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Criminal Minds – Outlaw – Review: “Conflict and Uncertainty”

After a rather predictable outing the previous week, the show bounces back this week with a strong episode involving two outlaw bikers terrorizing a small town, and a powerful ending that reminds us why we love this particular team of profilers so much. There’s no personal side stories, no relationship drama outside of what the unsubs deal with. Just a simple, “back to basics” setup that bodes well for the episode, and keeps viewers interested in seeing how the storyline plays out.

The Case:

This week’s case takes place in Las Vegas. Not that Vegas, though, not Reid’s hometown; no, actually, the team is off to Las Vegas, New Mexico. Reid has read up on this other Vegas, however, and shares information about the place on the plane ride out there, because of course he would. I quite liked that little detail.

And it seems like Las Vegas has one hell of a dangerous situation on their hands, if the incredibly disturbing opening sequence is anything to go by. We see quick, striking images of a group of young people bound and gagged, clearly terrified out of their minds. The unsubs holding them hostage taunt them mercilessly, and there is absolutely no question that things are going to end very, very badly for these poor people.

In between the shots of the crime being committed, we hop over to scenes of the team being briefed on the crime in question. The victims are three restaurant workers, all fairly young workers to boot (two of them are teenagers, which just adds to the tragedy and evil of the situation). They were all brutally murdered in the very restaurant where they worked, and the murders are eerily similar to another group of unsolved murders from six years ago. There’s two obvious options for the team to consider here: either the same unsubs responsible for those prior killings are back to continue their crime spree, or they’re dealing with potential copycats.

I really liked the way the opening sequence kept jumping back and forth between the images of the crime taking place and the case briefing. It lent a real sense of urgency to the situation, made the crime that much more horrific, and even though we know the basic information about this particular crime, the flashes of the victims still leave us with so many questions. Also, I don’t know about anyone else, but the one unsub’s creepy skull mask he wore suddenly appearing in the screen made me jump a little.

The team figures that if this is the same criminals continuing their crime spree, the fact they went six years without committing any crimes is due to them having spent time in jail, so they decide to start investigating that angle further. Upon arriving, they meet the local officer working the case, a man named Raul. It’s apparent from the start that this case is weighing heavily on Raul – he’s one of those cops who’s dedicated to doing his duty and keeping his town safe, and this is a case he’s determined to solve.

He has a copy of the 911 call from one of the victims, made while the crime was in progress. Tara listens to it to see if they can get any info about their unsubs from it, but the call unsettles her deeply, and it’s so brief that it doesn’t really net them much in the way of help. Tara’s comments about struggling to compartmentalize had me thinking of how the team remarked on Emily’s ability to do that very thing. It’s one thing to talk to the criminals after you catch them. It’s quite another to be part of the chase, and follow along on the crime spree as it’s happening. An interesting distinction regarding how Tara’s dealing with the job in comparison to all the other team members who came before her, and proof that even those who think they’re cut out for this line of work can be proven wrong very quickly.

Meanwhile, Reid makes a breakthrough while staring at the crime scene photos. I loved the “whirring mind at work” sequence here as he did that – sort of a nice nod to the scene of him rapidly whipping through files in “Lockdown” last season. He takes note of the fact that he young woman in this latest crime suffered sexual assault, and that she and the other two victims were forced to watch each other die. None of those things happened in the killings six years ago. This tells Reid that the new aspects of this current crime must be due to the fact that one of the unsubs from the cold case killings gained a new partner.

While the team works the case, we get a glimpse into what the unsubs have been up to since the robbery. Their names are Les and Duke, and we quickly learn they’re heavy drug addicts, and doing the hard stuff at that (just say no to meth, kids). We also learn that Les is clearly the dominant, aggressive partner in this dynamic, while Duke is the submissive.

The unsubs’ dynamic in this episode reminded me a lot of the unsubs, Henry Frost and Francis Goehring, from season 3’s “Identity”. Sure, Goehring offed himself very early on in that episode, but there had been a particularly strong closeness between him and Frost as well, with Goehring trying to mold and influence Frost, and the same dominant/submissive dynamics coming into play. The two men also eventually experienced a fracturing of the partnership over personal issues and debate over how far they wanted their crime spree to go, just as Les and Duke did. By that logic, it should be pretty obvious to the viewers how Les and Duke’s partnership will play out.

The only difference is that neither Les nor Duke have a crush on each other, the way Frost did on Goehring. And it’s that subtle difference that adds a touch of unpredictability and intrigue to the events of this episode, and adds to our investment in the case and seeing how the story plays out.

