morgan. Reid and Hotch have ever had and a character so strong she could survive being written out twice.
Vic: Each of them had something about them that we loved – and none of them were perfect. Kate is an interesting balance and it’s clear that her character has been influenced by those who went before. Highlighted by the show in the fact that Hotch saw so many people before choosing her to be a part of the team. For me, no one will replace Paget/Emily but even one episode into her era, Kate looks a lot stronger than expected and the team seems to be holding together really well, possibly better than it ever did with Blake.
Aladair: Exactly. And like you I really liked the confidence, and speed, with which they breezed through her being brought aboard. It’s a mark of the show’s willingness to not only, as you say, learn from it’s mistakes but also to take some chances. We saw that here not only with Callahan’s near instantaneous acceptance to the team but the fake unsub and the ending. The message seems to be clear; Season 10 doesn’t just mean more of the same.
Vic: One of the best things about Criminal Minds has always been it’s willingness to undercut the audience. False leads, seeing one unsub when they are only part of team etc. This episode did that really nicely. That’s why ten seasons in we still like to watch. Another very powerful thing that they do is remind us that just because one unsub has been locked away, many more are out there. The ending of this one? Yeuch.
Alasdair: Exactly. Your point about undercutting the audience is an especially good one, given how they tied that to the final scene with Hotch and Callahan. A lesser show would have had Hotch pat the new girl on the head and send her home. This one is brave enough to not only show how a new perspective is sometimes a right one, but how the BAU really cope with the horrors they see; one case at a time, knowing it’ll never end fully, but that most of the time it’ll end enough.
And that’s a wrap for week one. Huge thanks to Vic for helping me get this out in the world. The pieces will be crossposted on both our blogs so if you’re a fan you’ll be able to catch them in both places. We’ll see you here next week.