Criminal Minds: Season 12
It is rather rare for a television series to avoid cancellation for more than a handful of seasons. Of late this trend has been exasperated by the substantial proliferation of venues to present the shows. With sources including broadcast and cable television now alongside a growing number of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon the competition for viewership. For ‘Criminal Mind to last beyond a dozen years is a significant testimony to the writers, directors, and cast. Only a couple of shows have managed longevity while retaining the same cast. Part of this show’s success is due to the willingness of the showrunners to permit the storylines to accommodate a robust turnover in the principal cast. Of the members of the original cast only three are still around; SSA Spencer Reid, Ph.D. (Matthew Gray Gubler), SSR Jennifer "JJ" Jareau (A.J. Cook) and Technical Analyst Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness). With the start of this season, the cast reduced to a chartered character and fan favorite, SSA Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore). Of all the storylines used to prepare for the exit of a character, last season’s final episodes with Morgan were arguably among the most well-constructed and thrillingly executed of ant TV series I have seen. The commitment to telling realistic stories includes believable reasons for their exits usually avoiding the hackneyed tragic death. Derek was hunted, kidnapped and brutally tortured surviving by sheer willpower and training. He then left the BAU to attempt to normalize his left and spend more time with his new wife and their child. He was such a central character, crucial to the emotional and physiological development of many characters. For a showrunner to address such a significant loss and change to the social dynamic without destroying the continuity is a testament to the quality of the creative people on both sides of the camera. This season picks up in the aftermath of these changes.
Short staffed the current BAU Unit Chief, SSA Emily Prentis (Paget Brewster), had to hire a replacement. The newest addition to the BAU is Luke Alvez (Adam Rodriguez). A native son of The Bronx and seasoned former US Army Ranger, Luke immediately become an integral team member resulting from his intelligence and common sense. Is participation is put to the test when Spencer is framed for murder while in Mexico? Spencer was down there to purchase legal medicine that seemed to help manage the symptoms of his mother’s Diana (Jane Lynch) schizophrenia. Exasperating his legal predicament Spencer did not follow protocol informing the FBI of his leaving the country. This denied him any protection of the Bureau as he is arrested and placed in a Mexican prison. Another strength of the series is how it extends beyond the traditional precepts of a crime procedural by concentrating on the emotional state and psychological issues each character faces. Reid usually comes across as the academic, a man capable of deep thought but not the resiliency required to survive a Mexican prison. Mr. Gubler has always been a consistently strong and versatile performer who continually expands the depth of his character. Reid is a genius with an eidetic memory, multiple doctorates and an incredible ability to consume, process and utilizes huge amounts of information. In most instances, a character like this would be wasted, painted into a corner with little if an opportunity to develop.
Reid is pushed to the limit of is endurance. His vast intellect is only marginally helpful, but he can summon sufficient strength to hold out until the team could extricate him from that circle of hell. Prentiss hires him a lawyer in hopes of clearing up the false charges but Reid’s memories, always his rock-steady foundation, are misleading and obviously tempered with raising doubts about his innocence. The culprit behind this appears to be a former adversary of the unit who has been systematically targeting members of the team undermining them sadistically psychologically in the hope of breaking them completely. During much of the season, the narrative is split between Reid’s desperate attempt to retain his sanity and hold fast to his integrity and the BAU continuing as best as they can while worrying about him. The emotional heart of the team has always been Penelope, who has made teammates into a caring family. She always had a special relationship with Derek and had taken it very hard when he left. The father figure of the group, former bureau chief, SSA Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson), was forced into Federal witness protection because of the of the menacing unsub, Mr. Scratch (Bodhi Elfman). Now with Spencer in prison, Penelope is reeling from the disintegration of her life and the tragedy inflicted on the people she loves. Ms. Vangsness originally contracted for a single appearance but brought so much to the role that she was an instant fan favorite. The technical analysis is typically a one-dimensional source of exposition and technical jargon, but in this series, her character is the connective tissue holding everything together.
Following a very popular formula, the stories in this series are typically a mixture of a serialized main\plot line punctuated with episodic cases contained in a single episode. The first portion of the season has the team tracking down thirteen serial killers who escaped from prison three months earlier. This provided a loose connection between the unsubs without requiring any substantial interaction. Rather than requiring contrived links between the killers each of the 13 are unique, joined as a form of plot coupons with the convicted serial killer as the only point of commonality. The creative twist with the storytelling has kept the series interesting for such a considerable run. There were a couple of one-off episodes used to fine tune the pacing and afford an imaginative way of introducing some of the character’s backstory and career history. The primary example of this occurs when SSA David Rossi (Joe Mantegna), is a guest lecturer at the FBI Academy. Has one of the founders of the BAU and a bestselling author, Rossi is a natural storyteller, a talent that has made him exceptionally wealthy. Joined by Emily and SSA Stephen Walker (Damon Gupton), they present old cases to the recruits. During this time Rossi receives information that pulls him back to one of his first cases. As one of the original agents in the BAU Rossi is occasionally singled out for flashback oriented episodes that highlight the progression of forensic profiling as an accepted tool for capturing serial killers. As the agent with the most seniority, it would have been logical to have him become Bureau Chief when Hoch left. It was explained that he detested the bureaucratic responsibilities of the position. Although this was very much a rebuilding season, the series not only survived the departure of two of the original cast but flourished. In an elite unit such as this turnover is expected and denying that would taint the show as unrealistic. Reorganizations and personnel are part of the show’s progression and contributed to the robust nature of its longevity. I’m still an avid fan even after a dozen years.