Case in point: we learn that Duke has a woman he’s been dying to see ever since he got out of jail. Her name is Tammy, and she has a son…who’s about five or six years old. Duke puts two and two together pretty quickly, and one would initially expect that he’ll continue his deadbeat ways and back off. Instead, to our surprise, he seems interested in reigniting things with Tammy and getting to know his son, which adds an interesting and sympathetic twist to the proceedings. Though, that said, I’m not surprised that Tammy would have reservations – most women don’t see a criminal as an ideal father and husband, after all.

Duke’s desire to reunite his family puts a crimp in his and Les’ crime spree, too. He doesn’t seem quite as into the more violent aspects of the crimes, doesn’t seem all that eager to keep piling on to the illegal things they’ve done, much to Les’ chagrin. Les lays into him pretty strongly for all of it, trying to regain control. Trouble in paradise! Les is kind of a snarky guy as well – I must admit that I kind of chuckled at his sarcastic, “That was very thoughtful of you, Les!” line to Duke at one point during their argument. Les is also a bit frustrated and cranky because he needs a new fix. As a result, he, along with Duke, heads out to rob a pharmacy, and takes down all the people working there.

When Rossi and Raul go to investigate this latest shooting, Raul becomes even more rattled, because he knew one of the victims personally. It’s revealed not long after that Raul is trying to cope with the stress of this case through drinking. Rossi calls him out on it, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was thinking of Strauss and her struggles with alcohol when he was talking to Raul. He’d been a pillar of support for Strauss, after all, he knew the signs. I sensed Rossi’s attention to Raul’s struggles weren’t just the result of his strong profiling skills kicking in.

Even if that weren’t Rossi’s reason for talking to Raul, though, I’m still glad he did. One could argue he overstepped his bounds, perhaps, but drunk police officers do pose a risk, and drinking on the job is never a good thing regardless of the work you do. So it’s fitting that Rossi spoke up, and I like that he did it in a way that was blunt yet respectful.

On the note of addictions, I also like that it’s Reid who remarks on the unsubs’ drug usage, and how deep into their addictions they are. It’s a good nod to Reid’s own personal experience with the issue. That said, of course, the fact that he does know so much about drugs because of his firsthand experience with them is rather heartbreaking.

The team also soon learns that Duke was one of the two men involved in the killings six years ago. His partner back then was a man named Wade, and they did indeed go to jail, as the team surmised…but not for that particular string of killings. Instead, they wound up there for other charges, and while there, Duke became friendly with Les, who was in prison for his own string of crimes. Once Duke and Les were released from jail (to which I ask, why the hell would anyone think releasing those two men was a good idea in the first place?), they literally became new partners in crime. Les’ violent streak tells the team that he’s the one who committed the sexual assault of one of the restaurant workers, and he was also the one who forced those victims to watch each other die.

Hotch and Tara go to talk to Wade in prison to get more information on Les and Duke, and Wade makes the mistake of trying to get all flirty with Tara. She admirably takes it in stride and doesn’t even respond. Hotch, however, does not have time or patience for Wade’s BS and tells him in a hard voice to shut up, which I rather liked. Wade is smart enough to get the message, and gives them what they need to know. He also warns them that the chances of Les and Duke being taken in alive are pretty slim, however. Foreshadowing…

Later, Duke and Les stop at a gas station, and Les just can’t manage to control his criminal urges. He decides he’s going to rob this place, too, and comes in, gun out and pointing at the clerk. To our surprise, the clerk pulls out his own gun he’s stashed behind the counter. He’s prepared – he saw these guys on the news, and he’s all ready to be the one to stop this.

Except before the clerk can even pull the trigger, Les takes him down. As they continue poking around through the store, Duke stumbles across a father and a little boy cowering in a corner. Duke points his weapon at them, and I’m pretty certain I wasn’t the only one holding my breath and cursing the commercial break at this point.

Fortunately, the father and the child are spared! Hooray! They get to tell Reid and Morgan what they observed, and Reid thanks the child for his help. He and the boy share a high-five, and that bit of sheer cuteness was sorely welcome after so much tension.

