I [Guinevere] have recently started and new job and I'm commuting and not always at home to watch Criminal Minds. I actually missed the opening of the episode because I am staying with my mother and she wanted to go outside. I wasn't worried about missing the beginning, because I knew my trusty DVR at my house would be recording the episode but alas!, my self-centered 15 year-old son decided to cancel the recording, so, I completely missed the teaser scenes. I made it back inside just in time for the opening credits.
I can say that I was intrigued from the moment the show came back on. Then I got more caught up in the story as it went on. I really think it’s one of the best episodes I've seen in the past 4 seasons. It was probably my favorite episode since “Into the Woods”. I was on the edge of my seat and my mother was covering her eyes; she doesn't do blood or suspense well. I was really freaking out at the end of the episode where the Unsub had Hotch and Hotch was hallucinating about everyone getting shot. I kept saying to myself “This can't be real, this can't be real”. Thank goodness it wasn't real!
Matthew Gray Gubler directing for this episode was masterful. He did set up a suspenseful atmosphere where the viewer’s wonder if what the victims saw was real or not. A monster with big talons? Gubler's use of shadows to represent the monster was a good choice also, the shadow was scary in what it left unseen, what left to the viewer's imagination. The choice of showing the monster in shadow was also a homage to the old black and white horror films. Speaking of atmosphere, loved that Matthew did set it with the first scene when he did show us an aerial view of Quantico under an intense thunderstorm with lightning. I could hear a voice that said "It was dark and stormy night in Quantico Virginia when…"
Have to mention how great his directing of the actors was. The little boy looked and sounded natural and not like a kid "acting". But the best was his work with a truly gifted actor, Thomas Gibson. Thomas did bring to Hotch something rarely seen on the show, a scared and not in control Hotch. Gibson played Hotch as someone who when he was in the hands of the unsub, Peter Lewis, was just on the edge of falling victim to what Lewis was spinning. Gubler's directing was to film whatever was going on between Hotch and Lewis at close quarters. This was a fight between two men, but not a physical one (that had happened earlier when Lewis did attack Hotch and Lewis won). The most important fight was the one for Hotch's sanity. By filming at close quarters we can hear what is being said and see how Hotch reacts to what Lewis is telling him and, since Hotch cannot move much or at all, Thomas only got to show what is going on with Hotch through his facial expressions. Matthew was excellent at catching what Criminal Minds' best actor had to offer.
Matthew Gray Gubler's choice of guest actors was very good too. From the little boy who sounded and acted very natural, to the actor who played the innocent looking Mr. Marin, to the poor man who was sure the monster had raped him and this caused him to snap and kill his mother, to the woman, Christine, who so totally lost it that the only way to get her out of her fugue state was by making her smell something that contributed to her trauma, burning sage. All were excellent at portraying, yes, killers, but killers that we felt sorry for what they were made to do. The actor playing Peter Lewis, Bhodi Elfman, did send chills down every Criminal Minds fans heart when he told Morgan "You don’t know what I did to him" - "him" being Hotch! Last about Matthew Gray Gubler's directing, I wonder how it was for him to direct his character's "death"... This was such a shocker when it happened! I literally screamed "No Reid!!!" Then he directed two of his co-stars' first on the show, Reid dying and Rossi getting shot! Talk about directorial pressure!
On Criminal Minds, Thomas Gibson has to show Hotch emotions/reactions in a restrained manner as Hotch is a man who plays everything close to the vest. He is controlled and rarely loses it. When he does lose it, it takes on epic proportions, see episode "100" for the end results! So often we know what Hotch feels by watching his minute reactions; clenching of his fists, how he will cross his arms over his chest, a glare or raised eyebrow,... In "Mr. Scratch" he is under the influence of the same drugs that Lewis used to make his previous victims kill their loved ones. None of them except one was able to resist this diabolically genius unsub, the father who killed himself instead of killing his son. Lewis trying to make Hotch not just "see" his team being murdered, - thanks Matthew Gray Gubler for the vivid murder of poor Reid who got shot in the head leaving a trail of blood on a window glass, yikes!- that was not enough for Lewis, he wanted Hotch to kill someone on his team, whoever came first through the door. Here starts the battle of wills between Hotch and Lewis. That is where we see the play of emotions on Hotch's face: from stubbornness, to anger, to fright, to panic. Thomas Gibson did display all those just by using his face. No screaming, no banging on things, no grand standing, just show the emotions on his character's face. Did I mention how great an actor Gibson is?
Criminal Minds always seems to raise its quality when they put Gibson’s acting talent at the forefront. I have to also add that the ending was so great with Hotch at the back of the ambulance and Dave insisting that Aaron needed to talk and talk now. We know that Lewis got into Hotch's mind, that he knows his greatest fear, to lose his team, and Peter Lewis made him see them die. The way Hotch collect himself and then opened his eyes and says "This is how it went..." and then the episode ended was just brilliant! The episode ended like it started with Hotch getting the story from a victim and ending with Hotch as the victim telling the story.
~~~~Guinevere and Merlin
NOTE: apologies to all for the late review, real life sometimes gets mischievous with fans of TV shows...