Tuesday, March 22, 2016

CRIMINAL MINDS Season 11 - 1117. The Sandman - Review

When I saw that I was doing the review for the 250th episode of Criminal Minds, I was blown away. What an honor. Thank you Criminal Minds Round Table staff.

Without delay, onto the review of The Sandman written by Bruce Zimmerman and directed by Joe Mantegna.

Following the usual “previously on Criminal Minds segment, the opening shot is of an obvious Morgan returning to the BAU. The shot goes from his shoes to the go bag he is carrying. Thank goodness Joe didn’t do the infamous up the legs, past the crotch and to the chest shot that was done by too many directors in the 80’s. What threw me though was the “6 months later”.

Morgan moves to the Wall of Fallen Agents and looks at his reflection in the picture of Erin Strauss. You can see he’s still got the nightmare that he lived through on his mind. That was a great touch by Joe and shows he’s got his “A” game already going. In his office Morgan pulls out a beautiful wedding photo of him and Savannah. Like an episode commenter said, I’m glad we fans didn’t have to sit through that. One wedding was nice; two is over the top. The next thing Morgan pulls out is a file; he and the team have obviously been working the “who and why” of his attack.

The scene shifts to a nighttime shot of an idyllic farm setting in rural Wichita, Kansas. I live chat with some friends at a small Criminal Minds site and one of the participants is from Wichita and was highly perturbed that they went there again. However, I had read that Bruce Zimmerman purposely chose Wichita for the Clutter family murder which is later mentioned in the episode.

Inside we see a boy sleeping; then a person I assumed was the Unsub putting a liquid and then some kind of dust in the eye area of the sleeping mother. The shot of the Unsub leaning against the doorframe of the boy’s room was just chilling.

The idyllic setting is broken with the boy screaming “Mommy, help me!” And through a series of terrific camera shots we see the struggling mother with her eyes incapacitated from her POV. I thought that was amazing. Kudo’s to Joe and Director of Photography Greg St. Johns for pulling that off.

Honestly, I could have done without the Rossi/Morgan scene on the catwalk and the surprise baby shower in the Round Table room. However it was fun for me to hear Rossi teasing Morgan. “Ohhh, you look like a diaper changer to me.” And a very pregnant Savannah explained the six months later. Plus, it’s great to see Rossi with the team instead of the “B” storyline like he has some of the other episodes he has directed. But I really liked the Hotch/JJ scene in Hotch’s office. The all business Hotch knows his team is having some fun so he lets them enjoy it. For ten minutes more. Hehehehehehehe

While that is transpiring, we see the Unsub doing some sort of specific measuring; our first nugget of the clue to this Unsub’s psychological background? Then add in the shot of the skull in the fire which made me raise my eyebrows. What is Bruce cooking up for us?

“Parents are the bones on which children sharpen their teeth.”
Peter Ustinov

Act One opens on the jet with more of the usual Rossi snark. “Mr. Sandman, bring me a nightmare.” I had the same reaction as Lewis to Reid’s take of the Sandman myth. I like how Bruce had Hotch do the team assignments. And it’s understandable that Hotch wants to keep Morgan close for a while. And I agree with many of the commenters that the lead LEO (female police sergeant) was just not right from the start.

“Trust is good thing. So are dead bolts and a Rottweiler.” I love the way the writer’s pen Rossi and his snark. And it was great to see the mentor/mentee in the field together with Rossi and JJ. And stop the presses!!! Bruce remembered continuity with the Medical Examiner recognizing Reid and his (Reid’s) comment about the prior case in Wichita. Reid and Lewis’ examination of the ME’s findings about the parent’s eyes gave the team their first real clue to building a profile. The father was killed immediately while the mother wasn’t. Bruce’s subtle hand is at work again.

The lead LEO brings word that the first boy’s body has been found. At the scene, Morgan putting his sunglasses back on showed that he’s struggling a bit; especially with a child’s death. It’s a subtle shot that Joe got from his co-star. Back at the station, Reid and Lewis are brainstorming together then Hotch and Morgan. This is all great team stuff that has been greatly missing many episodes this season.