Elsewhere, Les gets on Duke for not finishing off the father and son, but of course, we know why Duke couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger, and now we're hoping for Duke to get as far away from Les as possible. The two men get into it, with Duke defending Tammy’s honor against all the horrible things Les says about her. I’m always a little curious about the line criminals have sometimes. Duke’ll kill people, sure, but you talk bad about his girl and you’re going down! Very strange. In any event, Duke gets so fed up that he does indeed head off, leaving a frustrated Les in the dust. Good riddance, I say.

He heads back to the house where Tammy and Cole live, and when Tammy arrives home, she sees Duke there with his son, playing with toys. It’s actually kind of a rather cute scene at first…until Duke pulls out a gun, quietly setting it where Tammy can see it as he encourages her to come sit and enjoy some family time. Uh-oh… Maybe our growing sympathy is misplaced after all?

Once the team learns about Tammy and Cole, they take off to talk to Tammy, and perhaps warn her about Duke being out and about, but when they get to the house, all they find is Tammy’s mother. Despite being tied up, she’s otherwise fine, thankfully, but Duke, Tammy, and Cole are in the wind.

Duke doesn’t ultimately seem to have violent intentions for Tammy and Cole, though. He just wants them all to be a family again. Unfortunately, he and Tammy have some issues to work out, and once Tammy realizes he was involved in the crimes from all those years ago, she is rightly horrified at the idea of being with him again, or letting her son anywhere near him.

Les arrives soon after as well, trying to entice Duke back, and then the BAU joins this twisted little party. Les and Duke start up one hell of an intense shootout with the BAU, with Morgan and Reid in particular doing a lot of darting and jumping about here and there to dodge the bullets, as well as to get a better angle to take the men down. It’s rather exciting and action-packed. Raul, meanwhile, is crouched down in his own little area, remaining steady, with Rossi standing by to support him. Raul gets Les. One down, one more to go.

Duke’s aware his friend is gone, and knows he’s at a crossroads. He looks at his gun, and for a moment, it appears he’s going to kill himself. Ultimately, though, he decides that if he’s going to go down, he’ll go down swinging, and continues the shootout. Very shortly thereafter, Raul kills him, too, and Wade’s prediction sadly comes true. On the one hand, it’s hard not to mourn Duke’s end. He’d hoped to reconcile with Tammy and Cole, and did have some level of compassion in him, and it’s always tough to see unsubs like that go down. And his young son is now permanently fatherless, his hopes of getting to know his dad gone forever. I can’t help but ache for that family as a whole. Plus, the town will never fully get to know the reasons why these guys did what they did. There’s so many questions, but very few answers.

On the other hand, this case was so deeply personal for Raul, and seeing him finally snuff out the people that had terrorized his town for so long did have a satisfying air about it. One of the things I like most about this show is its ability to let us explore and experience all these conflicted feelings over the outcome, instead of making everything black and white, and I think this episode did a rather nice job of touching on that in regards to the unsubs at various points.

We then end on an absolutely beautiful, touching, and unexpected note with my favorite scene of the entire episode. We don’t get the usual lighthearted funny end scene with the team doing whatever. Nor is there some reflective or humorous chat on the jet ride home.

Instead, what we do see is the team staying in town a little longer, so that they can attend the funerals for the victims and quietly pay their respects. A beautiful, haunting version of “Amazing Grace” accompanies this bittersweet, moving sequence, and it’s sweet to see the team offering comfort and condolences to the victims’ loved ones, and knowing that the townspeople will be able to properly thank them for all they did to help save everyone.

And we also see Rossi at Raul’s side, continuing to be a steady source of support for the man who fought on his town’s behalf and giving us hope that Raul’s going to be all right. It’s a lovely reminder of the ways in which these cases and these people stay with the team even after they wrap things up, and is proof of why we’ve come to love and followed these characters for eleven years. The ending also gives us hope that perhaps, finally, the town will be able to begin the process of finding some peace, as they try to move on and heal from this tragedy.

Sometimes, that’s really all you can ask for.

What did you think of the episode? Did Duke’s attempts to redeem himself come off believable or sympathetic? Did the episode properly showcase the team’s profiling skills and expertise? Were you as equally moved by the end scene at the funeral? Share your thoughts in the comments!

About the Author - Angela
Angela resides in the state of Iowa, in the town that was the inspiration for the Music Man. She is a bookseller at a local bookstore, loves to read and write, and enjoys a wide variety of music. She also enjoys various TV shows, including Criminal Minds, Community, Sleepy Hollow, Bates Motel, How to Get Away with Murder, as well as older series like Frasier and The Twilight Zone. She will be reviewing Criminal Minds for SpoilerTV.
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