Casting and acting (more on them later) are key ingredients in an engrossing episode but it all starts with the writing, and I've come to anticipate Sharon Lee Watson's outings with pleasure. For me, A Thousand Suns and Amelia Porter were standout episodes in an otherwise mostly lackluster season.
Her epilogue was especially worth noting. After watching Congressman Troy and his now incarcerated mother in the prison visiting room, I suddenly re-evaluated their entire relationship, and started speculating about their future interactions. Yes, I know these are finite, fictional characters (I'm not cray-cray) but I think the hallmark of an excellent writer is when you start to imagine the universe their creations inhabit off the page, or in this case, off-screen.
For example, the formerly drug-addicted older brother Paul -- how much would it have sucked to grow up in golden Benji's shadow with Mommie dearest? There's likely more than one reason he escaped into drugs. And speaking of Dinah Troy, I can just envision her ruling her future prison wing with an iron fist: CEO of Cell Block D.
When Criminal Minds casts someone the caliber of Tess Harper, it's a safe bet she will be doing more than cooing reassuringly at her onscreen son. And her performance as a modern day Eleanor Iselin allowed you to just visualize what a stifling, I mean -- wholesome upbringing her offspring had. Like I said, more than one reason brother Paul took to gambling and drugs.
Actor Chris McKenna pulls off the balancing act of flawed, ambiguous/ambitious politician, possible suspect, and terrified husband commendably. The viewer had to identify with him while still having doubts. Too much shading in one direction or the other and it would either cause immediate suspicion or instant dismissal. If his performance had been weaker, the whole episode would have suffered for it. Plus, the prison scene at the end... well, his twitter page banner says it all.
Let's hold hands and pick a suspect: mother-in-law dearest and/or the distraught husband
The balance of screen time and activity for the BAU was good (although I still find Jennifer Love Hewitt's Agent Callahan entirely extraneous -- her scenes could have been handled by JJ without any noticeable difference). Reid's parallel storyline with the Russian mobster surveillance was not only entertaining (kudos for the return to early season visualizations!) but necessary. Bonus: Reid's Russian language abilities were acknowledged, and Emily Churchill's wry Agent Loker was a breath of fresh air.
The tag team final interrogation of Mama Troy by Hotch and Rossi, was priceless. There is a reason they are the senior agents, and there is a reason that Thomas Gibson and Joe Mantegna get top billing: experience and skill shine through from both the actors and the characters.
Dorian Loker made my day: please bring her back (or at least mention her this season and next)
THE PLOT & PACING
The multiple threads (such as double-crossing, lovelorn Russian gangsters) and red herrings (well hello, sociopathic former intern/lover) were skillfully woven in, enough to keep the viewer on their toes, but not so blatantly obvious as to make you snort in dismissal.
I didn't feel there were any excess scenes, with the possible exception of Morgan's detour into Garcia's office, but perhaps that was to either change the setting from the conference room or merely make the Morgan/Morcia fans happy.
|Lessons from SE7EN: beware of gift-wrapped boxes when a loved one is missing.|
I'm going to pull a Mama Troy stunt and hold up Sharon Lee Watson as my personal golden child in front of the rest of the Criminal Minds writers. By holding off on revealing whodunnit until 00:50:00 and not 00:05:00 or 00:00:05, she kept this long-time viewer attentive and off balance. (Was it all an elaborate revenge plot by the betrayed wife? Was the one-term Congressman a Machiavellian criminal?) Gold star for the diabolical mother-son reunion scene at the end, which kept me thinking about the episode long after the credits rolled.
And lest you think Sharon was always a teacher's pet, I used to dread her early episodes (Sorry, but it's true, Ms. Watson) whereas now I look forward to her unpredictable plotlines. Keep it up!
I know it's too late in the season for my words to have any effect this year, but there's always season 11. Stop doing Show & Tell, Criminal Minds writers -- we're not second graders. If the audience is clued in long before the BAU, it all boils down to waiting for Garcia to pull a name out of her magical, silicon hat. It's not very interesting for the viewer if the audience feels like they're smarter than the heroes. Mix it up and keep us uncertain. Otherwise, we might as well go watch our DVDs of seasons past.