Depending on your own POV, the scene with Morgan and Reid could have gone a thousand different ways. I really liked Bruce’s choice. It was measured and wonderful. And the ending line was fantastic. “Charge by the hour Doc?”

The First Act ends with another home attack and the Unsub saying a chilling “Eleven”.

Act Two opens with another idyllic rural home setting. At this point, in the back of my head I’m re-thinking the 10 acres of rural land I have in my future and the house plan I have in mind for that setting. And holy REALLY-stop-the-presses Batman!! Hotch is OUT IN THE FIELD. Thank you Bruce! Plus I really enjoyed Hotch and Lewis working the scene. The rapid fire delivery of lines between Thomas Gibson and Aisha Tyler was amazing. When I was doing my review notes watch, I re-watched that scene a second time. It was that good. I usually only expect that from Thomas and Joe.

The team delivers the profile which segues into the Unsub’s lair as he is grinding something. At our little chat site I went, “WTH?? Are those teeth?”

Yet, from that scene is where the episode began to roll. Morgan and Lewis profiling together with Reid figuring out the hourglass angle. Hotch and JJ at the hospital with Ellie Zumwalt learning about the goggles and “Eleven”. Morgan and Rossi talking with Garcia. “Remember Thomas Alva Edison – ‘I have not failed. I just found ten thousand ways that don’t work’.” The team zeroing in the hourglasses left at the crime scenes. Rossi’s comment about the sand coming from upstate New York. Bottom line for me: it’s the team, doing their job. And for the record: is there really a high end glass blowing community? I learn something each week watching Criminal Minds. This one just didn’t scare the you know what out of me. And then we get the classic, I mean classic Reid analysis breaking down the specifics of the hourglass sand. Our beloved BAU team is profiling! Bruce gets a fruit cup with lunch!!

Act Two ends with our first full shot of the Unsub’s lair with his collection of hourglasses and Josie Zumwalt pleading for her life.

Act Three opens with Reid’s trepidation in answering the phone and his conversation with Garcia. That boy’s technology issues need to be solved soon. Just kidding! That scene goes into the Unsub in his lair with not only hourglasses but other blown glass pieces as well. It was another subtle Bruce clue I missed.

The scene with Hotch, Rossi and Morgan talking over the profile was outstanding, with Hotch catching Ellie Zumwalt, Josie’s mother was alive for a reason. “What are you thinking Aaron?” I love that Rossi calls him that. No other members of the team do. OK, OK, JJ did it once under duress. (S7 - Hit and Run) Meanwhile, Reid is digging through his mountain of paperwork that Garcia sent him. Unlike his co-star Gibson’s approach to that (S10 - Lockdown), Joe chose the quick route; Reid found the clue in fifteen seconds of screen time.

We finally learn the backstory of Patrick Sorenson, our Unsub with Reid putting together the time connection of staring at the hourglass. Plus JJ’s scenes with the mother in the hospital were excellent as well. I love the advancement of JJ; but it was still wonderful to see her go back to her roots in dealing with Ellie. And we got to see that Penelope Garcia can think on her own and then use her binary systems.

I loved how Joe’s shot of Ellie’s statement morphed into Patrick’s mother Betty. Hotch’s plan is working. Garcia’s info sends Lewis back to the ME’s office where she makes a startling discovery. Betty Sorenson’s body has been taken.

We go to the Unsub’s lair as he opens a chest to reveal, yes Mommy Dearest. In that very quick shot, I noticed the head was already severed off the body. It’s the only gore shot Joe put in the whole episode and it was quick. But it tied in the skull we saw in the opening act as well as the shot of the teeth. All of the subtle, little clues are starting to come together as Act Three closes.

The Final Act opens with Rossi and Morgan working the profile and the obligatory shot of the clock on the wall. Patrick, the Unsub, allows Josie to make a phone call to her mother. I really liked the shot of JJ noticing how Hotch’s plan is really starting to come together until Ellie accidentally names Josie.

I like having Rossi and Morgan in the field together. But honestly, noticing a grey sedan as they are checking that big of an area? But hey, it’s a TV show and the clock is ticking towards the end of the episode.

It took me a couple watches of the episode before I figured out that the red sand in the hourglass was that time had run out for Sorenson’s captive. But sorry Unsub; Sorenson opens the door to get to Josie holding a hammer and looks into the barrel of Rossi’s .45 while Morgan protectively holds the girl.

Joe’s shot of the Unsub falling into his entire glass collection in slow motion was superb. Don’t kill our heroes in slow motion; but send the bad guy to find his Sandman in a slow version that shows our heroes winning in the end. Plus the next shot was one of Joe’s finest as the sand from the hourglasses slowly drifted down, covering the Unsub’s goggles.

Onto Rossi Poker Club; I loved this whole scene. “Listen here pops…” Morgan says. “Goes the weasel,” Bill Withers answers. But one thing is bugging me. I figured out six of the seven poker players. Obviously its Rossi and Morgan; the two Marine generals from S10 - Anonymous; Joe Walsh, lead guitarist of The Eagles and the legendary Bill Withers. But who is the seventh guy? The one that asked which university baby Morgan is supposed to attend.

I really liked the scene of Morgan looking over the poker room as he was leaving with the quote.

“Lucky I’m sane after all I’ve been through. Life’s been good to me so far.”
[That’s from a] Joe Walsh [written song. It foreshadowed the upcoming scene.]

To that final scene: if they are really setting up an exit for Shemar Moore, I could think of better ways than shooting a pregnant lady. It makes for a lot of chatter fodder at many Criminal Minds fan sites; however, I could think of many better ways. But I’m also of the thinking I’ll just wait and watch before I pass judgement.


Sitting down to watch the episode live knowing I would be reviewing, I’ll be very honest, I had a lot of fears in the back of my head. It’s the 250th episode. Bruce Zimmerman has written the episode and he is not a flashy, big bang writer. Joe Mantegna’s directing style is much the same; nothing flashy. Plus Thomas Gibson had directed the last episode and Matthew Gray Gubler is directing the next one. Using analysis of prior episodes, it set up for both to be mostly unseen with Joe not used much as well. Back to profiling school I go! Because this episode was nothing like I feared.

Gibson and Gubler were well represented on the team. I don’t know how that all happened or got pulled together. Be it the production staff planning, Thomas Gibson and Matthew Gray Gubler working some crazy, long hours, I don’t know. But they did it. However, from now on, any writer that says “so and so actor wasn’t available due to directing” will get shot out of the water. The standard has been set that a lot of us fans have questioned for a long time. It can be done.

And yes, Bruce didn’t write a big, flashy show milestone episode. What he did do was give this fan an old fashion, solid team doing their job of working a profile episode. All of our beloved characters were exactly like they should be. And with little, subtle only-Bruce-can-write shout outs to the past. The team was at the forefront and it was balanced between all the actors. I don’t want flash; I want the team doing their damn jobs. Thank you Bruce! You wrote an outstanding 250th episode of my beloved show.

And Joe Mantegna backed Bruce’s hard work in the writers’ room with his usual style that matches. It ain’t gonna be flashy folks; it’s just gonna work. My only gripe is Joe pandering to his friends by hiring Joe Walsh’s daughter as the lead LEO; with all due respect to Mr. Mantegna, he blew that one.

Rockie’s final grade: A-; a better lead LEO would have earned this episode an A+

My thanks again to the Criminal Minds Round Table staff for allowing me to review this milestone episode. And a specific shout out to Sir Elyan who provides the wonderful “cap” shots that will be in this review. Your lowly serf bows to you all.

~~~~rockhotch31 (Guest reviewer)


  1. love your review Rocky! so many good points about this episode. Yes Bruce didn't write a big flashy episode but he did write a solid one. Will take that over the over blown 200th...

    "However, from now on, any writer that says “so and so actor wasn’t available due to directing” will get shot out of the water. The standard has been set that a lot of us fans have questioned for a long time. It can be done." THIS!!! Writers who says that actors were not available have been proven wrong.

    Thanks for doing another outstanding job with this review Rocky!

    1. Your humble serf bows again. :D


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